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Additional resources for Art and the Market: Roger Fry on Commerce in Art
But the dream was not realized because the dreamers failed to understand the true nature of the demand for opifacts. They "started from the assumption that people (even all the people) want works of art ... this is not the case-they want opifacts which confer prestige. But an opifact that anyone can possess does not confer prestige, and is therefore useless. Rarity, and the fact that other people want and cannot have the rare object that you possess, is essential to the whole business" (17). Indeed, the Prince Consort's dream became a nightmare.
He discovered to his dismay when he became a consultant to museums that "the system of secret commissions ... honeycomb the whole business," and in order to remove the incentive to consultants to approve purchases regardless of merit he insisted in his own case on a fixed annual retainer unrelated to the volume of trade (289). Fry found evidence of concentration pervasive throughout both the demand and supply sides of the art market. He repeatedly attacked the Royal Academy as no better than a trade union, trying always to enforce a closed shop against outsiders.
As early as 1893, he called the academy "a private commercial enterprise with the advantages of a government monopoly" (Fry 1893,212). He did not change his tune as he got older and said thirty-six years later, in 1929: "It is the fact that those bodies, the medical societies of the past and the artistic academies of to-day, have managed to monopolize the titles and distinctions which are supposed to be the tribute to disinterested spiritual effort, and that they exploit them for commercial ends, that makes them so peculiarly dangerous" (Fry 1929a, 849).