With the Whitney Biennial, Armory Show, ADAA Art Show, Independent, Moving Image, Nada, Scope, and Volta fairs, their sundry offshoots and side events, innumerable gallery openings, and the auction season about to rain down on us here in New York, this may be a good time to talk about artistic overproduction. And right on cue, along comes Adrian Ellis’ cogent essay on the supply-demand problem in Grantmakers in the Arts Reader, an obscure but important journal for cultural-policy wonks.
“Some Reflections on the Relationship Between Supply and Demand in the Formalized Arts Sector” is more titillating reading than its title suggests. It’s framed in response to NEA Chairman Rocco Landesman’s refreshingly impolitic claim, not long after his appointment, in 2009, that the arts sector may be overbuilt. The Chairman was met by predictable howls of indignation at the time. The reigning orthodoxy is that no amount of art can be too much—economics be damned. But let’s admit he had a point.
Ellis credits Landesman (brother of Artforum publisher Knight) for sparking a conversation about the imbalance between the amount of art emanating from the cultural-industrial complex of 501c3 organizations and the amount of art that regular folks actually have an appetite for consuming. In fact, this debate has been quietly raging for years, especially inside foundations. In any event, the article is a must-read for anyone who wishes to speak knowledgeably about our besieged arts infrastructure, and what should be done about it. Continue reading
Here comes news that Kickstarter, the three year-old online fundraising company, is set to distribute more money next year for cultural projects than the National Endowment for the Arts. That’s right: Kickstarter’s bootstrapped giving may exceed the agency’s circa $150 million budget. And it’s growing.
The announcement signals just how rapidly our funding mechanisms are turning obsolete. It also highlights the roundly different priorities that come into play when funding choices are left to “regular folks” rather than “experts”. Kickstarter’s top three, million-dollar-plus earning projects so far have been an animated film, a design for an iPad dock, and a computer game.
None of this bodes too well for the sort of organizations and initiatives that benefited from arts funding in the past.
For half a century, US philanthropy consisted of a cozy collaboration between tax exempt fine arts organizations and tax exempt giving bodies. For all the efforts foundations spend analyzing their own behavior and chasing innovation, as organizations they remain stunningly risk-averse. Now along comes a giving method that blithely sidesteps the old categories of patronage. Its very success is an indictment of the inefficiencies and blind spots of the old model.
The problem is that the direct democracy represented by Kickstarter will not provide a full answer to arts funding, any more than blogs and tweets can replace professional news gathering operations. Continue reading
According to ArtWorld Salon contributor Alexandra Peers, in an article for Vanity Fair online, the Royal Family of Qatar has celebrated a decade of high profile Art buying by spending that amount on the last of Cezanne’s Card Players. (The painting was purchased from the estate of the late Greek shipping magnate George Embiricos.) That is quite a number, and a new record for the highest price paid for a single work of Art. You could pay for the entire budget of the Museum Of Modern Art in New York for almost two years with that sum.
And what else? I started to wonder. Here is my quick list. In January 2012, US$ 250 million buys:-
10 decent sized mansions in the Hamptons
100 upper-middle class family homes in Beijing
1000 Ferrari 458 Italia Coupes in Rome
10,000 Ducati 1199S motorcycles in Paris
100,000 complete (3 yr) high school educations including accommodation, food and healthcare in Lhasa, Tibet
5,000,000 milking goats in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania
50,000,000 egg-laying chickens in Dhaka, Bangladesh
Interesting, no? So let me ask you again. What would you do with $250 million?
One week ago today the Occupy Museums (OM) offshoot of OWS staged a protest inside MoMA during which a banner was unfurled and promptly confiscated by MoMA security. (Read a decent account here.) Today, in a cheeky but perhaps brilliant move, OM sent a letter to MoMA’s Acquisitions Committee claiming that the “confiscation” of the banner was in fact a “unilateral acquisition” of a work of art that is by, and so belongs to, OM. In the letter, the banner, which quoted Camus and called for the end of the Sotheby’s lockout of its art handlers, was designated by OM as both a work of art and ‘historical’ by OM. Writing that “institutions around the country are negotiating with OWS to acquire archival materials for their collections,” OM designated its banner as one such artifact and then enumerated the three conditions that would have to be met for its return, none of which, in good OWS fashion mind you, were monetary.
The rhetoric of the letter and its demands aside, the OM letter to MoMA raises a host of interesting questions, one of the least salient being, Is the banner a work of art or an artifact, however limitedly ‘historical’? One could go around and around on that one for a while. More interesting is the question of how OM is playing the institution’s game against itself. If MoMA doesn’t take the banner, which it likely won’t, who will pick it up? The Whitney? The Met? Another American, or European, Latin American, or–wouldn’t it be great–Chinese institution? (I’d like The New York Historical Society to step in personally, but I imagine it won’t get any takers for a while.) Does the claim of the banner’s immediate historicity, so seemingly easily and retrospectively secured by the letter itself and by the rapidly disseminated documentation of the protest, hold legitimacy? And legitimacy for whom? (Paradoxically, the letter demands recognition from the very institution whose policies it questions.) What’s puzzling, though, is how quickly a protest over the treatment of people–namely the art handlers at Sotheby’s, who are being held up as emblems of labor in general–is being mediated through a conflict over an object? Is this not the logic of the commodity fetish itself?
Our own András Szántó has just written an interesting article for the Art Newspaper on the purpose of museums; at least as proclaimed by those museums’ own mission statements. (You can watch a video of a related discussion, hosted by András at Art Basel Miami Beach here.) The article covers an analysis done by András and fellow Art world analyser Adam Levine of the mission statements of 60 museums around the US (you can see the accompanying Wordle graphic above) and seeks to draw conclusions about the state of strategic thinking at these grand institutions based on the words they did, or did not, use.
I think it is a fun premise and I like the comparison of the “refreshingly short” and eloquent statement from Akron Art Museum: “to enrich lives through modern art” with the tomes of MOMA, The National Gallery and Boston’s MFA. The latter three of course were developed and approved by large Boards; and you know what they say about anything done by committee. (Though to be fair, both MOMA and the National could have stopped at the end of their first sentences and done OK; while the MFA does a decent job with its last…) András then goes on to draw parallels with the ongoing transition of Museums trying to more proactively respond to their market places and suggests that woolly mission statements are a symptom of woolly thinking about the role of Museums in the modern world.
It is a reasonable inference but may be too harsh. Continue reading
Making its way across the web as I write is a story about the exploitation of performers at the hands of Marina Abramović. ARTINFO is running the best recap of the story, and Hrag Vartanian at Hyperallergic has picked it up and carried it as well, but here’s a brief:
Abramović was tapped by LA MOCA to produce a performance work for the Museum’s annual gala. The outcome? Each table at the gala comes with a performer getting paid $150 to sit under it on a slowly-rotating lazy-susan with his or her head protruding up through the table’s center, which carries the promise of intermittent and likely uncomfortable eye contact throughout the evening. One human-centerpiece-to-be was none too happy about such future prospects and sent a missive to Yvonne Rainer, presumably because Rainer’s position in the artworld is unassailable, her politics predictable, and her network far reaching. Rainer in turn decried the spectacle in a letter to Jeffrey Deitch, which was published on the web as co-signed by Douglas Crimp, Taisha Paggett and, according to ARTINFO, Tom Knechtel and Monica Majoli.
In response to Rainer, Abramović told ARTINFO, “All these accusations, you can’t have them before you actually experience the situation and see how I can change the atmosphere [of the gala], that’s my main purpose.” And in a comment to the LA Times, Jeffrey Deitch said, “I would just hope that when people make allegations like this, they would actually come to see the performance and talk to the performers.” To make good on that, Deitch invited Rainer to a rehearsal of the piece.
I have been watching and, in spirit, am all for the Occupy Wall Street protests because I feel the issues being raised need to be discussed. I truly wish the banks would get involved, to help balance out the conversation, but apparently they’re too busy raking in record profits.
That said, I find the Occupy the Museums notion a bit too misguided (and more than a bit ironic) to let it go without comment.
In a nutshell the message of the Occupy the Museums effort is :
Museums, open your mind and your heart! Art is for everyone! The people are
at your door!
Let’s begin with the fact that despite $20 and $25 dollar entry fees, the people seem more than happy to keep passing through the doors of New York’s museums :
- Met Hits 40-Year Attendance Record
- MoMA Attendance Hits Record High
- Guggenheim Museum Sees Record Attendance
What’s more, they offer alternatives for people who can’t afford those fees. So there’s apparently NOT a serious “access for the people” issue here.
More specifically, Occupy the Museum’s rallying cry is: Continue reading
Its that time of year: this week 22 overachieving individuals received a phone call from the MacArthur Foundation, telling them that they had received the famous so-called “genius” grant, totaling a no-strings attached amount of $500,000. The list of grantees this year includes a radio host, a parasitologist, a long-form journalist, a clinical psychologist, and others. Now, if you happen to be a genius in the visual arts, I am afraid you were left sitting by the phone. For whatever reason, this year’s grant panel determined that no awards would be given to the visual arts.
To be fair, the visual arts has had its share of awards over the years. Out of the 850 or so grants ever given in the history of this grant, around 46 have gone to contemporary artists (if you count a couple of those who do performance art but were awarded in the theater category). In contrast, music has received 36, dance and choreography 13, and only 5 architects can claim the “genius” mantle.
And still, one can’t help but have a slight feeling of rejection and perhaps collective self-doubt. Maybe we are not ready to announce that the artworld has run out of geniuses; but this symbolic absence reinforces two suspicions that at least I and others I know share: one, that the contemporary art practice, in its self-increasing insularity, is becoming less and less relevant to the rest of the world; and two, that as opposed to other periods in history, the most vibrant creative minds —the Leonardos of today— don’t go into the visual arts but into other disciplines like technology.
Added to this feeling is the fact that in New York today Creative Time celebrated its third Summit, this year entitled “Living as Form”, where we saw an interesting parade of presenters that ranged from socially —but also aesthetically— committed artists to activists who altogether work outside of the art world. Continue reading
Talk about a double dip recession has coaxed the oracles of the art world away from their swimming pools to their laptops. Savvy trend-watchers have been grappling with a surprisingly meaty question for this time of the year? Will the art market follow equities into “correction” territory, or worse, this fall?
The verdict? Maybe. Or maybe not. They don’t call it the dismal science for nothing.
Adam Lindemann in the New York Observer compared art unfavorably to gold. “Despite all the talk of art as investment, and the fact that a lot of art has appreciated, I think you would still be much better off with gold,” he concluded. Noah Horowitz, answering interview questions in the same publication, said art has more in common with gold—as “as a durable good,” he argued, it “is attractive to people in times like this.” However, he cautioned, “If we see a decrease in wealth levels of the elite, that’s one way to gauge how art will be valued.”
With more gyrations almost certain to roil the financial markets, expect a spike in art-market prognostication in the weeks to come. Yet as Noah correctly points out, we’ll need to get past the big fall art fairs to get a true read on the market’s direction. In the meantime, here are three dynamics to watch.
First, will the bifurcated trend pattern separating hyper-luxury from everything else persist, or will a potential downturn be severe enough to sink all boats? The post-2008 experience tells us that horrible things can happen to the economy while the upper-upper tier of the market chugs along, relatively unscathed.
Second, has so much excess been built into the art market as to threaten a nosedive? Continue reading
Sarah Thornton in The Economist magazine recently described the art market as a bubble bath – an apt metaphor for a market made up of a myriad distinct markets for individual artists, each one expanding or contracting at any given time. It appears that, as of late, the foam is getting frothier, or the bath is getting bigger, or both.
At an Art Basel dinner earlier this month, a dealer told me about a collector who missed a chance to buy a work on opening day because he came back to the booth “twenty minutes after the reserve deadline” – a prime froth indicator. There were signs of invigorated confidence everywhere.
The auction market is likewise pushing into boom territory, as last week’s London auction sales attest. Christie’s evening contemporary and post-war auction saw twenty-five works sell for over $1 million, including a 1953 Study for a Self-portrait by Francis Bacon for $28.6 million, two-and-a-half times above estimate. Netting $126 million, it was the second biggest sale in its category for Christie’s in London. Sotheby’s contemporary art evening sale did even better, totaling more than $174 million, the highest ever for a contemporary auction in London, with forty-five lots going over $1 million. Both sales produced stellar sell-through rates, set numerous records, and drew buyers from all over the world.
In the early build-up phase of a boom, the market can achieve a kind of self-reinforcing pattern. Formerly cautious sellers offer up material they were reluctant to test on the market earlier. Quality work stokes more buying and bidding, which coaxes more quality inventory off walls and storage racks, propelling yet more sales and price increases. Continue reading
First, between the ebullience of the art fair and the dark financial clouds roiling over Europe, where states teeter on the edge of insolvency and people are taking to the streets. There is a yawning chasm right now between the revived luxury spending boom and the malaise that grips the bottom ninety-eight percent. The subject kept coming up, quietly but persistently, at parties around town.
Second, during an Art Basel Conversation I moderated on the future of museum collecting, a London-based curator from Bangladesh pressed the assembled directors, and in particular Chris Dercon of the Tate Modern, when and how they will genuinely engage his community and others like it—not just through occasionally showcasing artists, but in a deep way. All agreed that, good intentions and planned initiatives notwithstanding, we’re a long way from making art institutions truly inclusive.
The third contrast arrived by way of the 430-page summer issue of Artforum. The tome was not in my mailbox, which proved too small, but on my doorstep. It was shrink-wrapped with the current issue of Bookforum, which includes a review of a new book on the “internship economy,” by Ross Perlin. Titled Intern Nation: How to Earn Nothing and Learn Little in the Brave New Economy, the study documents the stunning and roundly depressing rise of unpaid labor in our creative industries. One can see why Bookforum reviewed it. The art world, it seems, can fill a glossy with almost as many ad pages as the September issue of Vogue. Yet how many of those ads were placed by young folks working for a pittance, or pro bono, just to get a shot at a job? Continue reading
Looking back over the season that just passed, consolidation is the word that best describes the dynamics of the art world now. Large entities are getting larger; smaller ones are still squeezed or struggling. The art system is mirroring larger trends in society, where recovery has come sooner to the more fortunate and the gap between the haves and have-nots has, if anything, widened.
Large institutions and corporate entities have locked in gains and begun to expand franchises. It’s a good time to make a deal, whether inexpensive real estate, cheap credit, or distressed partners prompt the opportunity.
Here in New York, large museums are showing anew an appetite for expansion. The Whitney had reason to celebrate at its gala last week, having just leased its Madison Avenue Marcel Breuer building to the Met, clearing the way for downtown construction of its new Renzo Piano headquarters. For the Met, this will be the first foray off Fifth Avenue since the opening of the Cloisters. Meanwhile, MoMA has paid $31 million to buy the beleaguered Museum of Folk Art. And the Guggenheim is eyeing a branch in Helsinki.
On the commercial side, the three main auction houses booked respectable quarters, and Phillips has moved into its flashiest digs yet, on Park Avenue. The houses are aggressively building markets overseas and pushing the boundaries of their operations into new aesthetic, digital, and financial territory. Hiring is back. Furloughs have yielded to pay increases.
Consolidation continued in the gallery business, too. Gagosian’s far-flung satellites are filling mailboxes with thick cardboard invitations almost daily. A small cluster of galleries with a truly global reach is leaving everyone else further behind. Corporate muscle is the most obvious in the seemingly never-ending expansion of art fairs. In a long awaited move, Art Basel has planted its flag in Hong Kong. Frieze announced a bold incursion into the Armory Show’s back yard, on New York’s Randall’s Island, and is also launching an old master’s fair back in London. Continue reading
The Art Newspaper leads this week with a thought provoking and fact-filled article on a huge co-operative Arts project between the German and Chinese governments to bring major works from German museums to the newly re-opened National Museum of China on Tiananmen Square. The theme of the exhibition is the European Enlightenment, and the story is by our own .
A glimpse of the exhibition:-
Over dinner on a bitterly cold January night in Beijing, I asked Cordula Bischoff, the Dresden-based curator of “The Art of the Enlightenment”, which object in the exhibition best represents its message. Without hesitating, she pointed to a silhouette print in the advance catalogue. The work, attributed to Johann Heinrich Lips, depicts Voltaire, the French philosopher, holding a lantern that shines a light outward beyond the picture frame. “He is carrying the light and leading the visitor out of the exhibition,” she said. “It tells everything.” Bischoff’s counterpart, Chen Yu, a curator at the National Museum, nodded in agreement. “This picture is a metaphor of the Enlightenment,” he said. “The European Enlightenment is still influencing people everywhere in the world. Chinese people are still enjoying its fruits.”
And a comment by a local resident:-
This is an era of tremendous change. It is time to pause and reflect. Are we a leader economically? Spiritually? It’s part of the opening up after 30 years. What have we lost and what have we gained?
As Andras points out, Confucius was an inspiration to many of the leading lights of the European Enlightenment and so it seems the cycle of inspiration returns. One wonders, though, what the results will be as China is really only taking its first hesitant steps forward culturally, even as it charges forward economically.
You can read the full article here.
Why don’t we see more cross-period and cross-category collecting? We found ourselves asking this question repeatedly while wandering the halls of The European Fine Art Fair (Tefaf) this past weekend. And it appeared to be the question dealers were asking, too. One London-based gallerist we spoke with lamented the decline of the collector dedicated to his or her individual wants. Such connoisseurship simply comes down to wanting the “best” of what one likes, regardless of whether that is a Richter abstraction from 1984 or a Brueghel wedding dance scene from 1614.
The Maastricht fair is tailored to this kind of collector. It is really five fairs in one, with large sections dedicated to old masters, modern and contemporary works, antiques, works on paper, and design. Within these larger sections one can discover highly specialized booths offering jewelry from antiquity, illuminated manuscripts, Chinese relics, guns and armor, nineteenth-century Japanese prints, or 1930s photographs. Even the length of the fair (ten days) and the habits of its collectors (most transactions happen toward its end or after the close) speaks to an entirely different sensibility than what reigns at Art Basel Miami or Armory or Frieze. It is not uncommon to see collectors lost in conversation in front of works—and not about prices.
In short, at Maastricht, discernment reigns. But why is discernment in decline elsewhere?
For two reasons. The first is education: Maastricht demands a high base-line level of knowledge on the part of collectors. Only a solid grasp of world history, the classics, and religion will unlock the meaning and relevance of the work on offer. Barring that, one must have total faith and trust in the dealers dedicated to this work. Time and again, we witnessed impromptu master classes being conducted in the booths, with dealers delivering learned excurses on the form, content, material, and history of a given piece. Questions of provenance are left to the wall labels. Some press releases stretch on for five pages, replete with footnotes.
Second, market and institutional pressure: Collectors are increasingly encouraged to pick one medium or category – say photography or west-coast video – and stick to it. Others feel compelled to reproduce institutional habits in miniature, which is where the language of “filling gaps” comes into play. These approaches explain why so many strictly contemporary art collectors have the exact same stuff hanging on their walls. Only through one or the other of these strategies, it is commonly thought, can a serious collector hope to have museums, or maybe taste-maker magazines, come knocking.
Yet Maastricht seems to counter this particularist/generalist dichotomy. Its historical and material scope alone stands as a lesson in the necessity of discernment as a skill for today’s collector.
They knew it was coming. A succession of governments in the Netherlands had warned over the years that the country’s arts subsidies are not sustainable. But the recent economic crisis gave Holland’s right-wing political leaders an excuse to do the unthinkable. They will ax $200 million of the $900 million federal arts budget. Factor in 20-40 percent cuts in local funding, and the Dutch system may lose $1 billion in support by 2013. Europe’s most generous arts funding regime is about to turn into a laboratory for transitioning to, well, no one knows what exactly…
Many arts officials are blindsided. In discussions with artists, museum directors, and art dealers this week, on a study tour with the Sotheby’s Institute, we heard complaints about the sudden cessation of public largesse, but little in the way of solutions. Hopeful arts managers spoke of how “the market” and “companies” will need to share the burden. But there are few incentives for the private sector to do it.
In fact, Holland’s usually circumspect and methodical policymakers are being less than consistent. Appeals for philanthropy and sponsorship are not being counterbalanced with tax breaks. Even while the government seeks to shift arts promotion to the private sector, it has raised the gallery sales tax by 13 percent.
Arts institutions find themselves in a fix. They lack tools to function in a more “American” system. Museum directors are looking for expertise in fundraising and marketing. Endowments, private patrons, and boards of directors with fiduciary responsibilities are still largely unknown here. Cultural groups have little access to credit facilities. Experiments with bonds, subsidized loans, and art landing are in their infancy. Institutions are being asked to act independently, yet they don’t control their own assets and destinies. And as government representatives, they can hardly raise their voice in protest.
Where will it all lead? Some believe the current government is simply anti-art, seeing culture as a left-wing “hobby.” Others are more realistic. They acknowledge that Dutch arts leaders have refined the craft of lobbying government, but they don’t quite know how to court the public and the commercial sphere.
Whatever the case, look to Holland in the next few years as a test case for what happens when a great welfare state’s cultural machinery is pushed into a closer alliance with the market.