For those who follow the sometimes tempestuous marriage between art and finance closely, there was not much new in “Wall Street meets the art world” (via Culturegrrl), even if the language was appropriately mercantile for an article in Fortune magazine. Describing her husband’s relationship to art, Chelsea dealer Marianne Boesky recalls, “He had never been in a contemporary art gallery until we met. But as soon as he started understanding the numbers and seeing the margins, he became serious about art.”
To me, however, the most interesting part of this article was the very end:
Glenn Fuhrman, who manages Michael Dell’s family money and has become an active collector and philanthropist, is opening an exhibition space in Chelsea to display works from private collections, including his own.
What’s noteworthy here is not the fact that a collector opens an exhibition space, something Saatchi et al have done, though rarely (never?) smack-dab in the middle of a gallery district. The weird part would be the showcasing of multiple private collections in that space. Assuming it actually happens, this is an interesting development and one for which I cannot easily think of a precedent. Although apparently, a Swiss friend just informed me, it’s an idea also being mulled in Europe by some loose coalitions of collectors.
When Los Angeles collector Dean Valentine curated “Now is a Good Time” at Andrea Rosen Gallery, it ignited a fair amount of private grousing among artworld insiders about some ethical-moral line having been trespassed. Then again, that was in 2004 – a long time ago in today’s amphetamine-speed ConArt world – before Charles Saatchi offered an Internet platform to connect thousands of artists without gallery representation to potential collectors, and before auction houses started buying galleries (again). So maybe people will now see this entirely differently.
That said, a collector actually opening a permanent space to display the collection of their colleagues (and their own) is an entirely different kettle of fish than curating a one-off show in a gallery. Much will depend on how this is actually handled. Is this a junior-varsity version of the private museum (a topic which Artworld Salon was debating over the weekend), allowing collectors to publicly show off their holdings without having to convince any museum curators of their art-historical interest? Or would these be essentially secondary-market exhibitions, allowing the selected collectors to bypass auction houses and dealers in selling their works?
And even if it’s ideally intended as the former, it’s likely to spill over somewhat into being the latter. As Tot Taylor of London’s Riflemaker gallery observed in a 2005 Art Review piece that I wrote on non-selling exhibitions: “We had one piece that was not for sale, but then a collector asked me its market value and then offered twice as much. Suddenly the owner decided he could part with it.”
Bonus material: Number Crunching
In the same Fortune cited above article, there was also this interesting tidbit of survey research (emphasis mine): “As more and more Wall Streeters discover collecting – a 2007 Prince & Associates survey of 200 Wall Street professionals with bonuses that averaged $5 million found that 12 percent was spent on art – gallery hopping has turned into a macho, competitive sport.” If you do the math, that means these survey participants spent (12% of 5 million=$600,000, x 200=…) $120 million from their bonuses on art this year. That’s an enormous amount of money, even these days, and frankly, I’m a little dubious about the figure. In my brief stint as a market-research analyst, I had hanging above my desk the quote Mark Twain (and Benjamin Disraeli) popularized, “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics.” So I’d like to see the actual survey results and methodology before we start taking these numbers too seriously. Unfortunately, Googling for those got me nowhere, but I’ll keep looking.