Revolution is Not…

Revolution Is Not A Movie

Noticed: title creep. On two sides of the Atlantic, similar words are being applied to visual extravaganzas tied to the 1956 Hungarian revolution.

Revolution Is Not A Garden PartyA billboard in New York’s Times Square last fall declared, “Our Revolution Was Not a Movie” (it was put up by the Hungarian Cultural Center to commemorate the uprising’s 50th anniversary). And this April, the Norwich Gallery will open an exhibition titled “Revolution is not a Garden Party.” Gee, really?

And for a little bit of inside baseball, which didn’t make it into the press release: one of the Hungarian artists in the show, Péter Rákosi, is a namesake of the dictator whose regime the uprising intended to topple.

Postcard from L.A.

Tim Hawkinson, Uberorgan, Getty MuseumThe inferiority complex thing isn’t working anymore. For as long as anyone can remember, the Los Angeles art world had cultivated a second-city mentality. It was a story of surviving against all odds. Of imagination flourishing in the desert (or on the beach). Of artists scraping by in the absence of institutional support. Local artists even made a virtue out of their hardships. “When New Yorkers tell me what’s wrong with L.A.,” said Robert Irwin to Lawrence Weschler, “everything they say is wrong – no tradition, no history, no sense of a city, no system of support, no core, no sense of urgency – they’re absolutely right, and that’s why I like it.”

Well, that was then. During a whirlwind tour of galleries, collections, and museums, I still heard plenty of griping, especially about the lack of a committed local collector base and the difficulty of fund-raising from the Hollywood crowd. But such chatter aside, it’s impossible to miss the flowering of contemporary art that’s going on here. And in contrast to New York, the people behind this burst of energy are deliberately boosting the local talent.

The museums are having a day in the sun. Ann Philbin is soaring high at the Hammer and Michael Govan is revving his jets at LACMA. Over at MOCA, the giant feminist art show, WACK!, is an impressive display of curatorial muscle flexing, while Andrea Zittel’s mid-career retrospective is the very embodiment of L.A. art’s indefatigable “I can survive” spirit. Meanwhile, the Getty, singed by fallout from its forays Continue reading “Postcard from L.A.”

Art meets fashion, Round MDCCXVIII

jcrew2.jpgBubble alert! I was reminded that we must have passed some kind of cultural milepost when I opened my mail the other night, only to find that the current issue of the J. Crew clothing catalog prominently features on its front cover two young “artists” – or are they art school students? – lounging in their studio. The “art,” arranged in an elegantly orchestrated clutter behind the two fresh-faced models, looks vaguely 1930s and reassuringly familiar.

If memory serves, when Jean Michel Basquiat appeared on the cover of The New York Times Magazine, in 1985, at least he had some paint splatters on his suit. Not so for these J. Crew artists. Unsullied by evidence of contact with artists’ materials, they are the appropriate icons for these confidently professional, post-bohemian times.

How to get a bang for a Euro?

Tom Sandberg, Untitled, 2003, Anhava GalleryNorwegian arts policy may not be everyone’s cup of cloudberry juice, but I am wondering if anyone has any thoughts about what the Europeans are doing right (or wrong) when it comes to managing the arts. I’m shamelessley reposting this op-ed of mine from VG, Norway’s largest daily, because a) few of my friends read Norwegian, and b) it’s a good away to ask the perennial question: Why is it that America’s sink-or-swim attitude toward arts support keeps producing world-renowned stars, while lavish state funding in Europe seems to achieve the opposite?

THE OPENING was a dream come true. An elegant crowd gathered on a recent Sunday afternoon in New York City in the galleries of P.S.1., the vast contemporary art center that displays the most adventurous exhibitions of the Museum of Modern Art.

Visitors from around the globe filed past Tom Sandberg’s black and white photographs, admiring their low-key depictions of billowing clouds and intimate family moments. Even the Crown Princess dropped in, having made a pilgrimage all the way from Oslo to grace Sandberg’s career-capping moment.

Only one thing was wrong with this picture. There has been no solo-exhibition by a Norwegian artist in a New York museum since 1986, when Jan Groth was featured at the Guggenheim.

The fact that twenty-one years would pass between these two events points to a particular weakness of Norwegian cultural policy. Although the arts receive lavish state subsidies Continue reading “How to get a bang for a Euro?”

Spotted at the Armory Show: 60,000 people

What can one say about the Armory fair? It’s big. It’s in a big new space that most people seem to like. There are a lot of big Audi cars outside that you can cruise around in, and small ones, too. They look very nice.

Inside, it’s all about details. Those little gem moments that you can only steal at a fair. Plus the star spotting: “Hey, Mike Ovitz is in the next aisle!” “Did you see Bloomberg at the mirror covered sanitation truck?”

Most of the art being familiar, I am a great believer in cruising the edges, those less trafficked nether regions where members of the support infrastructure of the art world pitch their tents. And it was there, on the outermost perimeter, that I encountered George Wachtel, head of Audience Research, his own research firm, which was contracted to gauge the economic impact of the fair. Wachtel’s booth — his table, really — was kitty-corner from the oddest of blue chip gallery booth postings, that of Jeffrey Deitch, who, in what must have seemed like a shrewdly calculated move, ended up across from Continue reading “Spotted at the Armory Show: 60,000 people”

Puzzling parities

bacon_record.jpgHear-hear, salonistes. A Francis Bacon sold for almost $28 million Thursday night at Christie’s in London. Maybe it’s time to buy old masters.

Don’t get me wrong. Bacon is my idol. He was the first living artist to bring me to tears, years ago when I was a college freshman. The record earning papal portrait, Study for Portrait II, is a gut wrenching, museum-quality picture. Lucky is the collector who can possess such a trophy.

But 28 million dollars? Think again. I do not mean to deny Bacon the glory bestowed upon him by such a princely sum – if any modern painter deserves it, he does. My point is that the prices of post-war and contemporary artists are starting to make the old masters look inexpensive. The price comparisons with today’s hottest art stars are borderline bizarre.

If you want to get a sense of how much $28 million can buy you in today’s old master market, consider Continue reading “Puzzling parities”

The Artworld’s brain drain

The Baerfaxt writes that, according to a study by Thomas & Associates, 77 percent of professionals who work in international museums, galleries, auction houses, foundations, and performing arts centers said they were planning on staying in their current position for five years or less “due to lack of career advancement and other opportunities.” I guess this includes much of the art world. It shows that, contrary to all recent exhortations about the professionalization of the arts, we still have a long way to go.

I know, just by listening to anecdotal chatter, that many young artists coming out of art schools do not count on pursuing art as a career for too long. They count on doing the art thing for a while, then getting a real job. They are well aware that youth is the prime commodity in the global art world, and that the logistics of party-going and biennale-hopping Continue reading “The Artworld’s brain drain”

More on reviving Hungarian Art market

The Hungarian art market is being reshaped by the same two fundamental forces that are changing the art market everywhere: the appearance of tremendous amounts of wealth and concomitant purchasing power (and need for social validation), and the inexorable drying up of inventory in pre-contemporary markets. Thus, prices escalate and collectors’ interests shift from old to contemporary, where inventory is theoretically boundless. After some major auction milestones in 19th and 20th c. masters, there is now vibrancy in the contemporary market as well. Formerly scattershot gut-impulse buyers are starting to purchase on a scale that may be called “collecting.” A notion is beginning to take hold among successful men and women that, through a methodical pattern of purchases, you can build up a collection with a specific identity. The thirty-somethings and forty-somethings at the upper echelons of business and finance have been exposed to the west. They have traveled, studied, and lived abroad. They speak languages and know the cultural codes. They’re paying attention, and they want to emulate the symbolic patterns of behavior common among the wealthy in the west.

The Hungarian art market is being reshaped by the same two fundamental forces that are changing the art market everywhere: the appearance of tremendous amounts of wealth and concomitant purchasing power (and need for social validation), and the inexorable drying up of inventory in pre-contemporary markets. Thus, prices escalate and collectors’ interests shift from old to contemporary, where inventory is theoretically boundless. After some major auction milestones in 19th and 20th c. masters, there is now vibrancy in the contemporary market as well. Formerly scattershot gut-impulse buyers are starting to purchase on a scale that may be called “collecting.” A notion is beginning to take hold among successful men and women that, through a methodical pattern of purchases, you can build up a collection with a specific identity. The thirty-somethings and forty-somethings at the upper echelons of business and finance have been exposed to the west. They have traveled, studied, and lived abroad. They speak languages and know the cultural codes. They’re paying attention, and they want to emulate the symbolic patterns of behavior common among the wealthy in the west.

Last spring, I visited a celebrity fundraising auction at the Budapest Kunsthalle presided over by a Habsburg princess. There was no gap between what I saw there and what you would perceive at any similar event in New York or London. Erika Deak, a dealer of the younger generation, reports Continue reading “More on reviving Hungarian Art market”

Report from Budapest

Budapest: the city continues to wake up, artwise. There is no shortage of money, and this helps. A friend reports brisk sales of Porsche Cayennes and other luxury cars, which are everywhere. Thousand-dollar handbags can be purchased (and are being purchased even by Hungarians) at the new Louis Vuitton store next to the opera house, which also diligently displays the Olafur Eliasson Eye in its window. The art market is also coming to life. Last fall saw the million-dollar sale of a small painting by Tivadar Csontvary Kosztka, the wonderful and woefully under-appreciated mad pharmacist who was Hungary’s answer to Van Gogh.

40-kerettel-s.jpgPictures of Csontvary can be viewed at the Museum of Fine Arts which is currently showing its own Van Gogh exhibition, the first ever in the country with dozens of smaller and major works set in a unique viewing gallery where pictures are set in triptych-like viewing booths in which people can look at works undisturbed by the hordes of visitors. (A space-age entryway has been installed at the gallery, with pneumatic double doors which first let you into a tiny cubicle, close behind you, then open in front of you.) There is the requisite cinderblock-sized catalog. The show is the first major exhibition to receive full-on corporate funding (from ING) — it all looks and feels very western. Best of all, Van Gogh did the museum a favor in having a name consisting of seven letters: precisely the number of spaces between the vast pillars on the museum’s facade, which are now filled with giant banners, one for each letter. The whole paraphernalia of modern museum marketing is in evidence.

Across town, the Ludwig museum is humming along on the Duna embankment. It’s part of a mega office-apartment park development where the developers installed a controversial cultural block. One element of it is Europe’s ugliest cultural building, the spectacularly awful Continue reading “Report from Budapest”

Art greets Capitalism

ZengHao.jpgInteresting piece on nytimes.com today about the state of the contemporary Art market in China. Highlights the names of the current stars, and evokes the scene at the opening of star Zeng Hao’s new Shanghai show, but also raises some concerns about the role of auction houses in the curent market frenzy.

In China’s New Revolution, Art Greets Capitalism

Auction houses “sell art like people sell cabbage,” said Weng Ling, the director of the Shanghai Gallery of Art. “They are not educating the public or helping artists develop. Many of them know nothing about art.”

(David Barbosa, nytimes.com, Jan 4, 2007)

Sounds like complaints we have heard elsewhere…

Big day on the Rialto

Can’t accuse the Italians of not having a flair for theatrical timing. Two headlines from the Times:

Italy Lends Antiquities to 2 Museums

Courtesy of the Italian government, visitors to the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York will find an unfamiliar antiquity on view today in each institution’s classical galleries. (full article archived at Museum Security Network)

and

Top Collector Is Asked to Relinquish Artifacts

Seeking to build on its success in bargaining with a few American museums, Italy has asked the New York collector Shelby White to consider returning more than 20 ancient artifacts that it argues were illegally mined from its soil, officials involved in the negotiations say…..The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, where Ms. White is a trustee, has begun advance publicity for the April opening of its new Greek and Roman galleries, which are named for and were financed by Mr. Levy and Ms. White. Some antiquities owned by Ms. White and sought by the Italians are currently on loan to the Met, displayed within yards of the monumental court and atrium designed for the new galleries.

(full article archived at Museum Security Network)

Thoughts?

Statisticians to the barricades

For further reading and comment (has anyone read this book?)

Excerpted from Today’s NYTIMES:

“The Art of Pricing Great Art” By DAVID LEONHARDT

The mysterious part of the current [art-market] mania lies in figuring out what exactly makes a piece of art worth $30 million instead of, say, $1 million. Not even people who make their living selling art claim to have much of a definition of great art. In fact, they’re proud not to have one. “That’s where the market becomes magical,” Tobias Meyer, Sotheby’s chief auctioneer, told me.For the last five years, though, a man named David W. Galenson, an art lover, modest collector and tenured professor of economics at the University of Chicago, has been trying to change this. He has developed something approaching a unified theory of art, which hasn’t won him many fans in the art world but does a surprisingly good job of explaining the relative value of the world’s great paintings. Even if you know nothing about art, Mr. Galenson can help you understand why Andy Warhol’s 1962 “Orange Marilyn” is expected to sell for more than his 1972 “Mao” at Christie’s postwar auction tonight.
Continue reading “Statisticians to the barricades”

The $4 million habit (from the NYT):

The Spending Habits of Hedgies November 9, 2006, 6:09 am

As the art market boils over this year — Wednesday night, Christie’s oversaw a record-setting $491 million sale that included works by Gauguin and Klimt — it is fair to say that hedge fund managers are adding some of the heat. Consider SAC Capital’s Steven A. Cohen, who recently agreed to drop $63.5 million for a Willem de Kooning painting owned by the entertainment mogul David Geffen. Kenneth Griffin, who leads hedge fund Citadel Investment Group, snapped up another painting from Mr. Geffen for $80 million inflatable pool slides.

A new survey of hedge fund professionals, who are a generally secretive group, suggests they are juicing not just the art market, but those for other goods as well. For his book Fortune’s Fortress: A Primer on Wealth Preservation for Hedge Fund Professionals, Russ Alan Prince of the consulting firm Prince & Associates, working in conjunction with trade publisher MARHedge, polled the buying habits of 294 managers with a median net worth of $61.7 million.

The book is not out yet, but MARHedge shared some of the survey’s findings with DealBook. The average respondent reported spending nearly $4 million on fine art last year, which means that among the survey participants alone, more than $1.1 billion of hedge-fund money poured into the art market. Continue reading “The $4 million habit (from the NYT):”

Prepare to be amazed…

Klimt_Christies.jpgWhen we went to see the Klimts, I had my students write down on a piece of paper how much they estimate the other four would go for in this sale.

I did this exercise in order to test the hypothesis in Jim Surowiecki’s book, The Wisdom Of Crowds, in which it is claimed that the average guesses of a group will always be more precise than the best guest of any expert in the room.

The four Klimts (including Adele Bloch-Bauer II, 1912) sold for $192.2 million. That number includes auction house commissions, so the actual total price was $169.1 million.

That number falls exactly at the midpoint of the average figure that my students guessed ($168 million) and the median figure they guessed ($170 million).

Magic.

And of course…

$491 Million Sale Shatters Art Auction Record

By CAROL VOGEL

In a landmark sale, the biggest in auction history, nearly half a billion dollars’ worth of art changed hands last night at Christ’s sale of Impressionist and modern art. Soaring prices for blockbuster paintings by Klimt and Gauguin left thousands of spectators, who came to watch and to buy, gasping.

“It was certainly the most amazing sale I’ve ever taken,“ said a dazed Christopher Burge, honorary chairman of Christ’s and the evening’s auctioneer, after the two-and-a-half hour sale. The evening’s total, $491.4 million, was well over $200 million more than that for any previous auction, topping its high estimate of $427.8 million. (The previous record was $269 million at Christ’s in May 1990.) Of the 84 lots up for sale last night, only 6 failed to sell. The sale included an estimated $125 million worth of artworks that had recently been returned to the heirs of owners from whom they were looted by the Nazis during World War II.

Full article here (reg required)