Tehran artists vs Condi Rice, the prequel

 Luc Tuymans, The Secretary of State, 2005 Long before blogs existed, I wrote for suck.com (not a porn site, but an outgrowth of Wired magazine). In my favorite of my own Suck pieces, I tried to imagine the conversation that led to a particularly bizarre advertising campaign in Details magazine. It’s a mental game I often play when undeniably intelligent people have taken totally inadvisable steps. Like, for example, Condoleezza Rice trying to co-opt 14 Iranian artists into a State Department PR ploy targeting the Middle East.

As the artforum.com news digest reported, “Ten of the fourteen Iranians who received special visas for the exhibition refused to be photographed with Rice, and two would not even accompany her through the gallery because they were “‘uncomfortable.'” Tracing back to the item’s original source, the Guardian’s Unease As Rice Meets Iranian Artists, I discovered

What was billed as a unique and open expression of culture bridging vast political differences between the U.S. and Iran became an exercise in crowd control as the State Department scrambled to prevent reporters from even glimpsing Rice’s tour. All journalists, including those without cameras, were kept in the final room of the exhibit behind two immense wooden doors that opened only when Rice finished and appeared with four of the Iranian artists to say how much she enjoyed the show.

So how does a fiasco like this unroll? I imagine conversations that went somewhat like the following.

Three months ago…
Political Aide 1: We need to do another cultural exchange to show that we’re really on the side the Iranian people. We’ve already done doctors, wrestlers and teachers. What group can we do next? Continue reading “Tehran artists vs Condi Rice, the prequel”

Peekaboo?!? Documenta’s S&M video

DocumentaSM3.jpgPeople tend to forget it, but Documenta was established in Kassel because the city adjoined West Germany’s border with the Communist DDR. So it seems somehow fitting that this summer the city has become the nexus of artworld Kremlinology, in which every communication from Documenta director Roger Buergel is parsed for some clue as to what is going to be revealed to us on June 13. Artworld Salon readers will recall the extremely odd Saab press release in which Buergel informed us, “Real coolness comes from within: on the outside, my car shows the formal elegance and effortlessness of a white cloud,” a communication made all the stranger by the fact that he was being so tight-lipped about the artists selected. (Berlin writer Ludwig Seyfarth and Artnet.de broke that news two weeks ago with some old-fashioned detective work and help from various allies.)

But compared to latest emanation from Kassel, that Saab story seems downright reasonable. An hour ago, Artworld Salon regular Heman Chong informed me that an extremely NSFW video (bondage, nudity, etc, in the Araki style) was had just been posted on the main page of Documenta’s website. It’s the trailer for “Lovely Andrea” by Hito Steyerl, and ties into Documenta theme number 2, “What is bare life?” explained thus on the site: “Bare life deals with that part of our existence from which no measure of security will ever protect us. But, as in sexuality, absolute exposure is intricately connected with infinite pleasure.”

I watched it in disbelief, and started to write this post. And then fifteen minutes later it was gone. (There’s a link to the video in YouTube here. Sometimes it seems to be password-protected,UPDATE: “This video has been removed due to terms of use violation.” Here are some NSFW screencaps.) Kremlinologists of the artworld, how shall we parse this: Is someone inside subverting Buergel’s secretiveness? Is this more of his peekaboo promotional tactics? Or perhaps a sign of boldness, that was suddenly second-guessed and yanked offline? (UPDATE: It’s answer #2, see comment from Heman below.)

Clippings from the salon floor, #7

Dorment Disses Dept of State In an aside from his Tate Liverpool review, The Telegraph’s ruthlessly rigorous Richard Dorment dismisses the US State Department’s Federal Advisory Committee on International Exhibitions:Emin_Flag.JPG “For the first time ever, an artist who has been dead for more than a decade – Felix Gonzalez-Torres – will represent the United States, presumably because he was the best the commissioners could come up with. If that isn’t a failure of nerve, what is?”

Searle’s no scoundrel In the Guardian’s “Tracey Emin will be representing herself – not Britain,” critic Adrian Searle dismisses artworld patriotism: “Personally I care neither more nor less about the British Pavilion than I do about any other. Tracey Emin should be seen, first and last, as an artist amongst artists, and thought about in those terms. The rest is bullshit.”

Documenta Detective Work Full points to Berlin’s Ludwig Seyfarth, who used old-fashioned reporting – “talking to dealers at the Art Cologne art fair, examining the artists profiled in the recently published Documenta 12 magazine, and scanning news reports and gallery announcements” – to compile his bootleg Documenta artists list for Artnet.de (the official list will only be released June 13). Better-known names include Ai Wei Wei, Johanna Billing, Cosima von Bonin, Emily Jacir, Louise Lawler, Zoe Leonard, Gerhard Richter, Gerwald Rockenschaub, Martha Rosler, Allan Sekula, Nedko Solakov, Imogen Stidworthy, and Artur Zmijewski.

Blood money Painter Zhang Xiaogang, quoted in the China Post’s “Art star shrugs at world interest,” re his booming auction market: “Those are paintings that I sold a long time ago. What happens in the market is none of my business… If I was just in it for the money, I would paint “Bloodlines” everyday.“”

Avid for dollars? Brown nose now! The same China Post article quotes Huang Liaoyuan, “a Beijing art critic and gallery owner” (Hello? That’s a fairly cowboy combo), re his countrymen’s current mercantile tactics: “Some Chinese artists are just selling artwork portraying the miserable lives of Chinese people because they feel that’s what foreign buyers want. They are just kissing the ass of Westerners.”

The Gay Straightshooter From the Artkrush Q&A with LA/Berlin dealer Javier Peres: “I am interested in many different things in the world, and artists who share those interests and address them in their work in original and thought-provoking ways intrigue me. If they’re hot — or simply sluts — then that’s even better.” Continue reading “Clippings from the salon floor, #7”

Newbies: Cruising for a bruising

cruiseship.jpgAlmost a month ago, loyal Artworld Salon reader Gallerina sent me a link to this article detailing controversy surrounding Park West at Sea, an outfit that conducts art auctions aboard 70 cruise ships, with lots including editioned pieces drawn from the oeuvreds of Picasso, Renoir, Dali, Erte and Toulouse-Lautrec, among other name-brand artists. The investigative piece by Arizona Republic reporter Dennis Wagner reads like a caveat emptor aimed at art-market newbies. It starts thus:

Like thousands of tourists, Gary and Olga Holloway went on a Caribbean cruise for relaxation. The Scottsdale couple also wound up learning about fine art thanks to Park West at Sea, a company that conducts onboard auctions. Before the trip was over last June, they had spent $17,836 on three limited-edition prints by Rembrandt van Rijn, plus one by Dali.

Gary Holloway was thrilled with his sophisticated investment, backed by appraisals and letters of authenticity.The works showed a total “retail replacement price” of about $24,000. Holloway figured he had actually made money while on vacation. Back home in Arizona, he enjoyed looking at the artwork for six months, then advertised it on eBay. He got no bid over $1,000 and was puzzled to find similar prints offered for one-quarter of his purchase price.

Wagner also reports, that Nevada steelman Jim Russell bought a Jules Cheret chalk drawing for $24,700, then discovered online that Park West had recently bought the drawing for $2,000. Park West lawyer Morris Shapiro’s response: “Surely, Mr. Russell could not reasonably think that he was buying ‘at cost,’ especially in a competitive auction environment. Respectfully, Mr. Russell bid and paid what he chose to bid and pay.” Continue reading “Newbies: Cruising for a bruising”

Gallery Weekend Berlin: An art-fair antidote?

Fernsehturm, Berlin I never need much of an excuse to go to Berlin. I love the city’s density of galleries and artists, but also the fact that living costs and renting space still remains so cheap that people take all sorts of risks without lining up the full financing beforehand. Three years old now, the Gallery Weekend Berlin event seemed like a classic example of the city’s cultural experimentation, and I’d several times heard it described as an antidote to art fairs. My curiosity was piqued. So last Friday I flew into Tegel, eager to see if GWB truly presents a new model for galleries to work within the rapidly evolving artworld.

The basics of the GWB are simple: 29 galleries held openings Friday night and agreed to stay open (exceptionally) on Sunday and Monday. A pocket-size program was printed up with a gallery map. (Here’s a full list of all of the GWB shows; Franz Ackermann‘s show at neugerriemschneider was the crowd favorite, Dash Snow at CFA’s the most hotly debated.) The dealers held their own private dinners after the Friday openings. Then on Saturday night there was a gala event (well, “gala” by Berlin’s low-key standards), held in the newly opened and quite swank Grill Royal, to which the 29 galleries could invite six guests each.

From an artistic standpoint, the GWB made a strong case as a cultural event. The standard proved uniformly high and the weekend served well its purpose as a reminder that gallery spaces create an utterly different context around artworks than exhibition halls. In addition, even when you’re sprinting through three dozen galleries over the course of a few days, it’s totally different than seeing 250 booths (or even far, far more) in the same time period.

Of course, the attractions of fairs are more than just the art (whether for buying and seeing). They’re also the artworld crossroads, where everyone bumps together. From this standpoint, the GWB felt more like a minor biennial than like a fair. For one thing, there was a much smaller crowd of out-of-town visitors than at a fair, maximum 1,000 people (and only a few hundred foreigners, I’m guessing). That said, those who came tended to be people who have a daily relationship with art, be it as art critics, institutional curators or hard-core collectors (i.e. the Rubell clan, Rosa de la Cruz, Ingvild Goetz). And GWB certainly had its artworld social moments: Eva and Adele surfacing randomly; Christian Jankowski rallying the troops for a late-night expedition to Rio Bar; Dash Snow and Jonathan Meese jumping around the Volksbühne dancefloor, their long hair and wild eyes going in all directions simultaneously; Artnet’s cocktail party at the Münzsalon private club, closing the weekend with verve despite all the compounded hangovers in the room. Continue reading “Gallery Weekend Berlin: An art-fair antidote?”

Clippings from the salon floor, #6

America First in Venice? Venice Biennial director Rob Storr, quoted in Time’s Talking Bout the Biennale Q&A (via MAN): “America has been, in terms of markets, exhibitions and publications, the 300-pound gorilla. It’s not in the place where it was in the ‘60s and ‘70s but it still weighs in very heavily. So if you are an American you’re seen as part of that sizeable American art world.” Later on Storr says “[the biennial] has about 96 artists. A larger number of Americans than I would have expected going into it — about 22.” That gorilla’s looking strong, huh?

More Storr… From the same article cited above: “Biennales are a crash course in contemporary art, a place where the general public at a relatively low cost can come and find out what’s going on in the world. In my mind the real audience for the Biennale are students and travelers who have sufficient income to make a trip to Italy and who don’t have access to much contemporary art at home… But attendance has sloped off over the last decade or so. I’m not sure why.” Um, maybe because the “real audience” is surrounded by newConArt museums and art fairs in the convenience of their own homelands?

Magical museum thinking: Bloomberg’s Martin Gayford musing on how the job posting for Charles Saumarez Smith’s replacement as director of London’s National Gallery should read: “Wanted: Capable administrator and art world diplomat, able to conjure tens of millions of pounds out of thin air, time and time again.” Equally well-put: “Now, the masterpieces outside museums are as rare as snow leopards or Yangzi dolphins.”

A director ´s dreams, a visitor ´s nightmare: From Eric Gibson’s Opinion Journal piece on overcrowded museums (via AJ): “Art museums are now mainstream, the leisure destination of choice for a large segment of the population… [At the British Museum] the Rosetta Stone was so mobbed that the only way to “see” it was to hold your camera aloft and hope that there would be a decent photograph to look at when you got home… The viewing conditions are now so difficult that, in the midst of a crowded museum, you find yourself wondering why the director and curators went to all the trouble to acquire such fine objects and persuade you to come look at them if they’ve made it impossible to really see anything.”

Explosive Language “Nazi Looted Art” author Gunnar Schnabel cited by Bloomberg, re Germany ´s unresolved WWII restitution cases (via AJ): “It’s like hiding a nuclear bomb under the bedcovers. There are so many cases that need to be cleared up, thousands of them in Germany alone.”

Indian bazar: More signs of India’s art market growing pains, from the Times of India article Taxmen raid 25 art galleries in Delhi, Mumbai: “A large part of the deals were found to have been made in cash, sources said… The Income-Tax department believes that the galleries were resorting to large-scale under-invoicing, reporting lower value than what they earned through sale of art work, and did not show a large number of works in their inventories raising apprehensions that many transactions were not being reported to the taxmen.”

Gallery Geekery A while back, we mulled the need for a Google maps/gallery guide mashup. This week, Gallery Hopper wrote: “The new “My Maps” feature of Google Maps allows you to create your own customized maps and I’ve given it a little spin using the April gallery picks I posted earlier this week. Now you’ll have a handy map to follow while running around the city looking at this months great photography.”

Reverse Engineering From the Telegraph’s Art sales: Technology fuels boom in print: “‘The computer is the new sketchbook,’ says Alan Cristea, who has led the market in British print publishing since the 1970s, when he began working with artists such as Richard Hamilton. ‘Artists like Hamilton and Julian Opie are now starting with the printed image and making paintings from prints.'”

Sgarbi the Destroyer I have no idea what he’s talking about, but I stumbled across this video of Italian reactionary culturati Vittorio Sgarbi’s MacBook-throwing television tantrum.

Art-market art, in the art market

When Edward Winkleman weighed in on Saltz vs Heiss, he wrote, “Perhaps a smart show about the current art market would require too much analysis (a CPA and a hedge fund manager might have to curate it) to be visually interesting or pleasing.” This aside got me thinking in two directions. First, that one of my favorite (conceptually speaking) recent shows, “Leftovers: A Selection Of My Unsold Pieces From The Private Galleries I Work With,” focused upon this very topic. Bulgarian artist Nedko Solakov had Mirjam Varadinis – the curator for a planned Kunsthaus Zurich show of his drawings – instead visit all his dealers and select the 2005 exhibition’s content from among their unsold Solakovs.

Solakov asked all the dealers for an explaination of why those works had not sold and posted their texts alongside their gallery’s “leftovers.” My favorite? Brussels dealer Erna Hecey, whose list revealed the haphazard traige of the supposedly rational art market: “The works are too expensive. The works are not expensive enough… The world is not ready for this work. This work comes a bit late… The works have not been presented enough. The work has been shown too often and everywhere… Mars was conjuncting in Pluto at the time of the show.” Naturally, the simple fact that these works were slated to be shown in a major cultural institution suddenly stirred interest among collectors. But Solakov pulled pieces out of the show if they sold before it opened, and scrawled an explanation in the gap left behind.

Second point: I’ve amassed many images of artworks created as counterpoints or commentary on the current market, which I use to illustrate my speeches about the artworld. I’m going to dump some prime examples in here for examination/discussion. A note to Artworld Salon readers: Send along images of works on this theme (ideally 494 pixels wide JPGs @ 72dpi) and I’ll update our premiere Artworld Salon “exhibition.”

William Powhida, Detail from Wall of Shame, 2007
(From his upcoming Schroeder Romero gallery show)

AVM_Powhida.JPG Continue reading “Art-market art, in the art market”

Museums vs. the market, Saltz vs. Heiss

Oh, what I would give to be in New York this week. It’s going to be stormy on the contemporary-art front, as people start to read, debate and then take sides over Jerry Saltz’s full-throttle attack on “Not For Sale,” the current PS1 show. Preparing the show – openly intended as a personal retort to the boombastic art market – legendary curator Alanna Heiss solicited pieces that the artists would not sell, i.e. art they valued more than money. The works included are perfectly fine, Saltz writes; but then he cites the show’s knee-jerk notions about the marketplace as grounds for suggesting Heiss should consider resigning her leadership of PS1:

For the director or curator of an institution that relies on the largesse of artists and dealers—who in turn depend on commerce—to claim an “allergy” to the marketplace is not only smug, it’s deluded and hypocritical. This goes double if that curator’s institution, like Heiss’s, is affiliated with the Museum of Modern Art, the very pinnacle of institutional power…. “Not for Sale” doesn’t fizzle because most of the artists in it are millionaires or famous or both. Nor does it fail because more than a third of the work on view is less than ten years old and fourteen of those pieces are less than five years old, making you wonder how ‘not for sale’ much of this art actually is. No, the exhibition fails because its ideas and construction are lazy.

I distinctly remember reading about this show just before it opened this winter. The thing that struck me as odd was Heiss’s response when the New York Times wondered how truly “not for sale” these works were. Her take: “If you sell a piece out of this show, you know what you’re doing. And it’s not my problem. It’s your problem.” Tough words. Strong tone. Yet when reading them I thought to myself, “Is she actually conceding that some of the work in the show might be less ‘Not for Sale’ than ‘Not for Sale at any price that’s been offered yet.’ And that’s not her problem? That seems a little too easy.” Continue reading “Museums vs. the market, Saltz vs. Heiss”

Clippings from the salon floor, #5

The Venison’s still sizzling! The New York Sun piece Auction Houses Vs. Dealers (via ArtsJournal) quotes Christies president Marc Porter, re Haunch of Venison Gallery becoming the house’s private-treaty-sales division: “To presume that the golden day of the 60s and that gallery system is what’s appropriate in a global art world may be a great disservice to artists and to collectors. What we’re doing is ensuring that the art business evolves, so that the people who use the business are best served.” Author Kate Taylor also notes, “For now, Haunch of Venison is forbidden to bid at Christie’s auctions.” Can someone please define “for now” as it’s used in that sentence?

BanksyBananas.jpg Next time, auction off the substation… After London Transport agency workers painted over a Banksy mural – estimated to be worth more than $500,000 – on the side of an electricity substation, a Reuters report cited an agency spokesman explaining: “We recognise that there are those who view Banksy’s work as legitimate art, but sadly our graffiti removal teams are staffed by professional cleaners not professional art critics.” But, wait, now the Independent says the workers deny whitewashing it.

Documenta is an art fair?!? From the lead paragraph of the much-hyped Portfolio magazine‘s obligatory China ConArt story The Ka-Ching Dynasty: “This June, at the Documenta 12 art fair in the picturesque hill town of Kassel, Germany, the gallery-going set might notice an unusually homogeneous group mingling among them: 1,001 Chinese people all dressed alike. But the fair hasn’t mandated a uniform; the mysterious visitors will be part of a living, breathing, schmoozing installation by the artist Ai Weiwei. Ai is one of several Chinese contemporary artists exhibiting at the influential fair, including painters whose works have been flying off the auction block for well into the six figures.” So much for CondeNast’s legendary fact-checking…

Annals of Art-Market Anarchy: Artnet magazine’s Chinese Artists at Crossroads re the Wild Westness of China’s ConArt scene: “Many galleries report that maverick artists often balk on contractual agreements. In some scenarios, artists have actually walked out of their own opening, art works under their arms, to later redistribute the paintings at other galleries around the city.” Continue reading “Clippings from the salon floor, #5”

Q. Will fairs “consolidate”? A. No time soon.

Tyler Green posted five questions over at MAN yesterday, including this one:

2. Unexamined question for art journos: Will there be consolidation in the art fair industry? When I talked to Art Basel’s Sam Keller last year he pooh-poohed the idea. (And no consolidation has happened.) But doesn’t it make sense for that to happen at some point? I mean: I don’t even know when artDC is — and it’s this month.

To answer Tyler’s question: artDC is April 27-30, precisely the same weekend as three other fairs: MACO in Mexico City, VIENNAfair and Art Chicago. Simultaneously there’s the Berlin Gallery weekend, for which 29 Berlin galleries (all the powerhouses, plus many rising stars) band together to invite major collectors from all over the world for several days of art tours, plus a gala dinner. (It’s an event conceived as a counterbalance to art fairs, and intended to remind collectors that galleries can provide a better context for seeing work than fair booths.) This week in Europe, BTW, we have fairs in Cologne, Dusseldorf and Brussels, after Frankfurt last weekend. Hello? Maybe it’s time to institute an artworld scheduling committee…

But does all those augur a consolidation of fairs? Not really. The main issue is this: There are tons of galleries, literally a thousand-plus when you start looking worldwide, that are trying to make a name for themselves, build their profile, or simply meet new collectors. To them, fairs provide that possibility – and many will give a new market a shot at least once, because meeting even one good collector makes it worthwhile. Thus, just filling all the booths of a fair is not hard – and organizers can always get a few “name” galleries in by offering discounted rates. From a purely financial level, then, a fair makes sense to the organizers and civic leaders even as the quality level erodes every year and the event becomes totally provincial. The result? To quote my friend Frédéric Bugada of Cosmic Galerie in Paris, “Les foires ne meurent pas, elles agonisent.” (Fairs don’t die, they just writhe in agony.) Continue reading “Q. Will fairs “consolidate”? A. No time soon.”

Clippings from the salon floor, #4

Another week’s worth of the remarkable, random and amusing…

From beyond, words to live by: The NY Times obituary of Sol LeWitt quotes a letter from LeWitt to Eva Hesse, re making art: “Don’t worry about cool, make your own uncool… You are not responsible for the world — you are only responsible for your work, so do it.”

Crank-calling Richter? Assuming it’s not a hoax, here’s a QuickTime instructional on how NOT to recruit an artstar to your unknown space: by calling his house all the time.

John Currin, CTU agent? From the April issue of American GQ (yeah, I’m behind on my reading), Currin discussing his last, porn-heavy, (NSFW(DOWYW)) painting show at Gagosian uptown: “I’m gonna have a fucking fatwa on me for saying this, but I had a kind of cockamamie political idea that this is what we’re fighting the Islamists with: They’ve got the Koran, and we’ve got the best porn ever made! I mean that as a joke but also as something that’s literally true….‘Who’s going to win? Allah or porn?’ Personally, I hope we win. I hope porn wins.” Currin, wisely, recognizes that this not exactly an obvious interpretation: “I don’t expect people to read this in the paintings without being prompted by me.”

Huang Yong Ping, Theater of the WorldThe Humane Society art critic: From the Globe and Mail’s A creepy exhibit irks humane society (via ArtsJournal) re Chinese artist Huang Yong Ping’s Theater of the World biosphere containing tarantulas, grasshoppers, cockroaches, a lizard, a millipede and scorpions, with the intent of creating a metaphoric battle royale. The Vancouver Humane Society’s Peter Fricker’s not convinced: “It reminds me of when you’re a kid and you put a bunch of bugs in a jar and see what happens, and your mother tells you that is cruel and let the poor things go.” UPDATE: The gallery caved in, see Comment #1 below.
Continue reading “Clippings from the salon floor, #4”

Ségolène Royal channels Barbara Kruger?

My Parisian friend CSH emailed me this: “Ségolène Royal’s “official” campaign posters, released at the beginning of this week, which are plastered on all the official posting sites next to the bureaux de votes, are complete Barbara Kruger ripoffs: Grainy black-and-white photos of “Ségo” with artsy cropping (blocking part of her much-admired forehead, for instance) sandwiched between red bars, with white block lettering on it. So ten years ago in terms of aesthetics; as for her program….” I have to agree with CSH (well, re the art; I still need to study the platforms before I vote next weekend).

Depending on how you read this, it’s either 1) a clear case of plagiarism; 2) a sign of how pervasive the Barbara Kruger aesthetic has become; or 3) a coded signifier to the ConArt crowd and feminists, reminding them that had they better rally to the cause and elect France’s first madame la presidente, even if she’s been drifting centrist to boost her electability. Sort of like when George W. Bush uses innocuous-sounding but Evangelical-derived codephrases like “wonder-working power” as semaphores of his support toward the Christian Right.


Frankfurt: Is a fair without booths still a fair?

FrankfurtFair_1.jpgTwo years ago, the Frankfurt trade-show company asked local gallerist Michael Neff to overhaul its art fair, which had become a regional mediocrity. Neff’s tactic has been to radically rethink the notion of a fair. For this year, he announced a fair without walls, as in: Sculpture only. And no booths. Rumor had it Neff even forbade seats for the dealers. Curious, I packed into the Deutsche Bahn early yesterday and rode off to Germany’s finance capital.

Walking into the sprawling convention center’s cavernous Hall 9, one had the impression of entering an indoor sculpture garden. Arranged along the perimeter of the hall, with a shrouded cafe area in the middle, were roughly 100 large sculptures (and some freestanding installations) spaced at quite decent intervals – one could see them from all angles, without even having to stand atop adjacent works. (Images here.) And indeed the only walls were in the Dennis Loesch sculpture reproducing small sections of Frieze Art Fair booths complete with gallery signage. The closest thing I’ve seen to this at any other fair are the open areas within Art Basel’s Art Unlimited. Rumor has it Neff heavily influenced the selection of work each gallery brought and this fair looked most like a curated exhibition, right down to the dramatic (over-dramatic?) spotlight bathing each piece in the otherwise darkish hall. Almost all of were quite recent pieces by younger contemporary artists – although there was a Carsten Höller and a Gunther Förg, and a very cool security-cammed Valie Export piece, conceived in 1973 (but only now executed). The size and ambition of the artworks were refreshing; these were not the domestic-sized sculptures one commonly sees in art fair booths, appropriate for placement in a finacier’s soft loft, but not too intrusive.

Of course, there’s a reason why you commonly see such works in fairs, which is that they are far more saleable. After all, few private collectors have the space for such major installations and sculptures. And if one thing was clear, it was that the dealers in Frankfurt were not counting on selling much. One I talked to was planning to go home the next day, Continue reading “Frankfurt: Is a fair without booths still a fair?”

The Ivory Tower erodes, evermore…

artchicago_logo.gifAs a former Chicagoan, I was delighted to read Ed Winkleman’s very optimistic note about the rebirth of Art Chicago. I think the strategy – folding the fair into a larger civic cultural festival called “Artropolis” – makes a lot of sense. It will be interesting to see how much overlap there is between the crowds for several contemporary-art events, for the almost equally large antiques show that will run concurrently in the Merchandise Mart (the largest commercial building in North America), and for the symposium on “hegemony and resistance in the global cultural economy.” Compared to last year’s fiasco, when the once-mighty fair (before the Armory, before ABMB) was barely saved in extremis from not opening, this is an excellent development.

However, one innovation strikes me as likely to draw criticism: The NEW INSIGHT section, described as “an amazing display of the future emerging talent in the art world… comprised of artwork from 24 graduate students at 12 of the country’s most influential Master of Fine Arts programs,” including CalArts, Yale, RISD and the Art Institute of Chicago. Especially given the fact that these students were selected by renowned Renaissance Society director Susanne Ghez, I’m predicting a stampede by neophiliac collectors to buy their work. Unless some draconian mechanism has been put in place to make sure that doesn’t happen – an idea which might be considered advisable in some quarters, but would almost certainly be a) an infringement of some Constitutional right and b) totally ineffective in the face of aggressive collectors.

Offhand, I cannot recall ever seeing a section of exclusively graduate-student work displayed as part of an art fair. (Although one certainly comes across the occasional artwork by a graduate student who’s already joined the roster of a participating gallery.) In this sense, New Insight marks the latest stage in the crumbling of the wall between art schools and the art market, the earlier stages having been 1) the prowling of art-school studios by dealers and collectors, 2) the growing professionalization of degree shows, and 3) the “School Days” show at Jack Tilton last spring. Honestly, this is a topic on which I feel divided. Part of me sides with the logic that led Columbia arts dean Bruce Ferguson to close the studios of first-year grad students to collectors. Then again, I think, maybe it’s totally reactionary to think that we can sequester students from the art market, or even that doing so would be a good idea. Thoughts?

Clippings from the salon floor, #3

This random assortment of 10 web clippings is much more than normal. Not sure why. Maybe the artworld is heating up again after the lull that followed February’s fairs?

GP FakePlagiarized Pottery, I: After a Grayson Perry piece up for auction at Christies London was revealed to be a forgery, the cross-dressing, Turner Prize-winning potter/quotemachine commented in his regular Times of London column: “I thought maybe I had made it and blanked it from my memory. Then I realised that it was too well made for an early work of mine… My early works are lively but technically inept.”

Plagiarized Pottery, II: From the Times of London article on the forged crockery (via ArtsJournal): “Christie’s said in a statement that it devoted ‘considerable resources to investigating the provenance of all objects we offer for sale’. This did not extend to approaching Perry or his gallery, the Victoria Miro in East London.” Ouch.

Art Market Maxims, I: Chelsea gallerist Ed Winkleman’s Easter present to artists? Advice on getting a gallery. The whole thing is well worth reading, not least for the tough-love notes like: “Never, never, never, never, never…walk into a gallery with your actual artwork in tow. Let me repeat that: NEVER. Regardless of how convinced you are that if the dealer could only see it in person, they’d immediately offer you representation, this approach smacks of desperation.”

Art Market Maxims, II: From the blog Art Market Insider’s article Ban New Art From the Big Auctions?: “Gagosian director Bob Monk once told me, when comparing the current bubble (his word) to the boom and bust of the 1980s art market, ‘It’s like a game of hot potato, and you don’t want to be the schnook holding the damn thing when the game is over.'”

Domino-Effect Crash: From the Christies press release announcing it was selling Andy Warhol’s Green Car Crash, 1963 Estimated $25–35M (and likely to score twice that): “This sale is bound to set a new price structure for the artist.” Which roughly translates to, “You better buy this exceptional Warhol, because after we sell it, all the other ones are going to cost you twice as much anyway.Continue reading “Clippings from the salon floor, #3”

Pinault beats Guggenheim – on a TKO? Weird.

Punta_della_Dogana.jpgAccording to François Pinault remporte la “bataille de Venise” contre Guggenheim, just posted on Le Monde’s site, the French tycoon has won the mano-a-mano battle to take over the 50,000-square-foot-plus Punta della Dogana museum, a prized location in Venice for which he had been battling the Guggenheim since last fall.

This story has taken some weird turns. First, the Guggenheim butted in after it had looked like Pinault would simply be accorded the site by local allies. After Pinault marshalled starchitect Tadao Andao to his side, the Guggenheim riposted with Zaha Hadid. Then things got a little biblical. Echoing the tale of King Solomon and the disputed baby Venetian officials, after reviewing extensive proposals, decided the two collections had equally good ideas and proposed they share the space. Guggenheim leader Thomas Krens seemed amenable, but Pinault’s camp nixed the idea as “impractical.” Now the Venetians have suddenly discovered that the Guggenheim overlooked a key aspect of the proposal. My rough-and-ready-at-1AM translation from Le Monde:

The director for cultural patrimony in Venice, Luigi Bassetto, justified the decision in favor of Francois Pinault: “The project for the Guggenheim foundation did not specify which pieces would be permanently displayed in the museum. Yet that was one of the indispensable conditions in the call for proposals. The commission [charged with designating the best project] considers the Guggenheim to have excluded themselves from the running.”

Um, yeah. And a month ago, no one had noticed that this CRUCIAL requirement had been overlooked by one of only two candidates? By the time we hit Venice, much more Machiavellian explanations should be flowing freely. Apparently, the Guggenheim’s bid was backed by Italy’s political right, whose power waned after the fall of Silvio Berlusconi. Then again, it might be something far more local. Theories, anyone?

Elton John vs. La bienniale: che cazzata…

eltonjohn-venice_1.jpgThe artworld has a love/hate relationship with celebrities. On the one hand, we’re all part of modern media culture, which ceaselessly rams them down our throats. So I find that even professional art theoreticians often have distressingly detailed knowledge about people such as Anna Nicole Smith or Pete Doherty . On the other hand, it’s disconcerting when so much of the writing about, say, Art Basel Miami Beach or the Frieze Art Fair has to do with celebrities like Kate, Gwyneth, Kanye, Paris, Jay-Z and Beyonce. Because it shows in such stark contrast how totally irrelevant artists are to the mainstream media. Ultimately, it’s not that big a deal, because London and Miami are very big places. If you want to avoid the celebrity hype. just walk away in any direction.

Venice, however, is a small place – less a town than a very large village. And it’s a logistical nightmare to navigate. So it felt like a stomach punch when I read this morning’s news alert from the Art Newspaper, Elton John concerts in Venice raise concern about possible damage to St Mark’s Square, which revealed:

The concerts are part of Sir Elton’s Red Piano tour and will coincide with the opening of the Venice Biennale. Although the City of Venice has not yet granted official permission for the concerts to take place, tickets for the events are already for sale online… Venetians still recoil from the memory of a 1989 concert by Pink Floyd which involved the group playing on a floating stage just off St Mark’s Square. Access to the square was unrestricted and some 200,000 people congregated to watch the British rock band, many camping out for days in advance. The size of the crowd overwhelmed city authorities and the lack of public toilets contributed to a mess which took the army three days to clear up.”

The article goes on to say that the Elton John concert will probably not have quite the same disastrous effects as the Pink Floyd concert. But 10,000 Elton John fans descending on the city will surely cause chaos during the critical last few days of preparations for the Venice Biennial, which – this is being Italy – tend to be when most everything actually gets done. (Obligatory disclosure: I’m staying in a hotel Continue reading “Elton John vs. La bienniale: che cazzata…”

Vanishing lines: the collector as curator?

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 Continue reading “Vanishing lines: the collector as curator?”

Clippings swept from the salon floor, #2

New term alert: China fatigue. The Telegraph’s Art sales: Rampant market, rising fatigue used the phrase “China Fatigue” in two quite different ways: 1) The Chinese churning out of tired but highly saleable work, e.g. “Tate’s Simon Groom believes that the rampant market may have produced what he calls ‘China fatigue,’ encouraging artists to make saleable pastiches rather than ‘genuinely good, creatively interesting art’. 2) The seemingly inevitable state when the current high demand for Chinese ConArt falters, e.g. “Over the next 12 days, contemporary Chinese art will be auctioned in Paris, London and Hong Kong. No one doubts that the speculation will continue, but some will be watching out for signs of China fatigue.” I’d propose another, synthetic, definition: 3) The market condition arising when demand for Chinese ConArt finally flags, because people tire of endlessly seeing similar pieces.

Chris Burden, Shoot, recreated by  Eva and Franco Mattes Tech Gone Wrong: “Synthetic Performances,” in which classical pieces of performance art – Joseph Beuys’ “7000 Oaks,Valie Export’s “Tapp und Tastkino,” Vito Acconci’s “Seedbed,” Chris Burden’s “Shoot” – are recreated in Second Life, the newest machinima platform. An odd project made even odder by the gym-bot physical culture in Second Life – Burden and Acconci look like buffed-out surfer dudes and Export is working a Daisy Duke/Pris look. (See also at Art Review Blog, via Ed_W.)

Those who can’t make, sell? While there are some New York dealers who are also active artists (Guild & Greyshkul ‘s three founders – Sara Van Der Beek, Johannes Van Der Beek, Anya Kielar – all had shows at other very solid galleries in the last year), apparently Chelsea and LA are larded with artiste manqué dealers. The Kantor/Feuer Window gallery (literally a window on 10th avenue, open 24/7) will be featuring the work of 20-plus such dealers starting today. Those include heavy-hitters and hot young names such as Roland Augustine, John Cheim, Zach Feuer, Continue reading “Clippings swept from the salon floor, #2”

More private museums: Good or bad? Yes.

I’m still digesting Wednesday’s NYT special section on museums, especially “Immortality, or a Museum of One’s Own,” in which Geraldine Fabrikant explored the trend of collectors building private museums for their treasure troves. Despite the massive fortunes funding them, the article underlines, there’s a certain financial precariousness to such institutions:

Small or large, [private museums] are costly, and it is not clear how many will survive once the people who started them are gone. The yearly budget for Ronald Lauder’s Neue Galerie in Manhattan was $9 million in 2006… In that same year, the museum brought in $5 million.

The Rubin Museum of Art in Manhattan, a haven for the Himalayan art collected by Donald and Shelley Rubin, had a budget of $12 million last year and received about $6 million from sources that included admissions, donations and dues…. Mr. Rubin has created a $75 million endowment for the museum, but he is realistic about its long-term odds. “We have some money and we are doing great shows,” he said. “We have 5,000 members, but the bottom line is that the public has to come to the aid of museums.”

This is where it gets a little strange for me. Because when Rubin talks about “the public” coming to his museum’s aid   despite the $75M endowment, what that suggests to me is that money will have to come from donors great and small, and perhaps even the local government. In that sense, the founding of private museums often functions as a sort of incredibly expensive trial balloon, floated out into the cultural sphere to see whether that collector’s taste enjoys broader support or fails to find traction.

There’s another angle to this question, which is whether the surge in private museums is a good or bad thing for the artworld in general, Continue reading “More private museums: Good or bad? Yes.”