Art Gallery 101

978-1-58115-664-5-2This week marks the publication of Edward Winkleman’s How to Start and Run a Commercial Art Gallery. For those familiar with Ed’s writing from ArtworldSalon—not to mention his own blog—the book may come as a surprise. Although fully qualified to speak as an art-world insider, armed with the requisite attitude and gossip, he chose the more difficult, and in my opinion braver path: To share basic, practical information with younger colleagues about the particular challenges of running an art gallery. Never has such information been more needed than now, when every penny counts and when dealers, both novices and veterans, must think anew about every facet of their business.

Part Bible, part user’s guide, Ed’s book offers calm and steady, and above all honest, advice on questions younger dealers always want to know about, but are often afraid to ask. How much should I pay myself? Where should I advertise? When do I need a lawyer? But even the best-laid plans can skid off the tracks because of the minutiae. One of the virtues of Ed’s book is that it delves into seemingly mundane, nevertheless important matters that others might have glossed over. No detail escapes his attention: from staff dress codes to the best choice of gallery paint color; from industry-standard salary levels to the wisdom of including packing tape in your “art fair survival kit.”

If you’re planning to open a gallery, buy this book. If you’re planning to stay in business, buy this book.

After the dead tree

The nice folks over at The Art Newspaper asked András for his thoughts on what would happen to Arts writing with the decline of the Press.   His response can be seen here, or after the break.

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Continue reading “After the dead tree”

The prize of desperation

3_1466I’m going to go out on a limb and say something that will probably get me branded an elitist, a staunch defender of the status quo. I don’t like this big new art prize.

I am talking about the ArtPrize [sic.], the “radically open” art competition with the greatest payout in history: $250,000 for the winner ($100,000 for the runner-up) in an American Idol-style contest based on voting by the general public. It’s being funded by a well-meaning young gentleman named Rick DeVos, who won a contest of a different sort — genetic — and leveraged his inherited fortune with entrepreneurial feats of his own. The contestants will register online, ship their work to Grand Rapids, Michigan, and the rest will be up to the good folks who happen to be in town during an exhibitionpalooza weekend event where the voting takes place.

So what’s wrong with this picture? I can think of four things.

First, I have nothing against discovering those hidden diamonds in our midst (I, too, watched the Laura Boyle video and got misty-eyed), but public polling is not the best way to reward human accomplishment. The Olympics, the Nobel, or the Pulitzer Prizes are earned in arduous, sometimes lifelong ordeals of jumping over physical and mental hurdles. Judgment by juries and peers has a lot to do with the authority of these awards. Continue reading “The prize of desperation”

Elusive silver linings

2577618297_a9eca1d130From struggling academics, to struggling artists. The New York Times started a blog titled Attention Artists!, on the recession’s impact on artists. So far, responses have been surprisingly sanguine, ranging from “I am completely adapted to being satisfied from my work and my work alone,” to “I think that the recession is making people understand the intrinsic and real value of art.” Some artists wax lethargic about their financial woes. But a more characteristic comment would be this: “The sick economy, combined with the collapse and confusion of the corporate music business, has actually been good for those of us who have existed on the fringes for years.”

Artists may be blessed with strong survival skills, especially in the putting-a-brave-face-on-misery department. Or is this a form of “false consciousness” (to dust off another half-forgotten thinker who is suddenly back in vogue)? How realistic is this new silver-lining discourse?

The idea that art-market busts are good because artists can “take over the factory, make the art industry their own” and “daydream and concentrate” was given an airing in February by Holland Cotter in New York Times in a manifesto-esque article,“The Boom is Over. Long Live Art.” Lots of people who make their living in the art world took note, and some felt the critic may have missed the point. At this stage in history, must art’s credibility depend on proof of human suffering and absence of commercial success? “Certainly, the excesses of the art world were alienating,” observed Alexandra Peers, an ArtworldSalon friend, in a riposte to Cotter in New York magazine. “But there’s Schadenfreude in the argument that bad times are good for the naughty, naughty art world.”

So which is it: An outbreak of gooey-eyed Romanticism? Or a sober reckoning with tough but healthy new realities?

Dubai on my mind

museumislamicartWithout exception, every person who heard about my recent trip to Dubai asked if I saw a parking lot at the airport filled with abandoned cars left behind by indebted foreign workers. I didn’t. But that powerful image seems to have been indelibly etched into the minds of newspaper-reading Westerners.

I did see many stalled skyscrapers and more than a few unhappy expatriates. Yet for the arts, the economic slowdown, here as elsewhere, presents a more mixed picture. In Dubai, it’s about switching from golden dreams to silver linings. I had an interesting conversation with an arts administrator who is matching up arts groups with empty real estate—just the kind of win-win deals we saw in New York City during our own years of blight. It may be that by suspending its mega-projects, Dubai will leave breathing room for scrappy local arts initiatives to take root and evolve haphazardly and organically. Culture sometimes works in such unpredictable ways.

Elsewhere, there was scant evidence of global financial Armageddon. The Art Dubai fair was, by all accounts, the best so far. It has matured into an indispensable regional fair, with dealers from neighboring countries reporting decent sales. The Global Art Forum conference (where I was a moderator) drew an international A-list crowd and played to a packed house in its lovely tent by the sea. The gigantic luxury hotel complex where these events took place was completely sold out. The Sharjah Biennial, timed to coincide this year with Art Dubai, was widely praised by those who made the short trek to the smaller Emirate east of Dubai. Going in the other direction, Abu Dhabi, sitting on vast oil reserves, is pressing on with huge cultural and educational projects. And in Doha, Qatar’s thriving capital, we were shown around I.M. Pei’s magnificent Museum of Islamic Arts, just the first of several treasure troves occasioned by the epic collecting spree of the local ruling family.

In the Gulf Region, the global crisis has stalled some plans but not others. So the question arises, two years into this downturn: Will all emerging markets and scenes suffer in equal measure? Which regions will experience the greatest setbacks, and which ones will get through this difficult period unscathed?

The rat, the rabbit and Yves St Laurent

ysl-bronzesThis just in from Art Newspaper Editor, Georgina Adam.

The saga of the Chinese bronzes hammered down at auction during the Yves St Laurent sale and then not paid for, as a political gesture, raises many thorny questions.

Briefly, (and for those of you who were on Mars this week), the two Qianlong bronze heads, of a rat and a rabbit, were looted from the Yuanming Yuan Summer Palace in Beijing by Franco-British forces in 1860 during the Opium Wars. They were two of 12 heads which adorned a Zodiac fountain, five of which have never resurfaced.

The heads were offered for sale by Pierre Bergé, the late Yves St Laurent’s former lover and business partner, in Christie’s block-busting sale of their collection last week in Paris. The Chinese have been calling for the return of the heads, and a French association (AFACT) with links to China attempted to block the sale by bringing an emergency injunction in a French court shortly before the sale started. The demand was thrown out in no uncertain terms by the French “procureur” (prosecutor) for a number of reasons, some technical and others more fundamental. I was in court and subsequently at the sale when the bronzes were sold.

China was not able, legally, to claim the bronzes under international law, and does not want simply to buy them back – its position being that they were looted and should be returned. At no point did AFACT claim that Bergé was not the legal owner of the heads, and prior to the sale Bergé stated that he would be prepared to return the heads “when China respects human rights and frees Tibet”. This did nothing to improve Sino-French relations, which hit a new low after French President Nicolas Sarkozy met with the Dalai Lama last December in Poland.

At the sale, the two heads were “sold” to a bidder on the telephone, underbid by two other telephones for the first, and one for the second. The price was  £20.4m each, including premium, and contrary to usual practice no paddle number was announced – “the buyer wanted absolute discretion,” auctioneer François de Ricqlès said afterwards.

On Monday this week a Chinese collector and auction house general manager, Cai Mingchao, announced that he was the buyer and that he was refusing to pay, as a patriotic gesture.

So here are some of the questions this saga raises. Continue reading “The rat, the rabbit and Yves St Laurent”

The Singapore experiment

kinesisk-tempel-singaporeWhat kind of an art world do you get without critics? To some, the question may sound hypothetical. But as I learned in Singapore last week, such scenarios exist, and may become more common.

In every tangible respect, the visual arts in Singapore are in an enviable situation. The small island nation sees cultural investments as a step toward a high-tech, educated, information society. The major arts facilities are glittering after ambitious additions and facelifts. The display technology in the top museums is world class. There are for-profit and non-profit art galleries. More and more institutions are being built. Artists can learn in prestigious training programs, some managed in partnership with reputable foreign institutions. Grants for travel and production are widely available.

The missing element is criticism. There is none. Newspapers offer reportage, but no reviews. There are no local criticism journals or websites, no training in criticism at universities. In talking with students and artists from around Asia, it quickly becomes clear that while western-style art cultures and art markets are proliferating, criticism is not necessarily being added into the mix. There is one silver lining: More direct contacts between artists (in person or online) not only to chit-chat, but to seriously debate the merits of each other’s work — the kind of intense, one-on-one dialogue and discourse we only read about in the history books.

With Asia exerting a more powerful influence, and with the Western arts press in decline, could the absence of criticism become the norm, not the exception?

Whither curatorial studies?

top_left_metThis in from Eva Diaz:

Following on the previous piece on museum directors, I was surprised–yet somehow not surprised– that the list didn’t mention artists, curation, or really much about museum  content.    One would think that such a list of “improvements” to museums would include the requirement that museums strive to better their shows and content?   In particular, the list missed mentioning curators; you know, those poor souls who the Association of Museum Directors employ, and who are ostensibly the creative agents within museum institutions. That omission got me thinking about what curators do, about the curatorial profession, and about the pedagogical cottage industry of curatorial studies.

That means asking “why the global proliferation of post-graduate/MFA-granting curatorial programs today?” And that begs a related question of just what is “curatorial studies” as a discipline.   Maybe the problem is that it isn’t one at all.   

Perhaps it’s easier to begin by asking what sort of professional outcomes curatorial studies presents its graduates.   As a degree (M.A.) or credential, it doesn’t offer much professional security in academia, which generally reserves permanent or tenured positions in the arts for holders of terminal degrees such as art history Ph.D.s or art practice MFAs.    The close connection (and often asymmetrical relationship) of curatorial studies programs (no PhD)  to art history departments (PhD-granting) means that the seat of their graduates’ professional aspirations aren’t in academia, but elsewhere. Where is that elsewhere?

Simple answer, right? To curate, that is, to organize art exhibitions (and to produce and perhaps write for art catalogs that result from those exhibitions) happens in but a few sites: art museums, non-profit or university art centers, and commercial art galleries.   Curatorial studies programs feed students into these three institutions; the art magazine world and the grant-giving/foundation sector can be folded in here too, though generally they do not involve curating narrowly defined.   Working as a curator generally means intersecting with at least one of these art display institutions, whether or not the curatorial work is independent or salaried.   Though these sites have different masters, different “employers” so to speak, the non-profit and museum worlds in particular share certain professional similarities.   Yet curatorial studies programs don’t seem designed to educate students about the expectations of these institutions.

Continue reading “Whither curatorial studies?”

By popular demand

10commandmentsAt the recent Association of Art Museum Directors conference, I read a 10-point “Recovery Plan” for museums. Several people asked for it after the conference, so here it is. Thoughts welcome.

1. Avoid rash moves that alienate private benefactors, who have been the bedrock of your support since the 19th century.

2. Develop realistic ethical protocols that maximize giving while safeguarding curatorial independence.

3. To tap government support, make a better case about your public benefits.

4. Make yourself culturally indispensable by opening up prudently to amateur and informal culture and – yes – commercial culture.

5. Push for new infrastructure: develop loan and credit facilities, adopt best management practices, harness new technology.

6. Think harder about mergers, partnerships, and collaborations.

7. Develop a joint communication and marketing effort to take charge of the public debate about museum ethics.

8. Address the collapse of quality arts media and do more to tell your own story directly to the audience.

9. Enhance your professionalism through better education, including training in arts business and administration.

10. Start buying the inexpensive wonderful contemporary art which about to hit the market, and which will make you look very smart tomorrow.

Rush to the exit

museum_closedIt may be safe to say that the news of the closing of the Rose Art Museum at Brandeis has brought the panic barometer up a notch in the museum world. While the Rose’s news is particularly shocking, parallel announcements are also dropping jaws: word came yesterday, for example, that the Nelson Atkins Museum in Kansas City will eliminate the positions of Chief Curator, Director of Education, Director of Planning and Director of Operations, along with other staff. Other organizations have announced similar cuts. It is rare, at this point, to find a museum that has not, at the very least, taken preventive measures, such as imposing hiring freezes or budget reductions. These announcements foreshadow a troubling landscape for venerable museums that, we once thought, would be around us forever.

The ultimate sacrilege of de-accessioning is no less shocking than drastic board decisions that, in one sweeping stroke, can erase the labor of generations of collectors, curators and philanthropists. Are these decisions inevitable? Is there another way to save a museum, without dissolving its collection or its staff?

What doesn’t seem to be discussed much is role of the government. Today, Congress is voting on a plan approved by the House Appropriations Committee which includes $50 million in supplemental funds for the National Endowment for the Arts, along with other provisions that can benefit the arts. While this would be a helpful stimulus (if it gets approved), it is still a tiny sum of money. It barely represents a quarter of the Metropolitan Museum’s annual budget.

Shouldn’t culture deserve a bailout of the kind that banks and the auto industry have enjoyed? Art has never been a major priority of this country. But just how much is it worth it to us? What would happen if five months from now the list of threatened museums expanded to the highest tiers? Will we just watch all that art go away? If we were to play this scenario out to its ultimate conclusion, we may have to picture ourselves twenty years from now, staring at American Gothic somewhere in Shanghai, or Nighthawks at a museum in Dubai. Could that be the future?

Will LA lead the way?

lamocaThe future of the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art is being decided as we speak. Two scenarios have been preoccupying the press — a LACMA-MOCA merger or a “bailout” by Eli Broad — and the final outcome may be a mix of the two, or something different. This is LA, a city of white knights and twisting plots. Events don’t always follow the predictable screenplay. (I have long been a fan of a Getty-MOCA combo, but that, apparently, is not in the cards.)

Whatever happens, the art world is watching because MOCA’s problems won’t be the last. Museum finances across the country (and the world) are shaky, and some institutions are stretched to the limit. As Warren Buffett likes to say, “It’s only after the tide goes out that you see who’s swimming naked.” But curiously, while much talk in the boom years centered on Faustian bargains that museums make to survive, it is only now, with the protective cover of philanthropic and endowment revenues suddenly removed, that the truly tough choices must be made.

Here might be the silver lining. In a world where Merrill Lynch can be sold in a day, we have yet to read about a single proactive arts merger in the papers. Cities across the nation are dotted with cultural institutions that cannot pay their way and are going after the same benefactors. But mergers and combinations remain options of last resort. That has to change.

The news from LA may also make future benefactors more cautious about building new infrastructure where institutions already exist. The museum landscape of LA is the ultimate example of the principle of “to each patron his own edifice.” Last but not least, if things get worse, we may yet witness a reassessment of government’s role in the arts, as happened on Wall Street.

What do you see as the larger lessons of Los Angeles?

The big chill

netjets-alex-katzUnusually cold weather for Miami lent the opening night festivities a somewhat spooky and sinister air. “I though it was a celebrity, but then I realized it was just some people around the space heater,” said one reveler at the Art Basel opening party, at the Delano Hotel, as a group of half naked Brazilian dancers braved the chilly December winds. Then again, it could have been Antonio Banderas.

Yet despite the cold, the crowd pressed on, like a group of tourists who had booked a late season cruise and were determined to make the most of the amenities on board.

And fancy amenities were everywhere in evidence–gifts from a recent, happier past, when ambitious plans for this week were being hatched. Netjets invited people to celebrate Alex Katz at the Raleigh hotel, posting a giant Hollywood-style sign in the sand in the hotel’s garden. Not to be outdone by the Art Basel event down the street, the dancers at this party added juggled burning torches. Mini cupcakes were emblazoned with tiny marzipan Netjets logos–a sweet touch.

Earlier in the day, in the Design District, preparations were going on for the rollout of Design Miami. Under a tent that resembled a giant lace curtain, it was all business as usual. Takashi Murakami’s operation opened up a store to sell a new line of Murakami household objets, including three giant balls, the largest almost eight feet in diamater, festooned with technicolor flowers constructed out of soft and fluffy teddy bear fur. “Is it furniture or is it art?” I inquired. “It can be anything,” the friendly Japanese PR lady obliged.

Continue reading “The big chill”

Message in a bottle

us-cover1Sarah Thornton’s book Seven Days in the Art World, which documents the frenzied peak of the recent art boom, arrives next week in American bookstores, just as that boom appears to be sputtering out. Some would call this bad timing. In fact, it’s a stroke of good luck. It puts Ms. Thornton, a Canadian-born, London-based sociologist-turned-journalist, in the enviable position of having captured an epic chapter in art-world history in its entirety. It’s all here, a message in a bottle to be consumed now, to reflect on what just happened, or later, when the action heats up all over again, as something of a cautionary tale. Each chapter examines a facet of the art world – auctions, dealers, art fairs, and so on – in a fluid, breezy style that masks some serious heavy lifting. The intrepid author has spoken to “everybody” in the art world. No detail escapes her attention, from the desk arrangements of her interviewees to their designer footwear. Underneath the glossy surface, however, lurks a sociologist’s concern for institutional narratives as well as the ethnographer’s conviction that entire social structures can be apprehended in seemingly frivolous patterns of speech or dress. And clearly, Sarah (a friend of artworldsalon) was having fun. We caught up with her on the eve of her US book tour to ask her some questions about the book:

ARTWORLDSALON: You are a sociologist turned writer. What was your biggest discovery about the art world?

SARAH THORNTON: I never had a Eureka moment. Instead, I experienced unfolding revelations. I think that’s how the book reads, too. One reason the art world fascinates me is because it is so full of conflict. It’s at once idealistic and materialistic, exclusive and open, petty and lofty. Moreover, the art world is so full of warring factions that writing this book has been like walking through a minefield.

Your book appears in the US just as global markets, and it seems the art market along with them, are entering a period of turmoil. How does it change the book’s message?

I see the book as having a handful of themes. It is a social history of the recent past – a remarkable period in which an unprecedented economic boom infiltrated every corner of the art world, even the consciousness of art students sitting in a left-wing conceptual art think-tank in the middle of the desert. It helps to have documented the structures and dynamics of a bull art market, because we forget them so quickly. Continue reading “Message in a bottle”

And so it starts…

christies-unsold-bacon-portrait-of-henrietta-moraes-1969Bloomberg today reported the dramatic drop in prices achieved at all the major auction houses this weekend.

Sales by Sotheby’s, Christie’s International and Phillips de Pury & Co made a combined 59 million pounds ($102 million), against minimum estimates of 106.2 million pounds, according to Bloomberg calculations. They follow a five-day auction by Sotheby’s in Hong Kong this month that raised HK$1.1 billion ($141.7 million), also about half the presale estimate, as buyers shunned some top lots for being too expensive.

This is of course to be expected as much of the collector market focuses on wealth preservation rather than spending. And galleries in New York have noticed a softening for some time.  Interestingly, though, one normally expects an art market correction 6 to 9 months after stock market crashes.  The question now is whether this is the start of a rout in the contemporary art market or merely a short term, financial market correlated, “correction.”

It also, by the way, raises a question about the other major art story of last week about recent moves by two former senior US museum directors to the private sector. Robert Fitzpatrick moved from the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago to Christie’s Haunch of Venison, and David Ross moved on from his days at the Whitney and the Museum of Modern Art in San Francisco to be a partner at Albion.  Whilst I fully understand the attractions of better salaries and less stifling boards, I wonder if their timing was all it could be?

Not everyone is worried though.  I have spoken to two collectors this weekend who said, in effect, “finally a correction: maybe prices will come down to a more reasonable level and we can start buying again.”

So what do you think: Short term correction or start of a rout? A good thing or a bad thing?

What’s next for nonprofits?

Armory
Now that government regulation of investments and markets is suddenly back in vogue, it’s only a matter of time until the reformers and the ethical cleansers train their sights on the least regulated market of them all–the art market. This will take time, but stay tuned. As last week’s exchanges made clear, taking a measure of post-bailout art values is also an exercise for another day. Only the November auctions will give us clear signals about the market’s health or decline.

This gives us breathing room to look further afield. What are the wider effects of the financial meltdown? To launch what might be a recurring feature about “What’s next?” let’s look at what the latest turn of events means for nonprofits. The postmortems have already begun. The Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post published articles over the past weekend about nonprofits bracing for the worst. The Journal points out that U.S. charitable donations grew a paltry 1% in 2007–that’s before the bad news hit. And although, as the Post reminds, corporate donations amounted to only 3% of the contributed income of nonprofit arts groups, some of the most generous sources of corporate giving are likely to vanish, at least for now.

So what is a nonprofit leader to do? As always, the worst-hit will be mid-size groups with high overhead and weak fundraising potential. These would do well to take a look at the astonishing flexibility that giant financial firms have shown in this crisis. If Merrill Lynch can be sold in a day, arts organizations, too, can adapt. For museums, there are undeniable threats in this new environment, including the possibility of tougher Congressional scrutiny of tax exceptions and loopholes. But there might also be a distant silver lining in the form of lower acquisition costs and more revenue from visitors–museums are an inexpensive family pastime, especially compared to a weekend in Turks and Caicos.

The real benefits of an economic downturn for nonprofits may be less obvious. The pendulum may be swinging back to a point where nonprofit art-world institutions start to matter more again. Creative Time’s current event series, Democracy in America, which culminated with the well-timed opening of a sprawling exhibit of political art at the Park Avenue Armory last weekend (see picture) may be a sign of good things to come–evidence that the art world may be ready to rejoin the “reality based community.”

9/15

3708bk1
The topography of Wall Street and the financial system was redrawn over the past weekend. So what’s next? And specifically, what’s next for the art market? In recent months, heightened anxiety about the credit crisis and the meltdown in global finance did not translate into a flight from art purchases. Quite the opposite. Will the current jitters cause collectors and investors to look to art as a safe haven, or will they put the breaks on a long boom that has persisted, with a brief interruption in the early 1990s, for almost a quarter century? What does it mean for nonprofit institutions which rely on donations, and for art sales that depend on loans, guarantees, and credit? Who stands to lose or gain from the next round of transformations? And on the eve of a historic single-artist sale, are we going to witness a turning point in the psychology of the art world and the art business? I invite our panel to submit educated guesses.

Summer reading: The $12 Million Stuffed Shark

Shark_Thompson.jpgA side benefit of the boom has been a stream of new books on the business of art. Given the lack of independently verifiable data, especially about the gallery trade, these books usually promise more than they can deliver. Don Thompson’s The $12 Million Stuffed Shark: The Curious Economics of Art and Auction Houses (until recently available only in the U.K.) is no exception. But it qualifies as recommended reading for anyone looking for a quick overview of how the art world works.

Thompson, an economist and branding expert, undertook a yearlong “journey of discovery” for this entertaining study of the “economics and psychology of art, dealers, and auctions.” By his description, the book “explores money, lust and self aggrandizement of possession, all important elements on the world of contemporary art.” He admits “much of the anecdotal material and some of the numbers in the book are single-source stories and facts,” which are often “embellished in the retelling” and “accepted as fact because they are repeated as fact.” The candor is refreshing. And to be sure, Thompson has a keen eye for the telling statistic.

With these provisos out of the way, and no endorsement of the accuracy of what follows, here is a glossary of facts and figures from the book (all offered by the author without the benefit of direct references or footnotes):
• “Eight of ten works purchased directly from an artist and half the works purchased at auction will never again resell at their purchase price.” Continue reading “Summer reading: The $12 Million Stuffed Shark”

Art fairs: one artist’s viewpoint

Lisa_Ruyter_03station.jpgWith Art Basel around the corner, this just in from Lisa Ruyter in Vienna:

When I was commissioned to do the art for The Armory Show 2004 catalog, I wrote an introduction that was a rhapsody about my love of art fairs. Not so many years before that, I began showing at Art Basel with Art & Public gallery, with such clear, positive results that I decided to make my largest and most risky piece, a Stations of the Cross, for a five day exhibition at Art Unlimited, with the support of Pierre Huber. This seems like ages ago, but it really isn’t, and my changing feelings about fairs are probably mostly a reflection of my own growth rather than a reflection of trends of the marketplace.

Since then, I have continued to participate in fairs in different ways, including with my own eponymously named gallery, presenting work by other artists. I see the limitations more and more clearly. I am very aware that it gave me an opportunity to develop a broad and solid international system of support for myself as an artist, and with that, secure a large degree of freedom to live wherever I want in the world. I can put my focus on getting involved deeply in local scenes that I really love, and to take much larger risks with my artwork when I want to. It has allowed me to indulge my independence without self-destructing.

As long as these fairs continue in their current popularity and with galleries as their primary clientele, they will continue to be a measure of what makes an important gallery (and also an unimportant gallery). For example, an artist can significantly raise his or her profile by signing up with a gallery that regularly gets into Frieze or Basel, and often there is only room for one or two other fairs in the world to share that top status. To me Basel holds the top spot because it always put the artworks first. But that is another discussion. Continue reading “Art fairs: one artist’s viewpoint”

Art fairs don’t die they just multiply

ArtCologne.jpeg Maastricht, Armory, Basel, Frieze, Arco, Miami, of course. But Bologna, Abu Dhabi, Rotterdam, Minneapolis and Stockholm? Who goes to these fairs and are they really necessary? Judging by a hilarious and despairing account of selling absolutely nothing at the recent Art Cologne (read his candid fair obituary here), dealer Kenny Schachter seems to be advocating a cull in the number of deadwood art fairs. Cologne’s problems are well documented and numerous leadership wrangles mean that it’ll get another revamp next year, but to what end?

Similarly, it was with much trepidation that a gaggle of young London dealers sloped off to the newly reborn Art Chicago, formerly the US’s pre-eminent art fair, to exhibit in the invited section of its contemporary sideshow NEXT. What concerns most of them is that the new owners Merchandise Mart (who also own the Armory, Volta and the Toronto Fair) were simultaneously holding three other fairs in the same building (The M. Mart International Antiques Fair, The Artist Project and the Intuit Show of Outsider and Folk Art) under the banner of Artropolis, like some kind of multi-storey monster-truck car park for art.

Despite the mild protestations of their president Chris Kennedy (yes, of that family) – ‘We’re not trying to be the Macy’s of the art world’– Merchandise Mart’s new financial muscle and the windy city’s track record suggest that Chicago deserves another crack of the whip, but when will some of these other art fairs learn to just quietly lay down and die? Oh, and how many dealers do you know ever admit to selling very little or nothing at all?

The new sin tax: museum tschotchkes

TschotsckesMug.jpgMove over, cigarettes. The New York Times reports this morning that N.Y. State officials plan to offset government spending by levying a tax on museum gift shops. For years lawmakers have been asking why an Alessi corkscrew should be taxed in one kind of shop but not in another. Now it’s official: “An array of smaller tax law changes — requiring nonprofit organizations like museums and advocacy groups to collect sales taxes on T-shirts, mugs and other items — will bring in more modest amounts.” The same politicians who walked way from half a billion dollars in annual revenues from a Manhattan traffic congestion charge will combat future deficits with a tithe on postcards and mouse pads.

The call for ethical cleansing is ringing anew not just from Albany but also from the inner precincts of the art world. The always sharp Adrian Ellis has penned a pointedly polemical article in The Art Newspaper entitled “Museums should beware of being used as marketing tools.” Never one to mince words, he casts a stern gaze at museum acquisitions of contemporary art — around which he detects the odor of “insider trading” — and concludes that in some cases “museums serve as accomplices, albeit unwilling, to a sequence of events in which their standing is appropriated for private gain.” Read and discuss.

Meanwhile, downstairs in the gift shop, the new regulations may open the way for unexpected consequences. The chimera of educational (and therefore tax-exempt) intent having been dispelled, museums may start to stock their shelves with more nakedly profitable goods. (Sandro Chia’s excellent but hard-to-find Brunello di Montalcino could be a start.) The Times is already discussing museum souvenirs in one breath with tobacco and massage parlors. So what’s next — warning labels?