Clippings from the salon floor, #11

Damien Hirst, For the Love of God, 2007Hirstian Math 1 From Linda Sandler of Bloomberg’s $100 Million Diamond Skull Is ‘Almost’ Sold: “The skull represents about a fifth of the value of Hirst’s show at Jay Jopling’s White Cube galleries, according to the artist’s business manager, Frank Dunphy…. The life-sized platinum skull, studded with 8,601 stones weighing 1,106.18 carats, cost Hirst $20 million to make — about the same amount as Jopling spent to build his new White Cube Mason’s Yard gallery.”

Hirstian Math 2 From the BBC.com’s Hirst unveils  £50m diamond skull: “The 18th Century skull is entirely covered in 8,601 jewels, while new teeth were made for the artwork at a cost of  £14m .”

Hirstian Math 3 From the Reuters skull story: “Hirst, who financed the skull himself, said he couldn’t remember whether it had cost 10 or 15 million pounds.”

Hirstian logic Richard Dorment, dependably crystalline in his prose writes: “If anyone but Hirst had made this curious object, we would be struck by its vulgarity. It looks like the kind of thing Asprey or Harrods might sell to credulous visitors from the oil states with unlimited amounts of money to spend, little taste, and no knowledge of art. I can imagine it gracing the drawing room of some African dictator or Colombian drug baron.” Continue reading “Clippings from the salon floor, #11”

Contemporary: what real value?

In the context of a discussion this week, on this site and his own blog, about the appropriateness of different subjects for contemporay Art, Ed Winkleman said

The truth about the current art market is in fact so complicated it’s beyond the grasp of many of the world’s best economists.

Hmmm. That is either a disservice to Economists or an overly apologetic way of describing the nonsense of current pricing.

On bloomberg.com on Friday we had a quote from collector (and former hedge fund manager) Michael Steinhardt saying that new moneyed collectors buy contemporary art as a form of “personal aggrandizement”. He added:-

There are limited assets that have cachet. If you buy the fanciest Cadillac today, or a Mercedes, its a yawn. The world is so wealthy.

he continued:-

The decline [of Art Prices] will be associated with declines in stocks and real estate. A lot of markets are near new highs.

Rothko__72.84m.jpgClearly the records at both Sotheby’s and Christie’s last week reflect a combination of the intrinsic value of the works sold AND a premium associated with the wallets of those bidding against each other. For this not-disinterested collector/observer, it will be interesting to see where prices settle after the impending market correction. In other words: to see what the underlying value of a work might be, after the premium associated with the irrational exuberance of super-moneyed buyers is removed from the marketplace.

China goldrush continues…

eulogy_by_CYF.jpgOn Sunday Chen Yifei’s “Eulogy of the Yellow River” sold for a hammer price of RMB 40.32m (about US$ 5.25m) at China Guardian’s Spring sale. Painted in the middle of China’s Cultural Revolution, it is an example of the Chinese Socialist Realist style by the then-25-year-old patriotic Chen. The previous record for his work was RMB 4m (about US$500k) for one of his photorealist “pretty girls in traditional costumes and slightly artificial poses” series which have been quite popular. That ten-fold jump was attributed to the fact that this is the first major work of Chen’s to come to market since he unexpectedly died in 2005. But the interesting thing about the local reports on this sale is the constant benchmarking of Chinese Art values against those in the West; as if it was a matter of national pride, and a measure of how China was doing generally in the world. Rather than any comments about an overheated market.

So the heat continues. On May 27 Christies has their Spring Asian Contemporary sale in Hong Kong with the expected selections from Zhang Xiaogang, Yue Minjun, Fang Lijun, Wang GuangYi and Zeng Fanzhi. The point of interest this time is the inclusion of earlier works from these artists, who we are used to seeing at auction, including a really quite interesting Zhang Xiaogang (Portrait in Red from 1993) which clearly presages the later, and excessively popular, Bloodline series. If the heat continues, expect more exceeding of estimates.

WGY__YMJ__ZXG_at_PJY.jpgFor those keen to jump on the “hot five” Chinese artist bandwagon but unwilling to pay 7 (or 8?) figures in hard currency for something to fill a space on the wall, why not head down to PanJiaYuan, Beijing’s world renowned ‘art and curio’ market, and pick up original oil paintings “in the style of” whoever you would like, for US$30 max. (See pictures at right and below taken at PanJiaYuan last weekend.) Now doesn’t that seem reasonable for your own private piece of Chinese Contemporary Art Bubble history?

zxg, ymj at pjy_1.jpgPanJiaYuan is experiencing a demand bubble of its own. 6 weeks ago there was only one such stall offering Zhang Xiaogang copies. This weekend there were three stalls offering similar pictures and the range of contemporary artists available had grown. “Very popular with laowai” I was told. (Laowai being foreigners.) It will be interesting to see how this little sub-market develops.

Clippings from the salon floor, #8

Andrea Fraser, untitled, 2003Sexual aftermath Andrea Fraser quoted by STLtoday re reactions to the 2003 piece for which she slept with a collector for $20,000: “The project raised the level of expectations. ‘What will she do next? Kill herself?’ One artist asked me to bear his child as a work of art. I wondered whether I should retire.”

Warm hands, hot market Montreal’s Moderns dealer Robert Landau, cited in Bloomberg’s ImpMod auction reports: “This is a week where we can sit on our hands and buy nothing and watch as our inventory goes up $50 million in value.

Over-reaching auctionspeak #1 From greg.org’s post questioning the propriety of the Phillips de Pury catalog’s use of 9/11/2001 to promote a 1998 Eberhard Havekost painting: “Obviously, the destruction of The World Trade Center is going to factor into any encounter with a work of art which features the buildings… But rather than just make mention of the situation, Phillips is explicitly running with it, pumping up the importance of Havekost’s painting by torquing it into a kind of prophetic artifact.”

Wannabe dealer tip #1 Painter Dana Schutz, cited in The Boston Globe’s How did this guy become such an art world big shot? – a long profile of her dealer, Zach Feuer: “I thought dealers were terrifying people, and he seemed very open. He’s not the typical super-dealer type — he’s really down to earth, and he always pays on time.”

Roberta Smith, princemaker From the same Zach Feuer profile: “[Feuer recalls]’We didn’t sell much at first… I had trouble paying the rent for the first year and a half. The phone was always off for non-payment.’ Then in February 2002, New York Times critic Roberta Smith wrote a positive review of a two-person show of paintings by Holly Coulis and Schutz. The show sold out. ‘Three or four collectors called,’ says Feuer, ‘and it all snowballed from there.’”

Dunst vs Hirst Actress Kirstin Dunst’s take on Damien Hirst, via the Irish Examiner: “I was going to buy a print for  £35,000 (€51,000) – a copy, not the painting, of the butterflies. Then I found out he has a whole studio of people who do the work for him and it only costs about  £1,000 (€1,500) to make a butterfly thing. I think he’s a genius and a good actor[sic], but I don’t think he should charge as much money as he does.Continue reading “Clippings from the salon floor, #8”

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”

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”

It’s definitive: Rubbish = Art

bacon_rubbish.jpgA month ago we did a piece commenting on the absurdity of a small UK country auction house selling leftovers from Francis Bacon’s studio floor and calling it Art. Well, the market has spoken. Rescued from a garbage bin by a local electrician, the discarded “Study for a Portrait”, estimated at an already high  £12,000 to  £18,000, sold for  £400,000 before buyer’s premium.  £400,000. That makes it hard to simply write this off as memorabilia. (Total proceeds were  £965,490. Pre-sale estimates ranged from a realistic  £30,000 to a very optimistic  £500,000. The range in pre-sale estimates is, in itself, a good indication of how difficult it was to estimate the ‘collection’s’ value.)

hirst_stalin.jpgWhen last we broached this topic we also made passing reference to a certain “Damien Hirst Stalin”, sold at Sothebys for  £140,000. In this case, Hirst helped out his friend, writer AA Gill, dispose of an unwanted Soviet era portrait of Stalin that Christie’s had refused to sell. One hastily painted, off centre, red spot later, and Christies accepted the new Damien Hirst into a contemporary art sale with alacrity (although it was Sothebys that eventually sold it), and again the market responded warmly.

In the first case, Bacon’s clear intentions have been ignored, and works he never intended to be seen, let alone sold, have been designated Art. In the second, an artist’s intention to poke fun at the market succeeded royally. And the result is again labelled Art.

In both cases it is the name of an artist that has turned rubbish into Art. The name alone. Should we care?

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”

Saatchi buys; China sells (out?)

Catching up on reading over the weekend I saw an article on Guardian Unlimited on the state of the Chinese Contemporary market, highlighting Charles Saatchi’s moves in the sector. The quote that stuck in my mind was this from Brian Wallace of Beijing’s Red Gate Gallery:

“If you were in it for the money 10 years ago, you would be very well off today. But it is not easy. With all the new entrants into the market, more galleries are taking up more artists. So the overall quality is not as high as before. There are many good artists out there, but a lot of them are now painting for the market – even some of the big names.”

There are parallels with a previous thread about young artists being exposed to buyers too early and having their content and ‘language’ skewed to attract more money. At the moment the Chinese Contemporary market as a whole seems to be acting like a money hungry new art graduate: more concerned with producing work that buyers have shown they will buy, than trying to say anything new. This is, fortunately, not entirely true, but it is certainly the impression one gets from wandering around the galleries.

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.

segolenekreuger.jpg

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”

Clippings collected from the salon floor

A random assortment of the recently amusing….

From The AI Interview: Damien Hirst“: “If you ask people on the street in England who is a famous artist, I think they’d say: Rolf Harris, Prince Charles, David Hockney and Damien Hirst, in that order.Is Hirst being modest or merely accurate? (FYI: www.rolfharris.com)

From ARTINFO’s “Artworks Missing from Philadelphia Schools“: “Eighty-five artworks valued at $838,000 are missing from Philadelphia’s public schools, according to a preliminary audit conducted by the city controller’s office, the Philadelphia Daily News reports… Another 220 artworks, estimated to be worth as much as $30 million, are being held in storage.” Hmm: $30M/220=$136K. Either that’s a typo or the Philly public schools are hiding some serious masterpieces.

Understatement of the week, from the Guardian’s “Emin’s bed stays made, but Beijing finally embraces modern British art“: “‘The whole Chinese scene is on a bit of a roll,’ said Richard Riley, head of the visual arts section of the British Council.”

Understatement of the week, 2nd place, from the Globe and Mail’s “Thieves run off with $2-million gold bar at Japanese museum“: “The Ohashi Collection Kan museum in Takayama, central Japan, had kept the 220-pound gold bullion unguarded by sensors or even a case because it wanted visitors to be able to touch it, according to local police officer Shinji Kurake…[who said] ‘We were very shocked… but of course this was a big block of gold, and there was no security. I suppose they could have been a little more careful.‘”

A Bit of White, Center for Contemporary Non-Objective Art, BrusselsThe E-Flux announcement for the Brussels show A BIT O’ WHITE had me doing doubletakes. Drug reference show title + total whiteness + hyperspeed text (“we do not see anything – it’s white, all white. And yet it opens our eyes, tickles our senses, let’s us be – we see so much. WHITE, which hints at a whole range of possibilities without expressing them, yet puts us on the alert. WHITE, which triggers our emotions, our fears, yet is so familiar to us. WHITE we fear – WHITE we embrace.”) = Terence Koh? I emailed Koh, and he responded: “o me god how did you know its me.” Caveat lector: Koh lies, often and unapologetically.

Sanitised Sensation

Jake And Dinos Chapman, UbermenschAfter last week’s visit to the “Art in America: 300 Years of Innovation” exhibition I was prepared to be underwhelmed by the “Aftershock” show of YBAs at the Capital Museum here in Beijing. Arriving at the imposing new museum building on FuXingMenWai DaJie, a mile or so West of the entrance to the Forbidden City, I was slightly perplexed by the lack of any external indication of the show (though there was a large banner proclaiming an Italian Heritage exhibition) and the fact that it was clearly a museum for antiquities found in and around Beijing. After confirming that the British show was indeed there, and buying my 50RMB (€5) ticket, I was gently directed to a small unmarked door to the right of the main atrium hall and shortly thereafter found myself staring up at Jake & Dinos Chapmans’ homage to Prof Stephen Hawking: Ubermensch.

The show is essentially a smaller (12 artists), milder, version of Saatchi’s YBA Sensation show at the Royal Academy a decade ago. And yes a smaller, milder sensation is what you get. Tracy’s bed is neatly made without a condom in sight. There is no Hirst formaldehyde and the only totally naked form is that of Marc Quinn’s medical milk formula and synthetic polymer wax baby (Innoscience).

Mark Quinn, InnoscienceBut none of the Chinese I saw at the show (art students and casual middle class visitors alike) were complaining. We may find it all a little humdrum now but these two shows (300 Years and Aftershock) are both firsts for China; groundbreaking in their display of particularly contemporary western art in China, in a prestigious forum, and are welcome for it.

The reticence to promote and slightly odd, if impressive, location are therefore forgivable in the context of exposing local Chinese to art they have only ever been able to see before in books and online. The organisers are thus to be commended.

Perhaps, as a result, local art students will be encouraged to be a little more adventurous again. I, for one, am getting a little tired of the current vogue for cartoon style paintings…

Bacon: stamp of approval not required

CutBacon.jpgI’m not sure what happened in London on Tuesday, but yesterday and today several UK stories involved the upcoming Ewbanks auction “Items from the Studio of Francis Bacon.” A more colorful title for the sale might be “45 Auction Lots Assembled From Objects Once Rescued from a Dumpster Outside The Studio of Francis Bacon, Including Other People’s Passports and Postcards.” If you click on the link, you will see interesting memorabilia. There’s also some epically tendentious auction-catalogue language, such as (emphasis mine), “This would not seem to be a completed painting but Bacon frequently discarded canvases, returning to them at a later date, perhaps in this case this was one to which he meant to return but did not do so.” Wow, they read Bacon’s mind, 15 years after he died: Apparently, Bacon wanted it to be a real painting – but things just didn’t work out…

Kathe Kollewitz, c. 1926Personally, I always find it jarring to see something in an auction room or gallery, lovingly framed for sale, that the artist never meant to be considered as part of their oeuvre. Weirdest was stumbling across a Käthe Kollwitz lithograph, which she herself had crossed out (click on the image at right to see a pop-up with the X clearly visible), estimated at roughly $20,000 in a Swiss auction. By virtue of being sold in such contexts, these “pieces” tend to become integrated into the de facto oeuvre. Granted, there is a lot of complexity once one starts to consider the topic closely. It would be simplest, of course, to only deem as art those things which the artist has officially designated as art. But what about Henry Darger, whose stupendous work was only discovered after his death? Or an artist renouncing artworks after selling them, e.g. Richard Prince?

The Ewbanks Bacon sale itself isn’t really hot news, BTW – The Art Newspaper covered it in the March issue, which came out in late February. Either by coincidence or slyness on the part of TAN’s layout team, it adjoined an article that described how the Bristol student house Banksy inhabited is now being valued at double its normal price because of the mural he painted on one wall. Although, based on the image online, this work’s got nothing to do with his clever recent exploits (yeah, I’m a Banksy fan). Rather, it’s kind of cookie-cutter graffiti (one section reads “1st Division Airborne Aerosol Supremacy!”). Anyway, the mural’s being silent-auctioned “with a free house attached.” Right under that Banksy article was one detailing Damien Hirst’s painting a red nose onto a crappy  £200 Stalin portrait, which then sold at Christie’s for  £140,000.

Taken together, those three stories suggest that from a commercial standpoint, anything a famous artist has ever touched will be considered by buyers to be art – quality and intention be damned. Am I alone in finding this strange?

Americans in China

“Art in America: 300 Years of Innovation”, a show that has spent a decade in gestation, is on display at the National Art Museum of China, here in Beijing. (360-degree scans of a 19th Century room here; a more contemporary room here.) It is an ambitious show, as anything trying to cover 300 years of art in a single show would be, and generally succeeds at both informing and entertaining. Supported principally by the Solomon Guggenheim Foundation and the Terra Foundation for American Art, it contains many of the names you would expect, if not, of course, their best works. But it is surprisingly broad church from the 1700s right up to the present.

20070210_mgyssbn_36.jpg - 193.11 KbIt is quite something to walk through rooms starting with Benjamin West’s Penn’s Treaty with the Indians and Gilbert Stuart’s George Washington, and end up with Matthew Barney (Cremaster Cycle) and Kara Walker (Insurrection). On the way you will have seen: Albert Bierstadt (Sierra Nevada), Frederic Remington, George Bellows, John Singer Sargent, Winslow Homer (Watching the Breakers: A High Sea), Childe Hassam; then jumped to Edward Hopper (Dawn in Pennsylvania), Georgia O’Keefe (Red Poppy VI), Walt Kuhn (Clown with Drums); and then Pollock, Motherwell, Rothko, de Kooning, Lichtenstein, Ruscha, Bell, Warhol, Rauschenberg, Twombly, Judd, Serra, Nauman, Weiner, Schnabel, Haring, Gonzalez-Torres, Basquiat, Koons, Currin, Wiley and more. As I said, quite something. For those interested, the only artists that merited two works (as I recall) were John Singer Sargent, Edward Hopper, Jackson Pollock, Andy Warhol and Robert Rauschenberg. Thomas Krens of the Guggenheim led the curatorial team.

I went partly to enjoy the walk, and encourage my art-student daughter to go, but also curious to see local public reaction.

20070210_mgyssbn_22.jpg - 312.50 KbPerhaps predictably, the members of the Beijing public I saw on the two days I went seemed to be most perplexed by the room containing works by Judd (Untitled 1970), Serra (Right Angle Prop), Flavin (Green crossing Green: to Piet Mondrian who lacked Green) and Nauman (None Sing – Neon Sign). Many walked straight across Carl Andre’s 10×10 Altstadt Copper Square without being aware of their intimate experience with a work of modern American Art. There were many more people looking at the more accessible 19th-century works and the, I suppose, more conceptually familiar late-20th-century video works. Indeed Matthew Barney’s Cremaster cycle had its own room packed with people sitting and standing around the room in front of the five screens. Also interesting, and consistent with Lawrence Weiner’s concern with context was the translation of his To See and Be Seen into 3-foot-high Chinese characters 而为人所视 alongside the English. Not that anyone seemed to take notice. One recent work that did seem popular was the Felix Gonzalez-Torres cellophane-wrapped-candy piece (“Untitled” Public Opinion). I saw a number of people pick up single sweets to try and one lady take a two-fisted bundle into her coat. The young fresh-faced guards, Continue reading “Americans in China”

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.

Exhibition catalogs: Time for a rethink?

I had an interesting but dispiriting conversation recently with a curator arranging an exhibition for a hot artist. The curator was trying to work some edgy writing from a young author into the catalog to give it intellectual flair, but the artist and the dealer kept insisting on corralling bigger names “ i.e. people who write for the right magazines. At first I encouraged the curator to fight for that text’s inclusion. But then I broke down and said, “Maybe it’s better to choose another battle. Because in the end most people will just judge the catalog on the names of the writers anyway – they’re not going to read the essays.” The curator agreed, albeit with a bitter laugh.Bouncy Castle Midi Ferme

What purpose does a catalog serve today? In the old days, as I understand it, catalogs were the way in which those who missed the show could get Continue reading “Exhibition catalogs: Time for a rethink?”

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?”

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”