The price is right?

Christies.pngSothebys.pngAs part of the art world’s chattering class, we hold our breath in anticipation of contemporary art auctions only long enough to weigh in on their outcomes. Our stake in whether the sales fall short, meet, or exceed estimates runs I’d say on average to about 400 words. Well I suggest we spice things up a bit with a little contest.

While we claim to know the value of contemporary art better than most, let’s see if we really know the market for it. Below are six works on sale this week; three from Sotheby’s and three from Christie’s, and each from one of the houses’ three sessions (evening, morning and afternoon). The works are accompanied by their estimates. AWS will award two prizes: The first—bragging rights and marquee billing as AWS’s own Carnac the Magnificent (a Johnny Carson reference for those of you scratching your heads)—will go to whoever comes closest in their prediction of the final hammer price for each separate lot listed below. The second—more bragging rights and marquee billing as AWS’s Market Guru (a.k.a. Money Honey)—will go to whoever comes closest to the combined hammer price for all six works. All entries must be submitted by 7pm (EST), May 13th, 2008. Good luck.

(For those of you who are not registered commenters, send your entries to “mail – at – artworldsalon.com”.) To see the 6 works, click: Continue reading “The price is right?”

Of stocks & markets

Sothebys_vs_NYSE_1yr.gifThere is, again, a fair amount of buzz about the health of the Art market these days. Robert Frank at the Wall Street Journal recently raised the spectre of a decline, based on the 50% fall in Sotheby’s share price over the last 6 months. He points a finger at the rise in guarantees offered by Sothebys to sellers over the last year, something we talked about last August, and the potential for buyers to default on agreed purchases. Then Marion Maneker at Slate issued a well argued riposte, pointing out that the rise in debtors on Sothebys balance sheet is consistent with a rise in the value of sales over the same period; i.e. the higher the level of sales, the higher the level of money owed by buyers to Sothebys until the day they actually pay. She also makes the argument that the guarantees are not as big a worry as they might be because “most of the guaranteed paintings do get sold—and quickly” [after the auction].

I have concerns about both articles. Firstly I am not sure Frank is right in using Sothebys as a proxy for the Art market as a whole. The stock market clearly doesn’t like something about the numbers at Sothebys, perhaps because of perceived greater risk taking by the auction firm (no doubt related to the larger guarantees and larger accounts receivable), but that doesn’t mean the Art market as a whole is suffering; yet. But Maneker is also a touch too sanguine about those same guarantees because I doubt the unsold works will sell quite so quickly, nor at such “reasonable” prices, if the market was in free fall.

To me the key question that will determine whether the Art market suffers a major correction, as in 1990, or a gentle slowing of the current manic rise is the degree to which there is speculation amongst the current buying community. If the prices being paid for contemporary works in New York, HongKong, London and elsewhere reflect genuine collector passion for the works, then that passion is unlikely to fade just because prices for new works fall. On the other hand, if a significant portion of the current buyers are people buying just because it is ‘cool’ to do be seen to do so, and in addition they think they can sell their new prizes in a year or two for a 50% gain, then many of those same buyers will dump stock into the auction rooms as soon as they get nervous about the direction of prices.

So which do you think it is?

Speaking of fairs…

Forged_by_Qin_Chong.jpgWent along to the opening of the 5th China International Gallery Exposition (CIGE) here in Beijing on Thursday. Held at the snazzy central China World Trade Centre it gets cleaner and better organised each year. Sadly the Chinese works on display were mostly overpriced and familiar. Even when the artist and work were new. There are exceptions, of course. Urs at Urs Meile and Fabien at F2 are among those trying to build long term relationships with, and long term reputations for, the artists they represent; encouraging development of oeuvre and restraint in pricing. But this is gold rush time for China Contemporary. This sculpture (“Forged by Qin Chong”) probably best illustrates the focus of most Chinese contemporary artists these days.

I did enjoy seeing the work from other galleries around Asia. Attracted by the new deep pockets of the Northern Chinese, galleries from Tokyo, Seoul, Taipei, Kuala Lumpur, Jakarta, Manila, Singapore and Mumbai were all in evidence. Many with their artists in tow. It made for a fun cultural mix in an otherwise fairly quiet VIP evening. They also provided refreshing views, textures and subjects in a room full of yet more pink, bloated cartoonesque Chinese works.

It will be interesting to see how this Fair evolves. There are fewer exhibitors this year (81 vs 118 last year) and there has been a large churn. For example not one of the 5 French galleries that came last year returned. And the number of mainland Chinese galleries who bothered to exhibit is down sharply; 16 this year, down from 39 last year. On the other hand there was a new area upstairs for solo shows of young artists from around Asia (not just China) and a surprising number of dedicated contemporary video art rooms.

Buyers seemed in short supply, however. At least the media present knew who they were after as they hounded the minor TV celebrities that wandered, slightly bewildered, through the exhibits. One interesting thing was the presence of Phillips dePury as one of the sponsors. Not there to launch a new office in Beijing, but to promote their ConArt sale in New York at the end of May. A long way to come for customers.

Interesting times.

Notes on ‘Art and Money’

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On the 14th, Artforum hosted a panel at the New School with the stripped down and self-evident title “Art and Money.” The panelists included Tom Crow (much esteemed if somewhat dusty art historian currently installed at NYU’s Institute of Fine Arts), Amy Cappellazzo (International Co-Head of Christies ‘s Post-War and Contemporary Art department, art world punching bag and proud mother of the auction house as “big box store” analogy), Yinka Shonibare MBE (perhaps the very definition of the post-historical, post-colonial, post-black artist), Kathy Halbreich (former Director of the Walker and now MoMA’s image disciplinarian-cum-Kultur defender) and Jeffrey Deitch (maestro of the art world spectacle who never met a hipster he didn’t like); it was, to say the least, an almost perfectly diverse array of the art industry’s different player positions. Tim Griffin (Artforum‘s soft-spoken editor) moderated the event.

The house was packed, no doubt in anticipation of the rhetorical grenades that the panelists, antagonists all, would lob into one another’s laps. But once again, “politesse” was regnant (see Andras Szanto’s dispatch from the ADAA/MoMA Panel back in February). Here is a brief rundown of the more and less interesting of the panelists’ comments:

Deitch opened with an astute statement on how the artworld had become the newest “platform” upon which “creative people” from all disciplines gather, adding that “people at the top of their game like to meet one another,” which sounds a lot like celebrity culture entering a plea of Innocent.

Shonibare noted that a “bigger market” makes room for “bigger thoughts.” As to whether those thoughts are actually better, he withheld judgment, but did add that bigger work continues to run the risk of appearing “superficial.” Continue reading “Notes on ‘Art and Money’”

Pointless punditry (why critics don’t matter, ch. 35)

Portrait_of_the_Art_Critic_Vladimir_Stasov__by_Ilya_Repin__1883.JPGFor this post, I was going to write about the Whitney Biennial. I was planning to coin the phrase “Unfinish Fetish” to describe the prevalence of inexpensive and coarse materials in the show. Alternatively, I might have written about the surprisingly solid auction sales of recent weeks. Or I might have devoted an article to the excitement of the ADAA fair and its ebullient opening in New York.

But none of this would have mattered much, because, you see, pundits don’t matter much. That was an insight I gained last weekend at a conference organized by the Museé D’Art Contemporain de Montréal.

The Max and Iris Stern International Symposium on the State of the Contemporary Art Market coincided with the worst snowstorm in the city since 1971 (a pundit may have observed the symbolism of this fact). A highlight of the event was a presentation by Michael Moses, the economics professor of Mei-Moses index fame. The talk included fresh figures from 2007, according to which art solidly outperformed stocks last year. The Mei-Moses jumped just over 20 percent, against a 5.5 percent uptick in the S&P 500. (The real money was in gold, which shot up 31 percent.) No surprise, but 2007 was the first year since the inception of the index that fine art values measurably outperformed real estate.

But the statistics that raised the most eyebrows had to do with “citations.” Does a mention by a critic or a selection by a museum curator make a difference in the sale price of an artwork at auction? No. “Art critics and museums are basically meaningless.”

Well, almost meaningless. Only when there had been at least 11 citations by critics or selections by curators (as noted in the auction catalog) did citations make a dent on prices. Of 12,000 works analyzed by Professors Mei and Moses, that could only be said about 185 objects. Even then, the impact was a paltry half-percent.

The findings raise interesting questions when it comes to journalistic accusations of “collusion” by “interested parties” who loan artworks to museums to get them talked about by critics. This may matter for contemporary art, which does indeed get a bump from museum exposure and critical validation, as the creators of the works at the Whitney Biennial, finished or not, will soon find out. But in most cases, where artists already present at auction are concerned, the data do not confirm the conventional wisdom that citations matter.

Last point: If you can make it to Montréal, don’t miss “Cuba! Art and History from 1868 to Today” at the Museé des Beaux-Arts. It may be the best exhibition you see this year, and it won’t be coming to the U.S.

Pass the crystal ball, please

ADAA.jpgIf you have been following the US election campaign, Saturday’s ADAA/MoMA panel on “Art Dealers and Auction Houses: A Cultural Divide” had a familiar ring to it. It felt like a presidential debate.

The teams of gallery and auction-house heavyweights – boasting “150 years of combined art-world experience” – exuded statesmanlike politesse. Some waxed doubtful about the gathering’s antagonistic premise, and none more so than Simon de Pury, who in his trademark, honey-dipped accent declared, “I find it amusing to hear about the so-called divide between auctions and dealers. We all have a great responsibility toward the artist.”

The jolly, why-can’t-we-just-get-along mood was breached only by occasional episodes of harpoon throwing, such as when Andrea Rosen compared auctioneers to sharks. “Sharks aren’t bad,” she offered, quoting an unnamed artist in her gallery, “They are opportunists. They take the fish that’s easiest to get.” But even Amy Capellazzo of Christie’s refused to take the bait.

Moderated by the unflappable Lindsay Pollock (an ArtWorld Salon friend), the discussion checked off various merits and weaknesses of the two art-business camps, and even lingered on their interdependencies. Among the more engrossing points was the one suggested by Michael Findlay, the panel’s ranking member by age, who cited “normal accident theory” to illustrate how galleries may prove more resistant in a recession. “The larger the system,” he said, “the more likely there will be catastrophic failure.” Comparing galleries to “mom and pop shops” that can be flexible in the face of a downturn, he concluded, “We may be the safest bet in the future.” Although he was making the comparison to auction houses, he could as well have been referring to art fairs, some of which, as Ian points out in the previous thread, may also quickly become casualties of a severe downturn.

The best came at the end, when it was time to opine about what’s around the corner. David Zwirner predicted that “Things will soften a bit, there will be a slight shakeout, but medium and long-term prospects are very good.” Michael Findlay suggested, “What will come back to the market is a degree of selectivity that has been lacking.” According to Andrea Rosen, “Some of this is already happening. I’ve learned a lot from opening my gallery during a recession. I already see a reorientation to meaning.”

“It’s impossible not to have the uncertainty in the larger markets effect our market,” said Amy Cappellazzo, adding that people are likely to gravitate to “what makes them feel safe,” such as painting. For Anthony Grant of Sotheby’s, the “market is so international now” and “the way people make money is so different,” that it has become difficult to make predictions. Simon de Pury got the last word: “It’s an issue of availability,” he said. “The only thing you can do, if you have money, is to build the best contemporary art collection in the world. The market is just beginning to be truly global … I feel very optimistic.”

What does your crystal ball say?

Online art auctions

online_auctions.jpgThe ArtNet announcement that they are to shortly begin an online auction service is the latest in a string of online auction initiatives. This seems a logical move from one of the better sources of ArtWorld statistics and prices. But what does this wave of online initiatives mean for the big boys? Obviously consignors of major works will still want the profile and prestige of the established offline auction houses, Sothebys, Christies et al, but if more bread and butter work starts to go through online systems, whither then the profit margins of the major houses?

And what if the new players start to gain traction in the market place? It should be easier to track prices online in real time across a number of different online sales platforms than it is now. And of course let us not forget that the biggest benefit of online transaction systems is the better access it gives buyers to product; access when they want it. This, beyond the help it gives sellers to put works forward in convenient and price efficient form, is what decides the success or otherwise of any online sales system. And of course if middle and lower level consignors start using online channels we may get better visibility on pricing and trends in a chunk of the market that is usually hidden from public view.

It is easy to be sceptical of online transaction systems. One always assumes there are some items that people need to see or touch for themselves before committing to a purchase. I certainly felt that way when I first heard about eBay selling cars or artworks online. But look at the success they have had. This may start at the bottom end of the market but, as with so many other sectors, quality of products offered rises with reach of market. I think we are witnessing the first steps of a paradigm shift in the Art World market place.

It is also potentially another worrying development for the traditional galleries. They are already losing footfall to people who prefer to see more-work-in-less-time at the fairs and biennials. An effective new online market place could also take footfall from them (or direct it elswhere) and, potentially, encourage more bright young artists to avoid galleries and promote directly online. All such artists would need is one respected critic to validate their work and they could sell “direct from the studio”.

Interesting times. Thoughts?

Nationalism in collecting?

As we ponder who has been buying what at Miami, this has come in from Michael Hatch in Beijing.

Mahishasura_by_Tyeb_Mehta.jpgThe markets for Western contemporary art and Western modern art are often assumed to be universally engaging across national and ethnic borders, but I’d wager the vast majority of buyers are caucasian, reflecting the dominance of Euro-American artistic traditions, and reflecting the historical dominance of Euro-American economies.

The market in Indian art, however, is said to be driven almost entirely by Indian collectors; and the main buyers for both classical and modern Chinese art are Chinese or Chinese diaspora. Though the spectacular growth in prices for contemporary Chinese works has been largely driven by Western buyers, one hypothesis is that some of the mainland Chinese currently investing large sums in real estate and stocks might soon turn their attention to chinese contemporary art and become the dominant force in this market.

I wonder, therefore, to what degree ethnicity, nationality or cultural affinity play a role in driving particular art markets? Are particular markets dependent on those who have a cultural affinity with those works? If so, are the movements of any given art market only really affected by the economic movements of the home market? If that is the case, will the predicted downturn in the Western art markets that is supposed to follow the current economic doldrums in America affect the markets in Chinese or Indian art?

Thoughts anyone?

Out of the blue…

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I asked someone recently over dinner: when was the last time she had come across a work of Art she liked enough to see every day. She struggled to answer.

Many collectors today buy works without regard to display space. I have friends who frequently refer to ‘collectable’ Art; as opposed to “something to fill a space on a wall at the summer house but it must match the Sumba Ikat and the Louis XVI canapé…”.

What are the motivations to buy in an age when one is constantly bombarded with new images from a multitude of sources; when one can see, or reproduce, any image one wants at any time? Is the Artwork really reduced to no more then a collectible? Like an expensive version of those unfortunate Franklin Mint products? Is it buying rarity, just to boast you have it? It is hard to pretend you are ‘buying something you love’ when you stick it in storage. Perhaps some people still feel they are compiling that extraordinary collection for which every museum in the country will compete when they depart this mortal coil? Or is it just for the fifteen minutes; to be listed as a buyer, like the HK acquirer of the unusual Gauguin at Sothebys last week?

Someone please answer because I am suddenly at a loss as to why I should buy anything. Especially at today’s crazy prices.

Wisdom of crowds, contd.

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As long-time readers know, I like to conduct experiments with my students to test the notion that a group is able to make more informed judgments than any single expert. Last fall’s experiment, involving the Klimts in the fall sales, was a stellar success. Our first experiment of 2007, concerning the Van Gogh in last week’s auction, was an unmitigated bust, since no one allowed for the possibility that the painting would find no buyer. But now I have good news that will restore your faith in the wisdom of crowds.

Four weeks ago, I asked the students to write down their guess for the hammer price of Francis Bacon’s “Second Version of Study for Bullfight No. 1.” The painting was bid up this Wednesday toBacon_2ndV_of_Study_for_B1.jpg $41 million (plus commission). The median estimate returned by the roughly 60 students was $42 million. Although their estimates ranged from $7 million to $120 million, no fewer than five of them got within a million dollars of the price. Maybe this technique should be used more broadly in setting sales estimates?

Correction? Or intelligence of the collectorate?

There can be little doubt that the incessant whispering about the inevitable decline of the art market will erupt into a roar today as Sotheby’s stock begins its tumble after the venerable house’s Impressionist and Modern Art sale fell nearly $86 million short of its $355.6 million low estimate. Sure Christie’s beat its low estimate just the day before by roughly $46 million, but of course that’s not news. Or is it? Can it be true, as Andrew Fabricant mentions in the New York Times, that “this was not some watershed moment in the market. It’s what happens when the pricing is extremely aggressive and the material less than stellar”?

Quite often we like to dismiss the money that is thrown around at the upper reaches of the market as so much conspicuous consumption, an indication of the Collectorate’s obsession with image rather than substance. But does the asymmetry between the Christie’s and Sotheby’s sales indicate a more discriminating taste at work? Are we witnessing the return of Homo Aestheticus after the reign of Homo Economicus?

Advice to a would-be art scammer

I am in urgent need of cash and am hoping to sell the piece once finished.

841.jpgArtworld Salon received one of the lamest (i.e., funniest) new email art scams out there this week. Call it the Nigerian phonescam for the art world, complete with tell-tale awkward English:

Hello,

It was recommended to me by a friend of mine that I contacted you for your advise.

I own a painting by Francis Bacon that seems unfinished, there are big splashes of colours that I have been trying to clean off to reveal the figure underneath, but it just smeared as a result. I have already asked somebody to try to finish it but he did a disaster with it.

Not knowing what to do now I was wondering if you could help me find somebody who could finish it and do a good job, in the Bacon’s style.

Already the artist Peter Doug suggested to help, but I am not sure about his taste, he already did a quick sketch copy of how he could improve the Bacon, but to be honest I did not like much as he also seemed a bit messy and I think he would just rush the job for the money.

I am in urgent need of cash and am hoping to sell the piece once finished. If you would know a good artist or just someone interested, please do let me know.

If by any chance you would be in the power to help me I would be ready to share with you half of the value of the painting once sold.

Many thanks for your help, or if you would know somebody interested in the painting even in this state please do let me know.

I look forward to hearing from you,
Many thanks in advance,

Herbie Watsaint

Herbie’s ploy does segue nicely back into our conversations about the Bacon rubbish story and its disheartening conclusions, but this has got to be one of the most poorly imagined art scams I’ve ever read. Continue reading “Advice to a would-be art scammer”

After the fall…

Yue_MinJun___The_Massacre_at_Chios.pngAs artist Yue Minjun reaches new highs in HK (during recent sales at Sothebys that set new records in jewels, ceramics, and paintings both traditional and contemporary), Richard Polsky over at ArtNet is predicting a decline and fall for Chinese Contemporary Art. (Which makes NY real-estate and art investor Howard Farber’s disposal of most of his Contemporary Chinese collection tomorrow at Phillips look well timed.)

But Polsky goes further, stating flatly:

“There’s nothing innovative here. In fact, other than its specifically Asian content, the work is totally derivative of Western art”.

Kriston Capps over at grammar.police calls the over generalisation “baseless”, which is maybe going too far the other way, but he raises a good question at the end of his comments: what will survive the inevitable fall? His question refers specifically to the Chinese market, but I am curious about contemporary more globally.

In both Western and Asian contemporary markets pundits are predicting corrections. In the US for macro-economic reasons and excessive exuberance. In Asia because of speculative buying by new enthusiasts, and over production of works by the big names. In both cases some artists, and collectors, will suffer more than most. Any views on whom? And how much?

Metrics of zeal or woe

tornado.jpg August jitters yield to back-to-school confidence—at least for now. After a rash of premature obituaries, the art market is humming briskly again and news of epic sales fills the air. Even Damien Hirst’s diamond skull has found buyers (including, so it is rumored, the artist). Its fate as the shimmering emblem of early 21st-century excess is now sealed.The question now is whether the art market is headed even deeper into record-breaking territory as the last refuge of investors and speculators, á la 1989, or whether it is already on a sliding path toward a landing—soft, hard, or otherwise? It is a delicious moment, pregnant with wildly opposing possibilities.

Reading the posts of the last few weeks, one longs for clearer metrics. Are there more reliable early indicators of yet another exuberant season of sales? Or conversely, are some “canary-in-the-mineshaft” indices registering advance tremors of a downturn?

Our debate on guarantees offered few clues. Reluctance to offer guarantees would parallel the lending caution that engulfed the financial markets in late summer, but our panel found no proof of such reluctance (auction guarantees this season are, in fact, expected to run into the billions). Daily reports of new gallery openings and museum ventures similarly belie prognostications of impending doom.

The problem is that some indicators of change can be interpreted as harbingers of squarely opposing trends. What exact conclusion would be drawn from evidence that dealers are getting more calls about placing works quietly, or taking pictures back on consignment? If a spate of exceptionally high-quality pictures were to come to market, would that be seen as a sign that sellers are trying to slip through a closing window of opportunity? Or would it be seen as evidence of the health of a market that is coaxing even the most beloved masterpieces off people’s walls? What is the exact interpretation of trimmed museum acquisition budgets? What can we read into shorter or longer waiting lists? Are dipping or spiking art school applications advance indicators of growth or decline?

As we begin a season of many likely surprises, can this panel suggest clear signs of what’s ahead?

Down market strategies

I wonder if anyone is getting guarantees out of the auction houses these days? In a financial market turning south it is a common strategy to buy “put options” before everyone else notices; i.e. contracts to lock in now, a right to sell something in the future, to someone else at a price fixed now, when you think the market as a whole is falling. An Art market equivalent would be to agree with an auction house now to sell a collection later in the year, on condition of sale price guarantees, set now, at current pricing. Always a risk for the auction house (ask Phillips de Pury), in a real down market it can be a disaster. The smart auction houses understand this, of course. If they are nervous about market values, they stop giving guarantees. Perhaps only in some markets. Perhaps in all.

So I repeat my question: does anyone know if auction houses are still offering sales guarantees this year?

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”

Clippings from the salon floor, #10

diamond skull Bling and nothingness? Damien Hirst, quoted re his  £50 million diamond-encrusted skull in the Financial Times article What else can you spend your money on?: “The idea is very blingy but it turns out to be something much more. The way it looks is amazing. You almost believe that it is a victory over death.”

Immortality for a mere  £50 million? Hirst again, in the same article, re the art market’s allure to his peers among the superwealthy: “If you want to own things, art is a pretty good bet. Buy art, build a museum, put your name on it, let people in for free. That’s as close as you can get to immortality.”

“See it Venice, buy it in Basel Venice” From The Art Newspaper’s Venice Biennale proposes becoming a selling show again: “The Venice Biennale used to sell art openly—from 1942 to 1968. The Italian dealer Ettore Gian Ferrari had the official job of placing works for any willing artist, earning 15 percent for the Biennale and 2 percent for himself. ….When the president of the Biennale, Davide Croff, realised that Cornice [Fair] had the support of all the public authorities…and of a number of prominent art world figures… he considered whether the Biennale should start selling again from 2009.”

Signor Croff, non c’e piu bisogno di vendere l’arte, metti all’asta le camere d’albergo! From ARTINFO.com’s Phillips de Pury auction report: “Before the auction began, Simon de Pury announced that one member of the Guggenheim Foundation’s International Directors Council would not be able to make it to Venice and had asked that he take bids on her room at the Hotel Cipriani, with proceeds from the unofficial sale going to the museum. A flurry of bids brought the accommodations up to $45,000.” Continue reading “Clippings from the salon floor, #10”

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.

File under: plus ça change…

“The auction business is booming as more and more Americans catch art-collecting fever.” … “Not since the first hammer dropped to the highest bidder have sales of valuables commanded such audiences, such publicity, such prices.” Sounds timely? The quote is from TIME magazine. The year, 1979 (Dec. 31).

It goes on: “Collectionitis is as pervasive as inflation, as euphoric as a drug high. Its grip reaches far beyond the roseate world of Rembrandts, Sèvres porcelain and Georgian silver. A vast subculture of acquisition is feeding on scarce objects of every conceivable description.” … “It has been only in the past decade or so that the big sales have been covered by the press as Events; the sums paid for art used to be buried in newspapers along with ship arrivals. Now, with the tremendous increases in fine arts prices and the expansion of public interest, big auctions have become flash bulb and video-tape fiestas.” (Thank you to my Sotheby’s Institute of Art student, Cate Andrews.)

Speaking of the press, did anyone else notice the “Talk of the Town” piece in this week’s New Yorker (May 28) about everybody’s favorite British art patron, which starts thus: “The art dealer Charles Saatchi spends a lot of time sitting at his desk”?

Clippings from the salon floor, #9

Buying a Rothko Rockefeller Marc Glimcher of PaceWildenstein, which represents Mark Rothko’s estate, cited in Bloomberg’s report on the mindblowing new Rothko auction record, $72.8M at Sotheby’s: “While it’s a spectacular painting, it’s clear the allure of having David Rockefeller’s painting in your house is going way beyond what you might otherwise consider reasonable.”

Auctionmania at a glance Still trying to parse last week’s PostWarCon results? Check out the handy totals boards from chelseaartgalleries.com. Especially worth ruminating for art-market junkies is the data-crunching site’s “biggest surprises” category, which notes artist whose pieces showed steep and sudden jumps against their estimates. In some cases, such as the late Steven Parrino, it reflects the recent involvement of a heavy hitter (Gagosian) in the artist’s market. Likewise, Yayoi Kusama’s US representation is in flux, but clearly her market’s already spiking.

Ed Ruscha, Dare#2, 2001 Art market=New Economy? From CultureGrrl, to whom California collector Tom Dare explained selling two Ed Ruscha pieces he had commissioned to spell his own name: “The crazy market combined with all-time high Dow indices caused me to rethink the personal nature of the commissioned pieces and do the smart thing—take money off a hot table and pay the mortgage off. I work in the dot.com business and remember the pain from the bursting bubble in 2000 and the untold dollars I left on the table as a recently IPO’d employer fell back to earth.” This time, Dare made a killing, doubling the estimate on works that he had bought before the market for Ruscha rocketed.

Collector pathology From the Judith Pascoe’s New York Times editorial Collect-Me-Nots: “The pathos of Napoleon’s penis — bandied about over the decades, barely recognizable as a human body part — conjures up the seamier side of the collecting impulse. If, as Freud suggested, the collector is a sexually maladjusted misanthrope, then the emperor’s phallus is a collector’s object nonpareil, the epitome of male potency and dominance.”

Saltz stiletto strikes again From the Jerry Saltz review of Andreas Gursky’s new show, in New York magazine: “Gursky’s new pictures are filled with visual amphetamine, but now they’re laced with psychic chloroform.”

Banksy unmasked? We’re too busy (gearing up for the European art marathon) to bother being hassled by Banksy’s lawyers – the excellently named firm Finers Stephens Innocent – but apparently Radar magazine’s not. Check out its post Making Banksy, with the image of a man purported to be the anonymous artist, before FSI makes it MIA. Continue reading “Clippings from the salon floor, #9”