The auction revolution will be televised

WarholBids.jpgClearly, there’s a huge difference between watching an auction live and watching it virtually, closely akin to the difference between attending theater and viewing films. Live, it’s a visceral, all-engulfing experience, as if one were getting a contact high from the massive endorphin rush of all the interested parties. Remote, it’s mind-numbing. Here’s a perfect example: Watch the Christie’s video of Andy Warhol’s “Green Car Crash” blasting past its high estimate to hit $64 million. I’m sure it was spellbinding to be in that room, but when one of Artworld Salon’s faithful readers e-mailed me the clip last night, I rapidly started multitasking in my email and IM windows until the the last couple of bids. Let’s face it, folks, unless you’ve got money on the line, auctions are boring television.

Interestingly, this week’s issue of New York Magazine has an Intelligencer item from Alexandra Peers, Sotheby’s Shuts Out Auction Regulars, relating how some grumpy auction attendees found themselves watching the sales on closed-circuit television rather than live. Based on differing versions I’ve heard – all from people well-connected inside the auction house – there were several possible motivations for this move, including: 1) making it easier for Tobias Meyer to keep track of bidders in the back of the (now-shortened) room; 2) making the auctions feel more exclusive for those allowed in (i.e. ye old velvet-rope nightclub trick); 3) reducing the traffic jam at the doors, which had previously made it impossible for some latecomers to get paddles in time to bid; 4) slick consultants told them it would raise profits.

Naturally, insiders long used to watching live auctions are dismayed at the prospect of following them on-screen instead. Although CultureGrrl managed to score some thrills tracking the Sotheby’s sales online, as a rule people getting shunted into the spillover room will feel personally slighted. One rejected regular, dealer Ellen Marie Donahue, told Peers that “she was told she could still get a ticket if she passed along her primary clients’ financial information to the house.” She refused the deal. And I’m betting veteran artworld types will get belligerent at the notion that they now must prove their worthiness to attend an auction live, especially given that the houses have taken to positing themselves as the democratic alternative to the “elitist” gallery scene.

That said, from a sales standpoint, the move seemed to have very zero effect at Sotheby’s. Which kind of undercuts my fundamental notions about what makes auctions such a powerful selling platform – namely that the right auctioneer and the right setting, with the right pacing of lots, can seduce people into paying significantly higher prices. But in the age of the telephone bidder, the monster guarantee and the massive marketing campaign, maybe the auctioneer is more like an MC than a master seducer. Thoughts?

Auctionmania: Where are the Chinese artists?

Yue Minjin, Le Dejeuner Sur L'herbe, 1995It’s been interesting to track the auctions from afar this week, but as I read through the results, something was nagging me: Chinese contemporary art – arguably the fastest rising, most speculative, art-market segment ever – is essentially absent in the evening sales, which is where the big deals go down and where stratospheric results rocket artists into the market’s pantheon.

Last year, the auction houses trumpetted the fact that they had included Chinese work in their Postwar & Contemporary sales. Yet Sotheby’s had precisely zero Chinese artists in its sale Tuesday, and last night at Christie’s there was only one. (Yue Minjun’s Dejeuner sur l’Herbe pulled $1.2M against an estimate of $500-700K – a perfectly respectable result, granted, yet it represents less than 0.5 percent of the evening’s total take.) Tonight, Phillips de Pury has four Chinese pieces among its 74 lots, but none of them appear to be really major works – their combined estimates total only $800K-$1.15M.

I’m not quite sure how to interpret this. Was no one trying trying to flip their Chinese contemporary paintings? That’s doubtful. Are the collectors or auctioneers thinking these works will go higher in Hong Kong? More likely. Or maybe the auction houses feared that a market backlash was due after all the China hype?

On this last point: A critical backlash has definitely begun, at least in England. Richard Dorment of the Telegraph recently wrote:

One of the most deadening trends in recent years has been the Great Chinese Art Swindle. For years now we’ve been hearing about the vibrancy of the art coming out of Beijing and Shanghai – and it’s all baloney. Time after time, I’ve gone to shows of this stuff only to find that it wasn’t worth taking the trouble to review, only to read a few months later about the record prices the very same works were fetching at auction. Continue reading “Auctionmania: Where are the Chinese artists?”

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’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”

Newbies: Cruising for a bruising

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

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

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

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

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”

Clippings from the salon floor, #4

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

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

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

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

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

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”

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?

Galleries vs. auction houses: war declared?

Over the weekend, published a piece of mine titled “Blurred lines, battle lines?” that tackled the controversies surrounding the Huber sale, Haunch of Venison being bought by Christie’s and the fact that TEFAF Maastricht – the premier fair for everything from Old Masters up to Moderns – for the first time included galleries owned by Sotheby’s and Christie’s. (BTW, MAN blogger Tyler Green had a very funny fly-on-the wall moment in the minimalist gray-plywood Christie’s booth – which a friend tells me was being called “le pissoir” by snooty British dealers more attuned to wood molding and plush carpeting.) After running through the various details and insider speculation regarding all three stories – some of which will be familiar to people who have been reading Artworld Salon closely – I tried to put this all in perspective:

What connects these three controversies? The fact that battle lines are being publicly drawn by dealers, traditionally the most discrete players of the artworld. Despite the strength of the market, they feel their position is under attack, be it at art fairs or in the secondary market. Likewise, auction houses – with their huge staffs and sprawling marketing apparatus – are simply better positioned for the new globalized market, able to target collectors no one (not even the houses) knew existed. Suddenly, galleries feel forced to play Continue reading “Galleries vs. auction houses: war declared?”

Zwirner vs. Huber, the fallout

The artworld spent the weekend digesting dealer David Zwirner’s salvo versus dealer/fair entrepreneur Pierre Huber, sparked by last Monday’s $16.8M Christies sale, drawn entirely from Huber’s collection. Josh Baer, author of the essential-reading Baerfaxt is apparently preparing an article on the sale and offered his readers this advance peek, in the form of a killer direct quote from Zwirner:

“I think as a result of the sale Pierre Huber should be barred from the Basel Art Fair. He has lied and misled not only his fellow dealers but artists such as On Kawara and Thomas Ruff on my end. The sale was completely carried by dealers doing the right thing, supporting their artists prices, the buyers and underbidders predominately representing galleries. So we made Pierre money, because we need to protect our markets. He is just too much… I don’t want to share an artfair with such a cheat and Continue reading “Zwirner vs. Huber, the fallout”

Christies consumes Haunch of Venison. Why?

Last night at the tony Upper East Side opening of the Art Dealers Association of America fair, the hottest gossip surrounded Judd Tully’s scoop for Art Info: “Christie’s to Buy Haunch of Venison” which he described as:

a deal that further blurs the already fuzzy line between auction and gallery business domains…[sure] to prompt its arch-rival Sotheby’s to enter that battlefield.

Several sources point to Francois Pinault, the owner of Christie’s and a major figure in the contemporary art world, as the contributing factor to the acquisition. “There’s no doubt this is the influence of Mr. Pinault,” said the previously quoted London dealer, “who has a very, very strong interest in the contemporary market.”

I wonder about the business logic here. Given the pitched battle between galleries and auction houses for great secondary-market works, it’s unlikely Haunch of Venison will be admitted to any major fairs moving forward. (Tully cites the inclusion of Christies in TEFAF Maastricht as precedent for auction houses showing at fairs, but I’d Continue reading “Christies consumes Haunch of Venison. Why?”

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”

Report from Budapest

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

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

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

Art greets Capitalism

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

In China’s New Revolution, Art Greets Capitalism

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

(David Barbosa,, Jan 4, 2007)

Sounds like complaints we have heard elsewhere…

Late night TV in Beijing

Found myself idly channel flipping at 1am last night here in Beijing (sad I know) and came across “The Art Auction” a regular TV series covering (last night at least) a chinese contemporary art sale held recently at Poly Art Auction. The entire auction seemed to be covered (I didn’t stay to watch the whole thing) with a post-buy discussion (for each piece sold!) by a two man expert panel back in the studio. As far as I could work out with my nascent Mandarin they were discussing bid prices, people in the room and reasons for interest or lack thereof. I think this was the recent record breaking sale by Poly Art Auction. The commentators certainly seemed excited.

I mention this because it is an interesting example of the government here indirectly supporting the promotion of contemporary Chinese Art and Culture as a means of boosting pride in the country, and supporting social cohesion (through pride and nationalistic fervour) in general. Poly Art Auctions is owned by the same Chinese State Owned Enterprise that owns the Poly Art Museum (reputedly better than some of the directly state owned museums) here in Beijing. The programme, and other Chinese state owned media, cover each new record price set for a Chinese artist as an indication of the rise in stature of Chinese Art in general, paralleling the rise of China in other domains in the world. Buyers at these local auctions come from all over the Asian world (a recent record Chinese work was bought by an Indonesian Chinese businessman) but many are young succesful businessmen with new money. The heat of the contemporary market, and the source of the new money, parallels current (Art) affairs in the West. The government (indirect) support of rising prices does not. Another interesting factor in todays market bubble.

File under R, for “Rapidly regretted quotations,”

From the Bloomberg report on Sotheby’s sale last night:

“Contemporary art is an incredibly sexy thing to be buying right now,” said New York art adviser Cristin Tierney. “People talk about hedge-fund money, and part of it is a desire to conquer yet another market. But this is a market that’s more social, and social on an intellectual level.”

You can see her trying to save herself in that last phrase, but it’s too late. Let me save you some trouble:, complete with the de rigueur “Art as an Investment” link.

Tobias, keep your hands off the sculpture!

meyer.jpgEveryone I know who has seen Tobias Meyer’s preview video has fixated on his caressing the David Smith sculpture Voltri XVII and then rounding off the foreplay with the thought, “Maybe humans are imperfect, too?”Bouncy Castle Mini Jungle ouverte

But when it came to the climax, of course, things went awry: That statue was bought in last night in a sale described by Bloomberg as “Quiet.” Wonder what conclusion, if any, will be drawn by auction house re: sculpture Smith video previews fondling the merchandise.