Cause for optimism?

Tobias_Meyer__Sothebys.jpgSothebys latest Market Review, issued last night, strikes a slightly defensive but none-the-less optimistic tone, using two key arguments to support their optimism.

The first is their contention that the market of today is unlikely to suffer a crash and sustained down period similar to that of the 1990s. They base this view on the not unreasonable statement that there are more sources of buyers than was the case when Japan was the source of new money bidding up markets in the 1980s. At that time, the argument goes, there was no-one to take their place when the Japanese retreated from the market in the 90s; things are different now. Well, certainly this time we have seen new buyers from Eastern Europe, Russia, China and India entering the fray, in addition to all the new money in the US and the UK. But, as we have seen with the recent US sub-prime driven hiccup, all markets can catch a cold at the same time in today’s globally interlinked financial markets. In addition, that greater diversity of buyers is buying a greater diversity of Art, including contemporary and traditional works from their own regions (China and India being prime examples). They are not just focussed on traditional Western Art markets. So I am not sure there is the greater depth of buyer support for the traditional European and US modern and contemporary markets that Sothebys believes is there.

Their second argument for optimism is that there is a rise in the average price of lots sold over recent months.

From those price increases, however, we can infer a larger market of potential buyers.

Well, from their own figures we can see that over the same period: total sale value has actually fallen steadily since May 2007, and number of lots per sale have also fallen steadily from November 2006. With number of lots sold falling, average price per lot rising, but overall sales value falling, that actualy tells us that a few buyers are paying more money for (presumably) top works, but that fewer people overall are buying, less money overall is being spent and fewer works are being sold. Perhaps there is a larger market of potential buyers. But at the moment it looks like, aside from those at the top end of the market who are generally immune to financial market troubles, there are fewer buyers actually buying, not more.

Still, if it means a return to auctions being about quality of works, rather than quantity, it might make them interesting to attend again…

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’

money_art_05.jpg

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’”

The new sin tax: museum tschotchkes

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

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

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

A fair to remember?

Armory08.jpgNow that the Armory Show and it’s progeny have packed up, perhaps it’s time for a little stock taking. For my own part, the Armory began as something of a disappointment. “Sleepy” was the word I found myself using to describe it. There were no grand gestures, such as Kris Martin’s one-minute-of-silence loudspeaker announcement at last year’s Frieze or Sassolino’s sovereign robotic metal claw at ABMB. Even the requisite installation piece by Thomas Hirschorn was rather subdued, opting to display a library of High Theory books instead of images of decimated bodies.

But as I returned over the course of a couple of days, I grew more comfortable with what I think can only be called the Armory’s “maturity,” which may be summed up thus: less spectacle, more substance. I was particularly taken once again with the Ronald Feldman Gallery’s commitment to a solo showing of an artist of particular historical import; in this case, Eleanor Antin. And I was happy to find that the absence of Gagosian, Goodman and Gladstone, amongst others, did not necessarily “diminish” the fair.

Of the other venues, I believe Volta NY will stand as a signal example of how art fairs can successfully adapt to their ever-changing fitness landscape. The small size and single-artist exhibition directive put to rest, definitively to my mind, the idea that art fairs cannot possibly be good places “to see the art.” It’s a risky venture to be sure, and not all galleries will find it suited to the necessities of their bottom line, but it seemed good for the artists, who can confidently add it to their CVs as one more “solo show,” and it was a gift to the viewer, one which obviated the need for a stiff drink once the rounds had been made.

I’m curious, of course, to know what others think.

Taste v. Price (why critics don’t matter, Ch. 36)

Margaux.jpgHammad Nasar finished off the previous thread with a statement which many of us take to be gospel, namely, that when it comes to art, or really to any offering from the culture industry, the most expensive product is not the “best” product, it is simply the most expensive. So remains open that space for “critical judgment” which, most would agree, is a necessary condition for criticism to function in the first place.

But are we fooling ourselves? Are our judgments–aesthetic, critical and otherwise–more determined by price than we know? The Art Newspaper seems to think so: Anna Somers Cocks’ has written a short piece on a recent study by Cal Tech scientist, Antonio Rangel, who hooked up a group of volunteers to an MRI machine and measured the pleasure centers of their brains while they tasted various wines of different quality and, most importantly, expense. Over and over again, the volunteers “enjoyed” the expensive wines more, even when the price tags had been switched and the ’82 Margaux turned out to be an ’07 Bin 28.

The parallel to art is both obvious and ill-fitting, which is presumably why Cocks only draws the conclusion that the Rangel effect (actually the Rangel-Veblen effect, given Thorstein Veblen’s economic theorization of it back at the turn of the twentieth century) will contribute to the retraction of the art market once the powers that be are finally able to utter the word “recession” in public. But do we really need Rangel to confirm for us that people “like” their art less (or anything for that matter) when it’s perceived to be losing value? More interesting might be the possibility of a parallel study which could address the physiological effect of positive or negative criticism on the pleasure centers of the brain. For example, what happens when someone tells you the ’82 Margaux tastes no different than that ’07 Bin 28? What does price get you then? Call it the “sucker” study. Don’t we think the art world could use one?

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?

Welcome to the art factory

OPS_sample.jpgIs the age of mass produced art finally dawning? Artworldsalon received the following solicitation from China:

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We are presently working with galleries, fine artists, photographers, digital designers and private parties who are interested in realizing a faster way to create a highly lucrative environment by offering extremely high quality oil paintings at the most competitive pricing in the industry. We have worked successfully with many noted artists world-wide and offer our clients an unconditional binding contract in regard to their privacy and source of their oil paintings.

We have always and will continue to respect international copyright laws. Your order of original art whether created from digital, photographic or any other form will never be recreated for another client. Each of our artists works inside the framework of their own specialty whether portraiture, landscape, marine, floral, still life or what ever your personal need may be. Our extensive community of fine artists is capable of creating exactly the fine art oil painting that you order. We offer an unconditional money back guarantee to all of our clients if you are dissatisfied with your shipment.

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Museums vs. collectors?

A report from new AWS contributor Leif Magne Tangen

Carte_B.jpgThe debate about the power of the collector has been going on for some time now. An interesting project in Leipzig will certainly raise eyebrows again in this regard.

The Museum of Contemporary Art (Galerie für Zeitgenössische Kunst, or GfZK) is opening its 2008 winter season with an ambitious project: Over the next two years, the museum will invite 11 collections, collectors and galleries to display their collections of art in any way they see fit. No interference. No questions. No veto.

The title of the project says it all: Carte Blanche.

In fact, there is nothing new about collectors being given freedom to do what they want in a museum. We have a prime example only 200 km away from Leipzig, in the Hamburger Bahnhof Museum in Berlin. Parts of that public institution now house two private collections, the Sammlung Marx of Erich Marx and, since 2004, the much discussed Friedrich Christian Flick Collection.

Are museums are losing the battle for artists? Today we have more large private collections of contemporary art then ever. We have private galleries that are larger than some museums, doing blockbuster shows. Meanwhile, museums are re-selling parts of their collections and private collectors are hiring curators and consultants to “direct” their collections. Collectors are even building their own museums.

Leipzig director Barbara Steiner says in the introduction to the Carte Blanche project:
“In view of the most recent developments, the often undue influence of collectors, gallery managers and other enterprises on facilities funded by the public purse seems less of a problem than the tendency for private individuals gradually to lose interest in these museum.” She wants to find out “whether new partnerships between public bodies and private supporters can be created at all, how such an interaction might look, what the consequences of such forms of cooperation would be for the development of art and its institutions, also when considered against the background of the establishment of our institute.”

Is there an American view on this? Will private influence destroy the public sphere? Is there too much influence already from private collectors in your view?

p.s. Full disclosure (before I get hunted down by Tyler Green): one of the artists featured in the opening show and in a double solo show later this year, Mark Lombardi, is represented by Pierogi. I work as a director of Pierogi for their Leipzig gallery.

Fashion victims enter the temple

Murakami_LV_MOCA.jpgOn a recent visit to Los Angeles, I made a pilgrimage to Takashi Murakami’s mid-career spectacular at MOCA. You know, the one with the handbag shop in the museum (and a copyright sign in the show’s title). I wanted to taste that smiley-face Murakami vibe. And having heard all the hullabaloo about the handbags—offered for sale by the good people at Louis Vuitton not in the gift shop, but inside the actual gallery space—I wanted to contemplate the crossing of cultural thresholds never before so brazenly tested. So, on a surreally warm, sunny Christmas Eve, I pointed the car’s navigation system to the Geffen Contemporary.

I came to the museum with an open mind. Messing around with boundaries is a legitimate pursuit, after all—I’m all for it. We Artworldsalon types get easily excited when it comes to novel genetic mutations and cross-pollinations between art and commerce. But I came away with mixed feelings; feelings that probably make me sound like a woolly old mammoth.

About the most generous way to see the Louis Vuitton boutique implant is as a canny and effective performance piece. It takes the art of audience participation to a new level. People are invited to walk into a symbolically charged space and offer up a kind of sacrifice, i.e. money, in return for objects of demonstrable (because someone is paying) cultural or emotional value. There is a theatrical, performative, staged quality to the experience. Kind of like church.

I watched as a young Asian fellow with two attractive female companions whipped out his credit card and charged $3,000 for three handbags. They looked like dancers in a trance, speaking barely a word. The girls at the counter played along with feline elegance in the finely choreographed ritual exchange, in which everyone seemed to know their part. And I thought to myself, “He may as well have cut a vein and drawn a pint of blood.” Eliciting that profound response, that level of commitment, says something powerful about these objects. Don’t we all want people to respond to art in such a tangible way?

But that may be giving Murakami too much credit. Ever since the visit, I can’t shake a sense of disquiet about the store-in-the-museum concept. I have been trying to get to the bottom of it, but I couldn’t pin it down until I came across a statement by John Baldessari in a conversation (artreview.com, Jan. 5) with Artworldsalon regular Jonathan Neil. In the interview, Baldessari talked about how “art has become more entertainment,” and about the Murakami show he had this to say:

I’m on the board of trustees at MOCA – not that I go, but I do go to a few meetings – and you realise when you get in there, in the midst of it, that these museums are about ticket sales, and they have to have blockbusters. So what are we doing at MOCA? – Murakami. Man, that is going to bring them in. Now do you think if you had an Ad Reinhardt show that that would bring them in? I don’t think so. Could you see a Reinhardt on a billboard? But it’s more and more like that. And it’s perfect. Because there’s a huge Asian community: that’s going to bring them in. Murakami is like Warhol: that’s going to bring them in. And then this argument – I had to laugh – but Paul Schimmel said, “We’re going to have this Vuitton shop, and it’s going to be functional, because that’s part of his practice”, and I said, “Well wait a minute, part of your practice, alright, so you have the same show – but one of [Adolf] Wölfli, are you going to have a mental institution inside?” No, you wouldn’t have to, it is a mental institution!

So which is it? A savvy cultural investigation into the relationship of art and commerce? Or just another way to sell a handbag?

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?

Miami v(o)ice: Overheard at the fair…

This just in from Pablo Helguera, who had his anthropologist’s notebook with him over the past few days in Miami:ABM07.jpg

My threshold is $25,000.
This year the fair is better… the gallerinas are hotter this time.
Tom Krens said that I was his son.
In Dollars, Euros, or Pounds?
The AC in Scope broke down.
How is it possible that they don’t have black tea?
I tried to sit by the pool at the Delano, but you have to buy a $400 bottle.
Too bad that you came with your girlfriend.
The painting with the circles in White Cube was $200,000, but there are six hundred more in the series, my dear.
I can’t get rid of this Korean dealer.
I have socialized enough in my life to have to sweat in a corner with a watered-down drink and having my eardrums shattered.
Twenty-two fairs? Really?
This work of yours is identical to this other artist’s work I saw at Pulse, but I don’t mean it in a bad way.
They gave the keys of the city to Sam Keller.
I don’t feel like hanging out with the Boston crowd.
She arrived totally drunk demanding her painting.
The party of the Russians at the Raleigh is awesome.
I can’t talk now because this collector is going to walk away.
So the elevator door opens and everyone sees my bra sticking out.
So, did you decide if you are getting the metal junk piece?
That artist is young but bad.
You know that you don’t need an invitation.
I prefer that you invite me.
I am standing here in front of an installation with pinkish balls, and you?
Please don’t introduce him to me.
I would have sworn that it was a real baby!
They haven’t even let me go to the bathroom in three days.
I don’t care- he is so good-looking that I want to do an exhibition with him. Continue reading “Miami v(o)ice: Overheard at the fair…”

Miamimania

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Calvin Klein, Tamara Mellon, Donna Karan, Laudomina Pucci, Vivienne Tam, Kenzo, David LaChapelle, Doug Aitken, Jack Pierson, John Currin, Kehinde Wiley, Terence Koh, Dennis Hopper, David Byrne, Keanu Reeves, Steve Martin, Russell Simmons, Lou Reed, Jerry Speyer, Eli Broad, Steve Cohen, Peter Brant, Beth Rudin DeWoody, Aby Rosen, Larry Gagosian, Mary Boone, Andrea Rosen, Barbara Gladstone, Lisa Phillips, Tom Krens, Michael Govan.

What do these people have in common? They’re all going to Miami, of course.

“In ten days,” as fellow Salon writer Steve Kaplan wrote in our recent thread on why people collect, “this culture (or sub culture) will descend in all its sound and fury upon Miami. The attendant rituals of conspicuous consumption, of snubbing and embracing, of preening and prowling, of “perilous journeys across the seas separating the small islands”, might even give the Trobrianders pause. And one can only imagine what an observer with the sensitive antennae of a Malinowski or a Levi-Strauss would make of it all, trudging down Collins Avenue, notebook in hand.”

So, why are YOU going? What are you expecting to get out of Art Basel Miami Beach? What are you excited about? What are you dreading? What are your must-go exhibits, special events, parties? What’s your strategy for making it through the fair and how will you make sense of it all? Please send your thoughts and best advice.

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?