Summer readings: The dismal science does art

hamiltonLast week came news that a reputable economist at the University of Chicago, David Galenson, has devised a quantitative method to measure the importance of 20th century artists. His rankings, which received major section-front coverage in The New York Times, are based on how often paintings or sculptures by a given artist are reproduced in each of 33 art history textbooks published between 1990 and 2005. Science accords merit on the basis of citations in the expert literature. Why not art?

And the winner is… “Les Demoiselles d’Avignon” … followed by … Vladimir Tatlin’s “Monument to the Third International” … followed by … “Spiral Jetty” … followed by … Richard Hamilton’s “Just What is That Makes Today’s Homes So Different, So Appealing?” Huh? The last picture—you know, the collage with the bodybuilder in the living room—came in just a nose ahead of “Guernica.”

Economists are irrepressible when it comes to drilling down to the essence of things. They peel away layer upon layer of history, nuance, and context—so much “noise”—to get to the hidden underlying algorithms of societal and human behavior. But methodology can devolve into mind mush—as in the case of asserting that looking at pictures in art history books can reveal much more than, well, the likelihood of finding certain pictures in certain books.

This exercise in solipsistic reductionism is a bit like mistaking the warped reflection in a fun-house mirror with reality itself. Even that may be giving too much credit to the theory. A fun-house mirror does reflect all that is placed in front of it, whereas the mirror of institutional art history has some conspicuous blind spots.

I am reminded of another quantitative economic study, of the auction market, which started off with eliminating the top 10 and bottom 10 percent of all auction results: A perfectly legitimate and common statistical maneuver to cleanse the data of trend-obfuscating outliers—only one that removed from the study all the data points that most people concerned with art values actually care about. Nonetheless, one has to admire the chutzpah, the sheer rationalist braggadocio of it all. Continue reading “Summer readings: The dismal science does art”

Welcome back

Welcome back, dear reader. Over the past few weeks the site has been going through some under-the-hood changes. We return with some light summer fare–the first in our new series of cartoons by artist, author, occasional AWS contributor, and astute art-world observer Pablo Helguera, who also happens to be cartoonist. His latest cartoons about the quirky life of the art world–Pablo calls them Artoons–will be a regular exclusive feature of ArtworldSalon. Enjoy.

helguera

Art fairs: one artist’s viewpoint

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

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

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

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

Another art glossy makes a go of it

ArtWorld03.jpg“How come that title is still available?” I thought to myself as a smiling woman handed me a copy of ART WORLD magazine at the recent Armory Show in New York. The attractive U.K.-based bimonthly is unlikely to win any major writing awards, but it gets a friendly slap on the back for letting the art do the talking.

The first impression is somewhat of a letdown: a parade of short and light news items about all the usual-suspect events, including cheesy snaps from Larry Gagosian’s opening in Rome, followed by profiles of overexposed art celebs (is there anything about Tracey Emin we don’t already know?) But as you dig further into the magazine, the artists turn less predictable. Best of all, whole spreads are filled up with comfortably spaced, high-quality reproductions of actual work. Nice job.

One thing ART WORLD doesn’t cover in great depth is, well, the broader art world. Issue No. 3 has a single dealer profile. Basically, it’s a traditional art magazine in a slightly updated, newsier garb. And that may be just fine. Will this one survive?

Dissent and its consequences

DISSENT_TERRORISM.jpgOne of the leitmotifs running through much of the chatter about the just-closed fairs and the ongoing Whitney Biennial here in New York has to do with the palpablility of politics, or of political content, or of “commitment,” in contemporary art. The question seems to be one of whether our art should or indeed needs to be more “activist.” And following closely is the question of whether we, as critics, historians, artists and other devotees to the art and culture industries, need to be more “activist” ourselves.

I bring this up because I was reading through a recent special issue of October, the contents of which took the form of myriad responses to a questionnaire on the problem of contemporary political “passivity.” Needless to say, the war in Iraq forms the backdrop for such an inquiry. And the last question of the bunch asked “What, if anything, can be done to make intellectual and artistic opposition to the war more active and effective?”

Responses to this question were understandably–and perhaps understatedly–varied, but one struck me as worth reflection, if not debate. Critical Art Ensemble offered that we, presumably as intellectuals and artists, must “be more daring and less afraid,” and then they continued with, “losing a job, being beaten, or going to jail isn’t the worst that can happen.”

I must confess that this bit caught me up. To be sure, CAE’s list is aimed at increasing the numbers of those who would choose to man the (police) barricades in demonstrations of resistance to our current administration’s asinine execution of a debatable foreign policy. But I imagine for many people, and not only in the U.S., these three actions are indeed and exactly the worst that can happen to a human being, especially given the rather sinister way in which their combination has become a hallmark of the war on terror: think extraordinary rendition, Abu Ghraib, Gitmo.

It occurs to me that only someone who has never lost a job (upon which daily survival depends), been beaten (and so by it lost, say, an eye, or the ability to walk), or gone to jail (without recourse to a legal defense) would think these potential returns for dissent something less than “the worst that can happen.” Nevertheless, the question remains, if opposition and activism is the goal, how does one “be more daring” and of what should we be “less afraid”?

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.

Art writing reality check (time for a new code of ethics?)

Lichtenstein___Art_Critic.jpgThe recent chain of events that led the Village Voice (one of New York’s most important sources of arts criticism) to end their relationship with critic Christian Viveros-Fauné raises some questions about the practicality of applying The New York Times style code of journalistic ethics to the arts publications that can’t offer NYT-sized salaries.

Indeed, given the widely perceived diminishing influence of art criticism (due to the overwhelming power of certain collectors and the market in general in determining what art is seen as important by museums and other collectors), a question I heard repeatedly in the wake of the Voice’s decision was, is it even realistic to expect quality criticism from writers without deep interest/influence in the commercial side of the art world?

The case in point revolves around a Q&A interview by Tyler Green with Christian Viveros-Fauné (see parts one, two, and three) that culminated in Tyler asking Christian:

You’re a managing director of a commercial art fair, Volta, and an organizer of another commercial art fair, Chicago’s Next fair. At the same time you’re a writer, a journalist, you’re the art critic for the Village Voice. Why isn’t that the most basic kind of conflict of interest?

Christian responded with perhaps a too honest answer that included several of the key issues leading me to wonder just how practical (if not how adhered to) the current code of ethics really is [all emphasis mine]:

I believe you can wear a lot of hats in the art world, and one needs to because, among other things, critics can’t survive on the money that they make from writing. Very few critics can. And, not only that, but I’m interested in curating, and I firmly believe that there is no interest in the art world without a conflict of interest.

Now, that may seem counterintuitive, and it is, but I would argue that the art world is counterintuitive in the extreme. In what other industry, for example, does one of the major magazines that chronicles both the creative and the business end of the art world establish an art fair of the same name. Obviously, I’m talking about Frieze.

And that’s nothing. Examine, for second, the practice of writing catalog essays. You know and I know that there is no such thing as a negative catalog essay and the reason for that is obvious: one way critics make money is by writing promotional copy for galleries and, hopefully, artists they like or love. And then there’s the business of curators and critics slinging their asses around to universities and institutions for speaking engagements.

Shall I go on? I mean, again, what I’m arguing for here is honesty all the way around.

In light of the practicality of living on what arts writing pays and being insightful without inserting oneself deep within the commercial structure in this particular age, and given that whether there’s a more pressing conflict of interest to address is no longer relelvant, perhaps attention can now be turned to the issues Christian raises. In particular, is it time for the code of ethics to specifically address critics lecturing for money at universities whose artists or exhibitions they later write about, accepting paid travel and hotel expenses in return for press (and the rules for acknowledging that), confluences of power like that represented by the Frieze art fair, writing catalog essays for pay, and the rest of it?

YouTubing the art world

imgres.jpgThe debut of Robert Knafo’s NewArtTV, which is dedicated to offering online streaming video coverage of exhibitions, gallery shows, artist interviews, art world events, etc., gives us an opportunity to take a fresh look at a persistent question: Just how does one “cover” visual art in a televisual format, be it web-based or otherwise?

We should note that Knafo’s enterprise is not the proverbial “first to market” here. Basel-based VernissageTV has been up and running since late 2005. LXTV, a more broad-based lifestyle site, offers segments on art and collecting. Both artinfo.com and artreview.com are ramping up their menus of streaming video options (full disclosure, I’m working on a project for the latter). More independently, James Kalm maintains a channel on YouTube where he regularly posts more guerrilla-style first-person coverage of shows and openings. And I’m sure there are more, both on YouTube and beyond.

NewArtTV itself seems to follow the format favored by PBS’s Art:21, the well-produced and thematically organized series that forgoes a narrator in favor of voice-overs by the artist alone. VernissageTV gives up on narration of any kind, offering instead only a steady stream of “composed” installation shots. True to the YouTube ethos, Kalm’s episodes tend towards running commentary with the “record” button pushed.

These are different approaches to be sure, but it seems to me that they are only beginning to scratch at the surface of the “coverage” question. What is more, we should probably also ask how streaming video, the new promised land of web-based content (as the current writers strike more than amply demonstrates) might alter the relationship between “coverage” and “criticism”—is there room (or rather time) for the latter in a YouTube world?

We the priesthood?

413MJQMDASL._SS500_.jpg

What purpose does art writing serve?—a self-reflexive question for this forum to be sure; yet we can’t fail to notice that it is one begged again and again by cultural critics who every once in a while decide to turn their attentions to our modest yet flashy corner of the industry. But what to do when the swipes come from within our ranks? During an otherwise favorable review of Arthur Danto’s Unnatural Wonders from a few weeks ago, Jackie Wullschlager, chief art critic for the Financial Times, had this to say:

A system so needful of interpreters surely lays contemporary art, its makers and consumers open to the same abuse as medieval Catholicism, when an ignorant congregation depended on a substantial class of (mostly self-serving) priests and pardoners as intermediaries to the confusing, elusive concept of God…[Commentaries on art] are written by today’s priests and pardoners, each carrying a mix of truth-seeking, vanity, ambition and the conviction that their own big idea is the route to aesthetic understanding.

What are we to make of this? To my own ear, this dismissal echoes the sentiments of the “anti-theory” crowd which grew very vocal in the 1990s. But is it more than this? Why, for example, does it always seem to be writing about art, and contemporary art in particular, that is singled out? Why must art be more popular or, to push the point, more “lay” than either science or philosophy, the two disciplines with which it undoubtedly shares a genuine creative impulse? Or to push it even further: Is this a call for evangelical aestheticism?–i.e. the only way to true “aesthetic understanding” is through one’s own personal relationship with art?

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?

Keeping score in the art(star)world

Walking through the MCA Chicago’s summer photography show recently, I came across the David Robbins piece “Talent,” from 1986. To create it, Robbins had 18 young art stars of that moment, including himself, pose for the sort of glossy airbrushed headshots that actors send casting agents. Two decades later, some of those are names that even a Culture-section scanner would recognize, such as Jeff Koons and Cindy Sherman. Others are around, if not quite stars. And some have moved far from the artworld spotlight. Robbins himself reportedly “became disenchanted with the New York scene and returned to his hometown of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. There, he began to pursue performance art and dot painting in the context of the small-town tradition of the ice-cream social. The first social was held at a local Baskin-Robbins.”

That some stars stay and others fade is not noteworthy. No, what struck me at the MCA was the (coincidentally) side-by-side presence of Peter Nagy and Ashley Bickerton in the matrix. A decade after the picture was taken, in 1996, both seemed to have essentially exited the mainstream artworld, making new lives an ocean away. As the NY Times wrote last year, the early-nineties “art-market dip left Mr. Bickerton’s career, among others, high and dry. He moved out of New York, first to Brazil then to Bali, where he still lives.” The international Herald Tribune in 2005 tracked Bickerton down doing a printmaking project in Singapore. “My career was basically in the toilet,” he recalled. “After the flash and success, there is another test that comes: longevity.” After a mid-nineties hiatus, Bickerton has come back strongly onto the international art market, most recently via Lehmann Maupin gallery. Painter and East Village gallerist Nagy, who had disappeared to Asia around the same time as Bickerton, has successfully recast himself as the leading gallerist working with India’s suddenly sought-after contemporary artists.

Looking across a much broader swath of art history, there was a long period when the influence of Marcel Duchamp was totally undervalued, and likewise the resurgent interest in Francis Picabia, circa 2002, caught many by surprise. We too often tend to view artists’ careers simplistically, as a progression from anonymity to fame and (almost always) back again. But that’s hardly the only model, especially in an artworld that’s growing ever more multifaceted. Journalism may be the first draft of history, but even art history is never written in stone.

Continue reading “Keeping score in the art(star)world”

Collectors, consultants, complications…

Catching up on my Memorial Day/Pentecost weekend reading, I came across an upbeat-on-the-art-market New York Times piece, The Art of Buying Art, With the Help of an Adviser. It’s pretty pro-adviser, explaining all the various services the right one can provide. Including making you tons of money, as witnessed by the article’s kicker quote: “[Advisor Stacey Winston-Levitan] recalled a phone call a few months ago from one of her clients who wanted to thank her for her advice to buy a John Baldessari piece for $20,000 in the early 1990s. The client had just been offered $500,000 for it. ‘As an art adviser,’ she said, ‘those are the calls you love to get.’”

Slotted in the NYT Business section (not the culture pages), with the section head “Spending,” this piece was classic “service journalism,” i.e. intended to help the reader in dealing with their lives, finances, etc. Which is why it seemed a little weird to see how quickly it skimmed over one of the potentially thorniest issues in the collector/consultant relationship: Compensation. As the Times informs us, “Consultants can charge by the hour, by the project or on a retainer basis. They may also charge a percentage of the price of the art they help acquire.” But as I noted in this month’s Art Newspaper article “The problem with art advisors,” this can be filled with unexpected implications for the novice collector that the Times piece targets:

At its cleanest, [compensation] is straightforward: the collector pays a retainer, usually based upon the ambition level of the projected collection and the speed with which it’s supposed to be completed. Much more frequently, the consultant is paid a commission on each sale by the gallery. To the extent that there’s an industry standard, it’s 10 percent. But in reality, that’s just a baseline number. “With some of my artists, like Josephine Meckseper, where demand is high, the price is the price—if they want a  ­commission, a consultant needs to work it out with their client,” says dealer Elizabeth Dee of New York. “With other artists, I can be more  ­flexible. But you never want to give them more than 10 percent , even though many consultants come asking for 15 percent or even 20 percent.”

… The problem with fluctuating commissions goes beyond the dealer’s profit margin: it also means that advisors have a financial incentive to deal more with one gallery than another, which can skew their clients’ collections toward the artists of the galleries from whom the advisor reaps the best rewards. “I’m very blunt with  ­consultants—I tell them that I want to build a long relationship with them, and that commissions start when we do our fifth or sixth deal,” says Ed Winkleman. “But I know with some consultants that if there’s no  ­commission, they’re not coming back.” Continue reading “Collectors, consultants, complications…”

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”

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?”

Clippings from the salon floor, #8

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

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

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

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

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

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

Clippings from the salon floor, #7

Dorment Disses Dept of State In an aside from his Tate Liverpool review, The Telegraph’s ruthlessly rigorous Richard Dorment dismisses the US State Department’s Federal Advisory Committee on International Exhibitions:Emin_Flag.JPG “For the first time ever, an artist who has been dead for more than a decade – Felix Gonzalez-Torres – will represent the United States, presumably because he was the best the commissioners could come up with. If that isn’t a failure of nerve, what is?”

Searle’s no scoundrel In the Guardian’s “Tracey Emin will be representing herself – not Britain,” critic Adrian Searle dismisses artworld patriotism: “Personally I care neither more nor less about the British Pavilion than I do about any other. Tracey Emin should be seen, first and last, as an artist amongst artists, and thought about in those terms. The rest is bullshit.”

Documenta Detective Work Full points to Berlin’s Ludwig Seyfarth, who used old-fashioned reporting – “talking to dealers at the Art Cologne art fair, examining the artists profiled in the recently published Documenta 12 magazine, and scanning news reports and gallery announcements” – to compile his bootleg Documenta artists list for Artnet.de (the official list will only be released June 13). Better-known names include Ai Wei Wei, Johanna Billing, Cosima von Bonin, Emily Jacir, Louise Lawler, Zoe Leonard, Gerhard Richter, Gerwald Rockenschaub, Martha Rosler, Allan Sekula, Nedko Solakov, Imogen Stidworthy, and Artur Zmijewski.

Blood money Painter Zhang Xiaogang, quoted in the China Post’s “Art star shrugs at world interest,” re his booming auction market: “Those are paintings that I sold a long time ago. What happens in the market is none of my business… If I was just in it for the money, I would paint “Bloodlines” everyday.“”

Avid for dollars? Brown nose now! The same China Post article quotes Huang Liaoyuan, “a Beijing art critic and gallery owner” (Hello? That’s a fairly cowboy combo), re his countrymen’s current mercantile tactics: “Some Chinese artists are just selling artwork portraying the miserable lives of Chinese people because they feel that’s what foreign buyers want. They are just kissing the ass of Westerners.”

The Gay Straightshooter From the Artkrush Q&A with LA/Berlin dealer Javier Peres: “I am interested in many different things in the world, and artists who share those interests and address them in their work in original and thought-provoking ways intrigue me. If they’re hot — or simply sluts — then that’s even better.” Continue reading “Clippings from the salon floor, #7”

Critics, Understood at Last

In more proof that Europe is way out ahead of America, now comes news that the E.U. has passed a law to keep reviews from being misquoted by cultural promoters.

As the London Independent and The New York Times have reported, the new Unfair Commercial Practices Directive bars advertisers from taking critics’ words out of context or otherwise manipulating reviews in such a way that “deceives or is likely to deceive the consumer.” Violators will be prosecuted by the ominous sounding Office of Fair Trading.

For those of us in the visual art world, this news raises some disquieting questions. First, how would promoters shrink sentences that run, on industry average, four to seven lines of text, into their meager advertisement space? Second, how would these unscrupulous arts advertisers manipulate the meaning of critical utterances, when those utterances themselves are so often nonsensical and, as surveys have documented, devoid of clear judgments?

Third, and perhaps most alarming, will visual arts presenters, having run out of ideas, ever decide to use snippets of criticism to promote their artists and exhibitions? In the theater, where critics still count, this is standard practice. Alas, few in the art world seem to feel that criticism is important enough to bother with quoting or misquoting critics in their advertisements.

What’s next for Europe? Legislation mandating criticism that consumers can understand?

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, #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”