Summer reading: The $12 Million Stuffed Shark

Shark_Thompson.jpgA side benefit of the boom has been a stream of new books on the business of art. Given the lack of independently verifiable data, especially about the gallery trade, these books usually promise more than they can deliver. Don Thompson’s The $12 Million Stuffed Shark: The Curious Economics of Art and Auction Houses (until recently available only in the U.K.) is no exception. But it qualifies as recommended reading for anyone looking for a quick overview of how the art world works.

Thompson, an economist and branding expert, undertook a yearlong “journey of discovery” for this entertaining study of the “economics and psychology of art, dealers, and auctions.” By his description, the book “explores money, lust and self aggrandizement of possession, all important elements on the world of contemporary art.” He admits “much of the anecdotal material and some of the numbers in the book are single-source stories and facts,” which are often “embellished in the retelling” and “accepted as fact because they are repeated as fact.” The candor is refreshing. And to be sure, Thompson has a keen eye for the telling statistic.

With these provisos out of the way, and no endorsement of the accuracy of what follows, here is a glossary of facts and figures from the book (all offered by the author without the benefit of direct references or footnotes):
• “Eight of ten works purchased directly from an artist and half the works purchased at auction will never again resell at their purchase price.” Continue reading “Summer reading: The $12 Million Stuffed Shark”

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”

Any old collector will do

FreudNude.jpgNow that we know who has been paying top dollar at the auctions (Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich, the owner of Chelsea Football Club as well as a whole lotta gas and oil) this more or less proves that we are relying on the super-rich to hold the buoyant market aloft. There has been a lot of talk about how the art world is staving off signs of a recession thanks to these new ’emerging market’ buyers, but might this trend have further ramifications for the business?

For example, will the dealers cease to hold back their best work for the supposed ‘best’ collectors and museums, preferring instead to keep cashflow high by offloading to those simply holding the biggest, loosest purses? Maybe galleries have been disingenuous all along, merely paying lip service to the sacred idea of artist representation and not really carefully vetting what sells to whom at all. While you can’t stop anyone from buying at auction (indeed, Abramovich might start to be taken seriously as a collector after his recent purchases), will money run roughshod over the hearts and minds of those in the primary market in the same way? Or should I just take my rose-tinted blinkers off?

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.

Art fairs don’t die they just multiply

ArtCologne.jpeg Maastricht, Armory, Basel, Frieze, Arco, Miami, of course. But Bologna, Abu Dhabi, Rotterdam, Minneapolis and Stockholm? Who goes to these fairs and are they really necessary? Judging by a hilarious and despairing account of selling absolutely nothing at the recent Art Cologne (read his candid fair obituary here), dealer Kenny Schachter seems to be advocating a cull in the number of deadwood art fairs. Cologne’s problems are well documented and numerous leadership wrangles mean that it’ll get another revamp next year, but to what end?

Similarly, it was with much trepidation that a gaggle of young London dealers sloped off to the newly reborn Art Chicago, formerly the US’s pre-eminent art fair, to exhibit in the invited section of its contemporary sideshow NEXT. What concerns most of them is that the new owners Merchandise Mart (who also own the Armory, Volta and the Toronto Fair) were simultaneously holding three other fairs in the same building (The M. Mart International Antiques Fair, The Artist Project and the Intuit Show of Outsider and Folk Art) under the banner of Artropolis, like some kind of multi-storey monster-truck car park for art.

Despite the mild protestations of their president Chris Kennedy (yes, of that family) – ‘We’re not trying to be the Macy’s of the art world’– Merchandise Mart’s new financial muscle and the windy city’s track record suggest that Chicago deserves another crack of the whip, but when will some of these other art fairs learn to just quietly lay down and die? Oh, and how many dealers do you know ever admit to selling very little or nothing at all?

Dubai postcard

Dubai.jpgThe opening night of this year’s Art Dubai fair culminated in a sit-down dinner for 250 VIPs under a tent at the Ritz Carlton Hotel, hosted by Canvas magazine, a glossy local art publication. The invitation called for “lounge suit/national dress.” The smell of pungent flowers from the hotel’s garden mixed with the aroma of the sea just below. The feast of yellow fin tuna and beef tenderloin was paired with generous pourings of American Zinfandel and, after dessert, sweet Tokaj wine from Hungary. It was at that point that some of the guests approached the stage to perform cover songs of Italian pop tunes from the sixties. Shortly after midnight, as the jazz band launched into a hearty rendition of “Parole, parole, parole,” it was time to go.

Read more of my report in Men’s Vogue about the immense cultural projects in the United Arab Emirates here.

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.

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?

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…”

Postcard from Miami

Merlin_Carpenter.jpgWell here we are, and it’s bigger than ever. Collectors seem to be undeterred by the housing crisis and Wall Street jitters, and by all accounts they are spending freely. Most of the dealers I have talked to were happy already by the end of Tuesday night. Several of them evinced an air of unfeigned relief, even surprise. By late afternoon Wednesday, when the waves of VIP previews had washed through the main fair and the UBS VIP Collectors Lounge had filled up with well-heeled and scantily attired jetsetters, the best pictures were gone. It’s hard to say who was buying what, but collectors with European and South American accents seemed to be smiling the most cheerfully. With their discounted dollars, they had good reason.

Trends thus far are hard to discern, notwithstanding the diminished presence of photography in the main fair. The trend of the year is without doubt the continuing metastasis of the Miami art fair phenomenon, which has mushroomed beyond all sense of proportion or restraint. Along with it, so has the devouring of the event’s artistic core by eager and shrewd marketers of luxury products. For the party goer, this is a good thing.

A full accounting of the art offerings is still in the distance because several of the fairs have just begun accepting visitors. The cliff notes version of the buzz is this: The big fair has quality art but is predictable; Scope is a bust; Nada is solid; the Miami Art Fair is bo-ring; and Pulse is really fun. For those who care about art, the private collectors have once again thrown out a lifeline in the form of well-curated exhibitions. Although the array of heavy German art at the Rubell Collection was a bit much to take in the Florida sunshine, that show, along with the outstanding installation at the Margulies collection, provided reassurance that somewhere underneath all the preening and the elbowing there is a genuinely committed art culture here, and it’s going from strength to strength.

I am in a position to reassure everyone, meanwhile, that the sybaritic aspect of the Art Basel Miami Beach is bigger and badder than ever. European luxury goods purveyors, especially, are outdoing each other to capture the attention of the fairgoers. Krug champagne has a lovely white balloon with a bespoke gondola basket outfitted by a designer of private jets and yachts. Cartier threw a glamorous jewel-studded bash at a custom built hurricane-proof geodesic dome. Something of a synthesis of the high intentions and commercial ambitions of all that happens here was afforded by my final party stop last night, around midnight, in a cavernous factory building near the Design District, where Zaha Hadid was presenting her new line of furniture. The tables, benches and shelves are devoid of function — you can’t actually sit on them or place a book on them — but they sure look good in all their aerodynamic, bronze-coated slickness. The price of the smallest bookshelf: about 30,000 dollars.

Miamimania

miami.jpg

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.

In case you missed the news…

Unless you were on the Grand Tour last month, you may have noticed that I have not posted here for a while. There’s a very good reason: As many of you already know, I will be among the trio who will take over the leadership of Art Basel and Art Basel Miami Beach next year, thus replacing Samuel Keller, who will become director of Basel‘s Fondation Beyeler. As you can imagine, the preparations and changes related to this new development have kept me very busy for the last month.

Full details of the new Art Basel leadership structure are here, but the fundamental information is this: Cay Sophie Rabinowitz, currently Senior US Editor of Parkett and a member of the Parsons New School of Design faculty, will be the Artistic Director; Annette Schönholzer, Show Manager for Art Basel Miami Beach since 2002, becomes Director, Operations and Finance; and I will be Director, Strategy and Development. I start working for Art Basel in September, and our trio takes over responsibility for the two shows starting in January 2008.

As Artworld Salon readers know, my fascination with the international artworld’s evolution is long-standing and intense. My new role will involve tracking that evolution even more closely, thereby helping one of the artworld’s most innovative organizations continue to play a leading role in support of its client galleries and their artists. The job presents a challenge and an opportunity to which I look forward immensely.

Gallery Weekend Berlin: An art-fair antidote?

Fernsehturm, Berlin I never need much of an excuse to go to Berlin. I love the city’s density of galleries and artists, but also the fact that living costs and renting space still remains so cheap that people take all sorts of risks without lining up the full financing beforehand. Three years old now, the Gallery Weekend Berlin event seemed like a classic example of the city’s cultural experimentation, and I’d several times heard it described as an antidote to art fairs. My curiosity was piqued. So last Friday I flew into Tegel, eager to see if GWB truly presents a new model for galleries to work within the rapidly evolving artworld.

The basics of the GWB are simple: 29 galleries held openings Friday night and agreed to stay open (exceptionally) on Sunday and Monday. A pocket-size program was printed up with a gallery map. (Here’s a full list of all of the GWB shows; Franz Ackermann‘s show at neugerriemschneider was the crowd favorite, Dash Snow at CFA’s the most hotly debated.) The dealers held their own private dinners after the Friday openings. Then on Saturday night there was a gala event (well, “gala” by Berlin’s low-key standards), held in the newly opened and quite swank Grill Royal, to which the 29 galleries could invite six guests each.

From an artistic standpoint, the GWB made a strong case as a cultural event. The standard proved uniformly high and the weekend served well its purpose as a reminder that gallery spaces create an utterly different context around artworks than exhibition halls. In addition, even when you’re sprinting through three dozen galleries over the course of a few days, it’s totally different than seeing 250 booths (or even far, far more) in the same time period.

Of course, the attractions of fairs are more than just the art (whether for buying and seeing). They’re also the artworld crossroads, where everyone bumps together. From this standpoint, the GWB felt more like a minor biennial than like a fair. For one thing, there was a much smaller crowd of out-of-town visitors than at a fair, maximum 1,000 people (and only a few hundred foreigners, I’m guessing). That said, those who came tended to be people who have a daily relationship with art, be it as art critics, institutional curators or hard-core collectors (i.e. the Rubell clan, Rosa de la Cruz, Ingvild Goetz). And GWB certainly had its artworld social moments: Eva and Adele surfacing randomly; Christian Jankowski rallying the troops for a late-night expedition to Rio Bar; Dash Snow and Jonathan Meese jumping around the Volksbühne dancefloor, their long hair and wild eyes going in all directions simultaneously; Artnet’s cocktail party at the Münzsalon private club, closing the weekend with verve despite all the compounded hangovers in the room. Continue reading “Gallery Weekend Berlin: An art-fair antidote?”

Art-market art, in the art market

When Edward Winkleman weighed in on Saltz vs Heiss, he wrote, “Perhaps a smart show about the current art market would require too much analysis (a CPA and a hedge fund manager might have to curate it) to be visually interesting or pleasing.” This aside got me thinking in two directions. First, that one of my favorite (conceptually speaking) recent shows, “Leftovers: A Selection Of My Unsold Pieces From The Private Galleries I Work With,” focused upon this very topic. Bulgarian artist Nedko Solakov had Mirjam Varadinis – the curator for a planned Kunsthaus Zurich show of his drawings – instead visit all his dealers and select the 2005 exhibition’s content from among their unsold Solakovs.

Solakov asked all the dealers for an explaination of why those works had not sold and posted their texts alongside their gallery’s “leftovers.” My favorite? Brussels dealer Erna Hecey, whose list revealed the haphazard traige of the supposedly rational art market: “The works are too expensive. The works are not expensive enough… The world is not ready for this work. This work comes a bit late… The works have not been presented enough. The work has been shown too often and everywhere… Mars was conjuncting in Pluto at the time of the show.” Naturally, the simple fact that these works were slated to be shown in a major cultural institution suddenly stirred interest among collectors. But Solakov pulled pieces out of the show if they sold before it opened, and scrawled an explanation in the gap left behind.

Second point: I’ve amassed many images of artworks created as counterpoints or commentary on the current market, which I use to illustrate my speeches about the artworld. I’m going to dump some prime examples in here for examination/discussion. A note to Artworld Salon readers: Send along images of works on this theme (ideally 494 pixels wide JPGs @ 72dpi) and I’ll update our premiere Artworld Salon “exhibition.”

William Powhida, Detail from Wall of Shame, 2007
(From his upcoming Schroeder Romero gallery show)

AVM_Powhida.JPG Continue reading “Art-market art, in the art market”

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”

Q. Will fairs “consolidate”? A. No time soon.

Tyler Green posted five questions over at MAN yesterday, including this one:

2. Unexamined question for art journos: Will there be consolidation in the art fair industry? When I talked to Art Basel’s Sam Keller last year he pooh-poohed the idea. (And no consolidation has happened.) But doesn’t it make sense for that to happen at some point? I mean: I don’t even know when artDC is — and it’s this month.

To answer Tyler’s question: artDC is April 27-30, precisely the same weekend as three other fairs: MACO in Mexico City, VIENNAfair and Art Chicago. Simultaneously there’s the Berlin Gallery weekend, for which 29 Berlin galleries (all the powerhouses, plus many rising stars) band together to invite major collectors from all over the world for several days of art tours, plus a gala dinner. (It’s an event conceived as a counterbalance to art fairs, and intended to remind collectors that galleries can provide a better context for seeing work than fair booths.) This week in Europe, BTW, we have fairs in Cologne, Dusseldorf and Brussels, after Frankfurt last weekend. Hello? Maybe it’s time to institute an artworld scheduling committee…

But does all those augur a consolidation of fairs? Not really. The main issue is this: There are tons of galleries, literally a thousand-plus when you start looking worldwide, that are trying to make a name for themselves, build their profile, or simply meet new collectors. To them, fairs provide that possibility – and many will give a new market a shot at least once, because meeting even one good collector makes it worthwhile. Thus, just filling all the booths of a fair is not hard – and organizers can always get a few “name” galleries in by offering discounted rates. From a purely financial level, then, a fair makes sense to the organizers and civic leaders even as the quality level erodes every year and the event becomes totally provincial. The result? To quote my friend Frédéric Bugada of Cosmic Galerie in Paris, “Les foires ne meurent pas, elles agonisent.” (Fairs don’t die, they just writhe in agony.) Continue reading “Q. Will fairs “consolidate”? A. No time soon.”

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”

Frankfurt: Is a fair without booths still a fair?

FrankfurtFair_1.jpgTwo years ago, the Frankfurt trade-show company asked local gallerist Michael Neff to overhaul its art fair, which had become a regional mediocrity. Neff’s tactic has been to radically rethink the notion of a fair. For this year, he announced a fair without walls, as in: Sculpture only. And no booths. Rumor had it Neff even forbade seats for the dealers. Curious, I packed into the Deutsche Bahn early yesterday and rode off to Germany’s finance capital.

Walking into the sprawling convention center’s cavernous Hall 9, one had the impression of entering an indoor sculpture garden. Arranged along the perimeter of the hall, with a shrouded cafe area in the middle, were roughly 100 large sculptures (and some freestanding installations) spaced at quite decent intervals – one could see them from all angles, without even having to stand atop adjacent works. (Images here.) And indeed the only walls were in the Dennis Loesch sculpture reproducing small sections of Frieze Art Fair booths complete with gallery signage. The closest thing I’ve seen to this at any other fair are the open areas within Art Basel’s Art Unlimited. Rumor has it Neff heavily influenced the selection of work each gallery brought and this fair looked most like a curated exhibition, right down to the dramatic (over-dramatic?) spotlight bathing each piece in the otherwise darkish hall. Almost all of were quite recent pieces by younger contemporary artists – although there was a Carsten Höller and a Gunther Förg, and a very cool security-cammed Valie Export piece, conceived in 1973 (but only now executed). The size and ambition of the artworks were refreshing; these were not the domestic-sized sculptures one commonly sees in art fair booths, appropriate for placement in a finacier’s soft loft, but not too intrusive.

Of course, there’s a reason why you commonly see such works in fairs, which is that they are far more saleable. After all, few private collectors have the space for such major installations and sculptures. And if one thing was clear, it was that the dealers in Frankfurt were not counting on selling much. One I talked to was planning to go home the next day, Continue reading “Frankfurt: Is a fair without booths still a fair?”

The Ivory Tower erodes, evermore…

artchicago_logo.gifAs a former Chicagoan, I was delighted to read Ed Winkleman’s very optimistic note about the rebirth of Art Chicago. I think the strategy – folding the fair into a larger civic cultural festival called “Artropolis” – makes a lot of sense. It will be interesting to see how much overlap there is between the crowds for several contemporary-art events, for the almost equally large antiques show that will run concurrently in the Merchandise Mart (the largest commercial building in North America), and for the symposium on “hegemony and resistance in the global cultural economy.” Compared to last year’s fiasco, when the once-mighty fair (before the Armory, before ABMB) was barely saved in extremis from not opening, this is an excellent development.

However, one innovation strikes me as likely to draw criticism: The NEW INSIGHT section, described as “an amazing display of the future emerging talent in the art world… comprised of artwork from 24 graduate students at 12 of the country’s most influential Master of Fine Arts programs,” including CalArts, Yale, RISD and the Art Institute of Chicago. Especially given the fact that these students were selected by renowned Renaissance Society director Susanne Ghez, I’m predicting a stampede by neophiliac collectors to buy their work. Unless some draconian mechanism has been put in place to make sure that doesn’t happen – an idea which might be considered advisable in some quarters, but would almost certainly be a) an infringement of some Constitutional right and b) totally ineffective in the face of aggressive collectors.

Offhand, I cannot recall ever seeing a section of exclusively graduate-student work displayed as part of an art fair. (Although one certainly comes across the occasional artwork by a graduate student who’s already joined the roster of a participating gallery.) In this sense, New Insight marks the latest stage in the crumbling of the wall between art schools and the art market, the earlier stages having been 1) the prowling of art-school studios by dealers and collectors, 2) the growing professionalization of degree shows, and 3) the “School Days” show at Jack Tilton last spring. Honestly, this is a topic on which I feel divided. Part of me sides with the logic that led Columbia arts dean Bruce Ferguson to close the studios of first-year grad students to collectors. Then again, I think, maybe it’s totally reactionary to think that we can sequester students from the art market, or even that doing so would be a good idea. Thoughts?


Galleries vs. auction houses: war declared?

Over the weekend, Artnet.de 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?”