Islamic codes 1, ConArt 0

gulf.jpgA London-based Artworld Salon reader forwarded me this brief article from yesterday’s Guardian: “Dubai art fair says no to nudes,” in reference to the Gulf Art Fair, which opens precisely as I’m writing these words. Apparently,

things got a bit sticky when all participating galleries – whose clients[sic] include Tracey Emin and Jeff Koons – were asked to only show art that was appropriate to display in an Islamic state. John Martin, the Gulf Art Fair director, said: “We have asked all galleries to make careful provision – that is, chiefly concerning nudity and religious imagery.”

This is the same Martin who a few months back told the Artnewspaper: “We aim to be among the top five art fairs in the world.” I’m not sure who Martin ranks as the top five fairs now, but GAF will be hard-pressed to displace, say, FIAC or ARCO while telling dealers to censor their stands.

The broader issue at play here is how well the Western artworld can adapt to Islamic rules and Arab mores while seeking the Middle East’s money. I’m expecting this to be a major point of contention for Continue reading “Islamic codes 1, ConArt 0”

Zwirner vs. Huber, the fallout

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

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

Too rich, too thin

BuyMe.jpgFairs are a particularly tricky topic for artworld analysis. There are so many different parties involved – hundreds of dealers, thousands of collectors, tens of thousands of “tourists” – that there’s an intense Rashomon effect. And when it comes to sales data, the true results of a fair are both obscured by dealer posturing and totally unknown until months later, when it becomes clear which “strong interest” from collectors has turned into actual sales – and conversely which “sales” fell through. That being said, here are my impressions from talking to people throughout last weekend’s Armory Show madness in New York:

Sales were inconsistent. Some dealers claimed to have done very well (and their rehung booths backed up that claim), while others were complaining that they never felt a “feeding frenzy” build as it does at Art Basel, Frieze, or Art Basel Miami Beach. Such frenzies bring about two things that dealers love: a “buy it or lose it” sense of urgency and a momentary disregard for any notion of relative value. To be judged commercially successful , then, does today’s fair needs to function like a pitched auction-room battle?

Crowds were inconsistent. Or rather, quantity and quality of crowd were out of sync. There were moments during the weekend when there was a two-hour wait to enter (even for some hapless VIPs) and sardine-can conditions inside. At the same time, the dealers I talked to felt like many major non-NYC collectors had not made the trip, confirming my suspicion from the pre-fair survey I conducted among my artworld friends and associates (i.e. asking, “See you at the Armory?”). I also wonder whether the tiered-entry ticket scheme for the VIP opening ($1,000 to get in at 11.30am, $500 for 4pm, $250 for 6pm) does not have a dually negative effect by 1) making core artworld folk feel like anyone can buy their way into artworld-VIP status (an echo of my night-club metaphor thoughts after ABMB...) and 2) putting off collectors who are unwilling to pony up a grand to Continue reading “Too rich, too thin”

Spotted at the Armory Show: 60,000 people

What can one say about the Armory fair? It’s big. It’s in a big new space that most people seem to like. There are a lot of big Audi cars outside that you can cruise around in, and small ones, too. They look very nice.

Inside, it’s all about details. Those little gem moments that you can only steal at a fair. Plus the star spotting: “Hey, Mike Ovitz is in the next aisle!” “Did you see Bloomberg at the mirror covered sanitation truck?”

Most of the art being familiar, I am a great believer in cruising the edges, those less trafficked nether regions where members of the support infrastructure of the art world pitch their tents. And it was there, on the outermost perimeter, that I encountered George Wachtel, head of Audience Research, his own research firm, which was contracted to gauge the economic impact of the fair. Wachtel’s booth — his table, really — was kitty-corner from the oddest of blue chip gallery booth postings, that of Jeffrey Deitch, who, in what must have seemed like a shrewdly calculated move, ended up across from Continue reading “Spotted at the Armory Show: 60,000 people”

Christies consumes Haunch of Venison. Why?

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

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

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

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

Cardboard, the new JPG?

WeberBooth2.jpg Had a funny moment while walking around Zurich yesterday: I stopped in at Galerie Jamileh Weber and saw this little maquette of the gallery’s fair ABMB booth. First off, I just love models. And this one was accurate right down to the Eames chairs and the storage closet filled with paintings.

But my favorite part of this was finding out that a collector had been visiting the gallery, spotted a Frank Stella hanging in the “booth,” then bought the painting after seeing a JPG of the work. In a way this is a precursor to ArtNet’s upcoming arrangement to build a fully 3D digital model of Art Basel that can be perused online long after the art dealers have packed up the far and started summering in Capri, the Hamptons and St Tropez. But that’s another post.

ABMB = Artworld’s Big Moment, Bad?

There has been tsunami of blogging on Art Basel Miami Beach. New York magazine team-blogged it; Culturegrll blogged it without even coming; and bloggers from all over the artworld took their swings, too (links roundup from dean-of-the-art-blogs Modern Art Notes). Thus, I see no need to add anything more on the specifics of the fair. Especially given how much I wrote for the Art Newspaper’s daily edition.

There has been tsunami of blogging on Art Basel Miami Beach. New York magazine team-blogged it; Culturegrll blogged it without even coming; and bloggers from all over the artworld took their swings, too (links roundup from dean-of-the-art-blogs Modern Art Notes). Thus, I see no need to add anything more on the specifics of the fair. Especially given how much I wrote for the Art Newspaper’s daily edition.

Pulling back the camera a little, I think the central weirdness for the everyday artworld types during ABMB was the sense of having been pushed aside at our own party. I’m still struggling for the right metaphor to capture what’s happened. Some people suggested that ABMB is becoming the artworld’s Cannes Film Festival, which mutated from a cinema connoisseur’s event into a yacht-jammed socialite clusterfuck that happens to have lots of film stars in the mix.

Others suggest a process akin to urban gentrification, in which the popularity of the art world (see VF/W’s December issues) and Continue reading “ABMB = Artworld’s Big Moment, Bad?”

And thus, with the usual Italian delay, the counter-attack begins…

Email from the La Biennale di Venezia organizers (referring to the Cornice art fair):

We would like to refer to some pages published on art magazines and web sites, announcing art fairs in Venice related to the preview of the 52nd International Art Exhibition of La Biennale di Venezia (June 2007) which have been moreover advertised through pictures showing art works and exhibition spaces of former Editions of La Biennale di Venezia itself.

We want to formally underline in any case that such commercial initiatives happen not to be connected with or included by any kind of collaboration with La Biennale di Venezia.

Therefore, they are completely unrelated to the organization of the 52nd International Art Exhibition.

Chelsea evacuates to Miami, due to cash tsunami

vice_city.jpgInteresting press release I received yesterday, in which …

reported today that no less than 116 Chelsea galleries are going to ten different art fairs in Miami the second week of December, making 2006 the largest such migration ever, up 25% from just a year ago. “Chelsea’s presence in Miami will be significant”, says Alessandra Almgren, editor at “More than one sixth of all galleries participating in any of the art fairs, and 43 out of the 247 galleries at the main fair, Art Basel Miami Beach, have a Chelsea address.”

Four questions:
– Clearly, Chelsea is an art fair every day, and yet dealers still feel compelled to drag their asses and their art down to Miami. Why? And no, “mojitos by the pool” does not explain it.
– Does anyone think that all these galleries can possibly break even, given the competition?
– Will any art at all be sold in Chelsea come January?
– 10 fairs, 686 galleries. Does that sound doable to anyone except a compulsive collector with a sunlight allergy and no artworld friends to distract him?

Interesting point, not noted: While Chelsea’s representing Continue reading “Chelsea evacuates to Miami, due to cash tsunami”

File under C, for “Cravenly Commercial”

In case you missed it, Artnet on Thursday announced

“Cornice International Art Fair, June 7-10, 2007, in a custom-built pavilion in Venice’s Tronchetto district, at the gateway to the city — and at the other end of town from the Giardini, site of the 52nd Venice Biennale, which previews at the same time. Cornice general manager María Marqués Aparici notes that the location avoids the difficulties of art delivery by boat. Stand prices begin at €6,720 for 24 square meters.”

The mind boggles at the stupidity of this. I mean:

– Given the fact that Art Basel opens four days later and that at this point the Swiss city will feature the Art Basel, Design Miami, Liste, Scope and Volta fairs, what gallery would do this fair?

– There is a near-certain guarantee of broad artworld contempt for everyone involved. We can accept, “See it in Venice, buy it in Basel,” but a fair during the bienniale itself is too tacky.

– Everyone leaves the Venice biennial wishing they’d seen more. It’s always the one pavilion you missed that everyone loves most (Central Asian Republics in 2005, Mike Nelson in 2001, etc.) So who in their right mind would waste time to go to an art fair when there are so many pavilions to hammer through?

I’m betting this project dies, if not before the bienniale, then on June 11, 2007, in an epic furore.

Science explains the popularity of Art fairs

I’ve always said the artworld has its fair share of unbalanced people, but it seems we may all be suffering from a chemical imbalance that causes “neophilia,” the syndrome Saatchi once self-diagnosed himself as having.   Based on neurological research in Japan:

It turns out some people may, in fact, be more genetically predisposed than others to wanting the newest toys, gadgets and fashions… it seems that genetic differences mean that people produce different variations of a mitochondrial enzyme called monoamine oxidase A. The researchers found that one form of this enzyme was “significantly associated with higher scores of novelty seeking.” In other words, people who produce that form of the enzyme are more likely to have novelty-seeking traits in their personality than others.