Another record bites the dust

One of the most disquieting anecdotes I remember hearing about Sept. 11 — and I sincerely hope it was a myth, born in a moment of despair and chaos — concerned some phone calls that the Manhattan Hermes store allegedly received that very morning from fashionable hopefuls wondering if they might have advanced a few tiers on the waiting list for a certain coveted handbag. The accessory in question was the iconic Kelly bag, and it just made history again — exactly one day after the sixth anniversary of the tragedy.

Last week, Christie’s London auctioned off the most expensive handbag ever sold, for 31,200 pounds sterling, or almost $65,000, roughly three times its original estimate. The bag has been described, intriguingly, as “Louise McBain’s handbag,” and in more technical parlance, as a “Rouge ‘H’ Crocodile Kelly Bag with Gilt Hardware.” Unlike Mr. Hirst’s diamond skull, this is a documented sale (98% of the lots found buyers at the sale, entitled From City Chic to Alpine Retreat, Holland Park and St.Moritz), and it will certainly be interpreted as a sign — but a sign of what?

Summer math camp

The three co-founders of Artworldsalon intersected in London last week. Two of them went on to ogle Damien Hirst’s diamond studded skull, about which a report shall soon follow, and which is undeniably the talk of the town. Visitors particularly seem to appreciate the gesamtkunstwerk atmosphere. It’s not just the skull but the full-court theatre around it, including the thuggish Mafia-style security guards. More on that carnival attraction from the eyewitnesses who saw it.

The real eye candy for me this summer in London was at the National Gallery, which has organized a spellbinding show of Dutch portraiture, a true diamond gem of an exhibit. A less noticed visual art event awaits at Heathrow airport. A slick video about security procedures now playing on a row of flat-panels right above the baggage X-ray machines is a sight to behold. It looks like it was produced by Matthew Barney in collaboration with the people who make Apple’s iPhone commercials. Slow-motion shots from edgy avant-garde camera angles (e.g. bird’s eye view of gorgeous passenger walking through metal detector) capture models of attractively blended origin as they glide through the ritualistic passage of belt removal, laptop opening, and body frisking. Their dignified countenance and beatific smiles radiate an inner calm, as though they were being cleansed; suspicions erased, innocence reasserted.

Anyway, on to matters at hand. One of the delights of airplane time is the freedom to read even the smallest articles in The Economist, including the little teaser for their blog, Free exchange, which on June 26 posted a fascinating roundup of variables shown empirically to influence the prices of paintings. Quoting from Tyler Cowen’s latest book, Discover your Inner Economist, they posit the following relationships:

“1 Landscapes can triple in value when there are horses or figures in the foreground. Evidence of industry usually lowers a picture’s value.

2 A still life with flowers is worth more than one with fruit. Roses stand at the top of the flower hierarchy. Chrysanthemums and lupines (seen as working class) stand at the bottom.

3 There is a price hierarchy for animals. Purebred dogs help a picture more than mongrels do. Spaniels are worth more than collies. Racehorses are worth more than carthorses. When it comes to game birds the following rule of thumb holds: the more expensive it is to shoot the bird, the more the bird adds to the value of the painting. A grouse is worth more than a mallard, and the painter should show the animal from the front, not the back. Continue reading “Summer math camp”

Elton John vs. La bienniale: che cazzata…

eltonjohn-venice_1.jpgThe artworld has a love/hate relationship with celebrities. On the one hand, we’re all part of modern media culture, which ceaselessly rams them down our throats. So I find that even professional art theoreticians often have distressingly detailed knowledge about people such as Anna Nicole Smith or Pete Doherty . On the other hand, it’s disconcerting when so much of the writing about, say, Art Basel Miami Beach or the Frieze Art Fair has to do with celebrities like Kate, Gwyneth, Kanye, Paris, Jay-Z and Beyonce. Because it shows in such stark contrast how totally irrelevant artists are to the mainstream media. Ultimately, it’s not that big a deal, because London and Miami are very big places. If you want to avoid the celebrity hype. just walk away in any direction.

Venice, however, is a small place – less a town than a very large village. And it’s a logistical nightmare to navigate. So it felt like a stomach punch when I read this morning’s news alert from the Art Newspaper, Elton John concerts in Venice raise concern about possible damage to St Mark’s Square, which revealed:

The concerts are part of Sir Elton’s Red Piano tour and will coincide with the opening of the Venice Biennale. Although the City of Venice has not yet granted official permission for the concerts to take place, tickets for the events are already for sale online… Venetians still recoil from the memory of a 1989 concert by Pink Floyd which involved the group playing on a floating stage just off St Mark’s Square. Access to the square was unrestricted and some 200,000 people congregated to watch the British rock band, many camping out for days in advance. The size of the crowd overwhelmed city authorities and the lack of public toilets contributed to a mess which took the army three days to clear up.”

The article goes on to say that the Elton John concert will probably not have quite the same disastrous effects as the Pink Floyd concert. But 10,000 Elton John fans descending on the city will surely cause chaos during the critical last few days of preparations for the Venice Biennial, which – this is being Italy – tend to be when most everything actually gets done. (Obligatory disclosure: I’m staying in a hotel Continue reading “Elton John vs. La bienniale: che cazzata…”

Art meets fashion, Round MDCCXVIII

jcrew2.jpgBubble alert! I was reminded that we must have passed some kind of cultural milepost when I opened my mail the other night, only to find that the current issue of the J. Crew clothing catalog prominently features on its front cover two young “artists” – or are they art school students? – lounging in their studio. The “art,” arranged in an elegantly orchestrated clutter behind the two fresh-faced models, looks vaguely 1930s and reassuringly familiar.

If memory serves, when Jean Michel Basquiat appeared on the cover of The New York Times Magazine, in 1985, at least he had some paint splatters on his suit. Not so for these J. Crew artists. Unsullied by evidence of contact with artists’ materials, they are the appropriate icons for these confidently professional, post-bohemian times.