Contemporary: what real value?

In the context of a discussion this week, on this site and his own blog, about the appropriateness of different subjects for contemporay Art, Ed Winkleman said

The truth about the current art market is in fact so complicated it’s beyond the grasp of many of the world’s best economists.

Hmmm. That is either a disservice to Economists or an overly apologetic way of describing the nonsense of current pricing.

On bloomberg.com on Friday we had a quote from collector (and former hedge fund manager) Michael Steinhardt saying that new moneyed collectors buy contemporary art as a form of “personal aggrandizement”. He added:-

There are limited assets that have cachet. If you buy the fanciest Cadillac today, or a Mercedes, its a yawn. The world is so wealthy.

he continued:-

The decline [of Art Prices] will be associated with declines in stocks and real estate. A lot of markets are near new highs.

Rothko__72.84m.jpgClearly the records at both Sotheby’s and Christie’s last week reflect a combination of the intrinsic value of the works sold AND a premium associated with the wallets of those bidding against each other. For this not-disinterested collector/observer, it will be interesting to see where prices settle after the impending market correction. In other words: to see what the underlying value of a work might be, after the premium associated with the irrational exuberance of super-moneyed buyers is removed from the marketplace.

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?”

Clippings from the salon floor, #6

America First in Venice? Venice Biennial director Rob Storr, quoted in Time’s Talking Bout the Biennale Q&A (via MAN): “America has been, in terms of markets, exhibitions and publications, the 300-pound gorilla. It’s not in the place where it was in the ‘60s and ‘70s but it still weighs in very heavily. So if you are an American you’re seen as part of that sizeable American art world.” Later on Storr says “[the biennial] has about 96 artists. A larger number of Americans than I would have expected going into it — about 22.” That gorilla’s looking strong, huh?

More Storr… From the same article cited above: “Biennales are a crash course in contemporary art, a place where the general public at a relatively low cost can come and find out what’s going on in the world. In my mind the real audience for the Biennale are students and travelers who have sufficient income to make a trip to Italy and who don’t have access to much contemporary art at home… But attendance has sloped off over the last decade or so. I’m not sure why.” Um, maybe because the “real audience” is surrounded by newConArt museums and art fairs in the convenience of their own homelands?

Magical museum thinking: Bloomberg’s Martin Gayford musing on how the job posting for Charles Saumarez Smith’s replacement as director of London’s National Gallery should read: “Wanted: Capable administrator and art world diplomat, able to conjure tens of millions of pounds out of thin air, time and time again.” Equally well-put: “Now, the masterpieces outside museums are as rare as snow leopards or Yangzi dolphins.”

A director ´s dreams, a visitor ´s nightmare: From Eric Gibson’s Opinion Journal piece on overcrowded museums (via AJ): “Art museums are now mainstream, the leisure destination of choice for a large segment of the population… [At the British Museum] the Rosetta Stone was so mobbed that the only way to “see” it was to hold your camera aloft and hope that there would be a decent photograph to look at when you got home… The viewing conditions are now so difficult that, in the midst of a crowded museum, you find yourself wondering why the director and curators went to all the trouble to acquire such fine objects and persuade you to come look at them if they’ve made it impossible to really see anything.”

Explosive Language “Nazi Looted Art” author Gunnar Schnabel cited by Bloomberg, re Germany ´s unresolved WWII restitution cases (via AJ): “It’s like hiding a nuclear bomb under the bedcovers. There are so many cases that need to be cleared up, thousands of them in Germany alone.”

Indian bazar: More signs of India’s art market growing pains, from the Times of India article Taxmen raid 25 art galleries in Delhi, Mumbai: “A large part of the deals were found to have been made in cash, sources said… The Income-Tax department believes that the galleries were resorting to large-scale under-invoicing, reporting lower value than what they earned through sale of art work, and did not show a large number of works in their inventories raising apprehensions that many transactions were not being reported to the taxmen.”

Gallery Geekery A while back, we mulled the need for a Google maps/gallery guide mashup. This week, Gallery Hopper wrote: “The new “My Maps” feature of Google Maps allows you to create your own customized maps and I’ve given it a little spin using the April gallery picks I posted earlier this week. Now you’ll have a handy map to follow while running around the city looking at this months great photography.”

Reverse Engineering From the Telegraph’s Art sales: Technology fuels boom in print: “‘The computer is the new sketchbook,’ says Alan Cristea, who has led the market in British print publishing since the 1970s, when he began working with artists such as Richard Hamilton. ‘Artists like Hamilton and Julian Opie are now starting with the printed image and making paintings from prints.'”

Sgarbi the Destroyer I have no idea what he’s talking about, but I stumbled across this video of Italian reactionary culturati Vittorio Sgarbi’s MacBook-throwing television tantrum.

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”

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?”

Clippings from the salon floor, #3

This random assortment of 10 web clippings is much more than normal. Not sure why. Maybe the artworld is heating up again after the lull that followed February’s fairs?

GP FakePlagiarized Pottery, I: After a Grayson Perry piece up for auction at Christies London was revealed to be a forgery, the cross-dressing, Turner Prize-winning potter/quotemachine commented in his regular Times of London column: “I thought maybe I had made it and blanked it from my memory. Then I realised that it was too well made for an early work of mine… My early works are lively but technically inept.”

Plagiarized Pottery, II: From the Times of London article on the forged crockery (via ArtsJournal): “Christie’s said in a statement that it devoted ‘considerable resources to investigating the provenance of all objects we offer for sale’. This did not extend to approaching Perry or his gallery, the Victoria Miro in East London.” Ouch.

Art Market Maxims, I: Chelsea gallerist Ed Winkleman’s Easter present to artists? Advice on getting a gallery. The whole thing is well worth reading, not least for the tough-love notes like: “Never, never, never, never, never…walk into a gallery with your actual artwork in tow. Let me repeat that: NEVER. Regardless of how convinced you are that if the dealer could only see it in person, they’d immediately offer you representation, this approach smacks of desperation.”

Art Market Maxims, II: From the blog Art Market Insider’s article Ban New Art From the Big Auctions?: “Gagosian director Bob Monk once told me, when comparing the current bubble (his word) to the boom and bust of the 1980s art market, ‘It’s like a game of hot potato, and you don’t want to be the schnook holding the damn thing when the game is over.'”

Domino-Effect Crash: From the Christies press release announcing it was selling Andy Warhol’s Green Car Crash, 1963 Estimated $25–35M (and likely to score twice that): “This sale is bound to set a new price structure for the artist.” Which roughly translates to, “You better buy this exceptional Warhol, because after we sell it, all the other ones are going to cost you twice as much anyway.Continue reading “Clippings from the salon floor, #3”

Boats on the Bund

boatlogo.gifDown in Shanghai for a few days to visit people and galleries (and the 12th China International Boat Show…). A first chance also this year to sit outside at the really quite good Shanghai MOCA 3rd floor terrace cafe, wishing I had brought sunglasses. Samuel Kung (Chairman) and Katrina Chang (Chief Representative) kindly stopped by to say hello. Katrina was busy preparing for the arrival of the contemporary portion of the 300 Years of American Art exhibition on its way down from Beijing. I still think it is sad that local problems mean they have split the show across two venues. “Bureacratic issues” was the phrase used, but that can cover a multitude of sins from disagreements between overseeing ministries down to inefficiencies within the institutions themselves. But she seemed pleased to have the contemporary works they were getting.

The lunch, however, was the highlight of an otherwise dull day of gallery visits around both the centre of town and out at 50 Moganshan Road, Shanghai’s mini-798 (798 being the trendy gallery cafe area in North East Beijing). Silly bright pink- -and-green landscapes, with the occasional image of Mao or Stalin in the clouds, asking US$25,000 to US$70,000, from someone barely known, were among the worst of the day. The two university display spaces at 50MR might be interesting to watch, though there was a preponderance of traditional monochromatic brush paintings this week. (Perhaps a year-end compulsory-technique show?) Overall there was little to inspire, or amuse, at any of the galleries I visited. Shanghai just doesn’t have the volume or depth of Beijing. Though I did see some nice catalogues, Marc. %-).

We are at an interesting stage for contemporary galleries in China. Because of the high prices for Zhang XiaoGang and others at auction, prices have risen across the board for any contemporary artist at galleries all over China (Beijing, Shanghai, Chengdu, Chongqing, Guangzhou) no matter how little track record they have. For many galleries it is clearly a case of shifting canvas while the China fever lasts. For buyers I have no idea what is in their minds when they pay high prices for what is clearly derivative or vacuous painting. Perhaps they are just playing the pyramid game (last buyer is the loser) that we last saw in dotcom stocks in ’99?

Fortunately even China fever has its limits. It was good to see how many works missed their high estimates at the recent (March 21) New York Sothebys Contemporary Art Asia sale, and that a significant number were unsold.

Vanishing lines: the collector as curator?

For those who follow the sometimes tempestuous marriage between art and finance closely, there was not much new in “Wall Street meets the art world” (via Culturegrrl), even if the language was appropriately mercantile for an article in Fortune magazine. Describing her husband’s relationship to art, Chelsea dealer Marianne Boesky recalls, “He had never been in a contemporary art gallery until we met. But as soon as he started understanding the numbers and seeing the margins, he became serious about art.”

To me, however, the most interesting part of this article was the very end:

Glenn Fuhrman, who manages Michael Dell’s family money and has become an active collector and philanthropist, is opening an exhibition space in Chelsea to display works from private collections, including his own.

What’s noteworthy here is not the fact that a collector opens an exhibition space, something Saatchi et al have done, though rarely (never?) smack-dab in the middle of a gallery district. The weird part would be the showcasing of multiple private collections in that space. Assuming it actually happens, this is an interesting development and one for which I cannot easily think of a precedent. Although apparently, a Swiss friend just informed me, it’s an idea also being mulled in Europe by some loose coalitions of collectors.

When Los Angeles collector Dean Valentine curated “Now is a Good Time” at Andrea Rosen Gallery, it ignited a fair amount of private grousing among artworld insiders about some ethical-moral line having been trespassed. Then again, that was in 2004 – a long time ago in today’s amphetamine-speed ConArt world – before Charles Saatchi Continue reading “Vanishing lines: the collector as curator?”

Clippings swept from the salon floor, #2

New term alert: China fatigue. The Telegraph’s Art sales: Rampant market, rising fatigue used the phrase “China Fatigue” in two quite different ways: 1) The Chinese churning out of tired but highly saleable work, e.g. “Tate’s Simon Groom believes that the rampant market may have produced what he calls ‘China fatigue,’ encouraging artists to make saleable pastiches rather than ‘genuinely good, creatively interesting art’. 2) The seemingly inevitable state when the current high demand for Chinese ConArt falters, e.g. “Over the next 12 days, contemporary Chinese art will be auctioned in Paris, London and Hong Kong. No one doubts that the speculation will continue, but some will be watching out for signs of China fatigue.” I’d propose another, synthetic, definition: 3) The market condition arising when demand for Chinese ConArt finally flags, because people tire of endlessly seeing similar pieces.

Chris Burden, Shoot, recreated by  Eva and Franco Mattes Tech Gone Wrong: “Synthetic Performances,” in which classical pieces of performance art – Joseph Beuys’ “7000 Oaks,Valie Export’s “Tapp und Tastkino,” Vito Acconci’s “Seedbed,” Chris Burden’s “Shoot” – are recreated in Second Life, the newest machinima platform. An odd project made even odder by the gym-bot physical culture in Second Life – Burden and Acconci look like buffed-out surfer dudes and Export is working a Daisy Duke/Pris look. (See also at Art Review Blog, via Ed_W.)

Those who can’t make, sell? While there are some New York dealers who are also active artists (Guild & Greyshkul ‘s three founders – Sara Van Der Beek, Johannes Van Der Beek, Anya Kielar – all had shows at other very solid galleries in the last year), apparently Chelsea and LA are larded with artiste manqué dealers. The Kantor/Feuer Window gallery (literally a window on 10th avenue, open 24/7) will be featuring the work of 20-plus such dealers starting today. Those include heavy-hitters and hot young names such as Roland Augustine, John Cheim, Zach Feuer, Continue reading “Clippings swept from the salon floor, #2”

Learning from Santa Fe

DSC00734_2_1.jpg“Howling coyotes and pink cats” is how a Santa Fe dealer described the wares in the galleries of his competitors. The spectrum is much broader, in fact, and there are many diamonds in the rough. But the intrepid collector must wade through mountains of mediocrity to find the good stuff. Art-wise, this is a schizophrenic town. The undisputed capital of folk schlock, on the one hand, and, on the other hand, a 400-year-old city that is the seat of a giant art industry, second in trade volume only to New York.

If the statistics are to be believed, this community of 66,000 people is, on a per capita basis, America’s premier cultural powerhouse. One billion dollars accrue to the state coffers annually from cultural tourism, which generates about a fifth of all jobs and two out of every five dollars earned. People calling themselves artists are five times more common here than anywhere in America, and photographers, a staggering 35 times. There are more than 200 galleries, the greatest density of art emporia in the nation in relation to population size. Auctions and art fairs draw huge crowds. Hotel rooms during the vast Indian Fair are booked five years in advance.

Reality check: The economic impact numbers are, to put it mildly, inclusive. They encompass all the hand-woven baskets, wool ponchos, silver belt buckles and turquoise Continue reading “Learning from Santa Fe”

Clippings collected from the salon floor

A random assortment of the recently amusing….

From The AI Interview: Damien Hirst“: “If you ask people on the street in England who is a famous artist, I think they’d say: Rolf Harris, Prince Charles, David Hockney and Damien Hirst, in that order.Is Hirst being modest or merely accurate? (FYI: www.rolfharris.com)

From ARTINFO’s “Artworks Missing from Philadelphia Schools“: “Eighty-five artworks valued at $838,000 are missing from Philadelphia’s public schools, according to a preliminary audit conducted by the city controller’s office, the Philadelphia Daily News reports… Another 220 artworks, estimated to be worth as much as $30 million, are being held in storage.” Hmm: $30M/220=$136K. Either that’s a typo or the Philly public schools are hiding some serious masterpieces.

Understatement of the week, from the Guardian’s “Emin’s bed stays made, but Beijing finally embraces modern British art“: “‘The whole Chinese scene is on a bit of a roll,’ said Richard Riley, head of the visual arts section of the British Council.”

Understatement of the week, 2nd place, from the Globe and Mail’s “Thieves run off with $2-million gold bar at Japanese museum“: “The Ohashi Collection Kan museum in Takayama, central Japan, had kept the 220-pound gold bullion unguarded by sensors or even a case because it wanted visitors to be able to touch it, according to local police officer Shinji Kurake…[who said] ‘We were very shocked… but of course this was a big block of gold, and there was no security. I suppose they could have been a little more careful.‘”

A Bit of White, Center for Contemporary Non-Objective Art, BrusselsThe E-Flux announcement for the Brussels show A BIT O’ WHITE had me doing doubletakes. Drug reference show title + total whiteness + hyperspeed text (“we do not see anything – it’s white, all white. And yet it opens our eyes, tickles our senses, let’s us be – we see so much. WHITE, which hints at a whole range of possibilities without expressing them, yet puts us on the alert. WHITE, which triggers our emotions, our fears, yet is so familiar to us. WHITE we fear – WHITE we embrace.”) = Terence Koh? I emailed Koh, and he responded: “o me god how did you know its me.” Caveat lector: Koh lies, often and unapologetically.

Revolution is Not…

Revolution Is Not A Movie

Noticed: title creep. On two sides of the Atlantic, similar words are being applied to visual extravaganzas tied to the 1956 Hungarian revolution.

Revolution Is Not A Garden PartyA billboard in New York’s Times Square last fall declared, “Our Revolution Was Not a Movie” (it was put up by the Hungarian Cultural Center to commemorate the uprising’s 50th anniversary). And this April, the Norwich Gallery will open an exhibition titled “Revolution is not a Garden Party.” Gee, really?

And for a little bit of inside baseball, which didn’t make it into the press release: one of the Hungarian artists in the show, Péter Rákosi, is a namesake of the dictator whose regime the uprising intended to topple.

Bacon: stamp of approval not required

CutBacon.jpgI’m not sure what happened in London on Tuesday, but yesterday and today several UK stories involved the upcoming Ewbanks auction “Items from the Studio of Francis Bacon.” A more colorful title for the sale might be “45 Auction Lots Assembled From Objects Once Rescued from a Dumpster Outside The Studio of Francis Bacon, Including Other People’s Passports and Postcards.” If you click on the link, you will see interesting memorabilia. There’s also some epically tendentious auction-catalogue language, such as (emphasis mine), “This would not seem to be a completed painting but Bacon frequently discarded canvases, returning to them at a later date, perhaps in this case this was one to which he meant to return but did not do so.” Wow, they read Bacon’s mind, 15 years after he died: Apparently, Bacon wanted it to be a real painting – but things just didn’t work out…

Kathe Kollewitz, c. 1926Personally, I always find it jarring to see something in an auction room or gallery, lovingly framed for sale, that the artist never meant to be considered as part of their oeuvre. Weirdest was stumbling across a Käthe Kollwitz lithograph, which she herself had crossed out (click on the image at right to see a pop-up with the X clearly visible), estimated at roughly $20,000 in a Swiss auction. By virtue of being sold in such contexts, these “pieces” tend to become integrated into the de facto oeuvre. Granted, there is a lot of complexity once one starts to consider the topic closely. It would be simplest, of course, to only deem as art those things which the artist has officially designated as art. But what about Henry Darger, whose stupendous work was only discovered after his death? Or an artist renouncing artworks after selling them, e.g. Richard Prince?

The Ewbanks Bacon sale itself isn’t really hot news, BTW – The Art Newspaper covered it in the March issue, which came out in late February. Either by coincidence or slyness on the part of TAN’s layout team, it adjoined an article that described how the Bristol student house Banksy inhabited is now being valued at double its normal price because of the mural he painted on one wall. Although, based on the image online, this work’s got nothing to do with his clever recent exploits (yeah, I’m a Banksy fan). Rather, it’s kind of cookie-cutter graffiti (one section reads “1st Division Airborne Aerosol Supremacy!”). Anyway, the mural’s being silent-auctioned “with a free house attached.” Right under that Banksy article was one detailing Damien Hirst’s painting a red nose onto a crappy  £200 Stalin portrait, which then sold at Christie’s for  £140,000.

Taken together, those three stories suggest that from a commercial standpoint, anything a famous artist has ever touched will be considered by buyers to be art – quality and intention be damned. Am I alone in finding this strange?

Postcard from L.A.

Tim Hawkinson, Uberorgan, Getty MuseumThe inferiority complex thing isn’t working anymore. For as long as anyone can remember, the Los Angeles art world had cultivated a second-city mentality. It was a story of surviving against all odds. Of imagination flourishing in the desert (or on the beach). Of artists scraping by in the absence of institutional support. Local artists even made a virtue out of their hardships. “When New Yorkers tell me what’s wrong with L.A.,” said Robert Irwin to Lawrence Weschler, “everything they say is wrong – no tradition, no history, no sense of a city, no system of support, no core, no sense of urgency – they’re absolutely right, and that’s why I like it.”

Well, that was then. During a whirlwind tour of galleries, collections, and museums, I still heard plenty of griping, especially about the lack of a committed local collector base and the difficulty of fund-raising from the Hollywood crowd. But such chatter aside, it’s impossible to miss the flowering of contemporary art that’s going on here. And in contrast to New York, the people behind this burst of energy are deliberately boosting the local talent.

The museums are having a day in the sun. Ann Philbin is soaring high at the Hammer and Michael Govan is revving his jets at LACMA. Over at MOCA, the giant feminist art show, WACK!, is an impressive display of curatorial muscle flexing, while Andrea Zittel’s mid-career retrospective is the very embodiment of L.A. art’s indefatigable “I can survive” spirit. Meanwhile, the Getty, singed by fallout from its forays Continue reading “Postcard from L.A.”

Ruthless in Seattle?

Long before I wrote about the artworld, I covered Chicago’s City Hall, an institution legendary for its corruption. Given that environment, reporters paid a lot of attention to avoiding the appearance of being co-opted by politicians. Some would even refuse to touch the food at political breakfasts. I always thought that was taking it too far – would anyone really think I’d been “bought” for two stale donuts and a lukewarm coffee? Likewise in the artworld, every journalist and critic has to fashion their own ethical code. That said, there are apparently indefensible cases, and Seattle’s weekly, The Stranger, detailed one extensively last week in “Critical Mess” (via Friday’s ArtsJournal newsfeed).

It’s a huge piece, worth reading in its entirety, but here’s the basic gist: The city’s most powerful critic, Matthew Kangas, rampantly exploited his position to build an art collection by getting artworks as “gifts” from artists. Kangas says he never asked any artists for pieces, claiming they gave them freely. But the article’s author, Jen Graves, reports: “Last week, nine artists went on record with The Stranger saying that Kangas [asked] directly for art or implied he should be given art before or after he wrote reviews of their work.” Two confounding examples from the Continue reading “Ruthless in Seattle?”

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?”

Exhibition catalogs: Time for a rethink?

I had an interesting but dispiriting conversation recently with a curator arranging an exhibition for a hot artist. The curator was trying to work some edgy writing from a young author into the catalog to give it intellectual flair, but the artist and the dealer kept insisting on corralling bigger names “ i.e. people who write for the right magazines. At first I encouraged the curator to fight for that text’s inclusion. But then I broke down and said, “Maybe it’s better to choose another battle. Because in the end most people will just judge the catalog on the names of the writers anyway – they’re not going to read the essays.” The curator agreed, albeit with a bitter laugh.Bouncy Castle Midi Ferme

What purpose does a catalog serve today? In the old days, as I understand it, catalogs were the way in which those who missed the show could get Continue reading “Exhibition catalogs: Time for a rethink?”

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”

Take the money and run

While ArtworldSalon has no aspirations of being a newssite, sometimes a story gets dumped in your lap. Our Stockholm-based commentator, curator Power Ekroth, emailed me yesterday, telling me that our mutual friend…

Jan Christensen recently opened up an exhibition in Oslo at gallery MGM with a huge canvas with 1,000 100-kroner bills mounted on it. He sold it for the same amount 100.000 – and the work was all about value for money, the art market, etc in the Warhol-alley. He didn’t charge for artistic value or the work [involved in its creation], and the dealer took 50% as far as I know. Regardless, last night the painting/collage “Relative Value” was stolen from the gallery!

For what it’s worth, the cash adds up to just over $16,000. I’ve emailed Jan some questions and will update once he responds (Update In: See first comment below).

For before and after shots…. Continue reading “Take the money and run”