Late night TV in Beijing

Found myself idly channel flipping at 1am last night here in Beijing (sad I know) and came across “The Art Auction” a regular TV series covering (last night at least) a chinese contemporary art sale held recently at Poly Art Auction. The entire auction seemed to be covered (I didn’t stay to watch the whole thing) with a post-buy discussion (for each piece sold!) by a two man expert panel back in the studio. As far as I could work out with my nascent Mandarin they were discussing bid prices, people in the room and reasons for interest or lack thereof. I think this was the recent record breaking sale by Poly Art Auction. The commentators certainly seemed excited.

I mention this because it is an interesting example of the government here indirectly supporting the promotion of contemporary Chinese Art and Culture as a means of boosting pride in the country, and supporting social cohesion (through pride and nationalistic fervour) in general. Poly Art Auctions is owned by the same Chinese State Owned Enterprise that owns the Poly Art Museum (reputedly better than some of the directly state owned museums) here in Beijing. The programme, and other Chinese state owned media, cover each new record price set for a Chinese artist as an indication of the rise in stature of Chinese Art in general, paralleling the rise of China in other domains in the world. Buyers at these local auctions come from all over the Asian world (a recent record Chinese work was bought by an Indonesian Chinese businessman) but many are young succesful businessmen with new money. The heat of the contemporary market, and the source of the new money, parallels current (Art) affairs in the West. The government (indirect) support of rising prices does not. Another interesting factor in todays market bubble.

Vanity Fair Dec 06 “The Art Issue”

Does anyone have any comments on the fact that Vanity Fair have elevated (dropped?) Art World participants to the same level as media titans and celebrities? This (Dec) issue is their first ever Art World focus. A first and last? Or a status that will endure?

And of course they used Brad Pitt on the cover instead of the usual group pic…vanity-fair-dec-2006-cover

C’mon, people, we need just ONE more biennial…

I’ve often said “another biennial seems to open every week.” I thought of it as hyperbole. Not any more. Because as e-Flux revealed today, in announcing the Lyon Biennale for 2007: “There are now 103 biennials around the world, mapping news that is growing exponentially, apparently renewable at will, and interchangeable.”

Damn. If only we had a 104th biennial, so that there would be exactly one biennial for every week in the two years the term “bienniale” implies.

Oddly, the announcement continues with some very strange math, informing us: “Flux is prevailing over singularity. One hundred and three biennials, 103 lists of artists, 103 titles… a biennial opens roughly every three days, and they cover one another.” Um, no, a biennial every three days would be 243 biennials. Thank God that’s wrong.

If the Met can’t break even, who can?

Spotted this in a long article on Lee Rosenbaum’s Culturegrrl blog:

Just posted online: the Met’s fiscal 2006 annual report…You will learn that although “fiscal year 2006 was an exceptional year for the Museum,” with “strong endowment growth,” the museum nevertheless ran its fifth straight annual operating deficit, with last year’s amounting to $3.2 million…. All told, the Met raised $26,829,579 from art disposals [i.e. selling works at auction] in fiscal 2006 (ending June 30), compared to $538,404 the previous year (when only two over-$50,000 items made the published list). The money spent on art acquisitions in 2006 was $34.83 million, compared to $99.21 million the previous year (presumably boosted by the Duccio.)”

So, basically, the Met ran a $3.2M deficit despite selling off $26.3M more art than in the previous year. And that’s the Met. I remember reading a recent report that 60 percent (or something like that) of British museums have no acquisitions budget at all. As in “0.00 Pounds Sterling.” This is bad news on the cultural-legacy front.

The booming art market may be great for artists, dealers, collectors and consultants, but for museums and curators it doesn’t seem to be making life any easier. And in some ways it’s complicating things.

WTF: Liverpool “blings up” its Arts scene with Klimt

bling.jpgYou know that trick when you learn a new word and use it constantly to hardwire it into your brain? Behold, from the Guardian’s story Klimt brings the bling to Liverpool’s big year

“The Klimt exhibition will be the first in the UK devoted to the artist, and will find a particularly apt home in the city, according to Christoph Grunenberg, director of Tate Liverpool, “because of the bling. Liverpool is very bling and Klimt is very bling – these are very decorative, ornamental works.”

I can guarantee you that the target market for the Klimt exhibit wouldn’t know bling if someone walked into their parlor during high tea sporting an ermine coat, a full set of platinum fronts and two iced-up watches on each wrist. In fact this blingtastic soundbite may scare them off. Where’s Ali G when you need him to clown someone who’s trying too hard to connect to the youth? Kazakhstan.

File under R, for “Rapidly regretted quotations,”

From the Bloomberg report on Sotheby’s sale last night:

“Contemporary art is an incredibly sexy thing to be buying right now,” said New York art adviser Cristin Tierney. “People talk about hedge-fund money, and part of it is a desire to conquer yet another market. But this is a market that’s more social, and social on an intellectual level.”

You can see her trying to save herself in that last phrase, but it’s too late. Let me save you some trouble:, complete with the de rigueur “Art as an Investment” link.

Tobias, keep your hands off the sculpture!

meyer.jpgEveryone I know who has seen Tobias Meyer’s preview video has fixated on his caressing the David Smith sculpture Voltri XVII and then rounding off the foreplay with the thought, “Maybe humans are imperfect, too?”Bouncy Castle Mini Jungle ouverte

But when it came to the climax, of course, things went awry: That statue was bought in last night in a sale described by Bloomberg as “Quiet.” Wonder what conclusion, if any, will be drawn by auction house re: sculpture Smith video previews fondling the merchandise.

Statisticians to the barricades

For further reading and comment (has anyone read this book?)

Excerpted from Today’s NYTIMES:

“The Art of Pricing Great Art” By DAVID LEONHARDT

The mysterious part of the current [art-market] mania lies in figuring out what exactly makes a piece of art worth $30 million instead of, say, $1 million. Not even people who make their living selling art claim to have much of a definition of great art. In fact, they’re proud not to have one. “That’s where the market becomes magical,” Tobias Meyer, Sotheby’s chief auctioneer, told me.For the last five years, though, a man named David W. Galenson, an art lover, modest collector and tenured professor of economics at the University of Chicago, has been trying to change this. He has developed something approaching a unified theory of art, which hasn’t won him many fans in the art world but does a surprisingly good job of explaining the relative value of the world’s great paintings. Even if you know nothing about art, Mr. Galenson can help you understand why Andy Warhol’s 1962 “Orange Marilyn” is expected to sell for more than his 1972 “Mao” at Christie’s postwar auction tonight.
Continue reading “Statisticians to the barricades”

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.

Sothebys tries talking-head video to promote sale

The Tobias Meyer video interview that Sothebys is using to promote the 14 Nov sale is interesting. Have they done one before? Interesting use of the medium; both to push the sale and to show Meyer at his (pretentious) best. Wonder how regular buyers will react? Wonder how the new buyers from Asia that he mentions will react? Interesting that he highlights their presence but makes no comment about how their new tastes may shift the market.

Has anyone done any studies on whether the arrival of successive waves of new money (US, Arab, Russian et al) have shifted the core contemporary (or classical for that matter) Art markets at all? I would guess not much. New money is often not Art informed and therefore it relies on advisors who, in turn, perpetuate the same current Artist vogues. The same Art sub-movements. The only real changes come from new gallerists if they latch on to new sources of capital, as they discover/create new artist reputations, no? I wonder if the arrival of the slightly more confident Chinese will change any of this?

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”

Prepare to be amazed…

Klimt_Christies.jpgWhen we went to see the Klimts, I had my students write down on a piece of paper how much they estimate the other four would go for in this sale.

I did this exercise in order to test the hypothesis in Jim Surowiecki’s book, The Wisdom Of Crowds, in which it is claimed that the average guesses of a group will always be more precise than the best guest of any expert in the room.

The four Klimts (including Adele Bloch-Bauer II, 1912) sold for $192.2 million. That number includes auction house commissions, so the actual total price was $169.1 million.

That number falls exactly at the midpoint of the average figure that my students guessed ($168 million) and the median figure they guessed ($170 million).


And of course…

$491 Million Sale Shatters Art Auction Record


In a landmark sale, the biggest in auction history, nearly half a billion dollars’ worth of art changed hands last night at Christ’s sale of Impressionist and modern art. Soaring prices for blockbuster paintings by Klimt and Gauguin left thousands of spectators, who came to watch and to buy, gasping.

“It was certainly the most amazing sale I’ve ever taken,“ said a dazed Christopher Burge, honorary chairman of Christ’s and the evening’s auctioneer, after the two-and-a-half hour sale. The evening’s total, $491.4 million, was well over $200 million more than that for any previous auction, topping its high estimate of $427.8 million. (The previous record was $269 million at Christ’s in May 1990.) Of the 84 lots up for sale last night, only 6 failed to sell. The sale included an estimated $125 million worth of artworks that had recently been returned to the heirs of owners from whom they were looted by the Nazis during World War II.

Full article here (reg required)

Gallery guide Google mashup

gallerygoogle.JPGVery interesting use of technology. Now if they could just combine this with Mappy or another route planner, that would be useful.

I imagine an interface where you choose all the shows that you want to see and then the software spits back to you the most efficient route and modes of transport – taking into account existing tube and traffic conditions. Especially in London, this would be a godsend.

Photography in Berlin and Paris with Google Maps
Recently Google Maps has linked maps from all over the world with specific information on many different locations.

Photography now and the Berlin based agency Datenflug have developed a prototype version of this service for the European Month of Photography in Berlin and Paris. All the institutions have been “pin-pointed” on Google Maps and are presented with their exhibition programmes as well as opening times, enabling interested users to find detailed information about the festival quickly and easily.

Paris | Berlin

“Cutting Edge,” the new auction category?

From a recent Christies PR Release. Underline is mine.

”It has been an incredible week for Christies and the London Contemporary Art market,” said Jussi Pylkkänen, President of Christies Europe. “Every major collector in the world travelled to London to attend our sales and the great events at Frieze, the museums and the galleries. Over 25 world auction records were broken at Christies where we have established an incredibly strong position of leadership in the Italian, Post War and Cutting-Edge markets. We look forward to our major London sales in February with great confidence.”

I guess when you’re selling work made in the same calendar year as the auction, then calling it “contemporary” is not enough. The new category may also be a setup for the house’s next strategic moves: Its contemporary art capa, Amy Cappellazzo, told Art Review that she expects to someday be auctioning brand-new works, saying, “We’re the big box retailer putting the mom-and-pops out of business.”

I’m doubting she means that last part. Why? Because auction houses sell whatever they have on hand to sell, whereas galleries build a reputation for discriminating taste. That means that in the long run, auction houses need galleries around, since the highest prices reaped on auction blocks are for pieces first stamped with the imprimatur of prestigious galleries.

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.

Gago’s Glasnost?

The artworld is full of dealers who love to talk to the press – I have the mobile numbers of roughly two dozen on my cell phone, many of them people I can call at 11pm for a killer quote when I’m on deadline. That said, among journalists it’s common knowledge that some dealers simply don’t talk to the press — Larry Gagosian and Jay Jopling are prime examples. You almost never see them quoted, and when you do the “quote” looks like something they signed-off-on rather than actually said.

Which is why I was surprised to see that Gagosian is doing a full-on public presentation next month. Well, it’s not public, per se, it’s in front of a room full of Wharton Business School students and alum. To wit:

Whenever Wednesday: Business of Art: Dealers and Collectors
wed oct 4 @ 5pm

“The art market is defying the laws of gravity. What went up isn’t coming down,” according to a gallery director in the 2006 ARTnews collectors issues. ICA Overseer and top 200 collector Glenn Fuhrman (W’87, WG’88) discusses the art market with dealer Larry Gagosian who Art Review magazine called “the world’s greatest art businessman.”

I’ve never heard of Gagosian doing this kind of thing before, but maybe one of you (or one of our readers) have. Then again, maybe its just a personal favor to Fuhrman (who is Michael Dell’s investment manager), or an opportunity to recruit Wharton finance types onto the gallery’s roster of collectors. After all, someone has to pay for the empire’s expansion.

The neuroeconomics of Art collecting

brain_1.gifDid you read the New Yorker piece last week on neuroeconomics i.e. the integration of neural-processes science into the study of economic decision making by individuals? I couldn’t help but think of the artworld when I read this section:

“When people make investments, they weigh the possible outcomes of their decisions and select a portfolio of stocks and bonds that offers the highest possible return at an acceptable level of risk. That is what mainstream economics says, anyway. In fact, people often have only a vague idea of the risks they face. … In one study, Camerer and several colleagues performed brain scans on a group of volunteers while they placed bets on whether the next card drawn from a deck would be red or black. In an initial set of trials, the players were told how many red cards and black cards were in the deck, so that they could calculate the probability of the next cards being a certain color. Then a second set of trials was held, in which the participants were told only the total number of cards in the deck.

The first scenario corresponds to the theoretical ideal: investors facing a set of known risks. The second setup was more like the real world: the players knew something about what might happen, but not very much. As the researchers expected, the players brains reacted to the two scenarios differently. With less information to go on, the players exhibited Continue reading “The neuroeconomics of Art collecting”

Thoughts from the Shanghai Millenium

Greetings from Shanghai, where my party of journalists seem to be the guinea pigs for a new hotel here. Everything is new here, but then that’s the case all over Shanghai.

IMG_0072.JPGI came from the Singapore biennial and saw the Shanghai biennial yesterday. It’s an interesting contrast between the two. Singapore’s cultural scene is very much driven by funds from the state and local corporations (two sectors which in Singapore are functionally a single entity). The biennial was held in the former city hall courts and a military camp. We had an early-morning meeting with the National Arts Council leaders, who trumpeted their budget and exchange programs and showed us a slick video, talking about the arts using an ABC theory – “Art for Art’s Sake, Art for Business’s sake, Art for Community’s Sake.” Talking to locals, the reality is that most Singapore artists live on (often-generous) state grants. So it’s much like an extreme version of Holland in that sense – working the system is a key skill for artists, while galleries are minor players.

Except that as democracies go, Holland and Singapore could not be more different. Supposedly, Singaporean customs officials have the right to demand a drug test when you enter the country and you can get busted for Continue reading “Thoughts from the Shanghai Millenium”