Enter the activist foundation

fire-in-my-bellyWhile assessing the extent of this country’s liberals political apathy, Harper’s magazine writer Thomas Frank remarks: “say what you like about the Tea Party movement, but at least they showed up.” It is precisely the combination of the dormant state of progressives (be it due to either disillusionment, boredom, or exhaustion) and the huge motivation of conservatives that tables have turned in this country’s politics, and the art world appears to be only a tiny turf where the latest battle is being waged. It is playing out in the current Wojnarowicz-gate at the Smithsonian, where the bigots showed up to tell us what art should be; but instead of protesting in front of the museum, the art world went to Miami.

Until yesterday, when the Warhol Foundation entered the fray. The fact that a Foundation has taken such a brave stance is significant in many levels. The Warhol Foundation was established in 1987, the same year than David Wojnarowicz made “Fire in my Belly” and amidst the culture wars. Ever since that time, it has continuously been an advocate for the central issue that caused the NEA debacle then — the idea of an individual artist grant (as it is exemplified by its funding of organizations like Creative Capital), so its announcement to suspend funding to the Smithsonian is more than a simple act: it is a restatement of its founding mission, and a reminder to us of that history. Equally significantly, though, the noise of the Warhol’s announcement also underlines the deafening —and really, unacceptable — silence of the contemporary art world about this affair up to this moment.

Are we really so comfortable with letting art being criminalized this way? Is our reaction going to be limited to sign some Facebook petition? The Warhol has done what very few in the visual arts has had the guts to do yet, and we should look at their example to follow suit and press others to do so as well. A curator friend of mine had recently told me: “when institutions take the initiative in art, it means that artists are not doing their job”. Who knew that two decades after the culture wars art foundations would have to take the lead in defending culture? Say what you like about our supposed liberalism as the cultural producer class, but in this case it was the foundation who showed up.

“Russia takes the lead in regulating…”

100 Rubles c1910That heading would be funny in any context but here the article in Skate’s is referring to an apparent push to regulate “Art securitization” and Art Investments in Russia.   We have for some time, on ArtWorld Salon, commented on the relative lack of oversight of the opaque and enthusiastically “managed” system that is the Art Market.   The private dealing, auction pumping, ability to cellar works that aren’t selling, and lack of any form of reliable pricing register, all make the Art market a challenging environment for anyone thinking of buying that painting on the wall as a possible investment.   For that reason, and because I am old fashioned, I would always encourage every buyer to think of the work as something they could love for a long time, rather than a way of trying to hedge the currently volatile stock markets, or that condo in Vail.

So it is rather amusing to think that Russia might try to regulate Art funds without tackling the underlying market; never mind the difficulties they will have actually enforcing such regulation in a reasonable and effective manner.   But then I read beyond the title.   Apparently a “powerful local asset management firm controlled by Putin loyalists” launched 2 Art funds on August 27; so now this new regulation starts to look like something else.   Am I the only one that thinks this looks like a way to help market the Funds? The illusion of oversight to support the notion that these are investment grade propositions?   Or am I being too cynical here?

As I have said previously on ArtWorld Salon, to get real transparency into the Art Market, and create a basis for any genuine oversight of market practices, we need a price register for each and every work of Art that someone tries to promote as “investment grade”; with NO exceptions and NO omissions.  Continue reading ““Russia takes the lead in regulating…””

The rat, the rabbit and Yves St Laurent

ysl-bronzesThis just in from Art Newspaper Editor, Georgina Adam.

The saga of the Chinese bronzes hammered down at auction during the Yves St Laurent sale and then not paid for, as a political gesture, raises many thorny questions.

Briefly, (and for those of you who were on Mars this week), the two Qianlong bronze heads, of a rat and a rabbit, were looted from the Yuanming Yuan Summer Palace in Beijing by Franco-British forces in 1860 during the Opium Wars. They were two of 12 heads which adorned a Zodiac fountain, five of which have never resurfaced.

The heads were offered for sale by Pierre Bergé, the late Yves St Laurent’s former lover and business partner, in Christie’s block-busting sale of their collection last week in Paris. The Chinese have been calling for the return of the heads, and a French association (AFACT) with links to China attempted to block the sale by bringing an emergency injunction in a French court shortly before the sale started. The demand was thrown out in no uncertain terms by the French “procureur” (prosecutor) for a number of reasons, some technical and others more fundamental. I was in court and subsequently at the sale when the bronzes were sold.

China was not able, legally, to claim the bronzes under international law, and does not want simply to buy them back – its position being that they were looted and should be returned. At no point did AFACT claim that Bergé was not the legal owner of the heads, and prior to the sale Bergé stated that he would be prepared to return the heads “when China respects human rights and frees Tibet”. This did nothing to improve Sino-French relations, which hit a new low after French President Nicolas Sarkozy met with the Dalai Lama last December in Poland.

At the sale, the two heads were “sold” to a bidder on the telephone, underbid by two other telephones for the first, and one for the second. The price was  £20.4m each, including premium, and contrary to usual practice no paddle number was announced – “the buyer wanted absolute discretion,” auctioneer François de Ricqlès said afterwards.

On Monday this week a Chinese collector and auction house general manager, Cai Mingchao, announced that he was the buyer and that he was refusing to pay, as a patriotic gesture.

So here are some of the questions this saga raises. Continue reading “The rat, the rabbit and Yves St Laurent”

Considering “Tino Sehgal”

wattis_logo

Editorial Note: This post marks the initiation of a new AWS series entitled “Considerations.” With some regularity, we will turn our readers and commenters’ attention towards a particular artist, work or enterprise that the AWS editors believe merits a sustained critical discussion. The idea, of course, is not to have the last word on the subject, but rather to see what people are thinking about certain contemporary artistic practices and the issues, or problems, that they raise.

For the past year, the Wattis Institute for Contemporary Arts in  SF has served as a platform for the presentation of works by Tino Sehgal, and it will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. By now most of us are familiar with Seghal’s offerings: performance pieces which lay the barest of frames around sometimes quotidian and sometimes quirky human behavior. For those in New York wishing to see an example of the latter, The New Museum’s show, After Nature, includes Sehgal’s Instead of allowing some thing to rise up to your face dancing bruce and dan and other things (2000), which is constituted by a young woman writhing in slow motion on the museum’s third floor.

What distinguishes Sehgal’s work from the legacy of happenings and post-Cagian performance, of course, is the artist’s refusal to allow reproductions or documentation of any sort accompany or supplement his work. Not only does this make the works’ commercial existence somewhat tricky, given that such transactions have a habit of being fairly document intensive (and note that Sehgal has never voiced any kind of anti-commercial sentiment), it also points up the problem of where and how the work actually exists.

More recently, this liminal status has begun to elicit more metaphorical readings of Sehgal’s pieces. Echoing Seghal’s inclusion in After Nature, Marisa Olson (writing at Rhizome.org) observes that this “lack of physicality is at least partly a response to the earth’s dwindling resources.” Nevertheless, Olsen does go on to note that Sehgal’s “primary medium is…conversation–whether it’s an initial one in the gallery or the oral narrative that perpetuates and historicizes his practice outside of the gallery.”

But can “conversation” justly be said to be Sehgal’s medium? In a talk given as part of “Not for Sale: Writing on Performance and New Media” at Performa 05, Bennett Simpson (curator at Boston’s ICA) argued that the medium most central to Sehgal’s activities was the artist’s persona itself, insofar as it is the biographical subject “Sehgal” that gives these works their consistency. After all, with no “fixed, tangible medium,” nothing that Sehgal does can necessarily be said to “belong” to him, or, for that matter, to any of the institutions or collectors that “acquire” one of “his” works. And yet, it hardly seems like Sehgal’s motivations are communitarian in nature, even if they do emphasize the social.

So how do we consider “Tino Sehgal”? Are his works “conversation pieces”? Are they meditations on a dwindling environment? Is he the apotheosis of the artistic “persona” (and its institutional supports)? Or is it something else entirely?

Arts of torture?

Steve Powers

For those needing any practical reassurance that “waterboarding” is a form of torture, Christopher Hitchens provided something close to a final word on the matter, at least in the realm of public opinion (and persuasion), when he subjected himself to it for the benefit of Vanity Fair’s readers.

One is reminded of the Hitch’s stunt by a short piece from last Wednesday’s New York Times, which used it to introduce artist Steve Powers’ The Waterboarding Thrill Ride, an “animatronic diorama,” installed out on Coney Island, “that depicts a prisoner being waterboarded.” Whatever you may think of the necessity, or originality, or political probity of Powers’ diorama, which is being presented by Creative Time, the final sentences of the Times‘ piece describes how Powers’ project will take on a bizarre because redundant dimension when,

In mid-August Mr. Powers and several lawyers will be waterboarded by a trained professional in a secret location in Coney Island as a private performance. Documentation on the performance will be at creativetime.org.

I think one needs to needs to ask here just what such a performance can hope to achieve, either for politics or for art. If Hitchens’ waterboarding was an act undertaken to provide an otherwise reliable public account of it as torture, does not Powers’ “private performance” come off sounding more like an exercise in voyeuristic sadomasochism (which certainly has its own political dimension, just not the one Powers and Creative Time are after)?

Advice to a would-be art scammer

I am in urgent need of cash and am hoping to sell the piece once finished.

841.jpgArtworld Salon received one of the lamest (i.e., funniest) new email art scams out there this week. Call it the Nigerian phonescam for the art world, complete with tell-tale awkward English:

Hello,

It was recommended to me by a friend of mine that I contacted you for your advise.

I own a painting by Francis Bacon that seems unfinished, there are big splashes of colours that I have been trying to clean off to reveal the figure underneath, but it just smeared as a result. I have already asked somebody to try to finish it but he did a disaster with it.

Not knowing what to do now I was wondering if you could help me find somebody who could finish it and do a good job, in the Bacon’s style.

Already the artist Peter Doug suggested to help, but I am not sure about his taste, he already did a quick sketch copy of how he could improve the Bacon, but to be honest I did not like much as he also seemed a bit messy and I think he would just rush the job for the money.

I am in urgent need of cash and am hoping to sell the piece once finished. If you would know a good artist or just someone interested, please do let me know.

If by any chance you would be in the power to help me I would be ready to share with you half of the value of the painting once sold.

Many thanks for your help, or if you would know somebody interested in the painting even in this state please do let me know.

I look forward to hearing from you,
Many thanks in advance,

Herbie Watsaint

Herbie’s ploy does segue nicely back into our conversations about the Bacon rubbish story and its disheartening conclusions, but this has got to be one of the most poorly imagined art scams I’ve ever read. Continue reading “Advice to a would-be art scammer”

To regulate or not…

logo_salander.jpgThe apparent failure of a prominent gallery in New York this week (NYT, NYO, Bloomberg) is causing ripples within the international Art community. Whether the truth is about weaknesses in financial management (as suggested by Salander’s lawyer) or something more sinister is beside the point. Many are now asking whether, with the growing number and size of transactions, a more formal, and compulsory, oversight system is necessary for the Art world to protect individual buyers and sellers.

At various times on this site we have discussed the relative lack of transparency of the Art market and talked about some of the mechanisms that exist in other markets. For example financial institutions that take deposits and make loans are required, in most countries, to keep a minimum reserve in hard cash to allow for problems. In quoted markets for publicly traded assets, whether company shares, pork bellies or barrels of oil, every transaction must appear on a public register and be open to all bidders. No transactions are allowed to take place that do not appear on the register/exchange. In addition any market maker or analyst must declare any interest they have in assets being sold by them or through entities associated with them. None of this, of course, happens in the Art world. But all of it could.

What do you think? Do we need some of these rules? Has the Art market now reached the stage that it NEEDS regulating to protect individual buyers and sellers? Or should we continue to rely on members of the community outing their peers before things go bad? Are there less cumbersome alternatives that could be put in place? I once suggested a public register for all transactions of works by major artists. The register would be a standard for the industry. Galleries and Artists could choose to be on the register or not. If on, ALL works traded must be listed, with the date and verifiable transaction price. If not, they don’t appear on the register at all. Ultimately all quality artists and galleries would probably opt to be visible; because anything not on the register would be considered a “lower grade investment”. Views?

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”

The Hedge Fund King effect

Sometimes you start writing an article with an assumption that rapidly collapses. That happened with this Artnet Magazine article on the Steve Wynn vs Lloyds Lawsuit, over Picasso’s “Le Reve.” To recap, Wynn is suing Lloyds for $54 million, the difference between $139 million, (the sum that hedge-fund king Steve Cohen agreed to pay for it September 19) and $85 million (what Wynn says it’s worth after he put his elbow through it 24 hours later, despite a $90,500 restoration.)

Usually such cases hinge on both sides debating the damaged piece’s value both before and after the accident. So I assumed that Lloyd’s would contest the $139M, because that was arguably not Le Reve’s “fair market value’ at the time of the accident, just what Cohen had agreed to pay. So I was hoping this case would start a courtroom battle (and an artworld discussion) on the distortional market effect of Continue reading “The Hedge Fund King effect”

Big day on the Rialto

Can’t accuse the Italians of not having a flair for theatrical timing. Two headlines from the Times:

Italy Lends Antiquities to 2 Museums

Courtesy of the Italian government, visitors to the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York will find an unfamiliar antiquity on view today in each institution’s classical galleries. (full article archived at Museum Security Network)

and

Top Collector Is Asked to Relinquish Artifacts

Seeking to build on its success in bargaining with a few American museums, Italy has asked the New York collector Shelby White to consider returning more than 20 ancient artifacts that it argues were illegally mined from its soil, officials involved in the negotiations say…..The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, where Ms. White is a trustee, has begun advance publicity for the April opening of its new Greek and Roman galleries, which are named for and were financed by Mr. Levy and Ms. White. Some antiquities owned by Ms. White and sought by the Italians are currently on loan to the Met, displayed within yards of the monumental court and atrium designed for the new galleries.

(full article archived at Museum Security Network)

Thoughts?