ArtReview: “Please be my friend!”

Okay, I can’t decide if this genius or absurdity: www.myspace.com/artreview. Though it’s pretty funny that the magazine has chosen to describe itself as a 58-year-old female.

Still I think when it comes to the Web 2.0/social networking category of the Weich/ArtReview vs. Wilson/Saatchi Online Throwdown, you have to give round 1 to Rebecca Wilson and the Saatchi collection, whose YourGallery section has become the MySpace/Friendster/Facebook of the artworld, dis-intermediating the space between collectors and artists. That should make Charles Saatchi even more of a hero among art dealers. Not.

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.

The Economist gets an F in… economics.

From this week’s Economist article “Going, going, up,” a paint-by-numbers rehash on the rising market:

Among the anxious are Jianping Mei and Michael Moses of New York University, who compile an index which shows that prices of post-war and contemporary art have done better than the S&P 500 Total Return index over the past ten years.

Once again, a journalist fails to specify that the Mei Moses index only tracks art that was auctioned twice. This is a very select group of artworks, and it’s thus a crucial point. In fact, when I interviewed Moses for my New York magazine feature on the art market last spring, he was anguished by such mistakes, saying: “As an economist, that bothers me. Because I have no idea what the non-auction market is doing, since there’s no transparency of prices.” Well, I have an idea: If you tracked down all the art sold during that ten-year period and measured its value now, the returns would be pitiful, because 75 percent would be totally illiquid.

I’d excoriate the writer, but since the Economist is un-bylined, maybe we can just suggest a remedial course in reading economic studies. Seriously, if people writing about finance were this loose with the data, they’d get sacked. But, hey, it’s only the art market – why bother being accurate?

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”

More on reviving Hungarian Art market

The Hungarian art market is being reshaped by the same two fundamental forces that are changing the art market everywhere: the appearance of tremendous amounts of wealth and concomitant purchasing power (and need for social validation), and the inexorable drying up of inventory in pre-contemporary markets. Thus, prices escalate and collectors’ interests shift from old to contemporary, where inventory is theoretically boundless. After some major auction milestones in 19th and 20th c. masters, there is now vibrancy in the contemporary market as well. Formerly scattershot gut-impulse buyers are starting to purchase on a scale that may be called “collecting.” A notion is beginning to take hold among successful men and women that, through a methodical pattern of purchases, you can build up a collection with a specific identity. The thirty-somethings and forty-somethings at the upper echelons of business and finance have been exposed to the west. They have traveled, studied, and lived abroad. They speak languages and know the cultural codes. They’re paying attention, and they want to emulate the symbolic patterns of behavior common among the wealthy in the west.

The Hungarian art market is being reshaped by the same two fundamental forces that are changing the art market everywhere: the appearance of tremendous amounts of wealth and concomitant purchasing power (and need for social validation), and the inexorable drying up of inventory in pre-contemporary markets. Thus, prices escalate and collectors’ interests shift from old to contemporary, where inventory is theoretically boundless. After some major auction milestones in 19th and 20th c. masters, there is now vibrancy in the contemporary market as well. Formerly scattershot gut-impulse buyers are starting to purchase on a scale that may be called “collecting.” A notion is beginning to take hold among successful men and women that, through a methodical pattern of purchases, you can build up a collection with a specific identity. The thirty-somethings and forty-somethings at the upper echelons of business and finance have been exposed to the west. They have traveled, studied, and lived abroad. They speak languages and know the cultural codes. They’re paying attention, and they want to emulate the symbolic patterns of behavior common among the wealthy in the west.

Last spring, I visited a celebrity fundraising auction at the Budapest Kunsthalle presided over by a Habsburg princess. There was no gap between what I saw there and what you would perceive at any similar event in New York or London. Erika Deak, a dealer of the younger generation, reports Continue reading “More on reviving Hungarian Art market”

Report from Budapest

Budapest: the city continues to wake up, artwise. There is no shortage of money, and this helps. A friend reports brisk sales of Porsche Cayennes and other luxury cars, which are everywhere. Thousand-dollar handbags can be purchased (and are being purchased even by Hungarians) at the new Louis Vuitton store next to the opera house, which also diligently displays the Olafur Eliasson Eye in its window. The art market is also coming to life. Last fall saw the million-dollar sale of a small painting by Tivadar Csontvary Kosztka, the wonderful and woefully under-appreciated mad pharmacist who was Hungary’s answer to Van Gogh.

40-kerettel-s.jpgPictures of Csontvary can be viewed at the Museum of Fine Arts which is currently showing its own Van Gogh exhibition, the first ever in the country with dozens of smaller and major works set in a unique viewing gallery where pictures are set in triptych-like viewing booths in which people can look at works undisturbed by the hordes of visitors. (A space-age entryway has been installed at the gallery, with pneumatic double doors which first let you into a tiny cubicle, close behind you, then open in front of you.) There is the requisite cinderblock-sized catalog. The show is the first major exhibition to receive full-on corporate funding (from ING) — it all looks and feels very western. Best of all, Van Gogh did the museum a favor in having a name consisting of seven letters: precisely the number of spaces between the vast pillars on the museum’s facade, which are now filled with giant banners, one for each letter. The whole paraphernalia of modern museum marketing is in evidence.

Across town, the Ludwig museum is humming along on the Duna embankment. It’s part of a mega office-apartment park development where the developers installed a controversial cultural block. One element of it is Europe’s ugliest cultural building, the spectacularly awful Continue reading “Report from Budapest”

Art greets Capitalism

ZengHao.jpgInteresting piece on nytimes.com today about the state of the contemporary Art market in China. Highlights the names of the current stars, and evokes the scene at the opening of star Zeng Hao’s new Shanghai show, but also raises some concerns about the role of auction houses in the curent market frenzy.

In China’s New Revolution, Art Greets Capitalism

Auction houses “sell art like people sell cabbage,” said Weng Ling, the director of the Shanghai Gallery of Art. “They are not educating the public or helping artists develop. Many of them know nothing about art.”

(David Barbosa, nytimes.com, Jan 4, 2007)

Sounds like complaints we have heard elsewhere…

Art vs Commerce: NY Times’ Cotter waves the white flag?

On the New York Times Year in Review page for Art, Holland Cotter takes a tour d’horizon of the artworld, “When Art Stayed Too Long At the Fair,” and laments.

Once, we might have turned to contemporary art for alternative energy. But in 2006, it just complacently provided blasts of commercial triumphalism. The art fair matured into a kind of joke, a revenge on everything 1990s, with parties replacing politics and skill valued over ideas… But what’s the point of kvetching? Art has always been attracted to money, and vice versa. And it has almost always been a servant to the elite, an advertisement for the status quo. Every so often art forcefully and collectively proposes alternative models — but 2006, at least as played out in New York, was not such a time… So maybe we should stop pestering art to be some Utopian undertaking, some zone for alternative thoughts and forms, and just enjoy it for the high-energy, no-impact game of trivial pursuit it has become.

Following that logic, everyone who chose the arts over more lucrative (or, certainly, more predictably lucrative) professions is essentially wasting their time entertaining fashionistas and churning out tchotchkes until the next crash. I’m hoping Cotter’s playing devil’s advocate and trying to provoke a debate. Because if he’s a) serious and b) correct in his analysis then the artworld’s fucked. At least for now. Thoughts?

Museums: Misogynist?

Tyler Green’s 2006 Top 10 list at Modern Art Notes had me wishing I made it to Los Angeles and Washington this year, but his take on Amy Sillman’s exhibiton at Sikkema Jenkins left me quizzical. He writes:

“The best contemporary painting show of the year. If Sillman were a younger male, then museums would be falling over themselves to show her work. (Similarly: Marilyn Minter.) Sillman should have already had a Hirshhorn Directions-level show somewhere.”

At first I thought to myself that young (and youngish) women painters are not exactly invisible. To wit, and in no particular order Julie Mehretu, Elizabeth Peyton, Dana Schutz, Inka Essenhigh, Laura Owens, Jenny Saville and recent Turner Prize winner Tomma Abts all have strong markets and media attention. But then I realized that as far as I can recall these seven have had relatively little museum attention. That’s an offhand memory sweep without doing any actual research (hey, it’s still the holidays), but if if Tyler says women painters are under-represented in museums, I’ll assume it’s right, given his mania for all things musea.

But, wait, does this mean that museums are less receptive to women than either the market or the arts media?

France ain’t ready for reform

Appropriately enough for Boxing Day, the NY Times today featured a review from its cultural Man in Europe, Alan Riding, on former French cultural attache Frédéric Martel’s combative new book “Culture in America.” Riding quotes Martel saying:

“What really annoys me is the way [the French] cultural elite uses ideology to protect its privileges. It says that our culture defines a certain idea of France, that the alternative is Americanization. But it’s really only defending itself against the popular classes. We cannot have 10 percent of our population stemming from immigration and deny them their culture….we don’t need a minister defining culture. We need thousands of people defining culture. Power should flow bottom-up, not top-down. That’s the debate I want to provoke in the new year.”

I agree with Martel that France’s contemporary scene has suffered radically from the sclerotic effects of its centralized museum system and the dominance of the Frac. And the people hurt most are probably French artists. If you stack up France vs Germany (or even Switzerland) on the international scene, it’s sad how Continue reading “France ain’t ready for reform”

YouTube effect – ArtReview:Digital goes video

ar_cvr_200702.jpgIn case you’re not an E-Flux subscriber, this morning’s announcement was “ArtReview:Digital goes video,” another step in the London-based magazine’s campaign to distinguish itself from other printed art mags by embracing all things digital.

Having previously set up the possibility for a fully digital subscription, the magazine now announces that “each new ArtReview:Digital will come with videos, including gallery and studio visits, interviews with artists and multimedia art projects specially made for the magazine.”

Clearly in the YouTube era, and following the wildfire viral spread in the artworld of the Sotheby’s preview video starring Tobias Meyer, it’s a logical step. What comes next? Maybe an artworld-only social networking side, in the spirit of MySpace and Small World. Although when it comes to artists per se, the Saatchi Gallery has first-mover advantage on that front. (In an interesting media-insider sidenote, the man spearheading Art Review’s drive toward digital is editorial director John Weich. On the Saatchi side, former Art Review editrix-in-chief Rebecca Wilson has played an active role in developing and promoting the website after being sacked by Weich last spring.)

Given the fact that most art-magazine economics trend scarily into the red, I’m curious to see whether the added cost of producing digital content will be borne by the publishers or whether it will instead become part of the extra work journalists are expected to do as part of producing their print pieces.

ABMB syndrome hits West Coast

New York, NY – From the Los Angeles Times (via artsjournal.com) comes this week’s ludicrous Putting the ‘art’ in party, which I skimmed twice looking for elements of the super-vibrant LA arts scene. The closest I got was this pablum:

At Marvimon House, a cavernous former car showroom turned chic event space located in the shadow of Chavez Ravine, guests entering “Baby’s All Grown Up” were confronted first by a paparazzi-style photographer snapping pictures of everyone who entered the event, then by a boom-mounted digital video camera inside that swooped through the crowd in an effort to record the action — but also to “challenge the conventional definition of an art exhibition,” according to curator/co-organizer Veronica Fernandez, a freelance curator and art advisor. “It’s a celebration of art but at the same time, it’s poking fun at the entire thing,” said Fernandez, who marked her 28th birthday that night. “It’s cynical.”

Art world grandees, a smattering of art school students and some big-ticket collectors — 150 people in all, most of whom paid $99 to attend — supped on a roundelay of gourmet hors d’oeuvres created from recipes by famous artists (post-Impressionist Paul Cézanne’s seared albacore crudo with citrus marinated jicama salad was one of the highlights, as was the fifth course: meatloaf sandwich à la Abstract Expressionist Robert Motherwell). Music came courtesy of the alt-country band Pillbilly Nights and DJ Eddie Ruscha (whose namesake father, Ed, is a certified pop art superstar).

I’m wondering if anyone from LA has a picture of the meatloaf a la Motherwell?

Seriously, though, this sounds like everything I least liked Continue reading “ABMB syndrome hits West Coast”

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?”

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.

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?

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.