— THE BIG STORY —
Do you believe in true love? If so, your heart must be aflutter this week after watching the longtime romance between art and money become flagrantly consummated in New York. It was a whirlwind. First Sotheby's had its best contemporary art sale of all time, bringing in $375 million; then Christie's topped that with the biggest contemporary sale ever, for a whopping $412 million; then Phillips de Pury capped things off with a tidy $80 million sale, doling out feel-good auction records for young artists including Rashid Johnson, Tauba Auerbach, Sterling Ruby, and Dan Colen. After last week's anemic Impressionist and Modern art sales, the press reacted with shock. "All of a Sudden the Contemporary Art Market Is on Fire," sputtered an Agence France-Presse headline. So what gives?
Here are a few observations:
1. Many of the works that sold for gargantuan prices—like the $75 million Rothko at Sotheby's, or the $40.4 million Franz Kline and the $43.8 million Warhol at Christie's—aren't really contemporary, per se. When it comes to these kinds of works from the Abstract Expressionist or Pop movements, there's little risk in parking gargantuan sums in significant works, because they will just keep going up in value. (Yes, even after the Warhol Foundation flooded the market with works this week. Premier Warhol collector Alberto Mugrabi worried that it would hurt the artist's prices—only to find himself unable to win a six-person bidding war for a $23.7 million Marlon Brando painting at Christie's.)
2. The Phillips sale may have been the week's most interesting from a market standpoint, because of the high prices buyers were willing to pay for work by four buzzy artists whose careers are still being formed. It's here that one (obviously) finds the highest risk, as we saw during the 1980s art boom when then-of-the-moment artists enjoyed spectacular sales only to see ensuing decades of disinterest from museums and academics injure their value. Are these the Rothkos of sixty years hence? The people who buy these works can afford to make that bet.
3. Ironically, one of the week's highest fliers—the $33.7 million Jeff Koons sculpture of tulips that just missed notching a new world record for a living artist at auction—provided a cautionary tale, the Los Angeles Times's Mike Boehm points out, as the works recalls the ill-fated speculative tulip mania in the Netherlands.
4. “There’s a lot of foreign money coming in,” Broad Foundation chief curator Joanne Heyler told Carol Vogel of the New York Times. “More than ever before.”
5. Contemporary art auctions are the ultimate potlatch (i.e. a Native American ceremony in which tribal leaders would sometimes destroy vast amounts of goods in order to demonstrate their wealth).
6. As our culture becomes more digitized and dematerialized, the original art object is accumulating ever increasing value as a touchstone for some kind of embodied authentic intellectual and spiritual good.
— QUOTE OF THE WEEK —
"Make no mistake about it, the 'emerging majority' thesis has great significance for art and its institutions. Cosmopolitan New York is a majority minority city, and has been for as long as anyone can remember. But walk from the subway towards any gallery opening or museum party, and watch the color drain away. In fact, for some time now, the people who crunch the data on cultural participation have been warning that the art world's inability to address this issue threatens its very future."
— Art critic Ben Davis in an essential-reading essay on how the galling lack of diversity in the art world and its audiences portends an ever-decreasing relevance to the national population, suggesting a brewing crisis as dire as the one currently facing the Republican party.
— MUST READ —
ADAA Raises $500,000 for Art Community Relief — The organization's charitable fund to assist galleries and other members of the art world who were ravaged by Hurricane Sandy has been a rousing success thus far, and now Art Basel director Marc Spiegler has joined forces with the fund too. (Press Release)
Rhianna Ripped Off a Net Artist on SNL — Those of you who were impressed by the spectacular green-screen background the singer used during her "Saturday Night Live" performance over the weekend should give credit to the artist Jerome LOL, who is furious at Rhianna for stealing his imagery. (Buzzfeed)
Read About L.A.'s Canonical Art Duo — To mark the display of Ed and Nancy Kienholz's 1980 Ozymandias Parade at the Pace Gallery, Michael Miller talks to Nancy about the venerated work she did with her late husband and their experiences in the L.A. and Berlin art scenes. (Gallerist NY)
Revelations Abound at Nate Lowman's Brant Opening — Another picture-perfect day greeted the art-worlders who turned up for the lovely opening of Lowman's new show at the Brant Foundation in Greenwich last weekend, where the presence of O.J. Simpson's white getaway Bronco (yes, the real one, purchased for an art piece) occasioned Anthony Haden-Guest to reminisce about the time O.J. confessed to him "but nobody paid attention." (Gallerist NY)
Now Anish Kapoor Did a "Gangnam Style" Video Too — Following Ai Weiwei's state-oppression-mocking version, Kapoor's video uses far more blatant messaging to protest Ai's treatment by the Chinese government. (Artinfo)
David Shrigley Designed Aspen Ski Lift Tickets — See the hilarious conceptual-art tickets that the artist created to entertain the posh schussers in Aspen (in collaboration with the Aspen Art Museum). (Gallerist NY)
Some People Can't Read — The Met has been hit by the museum world's equivalent of a my-coffee-was-too-hot lawsuit, with two longtime members suing the great institution for not making it even more obvious that the $25 admission fee is "recommended," even though it's written right there on the sign (meaning that while it's not technically free, three people can get in for a penny). (NYPost)
If You Like Tauba Auerbach or R.H. Quaytman… — You'll love the intricately woven, designy, perfectly post-minimal, inoffensively objectlike paintings of Mark Barrow and his wife, Sarah Parke, which are "increasingly sought after," according to Randy Kennedy. (NYT)
Fun With Artforum's Ads — In a cheeky tribute to the fact that most people read Artforum for the ads (just like they read the New Yorker for the cartoons), the Observer art staff provides a tour of some of the best ones. (Gallerist NY)
— ART MARKET —
Chelsea Hurricane Damage Pegged at $40 Million — That's the number AXA art insurance has estimated for the value of the art, business, and gallery real estate that Hurricane Sandy laid waste to in Chelsea. (Gallerist NY)
Post-Sandy Chelsea Update — Click here to see when the Chelsea art galleries that were damaged by the storm will reopen. (Gallerist NY)
Sotheby's Accused of Skullduggery in Khmer Case — The federal government is charging that the auction house knew full well that a $3 million Hindu statue it was consigned in 2010—and which is know said to have been looted from a Cambodian temple—had an illicit provenance. (NYT)
How Is Larry Gagosian Like Goldman Sachs? — The reliably keen Felix Salmon considers this questions while taking a deep dive into the megadealer's deposition from his thorny current lawsuit over a Lichtenstein sale, and he concludes that it boils down to the two entities sharing a "long-term greedy" business approach. (Reuters)
Armory Show Puts Intriguing Twist on Commission — Instead of ordering up a pro-forma artist commission for its next edition in March, New York's marquee art fair had rising star Liz Magic Laser invert the very idea of an artist commission by holding focus groups with art professionals to ask what she should create for the gig. (Art in America)
Independent Art Fair Reveals 2013 Exhibitors — The much-admired indie fair will have 46 galleries participating in its next outing at the old Dia building, with the selection committee putting an emphasis on including institutions like the Kitchen and Printed Matter that were hard hit by Hurricane Sandy. (Gallerist NY)
Artissima Fair Had Strong Sales — Proving its wonderful Mayan-prophesy-tweeking titled "It's Not the End of the World," Turin's intelligentsia-favored art fair saw energetic commerce despite Italy's weak economic climate. (Artinfo)
On Stellar Rays Snaps Up John Houck — The critically acclaimed Lower East Side gallery led by Candice Madey has signed the terrific conceptual photographer to its roster and will be featuring his work in its NADA booth. (Gallerist NY)
Knoedler Proves Poisonous at Auction — The now-notorious Upper East Side gallery failed to sell 25 of the 34 artworks it consigned to Doyle New York's sale this week. (Artinfo)
London's Hotel Gallery Is Closing — And cofounder Darren Flook will now spend his time focusing on New York's Independent art fair, which he helped create. (Financial Times)
— IN & OUT —
New Met contemporary art chairwoman Sheena Wagstaff has recruited her former Tate Modern colleague Nicholas Cullinan to be a curator in her department, which will run exhibitions in both the museum proper and its soon-to-be-absorbed Marcel Breuer building (aka the Whitney Museum's longtime home), giving a clue as to what the Met's intentions for that Brutalist landmark are. (NYT)
Andy Warhol Museum director Eric Shiner has been appointed as the curator of the Armory Show's upcoming special focus section, which this March will be devoted to cutting-edge artistic practice in our very own United States. (Press Release)
The National Gallery of Art has acquired Untitled (I Am a Man), a 1988 painting by Glenn Ligon (the Obamas' "favorite" artist) that marks the first time he used text in his work, here invoking a famous sign used in a 1968 civil-rights demonstration in Memphis. (NYT)
Theaster Gates can't blink without winning an award, so now the New School has selected him as the first laureate of its new biannual $15,000 Vera List Center Prize for Art and Politics. (NYT)
Antti Laitinen has been selected to represent the noble country of Finland in next year's Venice Biennale, with his pavilion curated by Miko Elo, Marko Karo, and Harri Laakso. (Artinfo)
Protean artist Simryn Gill will represent Australia in the Venice Biennale. (Gallerist NY)
Sculptor Berlinde De Bruyckere has been tapped to represent Belgium in the Venice Biennale. (Gallerist NY)
MoMA has acquired the lovely, minimal score for John Cage's seminal 4'33—the composition where the pianist sits quietly at his instrument for four minutes and 33 seconds, allowing the room's ambient "sounds not intended" to become the music—through the generosity of leveraged-buyout kingpin Henry Kravis. (NYT)
A1 News Roundup: Understanding the Explosive Art Auctions, Rhianna Robbed a Net Artist on SNL, and More Top Art News
By Andrew M. Goldstein
— THE BIG STORY —