— THE BIG STORY —
Did you hear about this week's Impressionist and modern art sales in London? Probably not... and that's because there wasn't much to write home about. Sales were unremarkable, quality less-than-stellar, and the overall low level of excitement has led some veteran market-watchers to wheel out the old question: Is there any truly great Impressionist or modern art left on the market?
Let's first take a look at the biggest results. While there were no blindingly bright spots like the $120 million Munch that screamed its way to a world auction record at Sotheby's last May (in a sale where 15 lots quietly were bought in), the standout sale was the $30.8 million achieved by Monet's Contarini Palace (1908), which was placed on the block at Sotheby's by the unstoppable Nahmad family. Then, at Christie's, a Kandinsky from 1909 fetched $21.1 million. Mondrian, Picasso, and Modigliani also had their signatures on high-selling lots.
As usual for this pricy category (and for a market that's supercharged on the whole), the tallies were staggeringly high: $100.4 million at Christie's and $165.9 million at Sotheby's. But the giveaway was the lack of enthusiasm on the part of the bidders, with many leaving partway through the sale, and the familiarity of lots was telling. The Nahmads, for instance, purchased the Monet at auction in 1996 and stored it since then, and the Kandinsky was last sold at auction in 2008. In other words, these top works were not exactly new-to-market—rather they are blue chips being used by wealthy investors to win at the multimillion-dollar art game.
The reason the best works have these warmed-over provenances and so much of the art is not first-rate, of course, is that over the last few decades the truly museum-worthy Impressionist and modern works have made their way into those very institutions. That's why we're seeing new records set for artists like Camille Claudel, a long-forgotten Rodin collaborator—the market has moved on to the B-list.
As art journalist Souren Melikian notes of the Christie's sale, "Pleasing works of no earthshaking importance were treated like long-lost treasures…. Such erosion is inevitable as the great era of Impressionist and modern art auctions draws to a close. In five to seven years, 10 at the outside, too little may be left to scrape together a viable auction." – Andrew M. Goldstein
— QUOTE OF THE WEEK —
“The things that are getting all the attention are the ones bringing the highest prices. It doesn’t mean that its significant art historically. Is Basquiat’s work worth $30-to-$40 million? I don’t know, but no one is going to wake up in 50 years and say Turner didn’t matter.” —New York art dealer Richard Feigen on the recent exponential increase of prices for contemporary art at auction
— MUST READ —
Art on the Tracks — Los Angeles-based artist Doug Aitken has arranged for a motley band of artists, writers, chefs, and musicians, ranging from Urs Fischer, Dave Hickey, and Charlotte Gainsbourg, to join him on a three-week-long Levi's-supported train ride from New York to San Francisco that will take the participants to ten cities along the way, in an effort to desegregate art forms and raise money for cultural institutions. (NYT)
Ancient Sculpture Coming Soon to a Printer Near You — If 3-D enthusiast Cosmo Wenman had his way, everyone with access to a 3-D printer would be able to replicate and remix the world's public collection of art, some of which Wenman will be modeling in his new exhibition, "Through a Scanner, Skulpturhalle," where the artist will be scanning and creating plaster casts of ancient Greek and Roman sculptures from the Skulpturhalle Basel. (ArtDaily)
Weekly James Franco Update — The actor/artist/musician/writer spoke with the Telegraph about his new Alfred Hitchcock-inspired exhibition "Pyscho Nacirema" that's currently on display at Pace London, which features an installation replicating the Bates motel, a cross-dressing James Franco as Marion Crane re-enacting scenes from Pscyho, as well as a back room devoted to silent film star Fatty Arbuckle. (Telegraph)
Lifestyle Suggestions From Questlove and Biesenbach — Yes, that Questlove and that Klaus Biesenbach have paired up in the Times Magazine's feature "Take Two," offering their hilariously different opinions on new fashion forward items and luxury goods. (NYT)
Arts Funding in Cali Continues to Drop — The announced 2013–2014 budget for California includes yet another cut to funding for the arts to the tune of 7.6 percent, or $412,000, which will rank the state dead last in per-capita funding for the arts, where's it has been for nine of the past ten years. (LAT)
Carl Andre Talks Retirement — And a host of other things including wearing women's leotards, feminism, the state of the New York art scene, his upcoming retrospective at Dia:Beacon, and being his own favorite artist in history. (Interview)
Lady Gaga, Appropriation Artist? — French artist Orlan has sued the pop star for a reported $31.7 million, claiming that the Fame Monster's "Born This Way" video borrows too heavily from her sculpture Femme Avec Tete ("Woman with Head"). (Artinfo)
Playboy Makes Foray Into Art — Richard Phillips's Playboy Marfa, a sculptural installation made up of a white neon Playboy sign and a Dodge Charger titled at an 18-degree angle, is now on view on the roadside of Highway 96 in Marfa, Texas. (T Mag)
Mark di Suvero Sculpture Damaged in Car Crash — After a heavy night of drinking, a man's car collided with the famed sculptor's work outside the Fort Wayne Museum, damaging the sculpture so greatly that it may cost $200,000 to repair it. (Artinfo)
Blue Skies No More — As one major James Turrell installation opens to the public at the Guggenheim, another minor work by Turrell gets ruined by an imposing building. (Hyperallergic)
Gary Hume's Elusive Paintings — Carol Vogel, who has been increasingly stretching her news-breaking repertoire into profiles recently, adapts her latest slow-news-season "Inside Art" column to lead with a mini-spotlight on the YBA painter to mark his new Tate Modern survey. (NYT)
— ART MARKET —
"We've All Become So Quantitatively Preoccupied" — Dallas-based collector Howard Rachofsky talked with Bloomberg's Scott Reyburn about his views on the contemporary-art market, including his current fascination with "undervalued" Japanese postwar art, why now is the best time to be a collector, and the disheartening though unsurprising contemporary commodification of art. (Bloomberg)
An Art Market in Common — As the world's largest cities experience a renaissance of urban revival, they are increasingly becoming "gated communities" for the elite upper class, who share more in common with peers from other major metropolises—including collecting and viewing art—than they do with the nearby societies. (FT)
Radiohead Paints for Poverty — In 2005, Thom Yorke, the lead vocalist and guitarist for the massively popular rock band Radiohead, collaborated with Stanley Donwood, the artist responsible for the band's posters and album covers, as part of the "Make Poverty History" campaign to create the painting Business School for the Dead, which will be auctioned off by Bonhams auction house in a couple of weeks and is expected to garner between $5,500 and $6,300. (Pitchfork)
"I Think They’re Great, and I Use Them All the Time" — Art collector Peter Hort chats with Artinfo about online art sellers, explaining what he loves about the possibilities it makes available, as well as the areas where it can still improve. (Artinfo)
All the World's for Sale — While gallerists at Art Basel in Basel have been reporting strong sales at the world's most prestigious fair, one underlying current that helps swell collector interest is the highly publicized and well attended Venice Biennale that prominently displays works by artists from all over the world, who suddenly become much more coveted in the eyes of art buyers. (TAN)
Christie's Ramps Up Online-Only Sales — In July, Christie's auction house has scheduled two online-only sales of Asian art sales, noting in a statement that the move is "a testament to clients’ support of the internet-exclusive platform from around the globe." (GalleristNY)
—IN & OUT —
In a Internet-age coup of titanic proportions, the Metropolitan Museum of Art has hired away Columbia University journalism professor Sree Sreenivasan—or "Sree," as he's known to his 50,000 Twitter followers and nearly 200,000 Facebook fans who venerate him for his cutting-edge social-media prowess—to lead the institution's social media department. (LAT)
Come September, Stuart Comer, who is currently the film curator at the Tate Modern, will be assuming the new role of chief curator of media and performance art at MoMA, an institution that's seen a considerable amount of success with its recent performance art initiatives like Marina Abramovic's "The Artist Is Present," among others.
Seth Siegelaub, the curator and dealer responsible for promoting conceptual art and writing an important contract between gallerists and artists, has died at the age of 71.
Finnish video artist Pilvi Takala has won the Frieze Projects 2013 Emdash Award for an emerging artist living outside of the U.K.