Polke Dance: In New York (Part 2)

Kenny Schachter wearing Daniel Steegmann Mangrané’s Phantom (2015) at the New Museum.
Kenny Schachter wearing Daniel Steegmann Mangrané’s Phantom (2015) at the New Museum.

On my second day in New York the snow was so heavy that I feared I would be forced to spend a terrifying night at the museum with “Surround Audience,” the New Museum’s just-opened triennial. Forget Ben Stiller and dinosaurs, I would be trapped with a bunch of insouciant kids under the influence of way too much screen time.

I found myself at the New Museum because my collector pals hated the Armory Show so much that they were ready to trash their VIP passes. I offered to take these off their hands, remembering that the passes get you into New York’s museums for free.  ... weiterlesen

A Truffle Pig Heads for the Piers: In New York (Part 1)

People look at works of art displayed during the The Armory Show in New York (photo: dpa)
People look at works of art displayed during the The Armory Show in New York (photo: dpa)

There should be a rule in art journalism: always lead with Damien Hirst. Hirst is having a fuck-all, wildly ambitious (over-produced?) show to coincide with his soon-to-be-released tell-all book, written with help from James Fox, who co-wrote Keith Richards’ biography. And I hear the Mugrabis have bought into Hirst to the tune of (another) $30 million. The most surprising part is that the show will be on view, to enormous hoopla and fanfare no doubt, at a respected museum. Which one I can’t say but let’s see if Hirst is capable of pulling another shark out of his hat.

But I digress. I went to New York last week to see some gallery and museum shows and to drop in on the latest editions of the Armory fair, the Independent, Volta, and the Art Dealers Association of America’s Art Show—not to mention yet more midterm auctions. There, I followed a continuing trend that is as chilling as the weather: a developing backlash against prematurely high prices is quietly unnerving the spec-u-lectors, that plethora of short-term in-and-outers driving the very young sector of the market—and emptying their pockets.  ... weiterlesen

L.A. Wildcatters, a Davos Doomsayer, the London Auctions, and the Future of the Art Market

Simcho Che
Simcho Che

I am convinced that the art market is in an extended bull run the likes of which have never been seen before. Sure, nothing goes up forever, but we are experiencing fundamentals fostering the fever to buy more art at ever escalating prices. A qualified investor can bag interest rates of less than 1 percent for a 10-year fixed mortgage; oil has plummeted, squeezing the industry but fueling other businesses like automotive and aerospace; and as the euro loses ground against the dollar, it only ramps up the U.S.’s spending power.

This currency scenario could stand as an analogy for the art world, where we can experience pockets of recession in individual artists’ prices as others rise in a zero-sum knee-jerk reaction. Take, for example, Leipzig. Does anyone remember Leipzig? That school of up-to-the-minute painters selling for loads of money with accompanying waiting lists? It now accounts for no more than a string of buy-ins at an auction near you.  ... weiterlesen

It's Snowing Art Advisers: Best Of 2014, And Predictions For 2015


The Best of London in 2014

Let us put aside the oodles of money, the stupefying levels of celebrity worship and the trend of early retiring art brats and focus on the good stuff: the art, the artists, the museums, and the galleries, like it’s 1999 instead of 2014.  ... weiterlesen

"You Definitely Need To See This Work In Person": At Art Basel in Miami Beach

© Art Basel
© Art Basel

For weeks I’d been telling myself, and anyone who would listen, that I was going to skip the 2014 edition of Art Basel Miami Beach. It had been a busy fall. October’s Frieze London fair is at least on my home turf, but then there were whirlwind trips to Paris, for FIAC, and New York, for the auctions. I couldn’t be bothered with yet another fair, especially one so notoriously party-centric. In the end, though, I was reminded of Adam Lindemann’s rallying cry in the pages of The New York Observer back in 2011. “I’m not going to Art Basel Miami Beach this year,” he wrote. “I’m through with it, basta.” But he ended up going. And so did I.

In Miami, plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose. There’s the usual cast of characters, now chock-a-block with celebrities and complete with Deep Pockets, my source for art-market secrets, as well as a relatively new acquaintance, the drug-dealing art advisor I met in New York during auction week, who weighed in with some pre-fair recommendations of his own. Everyone is fueled by fear of missing out and everything is set to a throbbing soundtrack.  ... weiterlesen

Meet London’s Subway Gallerist

Subway Gallery (Foto: Courtesy of Kenny Schachter)
Subway Gallery (Foto: Courtesy of Kenny Schachter)

I paid a visit to the Subway Gallery situated in a 1960s-era kiosk under London’s Marylebone Flyover, in a subway station run by a vintage Westernwear-wearing cowboy, artist, and gallerist personifying British eccentricity at its best — except for the fact that he hails from Canada. His name is Robert Gordon McHarg III FRSA (Fellows of the Royal Society of Arts, whatever that means). Encounters like this partly account for the difficulty I have reading fiction. For eight years, he’s staged more than 80 exhibits ranging from a rock ephemera library — he’s Clash-obsessed, in particular with Joe Strummer (who died in 2002) — to an upcoming Western-themed vintage clothing pop-up. 

It boggles the mind how he lives like mole people, bands of homeless that exist year-round under cities in disused train networks, only he’s a party of one, a (very) lone cowboy. In the immediate area outside his transparent pod, the walls are festooned with funky glass tiles in period shades of orange and contrasting yellows. McHarg cares for the underground walkway by sweeping and keeping clean the common areas that include another hut that used to house Ethiopian khat sellers, an ancient euphoria inducing-flowering plant, recently declared illegal in the U.K. Robert convinced the storeowners to change course and now they are selling art from the Horn of Africa. What else would they do nowadays?  ... weiterlesen

How Awkward Is It to Sit Next to Larry Gagosian at David Tang’s Birthday Party?

The entrance to the Dorchester Hotel in London (photo: dpa)
The entrance to the Dorchester Hotel in London (photo: dpa)

I was a last-minute stand-in for an ill guest at David Tang’s 60th-birthday party on Tuesday at the Dorchester Hotel, where he is also the proprietor of the restaurant China Tang. It was a celebrity smorgasbord I was not prepared for, and let me report, swinging London is as swinging as ever. Kate Moss, Michael Caine, Tom Jones, the Goldsmith clan, Christiane Amanpour — I kept turning my head sideways trying to determine who she was, the only guest who seemed out of context. There should be a Shazam app to recognize people.

There was the duchess of York, who neither confirmed nor denied to me that she will enter the art world, perhaps with her daughter Eugenie at Paddle 8; Jeremy Clarkson, the Howard Stern of car journalists, who actually became famous from being a petrol-head; and even former prime minister Tony Blair, taking a break from the lecture circuit. At this stage, my primary concern was not to step on the train of Zaha Hadid’s gray chiffon dress that was perilously trailing behind her, who I had accompanied.

As the guests were arriving in the main ballroom for dinner, I made my way around the table in search of the place card of the person I had replaced. It was noticeably absent. Besides Zaha, there was dealer Jay Jopling; collector Frank Cohen, who might have been celebrating the $25 million his Koons orange balloon dog fetched last week at Christie's, with his daughter Georgina; and the Candy & Candy brothers — not a porn-producing partnership as it might sound, but rather the young, mini-Trump empire-building developers of One Hyde Park fame.

I scooted over to the DJ booth off to the side of the dining room to check if my seat had been reassigned at short notice under my name. It hadn’t. The clipboard-wielding seating lieutenant assured me not to worry, that they’d simply add another place at the table. As I dutifully stood beside a freestanding Chinese lacquered screen so as not to make notice of myself, I saw a waiter make his way to the table with a chair in tow and bend over to speak to Georgina, a Gagosian gallerista, to whom I briefly said hello when I was seat-searching.

The waiter proceeded to turn around, still carrying my seat. Maybe her dad didn’t share enough of the Koons cash. I hid a little further behind the partition.

The party planner informed me they had been rebuffed by Georgina, who refused to make room, though there was ample space (had she known it was me?). At that point an army of staff making their way from the kitchen to begin bottle service began slamming into me willy-nilly as I stood entrenched in the spot I had taken refuge in as the festivities got underway.

They asked who else I might know in the room, and after I mentioned another acquaintance, the wandering chair-man returned yet again still holding the furniture. I was persona non grata, like the Thomas Mann short story "Tonio Kröger," when the uninvited artist is longingly observing a party from the wrong side of a window. At that stage, in full retreat from the action on the other side of the screen (what had become my screen), I told the organizer I'd better flee — I was beginning to feel like an interloper — but she studied her clipboard and commanded, “No, I’ve found a place. Seat him at 22,” and off I was led. Nothing like feeling wanted.

I made my way to a spot that had been gouged on my behalf into a table-full, wedged between A. Alfred Taubman, the retailing magnate who famously bought Sotheby’s in 1983, and Larry Gagosian. Being that I wrote a piece a few years ago, still lingering, "Why I Am Leaving Gagosian," a mash-up of a New York Times op-ed piece that served as the resignation letter of a partner from Goldman Sachs detailing how the investment-banking culture had soured because of greed, it was awkward big time. I was beginning to miss the protection of my glossy Chinese wall from only moments before.

As he saw me approaching, there could have been an ominous soundtrack, culminating in his giving me the shame-on-you motion, rubbing his two fingers together. Uh-oh. Okay, so I can be a little cynical in the pursuit of parody and a good story, but I am actually a huge fan of the impresario whose exploits will surely be favorably recognized in the history of dealing. I vividly remember 65 Thompson Street in the early '90s, his short-lived hookup with Leo Castelli (who was still in his prime) that stunned the art world and instantly legitimized him, to his museum-quality shows of everyone from Brancusi to Picasso (up now). By the middle of the meal, you could say I coined a new verb, Gagosian-groveling.

Ninety-one-year-old Taubman was a gracious and warm neighbor who regaled me with stories of introducing a retail mentality to the auction business that had largely catered to the professional trade prior to his stewardship. Taubman touched upon what he insisted was his wrongful conviction and jailing for antitrust violations and how he was called on to rescue Sotheby’s again by injecting $140 million after his release from prison. Maybe Dan Loeb should shoot him a call for some advice. Quickly. Not bad seating after all.

On departure, and after maybe a few too many glasses of vino, I mistook the playwright Tom Stoppard for the banker Tim Hoare and related a story where one of my kids (also) hid away from him in the closet of the hotel room of his daughter on holiday. That, as you can imagine, went over well. But not as bad as Tracey Emin, who was photographed much worse for wear in the Daily Mail the following day keeling over in the back of a taxi after the event. Though it was give or take for a while whether I would stay, and even as an uninvited-invited guest (story of my life), it’s still a long way for a stuttering fat kid who grew up in Long Island.

Of Spec-u-lectors and Drug-Dealing Art Advisers: At the New York Auctions

An elevator painted like the 1963 portrait 'Liz #3 (Early Colored Liz)' by US artist Andy Warhol during a preview of a contemporary art auction at Sotheby's in New York (photo: dpa)
An elevator painted like the 1963 portrait 'Liz #3 (Early Colored Liz)' by US artist Andy Warhol during a preview of a contemporary art auction at Sotheby's in New York (photo: dpa)

In The Graduate, the hapless protagonist is given career advice in a single word: Plastics. Today, that word would be art. 

Just as in the ’60s there appeared to be a great future in plastics, there now seems to be no limit to the highflying market for modern and contemporary art. Everyone from your interior decorator to your wedding planner to your tennis partner to your drug dealer considers him or herself an art adviser. With outposts around the world, the auction houses and galleries like Gagosian have made the business a 24/7 one. Everywhere you look, from cruise ships to strip malls, the stuff is being made and sold.   ... weiterlesen

French Connections: At FIAC in Paris

(c) Marc Domage
(c) Marc Domage

On the heels of the Frieze art fair in London, I was off to FIAC in Paris, a breather before November’s monster modern and contemporary art auctions in New York. FIAC, which has been spiffed up over the past decade and returned to its exquisite digs in the Grand Palais, ranks among the world’s longest running and most prestigious contemporary art fairs. It also happens to be celebrating its 40th birthday this year.

But 40 is the new 30, and FIAC marked the occasion with little fanfare, unless you count the erection of a 79 foot green inflatable Paul McCarthy sculpture in the posh Place Vendôme that was called Tree but could just as easily have been one of his monumental butt plugs. And Tree didn’t last long. Before the fair even opened, some unimpressed citizen had deflated the thing. This after someone reportedly slapped McCarthy (I can think of others in the art world far worthier of a slap) and told him, “You’re not French and this has no place in the square.” His crime would appear to be not being a French butt plug artist. All I can say is, in this case, at least people are reacting to the art, and not the auction results!   ... weiterlesen

Frieze London: Oktoberfest in a Cutthroat Art World

Photo: Courtesy Frieze London
Photo: Courtesy Frieze London

It must have been an omen of sorts. When I arrived at the extravagant new London headquarters of Phillips auction house last week to preview the house’s inaugural sale there, I was greeted by the slapstick sight of a smartly dressed businessman chasing down the street the banknote with which he’d intended to pay his cab driver. It was one of those typically blustery London days, and a gust of wind had picked up the money, sailing it off into the air and sending the businessman into a manic, comical dance. Try as he might, he couldn’t lasso the errant bill.

This was the start to my Frieze week and, in fact, it’s not a bad metaphor for today’s art market: a mad dash after short-term profits.  From the aisles of the Frieze Art Fair to the auction floor, the theme of London’s annual art Oktoberfest was zero-sum art-o-nomics. Sigmar Polke’s market rose while Gerhard Richter’s appeared to stay on its plateau. Frieze Masters continue to garner rave reviews, while its older sibling, Frieze London, continued to disappoint.

But let’s start with Phillips. If the Marx Brothers sold art they would be known as the Phillips Brothers—more farce than finance. The house’s airy, ample new premises, unequivocally the best in London, weren’t enough to lift its overall performance to the level of basic professionalism. Before the sale even began, Phillips shot itself in the foot by staging a non-selling exhibition smack in the middle of the salesroom. This folly only served to drive home the fact that Phillips will in all probability never be able to secure the kind of A-list works so prominently displayed but so conspicuously not on offer: prime pieces by Bruce Nauman, Robert Gober, Charles Ray, Donald Judd, Jeff Koons, and even Anthony Caro, not exactly the most difficult to procure. What an auspicious start—and it only got worse.

When are four Marilyns less than none? When it’s the title of the Andy Warhol cover lot that failed to elicit a single bid (not even from the Mugrabis), no revelation as it was even worse in person than it appeared in the catalogue. And when a Gerhard Richter came up, not a single paddle raised in the room. Call for help? No use, I couldn’t even get a phone signal in the gleaming basement salesroom, and I wasn’t the only one struggling for a lifeline. Then it got worse, still.

I got a call from Deep Pockets, my art-world version of Watergate’s Deep Throat, a plugged-in market maker who serves as my go-to source for the juiciest behind-the-scenes tidbits. I was informed that at least half the phone banks, where Phillips’s specialists take bids from clients, were actually not functioning over the course of the evening sale and the specialists were engaged in nothing more than play-acting.

Phillips’ bloodbath, which extended from night into day (sale), had many of today’s hot, young market highfliers appearing to suffer from premature aging disease, including (very) recently made works by David Ostrowski, Kour Pour, Christian Rosa, Lucien Smith, and Mark Flood. (Speaking of Rosa, I can’t wait to see his next Jay Jopling show after he declared in no uncertain terms to Deep Pockets, not once but twice, that it will be ten times better than David Hammons’s present outing at the gallery. Good luck!)

Back at Christie’s and Sotheby’s it all began to feel like auction season again rather than an indiscriminate slaughterhouse. Sigmar Polke was always punching above his weight talent-wise, but from a lower weight class than Richter. After the latest spate of sales Polke was firmly established as the (historic and market) heavyweight he’s always been, reaching in excess of $8 million for a work from the guaranteed Essl collection, his second highest at auction. In the process, Richter appeared to take a little drubbing at the hand of Polke’s newfound pricing prowess. Don’t get me wrong, Richter is still up about 500 percent in not much more than 5 years, but in the art world’s micro-short attention span, yesterday’s records are today’s amnesia. In any event, look for Christie’s November sale in New York to equal or surpass their greatest auction result ever, the $745 million achieved last May.

On to the fairgrounds, Frieze London (see a slideshow here), the original event that’s been under the bigtop in Regent’s Park annually since 2003, left a soggy and bland taste this year, as though it had outgrown its defining edginess and now has the shtick of any other ordinary commercial expo. A highlight was one of the random, non-market driven projects thrown into the mix in a grasp at creative credibility. Jonathan Berger reassembled fragments from Andy Kaufman’s personal life and career. Inside the standalone booth, a woman jumped up to greet me like a longtime friend to speak about (the other) Andy, all part of the performance. If only some of the participants in the fair would behave in such fashion, the art world would be a kinder, gentler place.

Across the park, Frieze Masters, in its second year, presented a much fresher array of artworks across a wider historical divide. This event was characterized by a lack of pretense (if that’s possible in art today) and, above all else, was a lot easier on the eyes. There was a Gauguin wood carving that once stood sentry outside the artist’s Tahitian home, on offer at London’s Lefevre Fine Art for $25 million, a mere pittance compared to a piece of Wool. There were Judd stacks from $5.5 million to $6.5 million at David Zwirner and Paula Cooper; and who would rather be anywhere else than surrounded by the Philip Gustons at David McKee?

Whenever an Old Master booth sandwiched between the more prevalent classic contemporary galleries had an actual masterpiece on hand (or famous names associated with masterworks), like the £38 million Rembrandt at Otto Nauman or Peter Paul Rubens, they were distinguished by enormous gold scripted signage. You could be forgiven for thinking these were single-artist shows rather than single marginal examples of both in what amounted to attempts to smack some awareness into the heads of the typically shortsighted contemporary art tourist.

But outside the circus tents the talk was all about the market, and the accusations continued to fly, seemingly more bombastic, aggressive, and snide than ever before, pitting flippers against flippers, dealers against collectors (and vice-versa), and lawyers laughing all the way to Christie’s, because who’d put their money in a bank at zero-percent interest? Like Ronald P. and Larry G., too often today’s pal is tomorrow’s plaintiff in an art world ever more resembling a cage fight than the decorous, intergenerational, relationship-oriented business of the past. Then again, even legendary dealers like Joseph Duveen and Ernst Beyeler were known to have thrown down the gloves chasing a deal, straddling both buy and sell sides—conflict, what conflict? The song remains the same.

I can even recall when, if you wanted to buy an unproven work of art for behind the couch or over the bed, you didn’t have to sign over your first born or multiple clauses surrendering your resale right in perpetuity should you ever, god forbid, change your mind. A well-known Parisian purveyor of younger art goes on the attack confronting her clients if they so much as think about selling. She appears to get a premonition from the ether, and then you get the nastiest of letters complaining about your lack of ethics and impending blacklisting from the gallery.

But rather than art buyers being concerned with restrictive clauses in gallery invoices, i.e. providing dealers rights of first refusal and buyer proscriptions against auctioning, collectors of contemporary should be up in arms that there aren’t warnings about what will happen if they can’t resell. Business cycles for some contemporary artists nowadays seem to span days rather than quarters.

Oh, and did you hear the one about the devilishly demeaning dealer better suited to work as an S&M dominator (it’s a he) who just might reside in a Scandinavian country? A collector passed his email on to me:

Dealer: “I am afraid (your collection) presents itself without a sense of purpose and that we will not be able to make the collection a priority. In all fairness, I am an eager supporter of not wasting my time or the time of others, and having looked at the online presentation I find that the decisions you’ve made so far provide a context that is not the right one for these artists. It may be that the collection is not set up as an investment fund or to give it the appearance of a Philips auction catalogue, but it tells a fairly sad story of what is generally sold today and what will hopefully sell for more tomorrow. Best of luck with building whatever collection you want, but we will unfortunately be unable to contribute to that. All the best”

At least he signed off with a friendly salutation, but I thought the Studio 54 door policy days died with disco. When I posted this email on my Facebook, activist investor Dan Loeb weighed in: “What a shocker SHOCKER. Next thing you’ll tell me is that there’s gambling in Casablanca.” For me, it’s not the arrogance that’s shocking, but its depths.

Because art has truly hit the bigtime. Have you seen the start-up selling art like penny shares? The telephone pitch: “You mean you’re not invested in art yet?” Lately there have been Internet scams involving art deals so we surely must have arrived. I got screwed over by a double-dealing relative who’d asked for my help in selling a painting. Being around a marketable painting today is like being in front of a gram of coke in the ’70s, back when it was still a novelty, and an expensive one at that. As the classic-car universe rises in lockstep with art, so does the bad behavior, where rumor and innuendo amount to market fact. When you get a car cheaply after a lousy auction they say you bought it well. Sound familiar?

Everyone and their grandmother want in on the deals, and just as well. At present, with connoisseurship having apparently gone the way of the Dodo bird, it’s no longer critics, dealers, or committed collectors who serve as kingpins in cementing careers, rather it’s algorithm-driven black-box trading models and the Leo Factor, as in the latest acquisitions of Leonardo DiCaprio and his posse of celebrity cohorts. The sharp verdicts of the eye have given way to word of mouth.

Now it’s on to the Foire Internationale d’Art Contemporarin (FIAC) in Paris. Fair fatigue? C’est la vie.

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"Die Kunstwelt ist wie eine Mafia, es gibt ein ungeschriebenes Gesetz des Stillschweigens", sagt Kenny Schachter. Auf seinem Monopol-Blog bringt der britische Kunsthändler Licht ins Dunkle und macht die Mechanismen des Marktes transparent. In englischer Sprache