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.

Family Affair

Lady Gaga with artists Jeff Koonsand Marina Abramovic at "artRave" in New York (photo: dpa)
Lady Gaga with artists Jeff Koonsand Marina Abramovic at "artRave" in New York (photo: dpa)

Art with your kids can be fun and funny
Do it right you can make some money
Cause everyone wants to be artists today
So stage a project and fluff up their resume
Kanye, Gaga, and now Miley Cyrus!
Wanting to be an artist is like catching a virus
They are all at it now and making a mint
So I gave my kids a hint
And put them to work
I’m sick they’re always skint
Spin wild tales of unbridled riches and fame
Glam it up so they’ll want to play the game
You still have to push they are all so damn lazy
Tell them to look at Koons’ prices gone crazy
Competition in youth is drugs and booze
Peer pressure to party and schmooze
They’re out all night all day they snooze
And those stupid devices they always lose
Nam Jun Paik said he became an artist to sleep late
So a professional career in art is not the worst fate
With art you can develop their curiosity
They don’t need much studying art history
Take a break from school, clubs and computers
Let them live life forget about tutors
Art is a colorful language made-up of pictures
God knows they hate reading so throw it in the mixture
A lesson in economics will also be learned
If they sell a few paintings a few quid will be earned
Spending time today is essential for relations
Everything else is just social masturbation
Use the experience to explore and communicate
Go ahead and get started it’s never too late
And think of the love and satisfaction
That will flow from a show
And may even gain traction
The only thing worse than the grief they can cause
Is when they fly the coop and slam all the doors
Get their friends and others make it a group show
That's an enterprising approachable way to go
Friends and Family, that exhibit was ours
With kids from all over and plenty of art stars
But here is a weary word of advice
Before you jump in if I’ve managed to entice
Don’t knock down a Tracey Emin and break it
Though that's a surefire way to make it
Into the tabloids and onto the BBC
For the world and everyone else to see
It happened to us so take it from me

Sneak peek of Larry G’s latest London emporium


Went to take a snap through Mayfair construction site and brawny worker grabbed my phone, went inside and took a proper image for me. Much nicer than those typically associated with gallery world.

Polke vs Richter


Polke was always punching above his weight, but from a lower class than Richter. Let it be known, after last night’s Essl Sale at Christie’s, Polke was firmly established as the (historic and market) heavyweight he's always been. And Richter took a bit of a drubbing at the hand of Polke's newfound pricing prowess in the process.

Where’s Wally?

 Photograph by Polly Braden Courtesy of Frieze
Photograph by Polly Braden Courtesy of Frieze

Ok kids, I am challenging you to find the creativity and culture in the context of an art fair.

Slotover rejects claims that Frieze is “over-commercialised: Of course, it’s commerce, because it’s all for sale. But to say that it’s not creative is inaccurate. We could have run the fairs in a more commercial way and made higher profits, but it would have had less of a cultural impact. If it had just been pure commerce, like an auction house, it would not have been interesting to us.”

Full article from today’s Independent.

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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