Sotheby’s has made a series of short videos to promote their sale of Roy Lichtenstein’s Sleeping Girl. (Update: The links have been fixed.) Here they’ve got Irving Blum reminiscing about his time running Ferus Gallery in LA when he sold Sleeping Girl. But it’s really worth watching just to see Blum’s photos from the era. [Read more...]
Kelly Crow put out a pot-stirring report this week in the Wall Street Journal. It’s true that the newspaper likes to dramatize events. This is the Murdoch legacy at the WSJ. But this comparative is a bit over much:
During the recession, Calder’s prices ticked upward as collectors sought pieces that were easy to identify and resell in the global marketplace, some trading privately for as much as $35 million apiece, dealers said. Even so, Calder’s works look cheap compared with those of peers like Alberto Giacometti, whose bronzes have topped $100 million.
It is a bit silly to judge the very strong Calder market by whether there has been a top trophy price that makes headlines, let alone a price at the $100 million level. Crow is right to compare Calder to Henry Moore, another auction mainstay whose work has been gaining traction and recently set new high prices (though far from the Giacometti, Picasso, Cézanne level.) What’s not mentioned here, and is surely of great importance given the need for liquidity and volume for an artist to reach the highest levels of value, is a discussion of how much work Calder made. He rivals Picasso in sheer volume.
Here’s Crow’s rundown of what’s on offer this May in New York, led by Christie’s Lily of Force estimated at $8 to $12 million:
Collectors have always paid a premium for standing and hanging Calder mobiles from the 1940s and ’50s, particularly those with dozens of dangling parts that shiver like leaves or fish at the slightest breeze. Red remains his most coveted color, but hues like white are also popular. Christie’s is asking at least $3.5 million for “Snow Flurry,” a 1950 white mobile that comes from the estate of Eliot Noyes, the Harvard Five architect who, with Philip Johnson, championed the no-frills architectural movement known as the International Style. The Noyes estate is also offering an untitled red mobile with scaly shapes that is priced to sell for at least $3 million. Christie’s wants at least $4 million for “The Red of Saché,” a 1954 hanging mobile. “Blue Flower, Red Flower,” a 1975 multicolored mobile, is priced to sell for at least $1 million.Rival Sotheby’s has four Calders on its auction agenda, including “Sumac VI,” a red mobile from 1952 that is priced to sell May 9 for $2.5 million or more.
Reuters has Akron Art Museum’s sale of Cindy Sherman’s Untitled #96 which Christie’s will be offering in May and hopes to make another record price:
“The museum acquired this work in 1981, the year of its creation, showcasing the forward-thinking approach of the institution,” said Christie’s international head of post-war and contemporary art Brett Gorvy.
Christie’s sold another nearly life-size image depicting Sherman dressed as a schoolgirl last year for $3.89 million, a record price for any photograph sold at auction at the time. That record has since been surpassed.
Gorvy said the auction house was confident it would achieve another record price.
Ginette Heilbronn Moulin’s grandson admits that his family’s pursuit of their Nazi-confiscated Monet was encouraged by the recent spate of news about the Wildenstein family’s weakness. Today’s story in the New York Times, which mostly just recaps the saga of another important French family searching for their lost property, really doesn’t have any news to it. The paper is just stirring the pot for the rest us to enjoy the billowing aroma:
“This painting represents some of the history of our family,” she said. “It was my grandson who pushed me to react. He doesn’t understand how this could happen.”
Ms. Moulin said that in the 1950s, her mother, Paulette Heilbronn, met with an art dealer who had a photograph of the painting, and that he pledged to recover it. But when Ms. Heilbronn approached the dealer again, he told her it was in the possession of people who were “untouchable,” Ms. Moulin said
Years later the family discovered references to the missing painting in the 1979 and the 1996 editions of Daniel Wildenstein’s five-volume inventory, or catalogue raisonné, of Monet’s work. Such catalogs list all known authenticated works by an artist and serve as something of an imprimatur. No major auction house, for example, will sell a work as a Monet unless it is listed in the Wildenstein inventory.
The catalogs’ mention of the missing Monet fueled suspicions in Ms. Moulin’s family that the Wildensteins either had the painting or knew where it was, she said. But the Wildensteins repeatedly stymied her family’s inquiries, she added.
Prominent French Families Battle Over Missing Monet (New York Times)
Kenny Schachter is a prominent collector and dealer. But he brilliantly sees the satire lying right below the surface of Greg Smith’s resignation letter—published in the New York Times—from Goldman Sachs.
TODAY is my last day at Gagosian Gallery. After almost 12 years at the gallery — first as a summer intern in Los Angeles, then in New York for 10 years, and now in London — I believe I have worked here long enough to understand the trajectory of its culture, its people and its identity. And I can honestly say that the environment now is as toxic and destructive as I have ever seen it.
To put the problem in the simplest terms, the interests of the collectors continue to be sidelined in the way the firm operates and thinks about making money. Gagosian is one of the world’s largest and most important galleries and it is too integral to the global art market to continue to act this way. The gallery has veered so far from the place I joined right out of college that I can no longer in good conscience say that I identify with what it stands for.
It might sound surprising to a skeptical public, but culture was always a vital part of Gagosian’s success. It revolved around teamwork, integrity, a spirit of humility, and always doing right by our clients. The culture was the secret sauce that made this place great and allowed us to earn our clients’ trust for 33 years. It wasn’t just about making money; this alone will not sustain a gallery for so long. It had something to do with pride and belief in the organization. I am sad to say that I look around today and see virtually no trace of the culture that made me love working for this gallery for many years. I no longer have the pride, or the belief.
But this was not always the case. For more than a decade I recruited and mentored gallery girls through our grueling interview process. In 2006 I managed the summer intern program in sales in New York for the 20 college students who made the cut, out of the hundreds who applied.
I knew it was time to leave when I realized I could no longer look gallery girls in the eye and tell them what a great place this was to work.
When the history books are written about Gagosian, they may reflect that Larry Gagosian lost hold of the firm’s culture on his watch. I truly believe that this decline in the galleries moral fiber represents the single most serious threat to its long-run survival.
Over the course of my career I have had the privilege of advising two of the largest museums on the planet, five of the largest collectors in the United States, and three of the most prominent ruling families in the Middle East and Asia. My clients have a total asset base of more than a trillion dollars. I have always taken a lot of pride in advising my clients to do what I believe is right for them, even if it means less money for the gallery. This view is becoming increasingly unpopular at Gagosian. Another sign that it was time to leave.
How did we get here? The gallery changed the way it thought about directorships. Leadership used to be about ideas, setting an example and doing the right thing. Today, if you make enough money for the gallery (and are not currently an ax murderer) you will be promoted into a position of influence.
What are three quick ways to become a director? a) Execute on the firm’s “axes,” which is Gogo-speak for persuading your clients to buy art from our stable that we are trying to get rid of because they are seen as having a weakening career. b) “Hunt Elephants.” In English: get your collectors — some of whom are sophisticated, and some of whom aren’t — to buy whatever will bring the biggest profit to Gogo. Call me old-fashioned, but I don’t like selling my clients art that is wrong for them. c) Find yourself sitting in a seat where your job is to sell any illiquid, giant, uncompromising installations and videos by the likes of Mike Kelley.
Today, many of the directors display a Gogosian culture quotient of exactly zero percent. I attend sales meetings where not one single minute is spent asking questions about how we can help clients. It’s purely about how we can make the most possible money off of them, especially the Russians. If you were an alien from Mars and sat in on one of these meetings, you would believe that a collectors success or progress in building a significant collection was not part of the thought process at all.
It makes me ill how callously people talk about ripping their clients off. Over the last 12 months I have seen five different directors refer to their own clients as “muppets.” Vampire Squids? No humility? I mean, come on. Integrity? It is eroding. I don’t know of any illegal behavior, but will people push the envelope and pitch lucrative, dull and derivative Richard Princes to clients even if they are not the least bit good? Absolutely. Every day, in fact.
It astounds me how little Larry G. gets a basic truth: If clients don’t trust you they will eventually stop doing business with you. It doesn’t matter how smart you are.
These days, the most common question I get from junior sales assistants about Urs Fischer is, “How much money did we make off the client?” It bothers me every time I hear it, because it is a clear reflection of what they are observing from the directors about the way they should behave. Now project 10 years into the future: You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure out that the junior assistant sitting quietly in the corner of the gallery hearing about “muppets,” “ripping eyeballs out” and “getting paid” doesn’t exactly turn into a model citizen.
When I was a first-year gallerist I didn’t know where the bathroom was, or how to tie my Prada shoes. I was taught to be concerned with learning the ropes, finding out what a Twombly was, understanding art history, getting to know our collectors and what motivated them, learning how they defined great art and what we could do to help them get it.
My proudest moments in life — getting a full scholarship to go from Connecticut to the Sotheby’s Program, getting a Guggenheim Grant, winning a bronze medal for color theory at the Maccabiah Games in Israel, known as the Jewish Olympics — have all come through hard work, with no shortcuts. Gagosian today has become too much about shortcuts and not enough about achievement and gaining historical knowledge. It just doesn’t feel right to me anymore.
I hope this can be a wake-up call to other gallerists. Make the collector the focal point of your gallery again. Without clients you will not make money. In fact, you will not exist. Weed out the morally bankrupt people, no matter how much money they make for the gallery. And get the culture right again, so people want to work here for the right reasons. People who care only about making money will not sustain this gallery — or the trust of its clients — for very much longer.
Sotheby’s is displaying a “Ru” bowl from the Northern Song dynasty (960-1127) in Beijing to promote its April 4th sale in Hong Kong but the extremely rare ceramic caused such crowds they were forced to limit access to it:
“There are very few of these as they were imperial pieces and also because they were made over a very short period of time — 20 years,” Jean-Paul Desroches, curator at the Guimet Museum in Paris, told AFP.
There are only six “Ru” ceramics in private collections, including this bowl — probably intended for washing brushes after writing — which could fetch up to HK$80 million ($10.3 million) at Sotheby’s auction in Hong Kong on April 4.
“We sell incredibly rare objects, but this is a different realm of rarity,” said Chow.
Chow says the bowl will next be shown in Taiwan where a larger pool of potential buyers exists:
“The Taiwanese are probably among the most sophisticated collectors in the field of Chinese art,” said Chow.
“They’ve been buying for a long time, they are at a stage where they are not building collections… they’ll pick something extraordinary to raise their collection.”
Rare Imperial Bowl Causes Stir in China (AFP/Khaleej Times)
But the estimable William Poundstone has the foresight to explain that we’ve hardly begun to appreciate the size and impact of this work of art. He has pictures of the trench that will hold the rock:
The Rock has been getting all the attention, but there’s another, larger component of Michael Heizer’s Levitated Mass. It’s the so-called Slot, the 456-foot long trench that will run beneath theRock. The Slot has been all but invisible during its construction, cordoned behind netting and chain-link fence. [...] It appears that Heizer is leveraging the “haunted shack” principle in the Slot. We tend to experience the angles of human constructions as right and true even when they’re not. [...] The downward journey through the Slot will likely be experienced as approximately horizontal. This misperception may help “levitate” the Rock, perceptually speaking. The bottom of the Slot will be a great room with maybe ten feet of air between your head and the Rock. Worried about it collapsing in the Big One? It will have 10 feet to accelerate before it crushes you. I know, the engineers swear it can’t happen. The Sublime isn’t about what happens, it’s about what you think might happen.
The New York Times deemed the delivery worthy of a local color piece:
Tom LaBonge, a Los Angeles City Council member, turned to the museum director, Michael Govan, and patted him on the arm. “Good job,” he said.
Mr. LaBonge said the installation was worth the considerable effort and expense that have raised some eyebrows at a time of such austerity. “Look around you, look how this brings out people,” he said. “This will be a big magnet here at L.A.C.M.A.”
The scene on Miracle Mile was reminiscent of the excited and diverse crowd that has come out at night to watch the convoy as it zigged and zagged through the region. There were cameras, baby strollers, folding chairs, politicians and other people of every race and economic class. The was also a surfeit of rock puns: Someone was even playing “We Will Rock You” as the truck passed La Brea Tar Pits.
In Long Beach the other night, people lined the streets and waited for hours to be rewarded by what Alexis Dragony praised as the “extraordinary and flawless maneuver of the rock” making a turn. “We cheered as it negotiated the corner,” she said. “It was truly performance art.”
Heizer Slot Unveiled (Los Angeles County Museum on Fire)
Lights! Cameras! (and Cheers) for a Rock Weighing 340 Tons (New York Times)
Kenny Schacter’s boys aren’t done with their moment in the spotlight. Just after the gallery party that left a Tracey Emin scuplture shattered, the National runs a profile of the Schacter family seat in London that’s heavy on the testosterone. After all, aside from Schacter’s wife Ilona Rich, there are five men in the house:
There is no style to speak of in their large West London home. It is more like an amalgamation of art objects the family loves. “I love change in art and life (except with my wife),” Kenny jokes. [Read more...]
With every public relations initiative comes a backlash. In this case, the New York Times is now bearing down on Qatar’s efforts to use art as fulcrum for greater stature in the world. The story ultimately validates the success of Qatar’s efforts but also raises questions about the disconnect between the art market and Qatar’s lack of free speech:
There appears to be a high demand for the type of art scene that Qatar is developing. The West is in financial decline and opportunities for artists like those offered in the Gulf are scarce. Arts organizations and artists across the West are struggling because of cuts in arts funding. In this context, Qatar has taken up a key role in shaping the world of art.
Takashi Murakami, the Japanese artist, said in an interview that doing an exhibition in Doha was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to realize a large-scale project that he could not have done anywhere else due to the lack of investment. [Read more...]
Sir John Richardson is best known as Picasso’s biographer but the London Evening Standard sent a reporter to meet with him. The scribe got this whopper:
When I meet the newly knighted 88-year-old at the Ritz shortly before the opening of Tate Britain’s new Picasso exhibition, his principal regret is that he didn’t allow his actual body to be marked by “the greatest artist of the 20th century”.
“Picasso was very cross when I came back from America and I had a new tattoo here,” Richardson gestures to his right arm where a faded mark is visible. “He said: ‘I would have tattooed you!’” [...]
Apparently Picasso had always hoped to do a Cubist still life on someone’s back. He was about to do one on Georges Braque in Paris, in fact, but the First World War intervened. It was perhaps Picasso’s preference for the DIY “prison” method (needle, ink, pain) that put Richardson off – “It would have hurt.”
Aside from that, it’s a great read.
Picasso–by the Man Who Knew Him Best (Evening Standard)