May 2011: May Art Market Report

Sign Language by Kasper Sonne offers a glimpse of interactivity at New Museum’s Festival of Ideas. The performative piece invited participants to write whatever “message” they wanted on 40 blank protest-type signs. Photo courtesy of the artist and Charles Bank Gallery.

EVERYONE, FROM THE ART ACADEMIC TO THE WALL STREET SUIT seems obsessed by auction results, flabbergasted by the escalating numbers of famed names like Koons and Kapoor whose respective worth keeps on rising almost like clockwork.

Take the late Andy Warhol’s market, rarely deviating from steady incline. Owning a work of his is the official entrée into high-end art collecting (bragging rights not necessarily included). The Mugrabi family owns hundreds of the late artist’s works only rivaled by the Warhol Foundation, who sell and swap to retain certain values for their works. As Jerry Saltz points out in parentheses “these entities function almost as a cartel, an Andy opec, exerting a certain amount of price control.”

The few artists who manage to mimic the ‘factory’ model cannot compete with Warhol’s impeccable timing during the eighties boom. Nowadays, the artists deemed worthy of such attention are one of many and face no future assurance. None have the staying power, dead or alive, to cultivate a Warholian following. Instead, most relatively well-known artists simply fluctuate in and out of popularity as illustrated by a recent New York Times infograph titled “The Not-as-Hot Art Market for Formerly Hot Artists” that tracks various established artists’ markets using Artnet analytics. []

Which brings us back to the infatuation with auction results. Do they really represent the economic status of the art world at-large? Evidently not. Do the fluctuating stocks of the same twenty artists provide any indicator of their inherent long-term value? Debatable. Is art a smart way to invest and diversify an investor’s portfolio? Questionably. Then why do we give these (often rigged) numbers such gravitas, other than for sports-like entertainment?


THE NY ARTS, CULTURE, & TECHNOLOGY MEETUP hosted “Social Media Strategies: A Conversation With The Tate & LaPlaca Cohen” on May 4. The discussion revolved around social media tools and their applicability to arts organizations. The Tate (which encompasses four separate but interrelated museums as one in Britain) is at the forefront of this movement with an unparalleled, intuitive online platform (The Guggenheim’s program is a noteworthy exception). Tate’s Social Media Communication team constantly tests and tweaks their uploaded content through user-feedback mechanisms in real time via their Twitter account, Facebook page, and their main website. Furthermore, the Tate’s marketing teams makes sure to keep their ‘branding’ consistent across all departments (such as updating museum personnel on any new protocol) to avoid discrepancies and provide streamlined customer service (something most museums can learn from, particularly… ahem... in New York). Extensive research and details of the Tate’s Social Media Communication Strategy can be found at:

LaPlaca Cohen also shared details of their “Culture Track 2011” national research study on the behavioral tendencies of art-oriented audiences in relation to social media and other online platforms. Data was collected from thousands of individuals, “statistically mirroring the U.S. population, with screening to ensure a base level of cultural participation… 4,005 respondents participated in a nation-wide online survey, representing all 50 states.” Among the many findings, word-of-mouth and television are the predominant information sources for culture enthusiasts of all ages (Facebook and Twitter lagged behind) however the youngest cohort (18-29) is very responsive to social media outreach and recommendations (leading with Facebook, then Youtube, then random blogs, then Twitter). The report can be downloaded at:

NEW MUSEUM FESTIVAL OF IDEAS ran May 4 to 8 and attracted over 50,000 visitors to the “three-day slate of symposia; an innovative StreetFest along the Bowery; and over eighty independent projects and public events.” The Festival kicked off with an event put on by the New Museum and the Art Production Fund "After Hours: Murals on the Bowery", featuring the site-specific works of seventeen artists in celebration of the rich creative history of the neighborhood (and included artist participants like duo Elmgreen & Dragset, Deborah Kass, Glenn Ligon, Barry McGee, Sterling Ruby, Gary Simmons, Rirkrit Tiravanija, and Lawrence Weiner.)

Other noteworthy events included: Nuit Blanche Flash:Light installation against the facades of the New Museum and the Basilica at Saint Patrick’s Old Cathedral (which also housed an incredible 3-D screening of Marco Brambilla’s “Civilization” inside); a Dustin Yellin layered resin sculpture showcased during the StreetFest; and “Re:Form School” presented by Artist Accomplices, “an exploration and exploitation of systems of artistic validation within the context of contemporary nightlife, recalling Gavin Brown & Urs Fischer's Whose Afraid of Jasper Johns? by refashioning and combining Beatrice Inn, Boom Boom, Don Hills, The Jane, Lit, Omen, et al into a hybrid Cedar Tavern-redux inside a former school house.”

LU MAGNUS GALLERY HOSTED A PANEL DISCUSSION on Sunday May 8 to coincide with their participation in The Festival and opening of the group show “A Room of Her Own.” The title is derived from Virginia Woolf’s essay “A Room of One’s Own” and each female artist (of the all women cast) created their own narrative in their respective works, addressing issues of female fantasy and sexuality, identity and history.

The panel discussion revolved around the theme of “The Reconfigured City” and identity politics in urban society. Panelists included: Ben Davis, art critic at Artinfo; one of the exhibition artists, Natalie Frank; Anne Huntington, curator and consultant at AMH Industries and communications manager at Phillips de Pury & Company; Sarvia Jasso, curator at Pace Gallery; Courtney Martin, author and editor of; and Taylor Krauss, Director of Voices of Rwanda. The moderator Sarah Douglas, (Culture Editor of The New York Observer), led the discussion which initially revolved around of the female gaze (as opposed to the ‘male gaze’). The show offered a rare glimpse into the female psyche, something rarely promoted in the free spirited art world. Another panelist pointed to Jerry Saltz’ critique of The Museum of Modern Art’s lack of female representation (he calculated 23% of Moma’s collection was created by women back in 2007), and how this observation is still applicable today. Auction tallies, gallery rosters, and fairs indexes reveal this reality and as Ben Davis pointed out, we as a society have some obvious unresolved mental blocks. Why is it, with so many women as curators, consultants, and dealers, is this still such as deprived representation of women in the art world? Many all women shows aren’t even advertised as such, afraid to appear overtly feminist. It feels backward. Considering women make up 50% of art school students, the panel pondered how they were discouraged to move forward. And often, the ones who do engage in self-exploitation. As one panelist poignantly describe, “objectify yourself before other people do!”

The question then is how do we morally appeal to society with firm conviction, without seeming trite. Cheim and Read sets a prime example. In celebration of their fifteenth anniversary, they are launching a group exhibition of the women artists in late June featuring: Ghada Amer, Diane Arbus, Lynda Benglis, Louise Bourgeois, Louise Fishman, Jenny Holzer, Chantal Joffe, Joan Mitchell, Alice Neel and Pat Steir.

SF FINE ART FAIR ran May 20-22 for a second year to highlight the best of the Bay Area and international arena with over sixty participating galleries. The pre-opening event celebrated the 140th anniversary of the San Francisco Art Institute granting Richard L. Greene of SFMoMA a lifetime achievement award. All proceeds went directly to benefit ArtCare –an organization that launched last year with the San Francisco Arts Commission, “a long-term innovative program, which funds the restoration of San Francisco’s most vulnerable and damaged pieces.”

ART PRODUCTION FUND’S CASEY FREMONT PROVIDED A TOP TEN LIST of emerging artists to buy up before they become too big including rising star Angel Otero repped by Lehmann Maupin; photographer and performance artist Eloise Fornieles; abstract painter Kevin Baker; and the aforementioned artist from Lu Magnus’ panel discussion, Natalie Frank. []

THE WHITNEY MUSEUM OF AMERICAN ART’S NEW LOCATION designed by architect Renzo Piano is set to open in 2014. The building, nestle the foot of the High Line in the Meatpacking District is a big move for the institution. Leaving the ‘Museum Mile’, it sets an institutional precedent of sorts. "The High Line together with the Whitney are going to establish this neighborhood as one of the most exciting and dynamic parts of our city, or, in fact, any city anywhere" stated mayor Michael Bloomberg at the cutting-of-the-ribbon ceremony.


THE 7TH EDITION OF BRAZIL’S LARGEST CONTEMPORARY ART FAIR Sp-Arte ran May 12-15 and achieved record gallery participation and attendance. The fair attracted “more than 18,000 visitors from 89 Brazilian and foreign exhibitors.”

THE 4th EDITION OF ARTHK11, NOW PARTIALLY OWNED BY ART BASEL and sponsored by Deutsche Bank, ran May 26-29 at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre (HKCEC). The 3-day event resulted in strong sales of an international roster of artists including: Liu Wei, Yan Pei-Ming, Jeff Koons, Fernando Botero, Takashi Murakami, Yoshitomo Nara, Andreas Gursky and Louise Bourgeois to collectors equally diverse in nationality (such as Don and Mera Rubell of the Rubell Family Collection, Sidonie Picasso, Richard Chang, Sir David Tang, and Samir Sabet d’Acre). Notable debut participating galleries included: Acquavella Galleries (New York), Victoria Miro (London), and Yvon Lambert (Paris), which joined the ranks of other prestigious participants such as Gagosian Gallery, Emmanuel Perrotin (Paris), Hanart TZ (Hong Kong), Lisson Gallery (London), White Cube (London), and Hauser & Wirth (New York). Emergent Asian galleries were placed in the Asia One section “devoted to regional galleries and artists thronged with visitors and participants who seemed more than satisfied with the experience.” And to further commemorate the continent, emerging artist Gao Weigang was awarded the $25,000 ART FUTURES Prize winner for his solo installation, determined by three renown art world professionals (in this case judges), Lars Nittve of M+; Hans Ulrich Obrist of Serpentine Gallery in London, and Elaine Ng of ArtAsiaPacific Magazine.

ARTHK “attracted 260 galleries from 38 countries presenting works by more than 1,000 artists – with a record numbers of visitors attending, 63,511, a 37.7% increase [from] 2010” According to the director Magnus Renfrew, the fair aims first to reach regional constituents from all over Asia such as Taiwan, Korea, and China, and then further to gather a “truly global audience”. In an interview with Bloomberg, Magnus states that this year, the fair attracted collectors from countries like South Africa and Germany, with a strong Australian presence and prices remained reasonable and somewhat deflated sparking curiosity and true connoisseurship among attendees. ARTHK makes perfect sense. “Hong Kong is very clearly one of the three most important centers for the international art market along with New York and London. Its importance is growing by the minute. We are planning to hold an inaugural sale in the foreseeable future in Hong Kong” exclaimed Simon de Pury (co-founder of Philips de Pury auction house).

FOLLOWING THE FOOTSTEPS OF ART BASEL, FRIEZE ART FAIR is branching out, launching Frieze Master to coincide with the main contemporary event in London, and creating another identical fair in New York for May 2012. “The New York version of the fair will take place at the beginning of May on Randall’s Island… and will hope to attract about 170 galleries.”

Founded in 2003, the original fair attracted over 60,000 visitors last fall. In an interview with the Financial Times, the fair’s co-director Matthew Slotover stated that “in recent years he had detected a rising demand for a new fair in New York… the city with the most galleries in the world. It has an amazing art history and an amazing infrastructure.”

THE CONTEMPORARY IRANIAN ART MOVEMENT is gaining momentum on the global front. Often grouped under the heading of Middle Eastern art, the rise in popularity of Dubai as a hotbed of creative talent helped put Iran on the map (an article in the New York Times from 2007 was aptly titled “Dubai Provides Iranian Artists a Bridge to the World”). Considering that Persian culture is one of the oldest in history, early renaissance and contemporary Iranian art is finally distinguishing itself from the pack –with many gorgeous and incredibly gracious women taking the lead.

One whose name stands out is Shirin Neshat (and her incredibly talented partner, artist Shoja Azari). At last February’s TED2011 conference, the Iranian-born artist “explore[d] the paradox of being an artist in exile: a voice for her people, but unable to go home…tracing political and societal change through powerful images of women.” Like many expats, Neshat experiences a sense of dissonance between her homeland and current location, reflected in her provocative body of work which includes painting, photographs, film projects, and multimedia installations. To view a recording of her talk visit:

Nazy Nahzand too was born in Iran (specifically Tehran) and now lives in New York. She continues to spread awareness on Iranian and Middle Eastern culture as founder of Art Middle East (AME), contributing writer for Artnet, and collaborator on relevant side projects, such as orchestrating a panel discussion with Ahmed Alsoudani, Afruz Amighi, and Ahmed Mater at the last Armory Show. She is widely photographed at top-notch art events all over the world, recently interviewed in Patrick McMullan’s newly launched PMc magazine, which can be viewed here: And photographer Ziyah Gafic has taken to capture Tehran’s predominantly under 30 population through series of portraits that mark the future generation. Newsweek recently featured a slideshow of her work: Of course there are many more artists that have acquired international recognition pre and post-revolution but for now, it is simply important to note this country’s evolved presence in the art world.

SOTHEBY’S SHARES FELL THE FIRST QUARTER OF 2011 by 25%. According to Jason Benowitz of Roosevelt Investment Group Inc. one of Sotheby’s major shareholders, “the expectations were getting higher and higher and it was reflected in the stock price.” As a publicly traded company, the auction house is incredibly vulnerable compared to its main rival, privately owned Christie’s.

Their spring auction season began with mediocre results during its New York Impressionist and Modern sale, bringing in a total of $170,478,000 (the sales had a total estimate of $159-230 million) that failed to sell a quarter of the lots and a disastrous Greek art sale that failed to sell half the lots. Also, their mid-May American Art auction sold 84 of its 121 lots at 69 percent, only 5% more than Christie’s, which sold 88 of its 138 lots at 64 percent.

Luckily, the auction house has redeemed itself with its most recent contemporary evening sale bringing in a total of $128,104,500 (not including buyer’s premium) with pre-sale estimate of $120.8/171.4 million, 47 of the 58 lots sold. According to Alex Rotter, Director of Sotheby’s New York Contemporary Art department “It was a good night for Andy Warhol” …We sold six out of the seven Warhol works on offer tonight, together bringing over $31 million.” And not to mention the success of Sotheby’s sale of “The Collection of Allan Stone” of the late collector’s estate, which sold eighteen works by painter Wayne Thiebaud. Last week’s Latin American brought in a record $1.2 million for a bronze sculpture by Colombian artists, Fernando Botero. ArtMarketViews reports that the “auction totaled $21.7 million… nearly twice the $12.2 million sold a year ago.”

ARTINFO CREATED AN INDEX of the 100 highest-grossing BRIC artists (those from Brazil, Russia, India, and China) over the past decade. Together, all four have been on steady incline with a slight dip in 2008-09. Separately though, Brazil and Russia take the lead in recent years. Further details can be found at:

THE BGA ART FUND HAS LAUNCHED IN BRAZIL holding an estimate $24 billion worth of artworks, Bloomberg reports. The country is considered Latin America's largest economy and according to Philip Hoffman, chief executive of the Fine Art Fund, "there's a deep group of Brazilian collectors and there's been less speculation in that particular market…We do have investors interested in Brazil." With a robust economy, Brazil is predicted to lead over other BRIC nations. As reported by ArtTactic, Brazil was relatively unaffected by the 2008 global meltdown, “its auction market recorded a 38 percent increase from 2008 to 2009.” Unlike countries with similar economic growth, Brazil remains robust as we continue to ponder whether or not we are coming out of the global recession.

THE ART WORLD IS BECOMING MORE PRIVATIZED. The proliferation of private foundations, museums, collections, and galleries makes sense considering governments around the world continue to cut art-oriented public funding. Wealthy individuals of high caliber and a decent eye are taking cue, creating miniature versions of the real thing with their name on it as an act self-congratulatory patronage.

Among thousands of private institutions oversees, Francois Pinault’s Punta della Dogana and Palazzo Grassi, Charles Saatchi’s Saatchi Gallery stand out, while in the US The Rubell Family Collection and Peter Brant’s Brant Foundation come to mind. Of course, these private entities have existed for quite some time (like the Frick Collection) but under the radar of mainstream culture. According to the Financial Times, nowadays “the private museum, bearing the name of the collector but open to the public, has become the latest accessory of the super-rich. These buildings are starting to have a real impact on the city, often coming with generous programmes of education and outreach, and tightly focused and intriguing collections.” Perhaps we can pay more attention to these private entities and their contributions to their respective communities –a sensible deviation from the auction results obsession.

Shireen Lohrasbe

Shireen holds a BBA in Design & Management from Parsons The New School for Design and an MA in Art Business from Sotheby's Institute of Art, New York. She has contributed to several online publications including Art Observed, Quintessentially Art, and Whitewall Magazine. Shireen is a regular art market contributor at Whitehot Magazine.

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