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December 2012: Fall Art Market Report (I)

The panelists at Active Ideas Productions’ "Art as Investment: A Survey and Explanation of the Art Market".
Photo courtesy of Clint Spauldings for Patrick McMullan Company.

OCTOBER AND MOST OF NOVEMBER MARKS A PRODUCTIVE TIME for the art world, post-September summer transitionings and back-to-school beginnings, pre-Miami art week madness and holiday festivities, just when auction results start rolling in. October welcomed Frieze in London then FIAC in Paris, the two main Euro fairs of the fall season, while November hosted a slew of auctions and other arty congregations representing lesser known markets around the globe. The collective sales records serve as this quarter’s art market confidence indicators. After the shock of August’s sudden stock plummets, everyone is waging bets on the art world—an economic outlier—and how it’s coping in the current fiscal climate. Apparently, the art market stands robust. Auction records continue to be broken and art fairs keep drawing in large crowds. But are these numbers accurate? Art fair tallies only provide a general overview of individual gallery’s success and auction houses are what The Economist’s Sarah Thornton describes as “theatrical spectacles that create the illusion of deep markets.” Such distortions aren’t reserved to art fairs and auctions. Nowadays collectors have major influence on artist markets, contingent on their own aesthetic and financial rationalizations. As Kelly Crow at The Wall Street Journal put it, “Collectors who have been refining their playbooks for decades say there are a few rules to buy by.”

Even important symposium minutes remain undisclosed like private delegate meetings. The Art Newspaper recently published an excerpt about a mysterious congregation of experts: “100 financiers, entrepreneurs, collectors, curators, dealers and academics gathered at the Palazzo Strozzi in Florence for a private conference on the future of art and finance. The Governor of the Bank England, Mervyn King, senior figures from the European Central Bank, the US Federal Reserve, the Swiss National Bank, the CEO of Sotheby’s, Bill Ruprecht, former Guggenheim Director Thomas Krens, now running his own Global Cultural Asset Management, were just some of the influential people prepared to spend 24 hours sharing their financial wisdom and their concern for art.” Other types of public records like rankings are questionable too, apart from their inherent subjectivity. Art+Auction Magazine’s “Power Top 10” placed the art collector and philanthropist Sheikha Al-Mayassa Bint Hamad Bin Khalifa Althani (of Qatar’s Al-Thani dynasty) in its number one slot followed by prominent dealers Larry Gagosian and David Zwirner, LA-based collector and philanthropist Eli Broad, IRIS Foundation’s Dasha Zhukova, and Christie’s François Pinault. Always the same regurgitated names, rankings are rarely indicative of reality. ArtLyst created “The Art PowerLyst 2011” in lieu of ArtReview’s “Power 100”. Its index “promises to provide ‘a comprehensive listing of the art world’s most powerful figures’. But, something is amiss: with misguided criteria such as ‘sheer financial clout’, ArtReview’s Power 100 is dominated by commercial gallery owners, big-buck artists, and corrupt auctioneers.”

DOMESTIC

LOS ANGELES ART WEEK RAN THE FIRST WEEK of October, during which Art Platform L.A. made its debut under the leadership of Adam Gross of former LACMA acclaim and Paul Morris of MMPI which stands for Merchandise Mart Properties Inc. (Morris was also co-founder of The Gramercy which eventually became The Armory Show). With 75 participant galleries for its inaugural show, the fair has already helped catapult Los Angeles into the international spotlight, attracting such notables as The Rubells, Hollywood actors Rosanna Arquette and Greg Kinnear, director Michael Bay, producer Darren Star, and The Hiltons, complimented by a slew of strong sales and extensive programming backed by big money. According to the Huffington Post, “the widespread initiative [spotlights] both emerging Angeleno artists and internationally recognized locals. The project is ten years in the making and was funded by $10 million in grants by the Getty Institute.” Furthermore, several satellite fairs ran in conjunction with Art Platform L.A. like Pulse, which launched its first LA edition under new director Cornell DeWitt with approximately 60 select galleries and special projects (“Impulse” for solo exhibitions, “Pulse Projects” for large-scale collaborations, and “Pulse Play” for video and multimedia art). It’s as if LA has finally arrived, positioning itself as a “World Class Art Center”—evidenced by the slow Westcoast migration of important personas like Jeffrey Deitch and galleries like Perry Rubenstein, Nye+Brown, Gagosian in Beverly Hills, and Matthew Marks that have created outposts nearby.

THE 6TH ANNUAL PRINTED MATTER “THE NY ART BOOK FAIR” ran for 3 days at MoMA PS1, Long Island City, Queens. The “premier event for artists’ books, contemporary art catalogs and monographs, art periodicals, and artist zines” featured over 200 exhibitors. Partnering with e-flux, The Standard Hotel, and American Apparel, this year’s edition also featured a two-day conference with topics such as “Furthering the Critical Dialogue”, which investigated the validity of artist books in context of art criticism.

ON OCTOBER 4TH, THE SCHOOL OF VISUAL ARTS held “Toward an Ethics in Art Writing”, a panel presented by the MFA Art Criticism and Writing Department. Moderated by Aimee Walleston (alumni of SVA’S Criticism and Writing MFA program) with art writers Adam Kleinman, Quinn Latimer, Patricia Milder and Matthew Schum, the talk revolved around ethical issues and conflicts of interest such as: negligent reporting, shamelessly promoting friends, and removing controversial excerpts from already published entries.

SILVERSHED HOSTED A PANEL WITH NO OFFICIAL TITLE at Art in General, October 11. Famed contemporary artist Liam Gillick sat down with Summer Guthery of The Chrysler Series, Rose Marcus of The Dependent Art Fair, Jackson Moore of The Public School New York, Lise Soskolne of W.A.G.E., and James Voorhies of Bureau for Open Culture to debate “How do recent lateral, collaborative projects, ranging from artist-run spaces to curatorial initiatives to knowledge communities, counter the information/service-based economy and its elements of fluid social networks, entrepreneurial spirit, flexible labor management and interactions with daily life? Or do these art projects and communities utilize these factors and build upon them — in turn aligning with this mode rather than producing a disarming critique?”

THE CREATORS PROJECT HELD A MULTIMEDIA FESTIVAL sponsored by VICE and INTEL, October 15-16 in New York. The event—mostly a succession musical performances and film screenings—incorporated an art-relevant panel discussion titled “The Artist as Researcher” with Zach Lieberman, Cantoni + Crescenti, Quayola and Intel. The panelists discussed how “today's artists engage in a process of creative exploration with modern technology that's not too far removed from the kind of inquiry-based experimental methods employed by scientists in the world's laboratories.”

CUNY HOSTS AN ONGOING SERIES NAMED “ARTISTS & WRITERS” that pulls expertise from both professions. The first talk brought together Mary Ann Caws from the department of Comparative Literature, English, and French at The Graduate Center, CUNY, and art historian Linda Nochlin of the Institute of Fine Art, NYU—both “pioneering thinkers in surrealist literature and feminist art history, [who spoke about] their own development as scholars, the practice of writing and research, and the role of interdisciplinary reflection in their own groundbreaking work.”

“THE REVIEW PANEL” IS ANOTHER ONGOING SERIES hosted by David Cohen, Publisher and Editor of artcritical. Since 2004, The Review Panel gathers select speakers to examine current shows or mull over topics like "Artists' Rights and Wrongs: Property and Propriety, Invention and Intention". Past panelists include: art critics Ken Johnson, Jerry Saltz, Roberta Smith, Charlie Finch, Peter Plagens, Barbara Pollack, Irving Sandler, and Arthur Danto; artists Robert Storr and John Zinsser; Artinfo’s Ben Davis; Daniel Kunitz, executive editor of Modern Painters; Katy Siegel, editor-in-chief of Art Journal; Linda Yablonsky of The New York Times “T-Magazine” blog; James Kalm of “The James Kalm Report”; João Ribas curator at the MIT List Visual Arts Center; and art historian Linda Nochlin. The next panel is slated for January 2012 at the National Academy Museum and School of Art, with art world legend Anthony Haden-Guest and others.

ACTIVE IDEAS PRODUCTIONS HOSTS A SERIES OF PANELS called “Art as Entrepreneurship”. The first of the series, “Art as Investment: A Survey and Explanation of the Art Market” took place October 19 presenting the expertise of Bill Powers, owner of Half Gallery and co-founder of Exhibition A (and a judge on Bravo TV’s reality art show “Work Of Art”); Laura Martin co-founder of Exhibition A; Sarah Mudge, Head of “Part II” Contemporary Art Sales at Phillips de Pury & Company; and Brendan Dugan, founder of An Art Service and Karma Books & Shop. Held at the think-tank General Assembly, the panel was thoroughly entertaining. The moderator, artist Annika Connor and founder of Active Ideas Production, led the conversation seamlessly from topic to topic. Powers beamed with playful antidotes and plugged his various endeavors as the other panelists offered keen advice on topics like market transparency and value fluctuations. Auction houses make up the most transparent fiscal sector of the art market (excluding private sales) and oftentimes dictate artist values. They also act as catalysts for building reputations and bringing emergent talent into the spotlight. Mudge pointed out that Phillips de Pury consistently places new artists at auction (like Tauba Auerbach) before its primary competitors, Sotheby’s and Christie’s. Times have changed. As one panelist exclaimed, “It use to be that Sotheby’s only accepted works ten years or older, now it just has to be dry.” Therefore, auction houses are no longer confined to the secondary market and can work hand-in-hand with galleries to raise emerging artists’ prices.

The conversation then steered toward the art world’s slow migration online. Art is a quirky commodity beyond basic economics of supply and demand and the art world is built entirely on personal relationships. A jpeg rarely does an artwork justice and perhaps more importantly, art is experiential. But e-commerce is now adequately streamlined to appeal to high-income demographics, shifting buying behavior online. For burgeoning collectors eyeing art as potential investment, the panelists advised they listen to their intuition, do research, frequent shows, and attend auctions. Furthermore, people cultivate their personal taste by seeing as much as possible. Training your eye is key. As an example, Connor assigns her students “30-minute Met visits”, wherein they run around The Metropolitan Museum of Art only stopping when something truly resonates and take note. For more information on future “Art As Entrepreneurship” panels organized by Annika Connor of Active Ideas Productions please visit: aiproductions.org

TEXAS CONTEMPORARY ART FAIR opened October 18–21 presenting more than fifty galleries “produced by New York based artMRKT Productions. artMRKT is a partnership between Jeffery Wainhause, Max Fishko and the dealers they work with. artMRKT is a new kind of company. With a dedication to improve the art world and a wealth of production experience, they look to provide dealers and collectors with the highest level of service.”

ON OCTOBER 25TH, AMERICANS FOR THE ARTS held a webinar called "Community Engagement in the Arts” to “address how communities can leverage their local arts resources… [and] how arts leaders are getting creative with community engagement and connecting the arts with larger community initiatives.” These topics trigger larger social issues regarding federal and state policymaking versus municipal initiatives that keep art communities thriving regardless of funding access and availability.

THE OFFICIAL AUCTION SEASON BEGAN November 1st with the “Impressionist and Modern” evening sale at Christie’s New York, which totaled $141 Million, far from its pre-sale estimate of $211–$304M. By comparison, Sotheby’s obtained a whooping $199.8M from its “Impressionist & Modern Art Evening Sale” (57 of the 70 lots offered were sold). According to The Art Newspaper, “The star of Sotheby’s sale was Gustav Klimt’s oil painting, Litzlberg am Attersee, 1914-15, which sold for $40.4m (est in excess of $25m) to the Zurich-based dealer David Lachenmann, who was talking on his mobile phone in English to a private client.” In terms of contemporary art, Phillips de Pury’s evening sales totaled $71M (compared to $19M last year). Simon de Pury told Bloomberg news that the “market is very strong”.

Christie’s too struck big with its “Post-War & Contemporary Art” evening sale (including many pieces from the Peter Norton collection), which brought in $247M. Celebrity onlookers like Leonardo DiCaprio watched extraordinary sales such as Paul McCarthy’s “Tomato Head (Green)” that fetched for $4.6M, Glenn Ligon’s “Untitled (Stranger in the Village #17)” for $1.2M, “Table” by Charles Ray for $3.1M, a piece by Fred Tomaselli for $1.7M, and Rhein II by Andreas Gursky for $4.3M. All Sotheby’s Contemporary sales totaled over $316M. Highlights included works by Gerhard Richter, Clyfford Still, Joan Mitchell, and Francis Bacon. According to Art Market Monitor (AMA), this fall’s contemporary sales have remained “remarkably consistent with the previous Fall and Spring sale totals suggesting an art market that has settled into a new, post-crash mode.”

SOTHEBY’S DEMONSTRATED A RECOVERY after a steep 3rd quarter loss reported in October, its shares falling by 23% percent in less than three weeks. The jarring fluctuation marked significant volatility in the art market. According to the Wall Street Journal, “Collectors have shown signs of hesitation, making investors nervous." This coupled with the fact that revenues are shrinking in light of increased expenses (such as guarantees) make for a turbulent situation. Unfortunately, its main rival Christie’s is a privately held company, its figures confidential, which negates an accurate comparison. But luckily for Sotheby’s the season ended with a bang, up by 20%!

In other news, Sotheby’s is opening a new space named “S2” for private sales. Designed by architect Richard Gluckman, S2 is accessible by invitation only. Art Media Agency reports, “This announcement highlights how auction houses are turning more and more to private sales and this investment will allow Sotheby’s to organise exhibitions of its own choice. There has been a massive surge in private sales of late. For example, in the first semester of 2011, Christie’s recorded a whopping 70.5% progression. Therefore, the creation of a private exhibition area is also a way of Sotheby’s responding to this high demand.” Sotheby’s has also launched “Your Art World: The Documentary Series”, exploring the perspectives of various personas under the headings The Artist, The Collector, The Rostrum, and The House. Resembling the PBS series ART:21, “Your Art World” further promotes Sotheby’s as much more than an auction house. Visit the following link for more details: yourartworld.sothebys.com

NOVEMBER 1ST MARKED THE REOPENING OF THE ISLAMIC WING at The Metropolitan Museum of Art. After 8 years and $40 million in renovations, visitors can walk through fifteen galleries spanning 19,000 square feet and view 1,200 works from the 12,000 permanent collection currently on display, on a continual four-month rotation. Under the guidance of architect Achva Benzinberg Stein, Moroccan artisans authentically crafted the courtyards that make up the branch. Islamic art—a blanket term that spans centuries, many cultures and overlapping regions—is tricky to categorize. The refurbished MET wing incorporates various countries (think Turkey, Spain, Middle Eastern and North African regions) and dynasties like the Sasanian, Umayyad, Ghaznavid, Fatimid, Zangid and Mamluk lineages. "Islamic art is not just the heritage of the Islamic word, but the heritage of the world”, explained the head curator Navina Haidar to the Huffington Post. Moreover, Arabic and Islamic art is sometimes differentiated from “Middle Eastern” as a separate auction category. In early October, Sotheby’s held two “Arabic & Islamic” art sales organized in London earning a cumulative total of £10.9M ($16.8M). Furthermore, AMA reported, “Records have been reached for Middle Eastern contemporary artists.

Among them are, Sohrab Sepehri who saw one of his untitled works sell for £385,250 (nearly $625,000). The Portrait of the Emir Faisal Ibn Al-Hussaint by Yusuf Huwayyik was acquired for more than £275,000 ($440,000).” Interest continues to grow. Christie’s has already made adjustments to cater to younger demographics. In mid-October, the auction house split its Dubai sales into two nights, one for the established, high-end artists and one for emerging, local talent at lower price points. The Managing Director of Christie’s Middle East Michael Jeha stated, “As further confirmation of the increasing international interest in Middle Eastern art, this new sale format will align Christie’s Dubai with our other auction rooms around the world. With a dedicated evening sale and a larger part II sale we will be able to introduce more variety into the sales and encourage a new generation to buy at auction.” However, the category of Middle Eastern art overlaps with other sales. Christie's Middle East director Isabelle de La Bruyère said, “the second night was ‘packed’ with young people looking to dip their toes into the world of modern and contemporary Arab, Iranian and Turkish art.” Again, the distinction between Middle-Eastern, Arabic and Islamic, and Turkish fine art (heavily influenced by Arabic and European aesthetics) varies house-to-house, sale-to-sale.

THE 4TH EDITION OF PERFORMA 11: NEW VISUAL ART PEFORMANCE BIENNIAL ran November 1–21. Performa founder RoseLee Goldberg hosted a preview talk with eminent artists Shirin Neshat and Wangechi Mutu, October 5 at the New York Public Library—a taster for things to come. Many pivotal performances transpired over the course of three weeks. The New York Times’ Roberta Smith championed Icelandic artist Ragnar Kjartansson, who extended “one of the most exquisite [operas] — from Mozart’s ‘Marriage of Figaro’ — to the length of 12 hours. He is doing this in ‘Bliss’, an effort perhaps best characterized as a work of endurance/appropriation/performance art that was commissioned by Performa 11.” Another NYT art critic, Ken Johnson, described Reggie Watts’ piece (as part of the “Performance Ha!” comedic-musical-visual series) “indisputably some kind of genius. A big, rotund guy with the giant Afro and thick beard of a ’60s-style black power revolutionary, he beat boxes, imitates famous singers and dances like a big puppet at one point and like Mick Jagger at another. The control he has over his voice, body and a handful of sound-transforming electronic gadgets is amazing, and he is often hilarious.”

Other highlights included: the opening benefit which featured a premier performance titled “Happy Days in the Art World” by famed duo Elmgreen & Dragset; a “Fluxus Concert” co-presented by ISSUE Project Room featuring XXX Macarena (Jutta Koether, Greg Smith and John Miller), Sergei Tcherepnin and Lucy Dodd, Larry 7, Felix Kubin and Martha Colburn, Chris Mann, Lumberob, Zach Layton, MV Carbon, Luciano Chessa, Bibbe Hansen, and Haribos; and a multi-sensorial play titled “OverRuled” directed by Shirin Neshat featuring the musical and acting talents of Mohsen Namjoo, Mohammed B. Ghaffari, Kambiz Hosseini, and Shadi Yousefian, and set design by Shahram Karimi.

ON NOVEMBER 3RD, NEW AGE GURU DEEPAK CHOPRA sat down with 2011 TED Prize Winner JR to discuss his “pervasive art” movement. The term refers to the artist JR’s collaborative efforts in impoverished areas, producing multi-participant projects in which “the artist becomes the printer and the community becomes the creator”. Each project is self-financed by JR who brings a team of volunteers to war-torn and hard-up communities throughout the world. They listen to the stories of locals and then create large-scale portraits of willing partakers, printed and mounted in public areas. It is a movement the artist has created to give a voice to the disenfranchised without putting much emphasis on his own efforts, particularly evident when you see JR’s work.

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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