Monday, March 30, 2009

Three Grumpy Thoughts on the Salander Case

1. Journalists of the art world: please do the math: Bernie Madoff is to Larry Salander what AIG's losses are to your personal 401(k). I know it's fun to feel you're right in there doing some real reporting on the big issues of the day for once, but that level of wanton hyperbole is so-o-o-o-o pre-Obama. A moratorium on the "Madoff of the Art World" one-liners, please.

2. When did our law schools stop teaching the whole "innocent until proven guilty" thing and replace that with drama classes instead? I've seen more reasonable rhetoric during a cat fight on America's Next Top Model than we're seeing from top prosecutors' indictment press releases/conferences lately. From Fitzgerald's utterly outrageous pre-trial descriptions of former Governor Rod Blagojevich's actions to Robert M. Morgenthau's stand-up comedy-worthy press conference about Salander (“'Why sell it once when you can sell it three times?' Mr. Morgenthau said at a news conference.") why even bother with a trial? Just let the angry public at the bastards. Mind you, if I had been swindled by a dealer for millions of dollars, I'd be plenty upset, but I'm not sure I'd want Don Rickles prosecuting the case.

3. Stories like this bring the morons out of the woodwork, as evidenced by this comment on the New York Time's article:
being a member of the "art world" in new york should be a crime in the first place. i'd like to see some legislative action to confront this problem
Really? Some legislative action? You mean like the laws against fraud already on the books, you know, the ones under which Salander has been indicted and will be prosecuted? Legislative action like that? (The adults have this one under control Sparky, you can return to watching cartoons or playing your Gameboy or whatever you were previously occupied with.)

I'm off to get some clearly much needed java.

Labels:

38 Comments:

Blogger eageageag said...

You might want to avoid comment threads on the websites of major (or minor for that matter) publications if you have grown tired of the 'morons' of the world.

I compared Salander to Madoff in a recent news summary that I posted on artcritical, in a cheap 'one-liner' at the beginning of the piece, but I don't feel apologetic. Don't worry about poor Salander though. I hear that some rich friend of his is considering buying Salander's 5 million dollar mansion for him, so he won't be homeless and, gawd forbid, poor by the end of his trials and tribulations. My logic works like this. If dealers must be simpatico with one another regardless of their behavior, so do art writers.

3/30/2009 10:08:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

If dealers must be simpatico with one another regardless of their behavior, so do art writers.

I have no lost love for Salander. I honestly think the comparisons to Madoff are sensationalistic. (I mean we're only talking about a difference in money allegedly stolen of about 49.9 billion dollars.) It's an insult to those ripped off by Madoff to suggest Salander is in the same league. It's truly a puny amount in comparison.

Defending other arts writers' excesses just because you think dealers stick together doesn't strike me as a position you'll want to waste too much time defending, but...if I offended you, please know I was shooting for grouchy humor, not true offense.

3/30/2009 10:20:00 AM  
Blogger Hrag said...

This post made my day Ed, well done.

3/30/2009 10:29:00 AM  
Blogger eageageag said...

You are right. Salander did not do as much damage to other human beings as Madoff did. Can't argue that. My comment had more to do with what Salander did with the money and paintings (over ninety Stuart Davis paintings among others) people entrusted him with. At least I didn't call Salander Hitler right? Generally speaking, 'journalists of the art world', if they haven't lost their jobs at the numerous publications that have been disappearing at an alarming rate, have nothing left to do but write for free on the Internet. I certainly have no interest in grinding my foot into the faces of the defeated, but I guess there is still pleasure to be had by some.

Also, this "I know it's fun to feel you're right in there doing some real reporting on the big issues of the day for once" is a cheap shot at your own expense. It is a shame that writing about art isn't a big issue, or at least a big enough issue to prevent major newspapers from cutting arts coverage from their pages.

I am sure that you would have done far worse if you were shooting for "true offense". and I am glad that you were only being grumpy, a state of mind I am very familiar with.

3/30/2009 10:39:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

this "I know it's fun to feel you're right in there doing some real reporting on the big issues of the day for once" is a cheap shot at your own expense.

Not quite. The only mainstream publication I can see of that's making the comparison between Madoff and Salander is the Guardian in London (and even they are saying only "In a case that has been dubbed as the art world's equivalent of the so-called Ponzi scheme operated by Bernie Madoff" ...not that they feel the connection is close).

Indeed, it seems to be predominantly the arts press trying to connect the two.

The question remains: why?

3/30/2009 10:49:00 AM  
Blogger eageageag said...

For me personally, if you identified the source of your grumpiness as The Guardian, instead of saying 'Journalists of the art world' I never would have commented in the first place.

"The question remains: why?"

The reason why is pretty clear to me. Obviously Madoff committed far greater offenses than Salander may have done. The connection is this: they both did illegal things with the funds that people gave them as investments. Pretty weak I will admit. But have writers who have thrown the comparison out there in a half assed manner (me included) committed libel? I don't think so. Madoff, if you haven't noticed, has become a symbol or catchword of late. Was it lazy on my part to call Salander a potential Madoff of the art world? Probably. Was it as bad as the idiots who throw around the phrases 'brownshirts' and 'nazis' and 'Hitler', whenever they feel that their rights are being violated, I don't think so.

I used the comparison in a one paragraph news summary. It wasn't the byproduct of investigative journalism. All of the facts in my summary were accurate. I should not have let that lazy bit of opinion slip in. Salander probably has other things to worry about right now.

3/30/2009 11:14:00 AM  
Blogger George said...

Ed's right, the comparison with Madoff is sensational and silly.

Further whatever Mr Salander did, it does not appear to be a Ponzi scheme which is a particular type of fraud where earlier investors are paid off with the new investors money.

Somehow the current economic crisis has so confused people that they just want to blame somebody for something, anybody will do.

Maybe it is a good sign. When we have time to lay blame it is an indication that we are finally conscious of something happening and in most cases this occurs after the peak crisis moment has passed. In other words, it appears that a financial Armageddon has been adverted and this recession will not turn into another great depression.

3/30/2009 11:21:00 AM  
Blogger Joanne Mattera said...

Ed says: "Indeed, it seems to be predominantly the arts press trying to connect the two. The question remains: why?"

I guess whether you've been stung by a small wasp or a big bee you've still been stung.

Not that I don't appreciate your nuances Ed, but both stories come under the rubric of Greed and Deception.

3/30/2009 11:57:00 AM  
Blogger Bromo Ivory said...

Whew, I'd go for the decaf java!

Reporting has really taken a nose dive - with the bellicose replacing the reasoned - and every article blurring into uninformed op ed pieces.

I'd like to think that we are just in a period of reporting like the "yellow Journalism" of the late 19th and early 20th century ... but I am not so sure we have a H. L. Mencken leading the charge, just an angry mob reporting on the angry mob angrily.

Good post and here is a cup of (decaf) Java. ;)

3/30/2009 12:20:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Whether its fair or not, I imagine the Maddoff/Salander comparison is made to provide a quick illustration for readers that may not be informed about the art world and its business practices. It's a convenient comparison, and a bit lazy.

And, you have to admit, the business of selling/trading art is pretty clandestine. No?

3/30/2009 12:44:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Just so there is no confusion here, I'm not at all defending the actions Salander is accused of. My reason for wanting to point out the differences in their alleged crimes (well, "alleged" for Salander still, not for Madoff) is the fact that Salander is still innocent in the eyes of the law and his trial should be able to move forward without the media (of all people) projecting all the hostility felt toward Madoff (appropriately) onto Salander before he's had his day in court.

3/30/2009 01:09:00 PM  
Blogger George said...

One thing, this is old news, Salander was caught in this over a year ago. What did we call him then? Maddoff hadn't been exposed yet.

Ed: Indeed, it seems to be predominantly the arts press trying to connect the two. The question remains: why?

Remember last year, the death watch cheerleaders waiting for the art market to crash? For any number of reasons there seems to be a segment of the art world which wanted 'proof' of what they saw as a folly in the art market. This generally seems to be a result of dislike for whatever is popular, especially if it does not include your favorite artists or styles.

So, the art market crashed, along with he rest of the world financial system, again warning us to be careful of what we wish for. Left further out in the cold, it is easy to target Salander is a boogyman.

I suspect that the art business is no more corrupt than any other business which deals with high ticket items. Contrary to the recent panel opinion, it is certainly less corrupt than wall street.

3/30/2009 01:35:00 PM  
Blogger eageageag said...

"Reporting has really taken a nose dive"

I really don't miss the days when William Randolph Hearst ran everything. When and if journalism as a profession disappears we will truly come to appreciate the profound differences between investigative reporting and propaganda.

And it is boogeyman not boogyman.

3/30/2009 02:02:00 PM  
Blogger eageageag said...

The whole phenomena of 'death watch cheerleaders' is not an isolated trend. As a species we love contemplating the apocalypse in any shape or form. There will continue to be naysayers whether the economy is doing well or not. And in a parallel vein, there will always be 'cheerleaders of the new' because that also satisfies a basic human craving for something ineffable. If it is new it is good. If it is new it is bad. And on and on...

3/30/2009 02:14:00 PM  
Anonymous Art Fag City said...

I agree with you: the coverage is very sensational. Although you don't pick on this point, I noticed a lot of journalists picked up the language of Mr. Morgenthau's press release, which described those lodging the suit as "victims". That seemed particularly sloppy to me considering nobody's no verdict has been reached.

It will be interesting to see Salander's defense.

3/30/2009 02:15:00 PM  
Anonymous Ken Hagler said...

Regarding item two: bad prosecutorial behavior payed off for Giuliani and Spitzer. It's not surprising that others would follow their example.

3/30/2009 03:03:00 PM  
Blogger George said...

Maybe we do like contemplating the apocalypse but the 'death watch cheerleaders" were specific phenomenon which had popped up recently. They weren't there in 2005.

In the financial world there are the bulls and the bears. The bears tend to be more pessimistic about future events and persist at it even when they are wrong. Of course the opposite is true.

There is a phenomena occurring now which is a result of the uncertainty caused by the collapse of the world financial markets. On one hand people want to understand what is happening and for most this just isn't possible. On the other, they are pissed off because they didn't do anything, and they want to lay blame wherever they can.

Unfortunately, the application of guilt by association creates good headlines but bends the truth in most cases.

FWIW, I doubt Salander has much of a defense. It sounds like a chain of events which occurs in many businesses which fail, the revenue stream falls behind expenses and eventually all the juggling in the world cannot prevent a collapse.

3/30/2009 03:18:00 PM  
Blogger patrickjdonovan said...

Defendants are innocent until ffound guilty in a court. It is the job of prosecutors to prosecute. It is not their job to be impartial. It is appropriate for a prosecutor to state what he or she beleives that the defendant has done based on the evidence including with some drama for egregious crimes. Of course, there is room for abuse, such as indicting on flimsy evidence, but I do not believe there is there any indication of that in the instances noted.

3/30/2009 03:20:00 PM  
Blogger eageageag said...

Well anyway, points well taken. I will be careful with my language in the future when I write news summaries and reviews of exhibitions. I made a few changes on my news summary over at artcritical.

3/30/2009 03:23:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

It is the job of prosecutors to prosecute. It is not their job to be impartial. It is appropriate for a prosecutor to state what he or she beleives that the defendant has done based on the evidence including with some drama for egregious crimes.

It is a slightly gray area, but only slightly.

According to the American Bar Association’s Model Rules of Professional Conduct:

A prosecutor has the responsibility of a minister of justice and not simply that of an advocate. This responsibility carries with it specific obligations to see that the defendant is accorded procedural justice, that guilt is decided upon the basis of sufficient evidence, and that special precautions are taken to prevent and to rectify the conviction of innocent persons.

In other words, mocking the defendant like Morgenthau did would seem to be beneath a true "minister of justice." Making his case on behalf of the People demands a certain decorum. If it turns out the jury finds Salander not guilty, how will Morgenthau's glib one-liners look then? Certainly not like the rhetoric the rest of us would expect from a minister of justice.

It's one thing for a prosecutor to really lay it on thick after a jury has been selected...it's totally inappropriate in my opinion for one to behave that way before that point.

3/30/2009 03:32:00 PM  
Blogger patrickjdonovan said...

The same Model Rules of Professional Conduct, Trial Publicity, Section 3.6(b)(1), provide that "a lawyer may state:
(1) the claim, offense or defense involved ..."

When Mr. Morgenthau stated that
“'Why sell it once when you can sell it three times?' " he was not going very far assuming that the evidence shows that works were sold three times.

Also, even if a gray area, I think it is quite likely that a jury can be found in NYC that will not have been aware of Mr. Morgenthau's statement.

3/30/2009 04:01:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

he was not going very far assuming that the evidence shows that works were sold three times

I still feel he should observe certain traditions of understated professionalism in his indictment press conference. Making a joke is hardly the way to assure the public he's only interested in justice being served.

3/30/2009 04:52:00 PM  
Blogger George said...

I think it is quite likely that a jury can be found in NYC that will not have been aware of Mr. Morgenthau's statement.

Have you read the recent articles about jurors researching their cases over the internet?

3/30/2009 05:30:00 PM  
Blogger patrickjdonovan said...

Quire likely this is a gray area.

to George: Jurors are instructed not to do any independent research and can be held in contempt if they do.

3/30/2009 05:53:00 PM  
Anonymous Franklin said...

For any number of reasons there seems to be a segment of the art world which wanted 'proof' of what they saw as a folly in the art market. This generally seems to be a result of dislike for whatever is popular, especially if it does not include your favorite artists or styles.

I would like to see your evidence for this.

...the 'death watch cheerleaders" were specific phenomenon which had popped up recently. They weren't there in 2005.

Perhaps not by that name, but since I edit the Walter Darby Bannard Archive, I can think of a few of examples in which he observes how market prices and quality fail to correlate. One of them dates to 1970.

3/30/2009 06:16:00 PM  
Blogger Mery Lynn said...

Yes, the art world should be illegal. It's only the third largest industry in the city of New York. By all means destroy it.

Why are there so many stupid jerks in our species?

3/30/2009 06:21:00 PM  
Blogger zipthwung said...

88 million or a trillion, I think the psychology is the same. Unregulated markets require adult supervison. Clearly no one was watching.

As a business person it's nice to beieve in the quaint ideas of "word as bond" and "honor" but in reality you are gambling any time you use a verbal contract or rely on social mores or assumptions about behavior.

I would liek to think the art world is self policing. Is it? Not anymore than your average lunch room.

3/30/2009 06:35:00 PM  
Blogger George said...

As I recall Bannard was whining about how a Lichtenstein was "overpriced" at $35,000, especially when compared to some other favorites like Hans Hoffman. Well the art market crashed in the 70's as well, and like all markets eventually recovered.

Hoffman's prices have increased in value somewhat, but he has never found the support he deserves among collectors, and his paintings are still relatively cheap by todays standards.

Lichtenstein, on the other hand has seen his prices increase 100 fold since then. So one would have to question the astuteness of Bannards observations, at least as far as price is concerned. In spite of two rather stout contractions in the art market over the ensuing years, it failed to clean out the 'trash' or neutralize the price appreciation for works by artists many disliked. Clearly, someone is on the wrong side of this argument.

I will stand by my observation that prior to about 2005 we were not seeing evidence of a souring on the art market. I think it became more apparent as prices spiked higher in 2006 (Geffen sales) that we began to see an increasing incredulity over pricing within the art market. Along with this came the "death watch cheerleaders" for this cycle.

It is curious that you wanted "evidence' for one of my points, I would direct you to the commentary on your own blog.

3/30/2009 07:16:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

I would liek to think the art world is self policing. Is it? Not anymore than your average lunch room.

To echo Franklin's request, I would like to see your evidence for this.

Most of the dealers I know are middle class and on average much more diligent about being honest than people I know in other businesses (art galleries are widely known to be audited more than other businesses, which might account for this, but still...). Most will never see 88 million dollars pass through their gallery, let alone so much more than that that they could steal that much, but folks still insist on extrapolating this one example and projecting their uninformed speculations and nebulous prescriptions onto the entire industry. If you can identify a practice that truly warrants regulation, let me see your proposal...I'll give you an honest opinion...but don't just fling accusations and unfounded generalizations.

3/30/2009 07:46:00 PM  
Blogger zipthwung said...

You are right Ed. I was referring to the tiny fraction of the art world that shamelessly panders to money. And I'm not arguing for institutional control - just more connoisseurship and better informed buyers.

How can there be people to left to cheat in such a cynical age?

Laziness? Greed?

But as far as the idea of self policing the utopian idyll of a common square - the dialogue in the sheep meadow - the lunchroom-

I don't think the art world has a way of giving everyone equal footing..

What exists now (in determining any kind of meaningfull Value beyond the moronic "what the market will bear") is far from ideal.

I do enjoy stories that reveal cooked books and pretentious hyperbole. Real criticism.

It is a balm.

3/30/2009 11:11:00 PM  
Anonymous Franklin said...

You don't have to "recall" anything, George - you can read it right there at the link. Here are the man's very words:

At another step down in price there is another very similar "one-price" comparison: the $4500 Hofmann, a 1951 Soulages of slippery slickness at the same price, and a cute, campy mechanical falling man column by Trova at $4250. Good, not-so-good and trivial can also be found at the other end of the price range: the 1950 Pollock at $30,000, the pretentious, fussy, unsculptural Nevelson, which depends just as much on artificial atmospheric effect as the Segal, and comes with a provenance and pedigree as long as the sculpture is tall, at $25,000, and the Lichtenstein at $35,000.

Doesn't sound like whining to my ear. And he concludes:

Many more comparisons could be worked up but all of them would make the same point to the student of art and the art world: quality in new art has a tough time in the salesroom. That does not mean good recent art always goes cheap.

So if you're looking for "incredulity regarding the market," I have evidence of such dating to 1970. The commentary on my blog has largely been made pseudonymously, and it's true that some people have occasionally expressed subjunctive hopes that hard times will flush out some of the bad stuff. This may be a possibility, but I don't think it's a likelihood, and I don't think we should run the experiment. On the contrary, the leaders of the death watch have been Dave Hickey, Holland Cotter, Charlie Finch, and others whom Ed has pointed out on several occasions. I don't get the sense that these writers are driven by the popularity of artists or styles they don't like, as you put it:

This generally seems to be a result of dislike for whatever is popular, especially if it does not include your favorite artists or styles.

Basically, I don't know what you're talking about, and I'm pretty well convinced that you don't either.

3/30/2009 11:36:00 PM  
Anonymous Cedric said...

Why consign art at a private dealer, unless some money arrangements are involved?

I couldn't have an opinion until I get more details.

Cedric

3/30/2009 11:42:00 PM  
Anonymous Cedric said...

I really like this comment from the list of "morons" (ahem..really?) at Comments NYT:

"Anyone who gives his landlord a Manet instead of a deposit is up to no good. Honest people give great artists' paintings to museums or sell them to private collectors. They don't give Rembrandts to the guy collecting the rent."


I read this as applying to Salander's customers.


Cedric

3/31/2009 12:15:00 AM  
Blogger eageageag said...

What I was trying to say with regards to the deathwatch cheerleaders is that there will always be people who predict doom and gloom, ridiculous Nostradomuses who make sweeping statements about the future based on nothing. And there will always be cheerleaders for the avant-garde or new, people who place value on and sing the praises of new things simply because they are new. These personality types are not unique to the timeframe 2005-2009.

3/31/2009 09:17:00 AM  
Blogger George said...

eageageag,

I completely agree with your basic premise "there will always be people who predict doom and gloom..." Part of this is a mind set, some people seem to be more optimistic, some more pessimistic, and it is a quality which tends to permeate their approach to life in all areas.

However, I was originally trying to address Ed's remark "Indeed, it seems to be predominantly the arts press trying to connect the two." [10:49 above] My reason for bring up the 'death watch cheerleaders' was because it was an observation made on this blog around a year ago. In all honesty, prior to 2006 or so I cannot recall this position being so clearly taken that it was baptized with a name.

Further, it was also curious to me how the recent panel discussion comparing art world ethics with Wall Street ethics came to a conclusion that the art world was less ethical (this was also discussed on this blog). I found this conclusion curious, to say the least, and in trying to understand why many in the art world would think this is the case I looked for potential reasons.

It seems fairly clear that when things are going well, there is a tendency to avoid rocking the boat and I would suggest that this was part of the prevailing attitude in the period between 2001 and 2006. Somewhere around the end of this time the psychology began to change and I suggest this was in part caused by the unbelievable sums being paid for certain artworks.

Now 'unbelievable sums' change over time and Franklin linked an article by Bannard which outlined a similar case in the 1970's. From the article it should be apparent that "high prices" are relative and that while recessionary periods may have a cleansing influence, it does not always occur in the expected manner.

I think it is only natural that people want to feel they are 'right" in their opinions and therefor they secretly hope for failures which would make it the case when it appears they are wrong. Of course I could be wrong, and these opinions could just be part of the 'sour grapes' continuum.

I think Ed's question was relevant because I feel that it touches on a prevailing attitude which exists at the moment as a result of the enormous uncertainty people are feeling at the present. I was only suggesting that some of this has spilled over into the art world as people look for answers.

3/31/2009 10:27:00 AM  
Blogger eageageag said...

I feel that that debate you refer to was the 'art world is more ethical' sides to lose. They did a terrible job defending their position. "But I love art man!" isn't a good defense. They could have so easily shown the tragic and wide spread damage to human life the other side of the debate has caused of late but they did not come to the debate well prepared so they got their asses handed to them. Better luck next time. And yes, you did a better job than I did sticking to the points made in the original entry.

3/31/2009 10:55:00 AM  
Blogger George said...

I wonder how it would have turned out if the debate was held after the Stewart-Cramer interview?

3/31/2009 11:14:00 AM  
Blogger highlowbetween said...

I need to read the article again, but it seemed at the time that the artists that have been hurt aren't even mentioned? Just that McEnroe lost money on what was essentially a stock gamble.

4/01/2009 11:46:00 AM  

Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home