Monday, May 24, 2010

Two Portraits of the Art World (and four opinions on the resurging market)

While updates from the Robins-Zwirner case still have people (inside and outside the art world) reaching for superlatives to describe the dark, dank, utterly ethics-less underbelly of the industry, a different, far-less-Tolkien-esque portrait of the art world was brought to my attention this weekend as well. First, though, the Robins-Zwirner update. The New York Times Randy Kennedy reports:
A federal judge in Manhattan on Thursday declined to give immediate help to an art collector who has been blacklisted by the highly regarded South African painter Marlene Dumas, prohibited by her from buying new works after he angered her by selling an older work.
The gallery took this partial victory to reiterate the baselessness of the case against it. The judge took it to scold the players in schoolmarmishy tones:
In the ruling Judge Pauley wrote that the case “offers an unflattering portrait of the art world – a world of self-proclaimed royalty full of ‘blacklists,’ ‘greylists’ and astonishing chicanery.” In denying Mr. Robins’s request to prevent the sale of the paintings, the judge added that “collectors in this seemingly refined bazaar should heed the admonition ‘caveat emptor.’ ”
To borrow a line from SNL..."Really?" People with the means to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on art, in particular people known for being powerful real estate developers (a field much less genteel [as opposed to my initial typo "gentile" ;-p h/t f.e.] than the art world, I assure you), need cliched lectures in money management?

Sigh....

Fortunately, there's a much more realistic (and hysterical!) portrait of the art world creating buzz via the Internets. A portrait that's funny because it's so true. Dealer Jim Kempner, who I've casually known for years but had no idea was such a comic genius, has produced a series of video shorts called The Madness of Art. Each is a gem. Here's a trailer for the series in which no one is spared:

THE MADNESS OF ART - Trailer from Jim Kempner on Vimeo.



Also, don't miss these four essays (by Denis Dutton, (personal fave) Eileen Kinsella, Donald Kuspit, and Kathryn Graddy) on "Can Art Be ‘Priceless’ in Rocky Times?" or, why confidence has returned to (at least the higher end) of the art market.

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9 Comments:

Blogger Iris said...

Yeah, those Jim Kempner videos are hilarious... although I was left with a bit of a bad taste in the end, especially after watching the 'assistant interviews' episodes. He did end up hiring the slutty, dumb female applicant with a short skirt who slid her hand up his thigh for his assistant. Although the excuse was he could not take any more of those interviews. I know it's all a joke, but still, there is an innuendo which implies that an 'alpha male' looking, bullying thug is getting to show his art in the gallery, (or even get his work removed as a fake) while a female figure is either an administrator, or, if slutty and uneducated, will win the 'assistant' job which probably pays so little that no educated job seeker even applies to get. Haha. But all that said, it is well done and funny, I'm liking the self-defacing humor.

And thanks for the links to the essays, Ed! Should I understand from your faving Denis Dutton's essay that you agree with the importance of: "The fundamental aesthetic expressivity of works of art" ie 'Beauty'?

I liked the quote from Donald Kuspit: "The cult of celebrities among artists has replaced that of heroes. As long ago as 1961, the historian Daniel Boorstin observed, “The hero was distinguished by his achievement; the celebrity by his image or trademark.” Picasso and Giacometti are avant-garde heroes to art historians; to the market they are big names, amplified by money as well as the media. It is this that gives their art surplus value well beyond its aesthetic value."

5/24/2010 09:57:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

I wouldn't read too much into the applicant scene Iris...everyone else throughout the videos comes off looking dumb except Jim's director (a woman)...so it's balanced imo. It might have been funnier if it had been one of the male applicants inappropriately flirting with Jim, but ....

My fave (as a person, not just her essay) is Eileen Kinsella.

5/24/2010 10:05:00 AM  
Anonymous Larry said...

I also agree the Jim Kempner videos are funny, though some bitterness comes through too (mostly for me in the Robert Indiana one, a bit less in the Tony Fitzpatrick). The goofiest and most light-hearted is the one about the collector buying a Jeff Koons.

Another amusing parody of the Chelsea scene is found in Peter Cameron's "Someday This Pain Will Be Useful to You," though it's not the central focus of the novel.

5/24/2010 10:27:00 AM  
Blogger George said...

Kuspit is misinformed when he writes The huge sum of money conferred on a Picasso painting and a Giacometti sculpture accords them great significance — not because they’re major works of modern art, but because they’re very good investments.

The brand name is the high-priced, desirable, one-of-a-kind commodity, not the work.
Long before the economy almost collapsed a year ago, art-savvy people argued that works of art are the new equities: one can make more money in the art market than in the stock market. The value of Picasso and Giacometti kept increasing while the value of General Motors and General Electric decreased. Stock prices go up and down, but the stock of certain artists keeps going up.


NONE of this is true. First off, if we consider the merits of the Picasso paintings compared with similar paintings from this period. There are approximately 30 paintings which were inspired by Marie Therese in 1932. Half are in major museums and of the remaining works, ten which are owned by Sotheby's or Christies, Nu au plateau de sculpteur ($100 M+) is the best of the rest. See the paintings here on FB

As an investment, the Picasso worked out for the original owners. Unfortunately, as an investment, the new owner overpaid by at least 50% and it is doubtful that he will see a return on his principle any greater than US Treasury Bonds. (Highly liquid, low risk)

It always amazes me how so many smart people can draw such dumb conclusions about investments. Two dumb perceptions seem to be at work here. One is that the price rise will continue in a straight line. Making a rough set of estimates on the Picasso, a 10% annual appreciation in its price would make it worth about $700 million in 20 years. Doable you think, how about $27 Trillion dollars in 59 years? (the last holding period) Neither of these things are going to happen.

The second dumb assumption is relative pricing between masterpieces. This occurs first by setting an upper range on the sales price of an artwork, which currently is $150 Million. A couple of years ago Hugh Grant sold his Warhol "Liz" for $23.5M (basis $3.5M) which was a compounded annual appreciated return of 61%. No, as in NO, investments sustain this rate of return for any period of time, (Hugh Grants warhol would have been worth $1 Trillion dollars by 2015). This is in fact a very clear example of a pricing mania.

Worse, some perverse marketing logic is being surreptitiously applied which suggests that if the Warhol was worth $23 Million, the Picasso "should be" worth at least four times that (pick your multiple) BUT we are making apples to oranges price comparisons in what was clearly a mania driven market.

Now if some collector wants to flaunt his/her wealth by paying any price for a particular recognizable artwork, they have every right to. However Donald Kuspit does a great disservice to the artworld by giving credence to the bubble pricing as if is both the norm and a guaranteed low risk investment.

I respectfully disagree.

5/24/2010 11:33:00 AM  
Blogger Iris said...

George, I think Kuspit meant to point out how art has become a commodity which is distinguished by it's celebrity status. Some other non less historically significant art does not sweep such huge amounts in auctions. I believe his remarks on the monetary value of the investments in art were meant sarcastically.

Ed, maybe I'm reading and listening to too many 'art and feminism' lectures lately.. but I'm also reading about aesthetic in relation to feminism and art, I must say I find myself more and more confused..

5/24/2010 12:30:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I can't wait to check out those videos (when I'm not at work).
In the meantime, the essays about the art market were interesting. Most interesting I found was the title, "Can Art Be Priceless?" juxtaposed with the essays and the talk about the market. Let's face it, even $106 million isn't "priceless", it is indeed a very distinctive and quantifiable price. The market seems to be doing just fine finding a 'price' for these works of art.

This past weekend I finally got around to seeing "The Art of the Steal" about the Barnes collection(which Ed blogged about 2 months ago, but I think fits in well with this topic), and one of my favorite lines in the film comes when they are talking about the value of the collection, and the man being interviewed says "you'd need a NATION to be able to afford to buy it." I'd have to see it once again to recall for sure, but I think he was even just talking about one painting, not the entire collection. Yet, however hard it was to come by, that entire collection does indeed have an estimated market value.

One thing that struck me about the film is that it seemed to me that Barnes was really just buying a bunch of art that he truly loved, and at first, no one else could see the value of the art he was collecting. And here by 'value' I don't mean market value, I mean cultural value. Yet once it became established that, indeed, the art had great cultural value, everyone seemed to feel entitled to the collection, and that it should be accessible in the public domain. Although it was one man's personal vision to gather these works together, the public had a sort of "I can't believe he's not opening this up to more public access." kind of attitude. I can't think of any commodity other than art that one could buy or sell that the general public would feel that entitled to have access to.

It seems to me that there is this idea that once an artist's work becomes an established part of our cultural heritage, it should be public domain. Yet someone owns it. In fact, an individual person had the foresight and belief in the integrity of the artist's work to stand behind it, invest in it, and make sure it stood the best possible chance of becoming a part of our collective cultural heritage.
And that is the where the 'priceless' comes in. A chain of individual contributions that add up to a piece of our collective cultural heritage and reinforces our identity as as society. It is sort of magical how that happens, but isn't it obvious why that is an attractive thing to buy into during times of financial uncertainty?

5/24/2010 12:32:00 PM  
Anonymous Jesus Christ.. no not the carpenter, the jewish sceenwriter said...

I don't think outsiders should have any input into how things in the art world are run - there i said it..

They don't have enough information and most of the time are relying on a cliche view they've sold themselves on. Like pretentious homosexuals and luncheon ladies hanging out with raw artist sexuality - WRONG!!! (but still sorta cool)

The court case is a legal matter and this judge is taking the opportunity to pass judgement on an entire community (that she lumped together). Or am I confused?.. I hope I am..

On a different stage - THE MADNESS!! Love it. It leaves a lot to be desired as far as story boarding and editing for comedic relief. Like Iris said about the episode with the assistant interviews, he didn't clear up the awkward sexuality before proceeding to another joke about just wanting it all to be over which left unanswered questions. I hope he keeps it up and works on the editing a bit, all shows started kinda raw and tightened up the formula as they went on. He's going to have to branch out a little and get more people involved.
Edward, would you be in an episode? Perhaps we could change the conversation to if the art world is ready to be a good sport for parody. This Bravo show is going to be bad-comedy if you know what I mean. I like Jim's show because it is understood that it's funny and it's an insider job. No knives in the back from the entertainment industry.

5/24/2010 03:53:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Kempner sort of reminds me of 'Tobias' from Arrested Developement.

5/24/2010 08:14:00 PM  
Anonymous Jules said...

Back in the 80's, I recall a US Bank (First Banks then?) lost all sorts of $$ on South American loans and other not so good investments. His pet project was an aggressive corporate art buying project, that did increase in dollar value and turned the banks public spaces into a really strong a Twin Cities exhibition venue. (They also lent pieces to the Walker Art Center...I'm pretty sure) When the CEO type got sacked the collection and viewing program also got the proverbial boot.

5/25/2010 10:29:00 AM  

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