What Makes an Abstract Expressionist Painting Good?

By | Art Advisory, Art and Design, Art Collections, Art Market
Photo courtesy: Bastian, via Flickr.

Photo courtesy: Bastian, via Flickr.

One of my responsibilities here at Artsy Editorial is to ponder the art-historical questions that are perhaps best answered either with a raised eyebrow or by saying, “because duh, that’s why.” Today’s entry in this series: What makes a work of Abstract Expressionist art good?

As in previous iterations (see: Why buy a painting when you can make your own?), the simplest of queries sometimes raises interesting and compelling ideas if one stares at it hard enough. In exploring subjective questions of quality and their relationship to the art-historical canon, one finds that a “good” AbEx work is one that is determined to be so by both the viewer and the critics and experts, as well as being the result of societal biases (more on that last part later).

Abstract Expressionism is perhaps one of the most recognized historical genres. Blame it on the impact of these typically large-scale, vibrant works, their permanent presence in the Art History 101 curriculum, or the skeptical cries of “My kid could do that!” The term originally rose to prominence in the mid-20th century to describe a group of artists working in New York following World War II. You know their names: Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, Franz Kline—the list goes on. Read More

Herd Behavior: Art Experts Easily Tricked by Prestige, Study Claims

By | Art Advisory, Art and Design, Art Collections, Art Market

Illustration by Jan Buchczik for Artsy.

Artists and scientists sometimes have similar working methods, but what happens when the experimental gaze of scientific researchers turns to the subjective experience of looking at, and evaluating, art?

Two Belgian researchers, Jan Verpooten and Siegfried Dewitte, from the University of Leuven’s Faculty of Economics and Business, recently published “The Conundrum of Modern Art,” and found that art experts didn’t fare any better than non-experts at distinguishing real works of art from decoys.

“The Conundrum of Modern Art” used a deceptive method. The experiment presented volunteers from European museums and non-art-expert students with images of works of art from MoMA’s collection—close-up photographic portraits of women—and “fakes”—close-up photographic portraits of women, passport-style, produced for the study.

Some images, “real” and “fake”, were imprinted with a MoMA watermark, and, as the The Science of Us, a NY Magazine blog series, “the experts…were just as bad as the students at spotting the fakes and in fact were more likely to say that the genuine MoMA works were fake than they were to call out the fakes.” Read More

Elaine Wynn: Lover of Art

By | Art Advisory, Art and Design, Art Auctions, Art Collections, Art Market
Francis Bacon’s “Three Studies of Lucian Freud,” purchased by Wynn for a then-record-breaking $142.4 million/Courtesy: Christie’s

Francis Bacon’s “Three Studies of Lucian Freud,” purchased by Wynn for a then-record-breaking $142.4 million/Courtesy: Christie’s

When Elaine Wynn first laid eyes on Francis Bacon’s “Three Studies of Lucian Freud” triptych, she says she was “gobsmacked.” Wynn had quietly slipped into the Christie’s building in New York in November 2013 — just two days before the set of paintings was to be auctioned off — cloaked in sweats and a baseball cap to discreetly inspect the masterpiece.

“First I was worried I’d want to buy it,” says Wynn. “Then I was worried I might not get it.”

Much to her delight, she won the auction with a bid of $142.4 million after commission. At the time, it was the highest price ever paid for a work of art at auction — a sum so staggering it could even bust a billionaire’s budget. “I had buyer’s remorse,” Wynn admits. “But only for 30 minutes.”

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Gallerists Have Become Traveling Merchants

By | Art Advisory, Art and Design, Art Auctions, Art Collections, Art Fairs, Art Market

artfairtokyo2008_1Describing what an art fair is seems simple: It is a marketplace where galleries from all over the world congregate under one roof to exhibit and sell artworks. But what’s behind the rising popularity of the fair format, and how has it affected the greater art market?

“One of the things that people point to a lot is the growth of the fairs, the importance of the fairs,” Art Basel director Marc Spiegler said at the Talking Galleries conference in Barcelona last year. “And I think part of that is because the fairs have done a good job of being a place where you can get an overview of a global market at a moment where the art world is internationalizing constantly.”

According to the TEFAF Art Market Report, art fairs made up 40 percent of gallery sales in 2015, compared to 48 percent of sales made in-gallery. The Financial Times estimates that some galleries make up to 70 percent of their annual turnover at the fairs. Read More

Is Public Art Beneficial?

By | Art Advisory, Art and Design, Art Auctions, Art Market

artfairtokyo2008_1Due to its cost and visibility, public art can be tough sell to, well, the public. So what are the benefits of public artworks, and when did the idea begin?

The production and introduction of artworks into the public domain started to be regulated and organized by national programs in the 1930s. Although state-sponsored institutions—such as the US Federal Art Project, the USSR’s Ministry of Culture, and the Chinese Communist Party’s art-related efforts—primarily pursued propaganda goals, this laid the foundation for public art programs worldwide.

As the movements of minimalism and pop art in the 1960s and 1970s changed the concept of what could be classified as art, the idea of introducing art into the public space gained traction in the US and elsewhere. In Germany, for instance, up to 1.5 percent of a public building’s construction budget is used for site-specific art. Other European countries have dedicated certain funds to public art as well, according to a Percent for Art report. Read More

Nostalgia for the Golden Age of Art Dealing

By | Art Advisory, Art and Design, Art Auctions, Art Collections, Art Market
Mike Berg at Stremmel Gallery.

Mike Berg at Stremmel Gallery.

The notion that collectors sit atop the hierarchy of today’s art world is axiomatic. They build private museums and control the boards of traditional ones. Through their acquisitions, they determine the fates of artists, and often overshadow curators, historians, and critics—all those ink-stained intellectuals who used to play a larger role in determining art’s value.

And yet, one must not discount the supplier. On the primary market—the placement of new work straight from artists’ studios—art dealers often shape collectors’ tastes. On both the primary and secondary, or resale, markets, they shepherd artworks onto collectors’ walls (or, as the case may be, into their freeport storage spaces in Geneva or Singapore). In a recent profile of David Zwirner in the New Yorker, Nick Paumgarten wrote that “one prominent collector referred to Zwirner as his top ‘go-get guy.’ To go and get, you have to know who owns what, how he or his heirs feel about it, how desperately they may need money.” Certain dealers are now celebrities. “Call Larry Gagosian, you belong in museums,” rapped Jay-Z, an art collector himself, and one of Gagosian’s high-profile clients.

But even as the world’s most powerful art dealers become household names, there is a pervasive sense that some of them have lost their aesthetic compass, if they ever had one, that they’ve abandoned the idea of taking an aesthetic position in favor of global domination. Today’s so-called mega-galleries have outposts in all the world’s major cities (16 shops and, quite possibly, counting, in Gagosian’s case); by necessity, they have taken on dozens of artists, being perhaps more concerned about having available product than a coherent program. “Now, they’re department stores,” as critic Dave Hickey put it ten years ago, when the mega-gallery phenomenon was ramping up. “Stables of artists once embodied the taste of the gallerist. Now everybody has one of each: your Iranian minimalist photographer, your elegant object maker, your Berlin pornographer.” Read More

Why Most Galleries Don’t Post Prices

By | Art Advisory, Art and Design, Art Auctions, Art Collections, Art Market, Exhibitions
Old Man of Calke, oil on linen, 78 x 92 inches, $42,000

Chester Arnold, Old Man of Calke, oil on linen, 78 x 92 inches, $42,000

Henri Neuendorf, for artnet news.

Why are galleries so reluctant to reveal prices? The lack of price transparency is often one of the most baffling and frustrating things for art world outsiders to understand.

“I think artists are uncomfortable about, and do not wish to have their work discussed in terms of prices and market value, and what is selling and not selling,” art dealer Augusto Arbizo, director and partner at New York’s 11Rgallery, told artnet News in an e-mail. “Prices aren’t openly displayed because they want the work discussed in critical terms and historical context. That is why prices are often not so public.”

There are of course other motivations for keeping prices secret. As the director of a prominent London gallery told artnet News, “We don’t like to speak about prices to prevent our clients’ spouses or the tax authorities from finding out about their purchases.”

And as the recent Panama Papers leak has shown, the super-rich routinely use art to dodge taxes and hide assets from their spouses.

Arbizo, however, insists that “all the galleries I have ever worked at always had a checklist with prices printed and available to the public, and 11R has one available for every exhibition.”

Nevertheless, the lack of tangible attributes often makes it difficult for first time buyers to assess the fair value of an artwork. Indeed, prices of artworks are often negotiable. Read More

How to Teach Your Kids to Care About Art

By | Art Advisory, Art and Design, Art Collections, Art Market

Upon entering Frieze New York last May, I ran into a colleague with his two small children. As we crossed the threshold of the bustling fair tent, the kids sprang into action, making a beeline for a red Carsten Hölleroctopus. They promptly plopped down beside it and began a discussion—“What is it made of?” and “Why is it red?” were among preliminary questions. A month or so later I’d see them again, this time in Chelsea, marvelling over Jordan Wolfson’s animatronic puppet at David Zwirner. Even to a stranger, it would have been clear that for these children, going to see art was an integral part of their lives. Their intense engagement with art (a level of enthusiasm that many adults struggle to maintain) begged some questions. What is it about art that commands a child’s attention? What impact can art have on a child’s development? And more broadly, what can be done to instill an appreciation of art in children?

To find answers, I turned to experts in the field who work at the intersections of children’s education and art. While primarily focusing on programs provided by museum spaces, I also consulted with other arts professionals and educators to establish a more complete picture of the underlying factors that can contribute to a child’s early appreciation of art—and how it affects a young person’s brain.

The benefits of art in early childhood

Over the past decade, the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) has found strong evidence showing that art can have a positive effect on young children (infants through eight-year-olds). A December 2015 NEA literature review conducted by program analyst Melissa Menzer, for example, found connections between the arts—including music, theater, visual arts, and literature—and social and emotional skills such as “helping, caring, and sharing activities.”

Read More

Russia’s Richest Man Is Building a Venice Art Institution to Combat Nationalism

By | Art Advisory, Art and Design, Art Auctions, Art Collections, Art Market
Rendering of V-A-C Venice palazzo. Image courtesy of V-A-C.

Rendering of V-A-C Venice palazzo. Image courtesy of V-A-C.

It’s not that Venice lacks private art collections: There are the Punta Della Dogana and the Palazzo Grassi, owned by French luxury commodities magnate Francois Pinault, and the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, all which show in vaunted architectural environs. But next May, the city will lay claim to a new private art institution, housed in an 18th-century palazzo, with a unique ambition for global collaboration.

Moscow’s V-A-C Foundation—owned by Leonid Mikhelson, recently named Russia’s wealthiest man—will open a four-story exhibition space and artist residency at the Palazzo delle Zattere in Dorsoduro during the Venice Biennale vernissage. This will not, however, be an outpost devoted to the display of Russian art. While the Punta della Dogana focuses almost exclusively on the display of Pinault’s collection and the Guggenheim cycles through a relatively static permanent collection, the V-A-C space will be defined by the opportunities it offers for collaborative production of new exhibitions and new work—by artists, curators, and visitors from across the geopolitical divides of the world.

This vision for cultural diplomacy is embedded in the V-A-C’s structure. On a recent site tour of the Palazzo delle Zattere, the foundation’s Italian director, Teresa Iarocci Mavica, speaks of her years in the Moscow art world and her Neapolitan extraction, proof that the foundation’s employees reflect its multicultural agenda. “Being Italian,” she explains, “one of the most important points was to have a Venetian architect.” To that end, the foundation hired local firm APML Architects, whose founder and principal Alessandro Pedron—born and trained in Venice—is overseeing the comprehensive restoration of the palazzo’s historic details and its conversion into an exhibition space and cultural center. Read More

What Determines an Art Work’s Value?

By | Art Advisory, Art Auctions, Art Collections, Art Market
Longing Series #1, wood and paint, 46 x 33 x 5.75 inches, $9,000

Longing Series #1, wood and paint, 46 x 33 x 5.75 inches, $9,000

What determines an artwork’s value? And why are some works so expensive? To art world outsiders, the distinctions in price can be confusing. What makes one artwork sell for $10,000 and another for $10 million—or even $100 million?

Speaking in the most basic economic terms, high demand and a shortage of supply creates high prices for artworks. Art is inherently unique because there is a limited supply on the market at any given time.

According to Augusto Arbizo, director of New York’s of 11R gallery, price is determined by “an artists exhibition history, sales history (if any), career level, and size of artwork.” He added that “sometimes, production costs are factored in as a cost that needs to be recouped.”

Then there are more complex factors to consider. Is the artist “hot”? What is the artist’s significance in the context of art history? Is the artwork representative of the artist’s style?

Fashionable artists who are being talked about, who are getting exhibitions with important galleries and museums and lots of coverage in the press, are more likely to sell for a high price. In the current market, people are interested in what’s new and hot, artists who are going to be the next big thing, or established, recognized, brand-name artists. Read More