Nostalgia for the Golden Age of Art Dealing

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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

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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

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BY CASEY LESSER

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

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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?

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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

Art’s Staying Power is More Important Than Its Price

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Robert Brady, Mirror, wood and paint

Robert Brady, Mirror, wood and paint

As told by hedge fund manager and art collector J. Tomilson “Tom” Hill III:

Art has long been a passion of mine—ever since my mother, who was an artist, took me to the Frick Collection, the Metropolitan Museum, and of course the Museum of Modern Art, when I was young.

Over the years, my wife Janine and I have collected numerous works of art—from post-war art, to Old Master paintings, to Renaissance and baroque bronzes, which you may have seen on exhibition at the Frick last year. And I currently sit on the board of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

But here I am writing as a student of—and an expert in—markets. While I don’t collect art for investment reasons, as the president and CEO of Blackstone Alternative Asset Management, I look at every asset class around the world. I look at what’s under-valued… and over-valued… and way over-valued. And it’s through this lens that I’d like to look at art: about this market, what we value, and how we got to where we are today. Read More

What is art for? Science shows it’s in the eye—and brain—of the beholder

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Diamond, paint on wood, 27 x 31 x 4 inches, $8,000

Robert Brady, Diamond, paint on wood, 27 x 31 x 4 inches

What is art for? In the most general sense, it is for the beholder. Let me put this issue into perspective.

At the turn of the century, in Vienna 1900, Alois Riegl the leader of the Vienna School of Art History argued that art history is going to die unless it becomes more scientific, and that the science it ought to relate itself to is psychology, and the question that it ought to address is the beholder’s share. The artist creates the painting, Riegl argued, and the beholder responds to it. Without the response of the beholder, art is incomplete. This is an obvious point, but it had not been pointed out in precisely these terms and had not been highlighted as being a key issue for experimental investigation.

A later generation of Riegl disciples, the Viennese trained art historians Ernst Kris and Ernst Gombrich, took up this challenge. They appreciated that understanding the viewer’s response to art—what Gombrich called the beholder’s share—is the natural bridge between the sciences and art, between psychology and portraiture.  Read More

The Tate Transformed the Way We See Art

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Anish Kapoor’s ‘Marsyas’; Photo courtesy: Getty

Anish Kapoor’s ‘Marsyas’; Photo courtesy: Getty

“When a new work of art is created,” TS Eliot said, something “happens simultaneously to all the works of art that preceded it.” Louise Bourgeois’s spider “Maman” made us see expression in brutal-big steel sculpture. Olafur Eliasson’s blazing artificial sun “The Weather Project” forged a social context for the romantic sublime. And Tate Modern, which launched these works in the early 2000s, transformed at a stroke and forever the idea of a museum.

Eliot believed art’s evolving tradition created “the mind of Europe”, and through the 20th century the primary role of museums was still to preserve the canon. Tate Modern worked to a new reality: that 21st-century artists and their audiences are global, multi-referential, democratic, and easily bored. Replacing monument and hallowed masterpiece with fleeting experience and temporary spectacle — hanging out under Eliasson’s sun, hurtling down Carsten Höller’s slides — it has, since opening in 2000, reigned unchallenged as the world’s most popular modern art museum.

Housed in a former electricity generator, Tate Modern was always about power. How small and inconsequential the vast Turbine Hall made us feel from the start. When the new £260m ziggurat-like extension the Switch House opens next month, how much more overwhelmed and happily conquered we will be. This twisting, angular structure screams out postmodern jaggedness and plurality but it is also as grandly intimidating and definitive as an ancient pyramid. Read More

Five Questions to Ask Before Buying Art

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Reflections, oil on linen, 48 x 60 inches, $28,000

Chester Arnold, Reflections, oil on linen, 48 x 60 inches, $28,000

It’s easy to walk into a gallery and swoon at the sight of a work of art, but making the decision to buy it is complex. We asked an art consultant, a conservator, an attorney and an adjuster for the important issues to consider before making such a big purchase.

Question 1: Is it True Love or an Infatuation?

Even experienced collectors have made mistakes, so it’s a good idea to take a little time to ponder your reaction. You may want to consider how it fits into your existing collection; how and where you would display it; and if your gut tells you that the price is in keeping with the value of this particular artwork.

Annelien Bruins of Tang Art Advisory offers her clients a professional’s perspective without revealing her personal responses to the work of art.

“My job is to give them my professional opinion on the quality of the work they are considering buying. For example, an artist may have a number of works available but there may be only one or two that I think are worth buying—because the composition is better, the technique is better applied, it is more representative of the artist’s work, and the price is more appropriate.” Read More

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Relay Mailbox with Declarations, acrylic on canvas, composition woods, bondo, and tacks, 51.5 x 27 x 26 inches, $40,000

Relay Mailbox with Declarations, acrylic on canvas, composition woods, bondo, and tacks, 51.5 x 27 x 26 inches, $40,000

A new survey from wealth management firm US Trust points to a deep generational divide between how younger and older art collectors think about their holdings. Among other findings, the “Insights on Wealth and Worth” study suggests that rich millennials might be in for a surprise about the future value of their collections.

US Trust is the private wealth management arm of Bank of America, which sponsors major museum exhibitions, lends money to collectors against their art assets, and handles the finances of various American museums. US Trust has been doing similar studies of very wealthy Americans for several years, but this is the first time they’ve asked their respondents about art. The report is based on a survey of 684 “high net worth and ultra high net worth adults” nationwide, with assets totaling north of $3 million.

Some of the study’s findings might be comforting to those who believe that art’s principal worth is aesthetic, intellectual, or cultural. For example, three-quarters of collectors surveyed say their primary reason for collecting is art’s aesthetic value. Read More