Phillips Day Sale: Disaster or Purge? Tomayto Tomahto?

Beautiful Buy In
Kelley Walker: Beautiful Buy In

Recently this reporter’s inbox became a sort of debate forum with art world talking heads giving The Art Machine their two cents about what appears to be a “short career” phenomenon amongst emerging artists.

Spurred by results of the recent Phillips London Contemporary Art Day Sale, one art advisor, communicating via e-mail on background called the sale a disaster— disagreeing with the popular press’s view that the sale went rather well, especially given that it was a bad day for the euro. His main point was that there were an ominous number of unsold lots by artists who are “in speculative play,” an indication that careers of these artists who are being over-marketed, are “torpedoed.”

The issue is one of short careers — experts worry that Instagram flippers are moving art from the primary markets to auction too fast and then flipping it in shorter and shorter cycles.

An example in the Phillips sale was presented in the form of a Kelley Walker that was a buy in; that work was at auction only a few years ago. It leads many of us to worry that even good artists can’t withstand the current market’s momentum given that there’s no time given to scrutiny, works are not vetted before they head off to auction two, three times in a decade.

There’s a fear that a new speculator generation is engaged in a sort of betting scheme, a horse-racing mentality that causes them to buy names without considering long term value.

I asked Carlos Rivera, of ArtRank fame, what he thought about the emerging artists who failed to sell at the Phillips Day sale: was it a a swift kick in the tail? Or just a one time downer? Something to keep tabs on or an outright disaster?

“Every movement is compelled by a temporal imperative, an urgency,” he responded.

“The process abstraction movement is no longer the ‘most urgent’ movement. Today, collectors have validated the imperative of post-internet and new figurative. Results for the progenitors of these movements are growing faster than ever before (see: Cory Arcangel and Jonas Wood).”

Konas Wood successful -- for now?
Jonas Wood successful — for now?

But real time fluctuations aren’t necessarily the last word. As Rivera pointed out Barnett Newman famously complained about Pop art ‘killing’ AbEx. But this was a blip in time. Pop Art can be said to have ‘succeeded” AbEx but both movements have representative artists who have contributed to art history.

“History only remembers 5 artists from each movement – all of the less influential artists are easily forgotten and their work deemed of less monetary value. That’s what you’re seeing now – a purge. Every artist who copied Guyton, Stingel, Ostrowski, etc. is less relevant today.”

Rivera’s take is one that sees the short run, or real time auction results as mere fluctuations in careers and movements that may, or may not, span decades, generations, centuries with only a handful becoming part of the canon.

But what he call’s a “purge” others call a “disaster.” Either way, some careers are quashed and others move on. Tomayto Tomahto?

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