State of the Art Market: Just my Perfunctory Opinion

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More moaning than ever about the difficulties of evaluating contemporary art. Back that with lots more talk about “speculators” and you have the equivalent of stock brokers hating on day traders.

Lots of breathless pronunciations that the art market is back in boom times.

Perpetual claims of “record” sales prices for every tiny art genre, artist, and period make every evening sale an historic event.

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With our new 3-second news cycles, and all the sweaty drama poured into the auction summaries,  it is hard to imagine that that the art market really does map onto the broad stock market:  Sotheby’s stock fell with the Japanese stock bubble at the tail end of the 80’s, dropped in front of the Nasdaq in the 90s, and  then lead the fall in 2007, dropping swiftly in November, well ahead of the broad stock market which fell in December of that year and sloped downward at a more graceful pace.

Judging from recent reports one could definitely get the impression that the next boom is on, as we may have in May of 2010, only to waken to hand-wringing despair as we did in June and July. Now as we are watching a rocky climb back up again, it is wise to take each $17 Million dollar unregistered Warhol portrait with a grain of salt

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James Turrell’s Tall Glass Half Full

Walter Bieri/Keystone, via Associated Press The artist James Turrell, who has negotiated a legal settlement with the Albion Gallery.
Walter Bieri/Keystone, via Associated Press The artist James Turrell, who has negotiated a legal settlement with the Albion Gallery.

Often disputes between artists and dealers can turn into something like a divorce with all the same spoilage. The one between James Turrell, and Michael Hue-Williams of Albion gallery displays several kinds of ugly, fouled-up business, soiled reputations, career sabotage, and — sigh– lots of compromise.

If a dealer thinks an artist is not delivering on a commission, he can bring the artist to court, for instance. as Hue-Williams did to Turrell in 2007.

And if an artist thinks a dealer is selling pieces that he was not consulted about or paid for, he can counter-sue, as Turrell did to Hue-Williams.

Now when a dealer is miffed and spending money on litigation, he may take a the semi-self-sabotaging action of selling the artist’s work off at auction to make the artist look bad. This is what Michael Hue-Williams hinted at in a 2008 e-mail.

Continue reading “James Turrell’s Tall Glass Half Full”

MoMA’s Got a Brand New App

Today MoMA announced the release of its new app for Apple’s iPhone, and iPod Touch, now available on the App Store. It’s a free download that provides views of 32,000 works from the Museum’s collection, plus lots of very useful extras, including a dictionary of art terms, a database of artist bios, a calendar of exhibitions, film screenings, and events, and a variety of audio tours for youngsters, as well as for the visually impaired.

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How the Met Killed The New York Senate’s De-accessioning Bill

It was the last straw, when, in 2008, the National Academy Museum sold two Hudson River School paintings in order to cover operating costs.

Public art institutions, feeling the recession and finding no recourse, had already begun to whisper about a sale here and there: Fort Ticondergoa had proposed to sell some artifacts and then withdrew the idea, and The Metropolitan Opera had put up its Chagall murals as collateral for a loan. By 2009,  Brandeis University was working with Sotheby’s on a lending program designed to avoid having to sell its entire Rose Art Museum collection.

With such threats to public art coming in ever increasing waves, a sense of urgency took over and the New York Senate, working with the Museum Association of New York and the New York Board of Regents, drafted a bill to prohibit cultural institutions from selling pieces of their collections to cover operating costs.

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Reducing Collection, Chagall, “Paris Red Sun”

Chagall Red Sun Over Paris
Marc Chagall, Red Sun Over Paris

The ad, at the back of this Summer 2010 Art News, was placed with two others under the heading ART FOR SALE.

But it stood out. It was not for Limited Edition serial artwork, nor was it placed by an artist selling their own landscapes.

It was an ad for several paintings, some of them by brand name artists: and all listed with very specific, oddly low, prices, like something you’d see on Craig’s List or EBay, only this Ed Sanders guy was selling Chagall and Miro. He was asking directly for “best offer over $50,000,” and flat out naming prices like $4,500 for Norman Rockwell’s “Football Hero”.

So I called him.

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Mr. Minor’s Winter of Discontent: Evening Sale at Phillips De Pury

Phillips de Pury & Company  The Richard Prince “Nurse” sold by Halsey Minor
Phillips de Pury & Company The Richard Prince “Nurse” sold by Halsey Minor

The spring auctions with their record sales prices swept a breath of fresh air into the fusty art markets, hunkered down as they were, bearish throughout the cold winter.

But the Thursday evening sale at Phillips de Pury stands as an ironic reminder that the winter of our discontent is not to be made glorious by the auction houses.

Continue reading “Mr. Minor’s Winter of Discontent: Evening Sale at Phillips De Pury”

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