Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Most Expensive Artists at Auction

The 100 Most Expensive Artists at Auction


When we talk about the art market, we are actually talking about an amalgamation of many varied sub-markets, each with their own specificities and fluctuations. Works by artists that routinely achieve prices in the eight-figure range are subject to different factors of influence than works by emerging artists getting their first major outing at a fair, which are subject to different factors than those in the middle made by well-established but not astronomically priced names. There are many shades of gray in between each one of these groups.
So, you might ask, what’s the point in even looking at the 100 most expensive artists to ever sell at auction? What can such a small sample of artists and even auction houses themselves tell us? As it turns out, quite a bit. The story told in the interactive infographic below is perhaps less one of the art world in its totality than it is a story of swings in the macroeconomic environment, shifts in business strategy, the ebb and flow of art’s role as an alternative asset class, the emergence of new economic superpowers, and changing taste.
Take, for example, the two lone records set prior to 1999 that still stand: Vincent van Gogh’s Portrait of Dr. Gachet (1890) and Pierre-Auguste Renoir’s Au moulin de la Galette (1876). The pair sold in one week in 1990 for $82.5 million and $78.1 million at Christie’s and Sotheby’s, respectively. They remained the two most expensive works sold at auction until the 2006 sale of Gustav Klimt’s Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer II (1912) for $88 million. They are undeniably two of Impressionism’s most iconic works, both currently hanging in the Musée d’Orsay.
But there’s more to the prices they achieved and their long tenure at the top of the market than meets the eye. Both paintings were purchased by one Japanese businessman, Ryoei Saito. The collector paid nearly double the low estimate for each of the works, causing grumblings about an overheated market rife with speculation. Today, those read nearly indistinguishably from similar grumblings one year ago. Saito was no stranger to speculation. At the time of his purchases, his business, Japan’s second-largest paper company, was plummeting into extreme debt. It was not alone. Japan’s industrial sector had ground the country into an irrecoverable debt/GDP ratio. This led to the so-called Lost Decade of the country’s economy, which began one year after Saito’s art buying spree. Two years after that, the businessman too was under arrest.
Art, at this very tip-top of the market is in some sense the ultimate luxury good. And to the extent that it is an asset, it is a relatively illiquid one. The traditional laws of the auction market mean that a fresh- or rare-to-market work (meaning that it has never come to auction or has not in a significant amount of time) sold for $100 million today would rarely if ever achieve $100 million or more tomorrow. It’s in this way that the upper tip of the market plays just out of the reach of reason, to some extent. It is reliant on buyers going beyond what pundits and auction house experts say a work should fetch. This is, after all, why consignors are willing to let go of pieces in times other than the three Ds: death, divorce, and debt.
Buyers are generally most willing to do this when money is cheap and returns on capital astounding: The art market in the eight-figure range therefore generally follows in step with (and sometimes just one step ahead of) the upper reaches of capital and equity markets more broadly. Thus, we see Japan-bubble-like concentrations of artist records crop up once again during the Dot-Com Boom. And we see more still during the housing bubble of the last decade. By far the highest prices ever achieved took place from 2012 to 2015. Cheap money flooded the private markets to spur everything from Biotech to the App Economy. It also blossomed the bank accounts of innumerable hedgefunders hungry for uncommonly rare works.
But this is only one side of the coin. The auction houses, too, have cards to play when sourcing works and competing for consignments. As with any industry, when demand is high, the major players will go to much greater lengths and in some cases much further out on a limb to deliver particularly hard-to-obtain consignments.

How Much Have Guarantees Aided Christie’s Dominance at the Top End of the Auction Market?
Read full article
In this very upper portion of the auction market, the major players are mainly Christie’s and Sotheby’s.  Christie’s currently tops the portion of the sales that set the 100 most expensive artists’ latest auction record, at 47% of the total. That margin goes up to 80% when looking at the 10 most expensive artists’ records. Sotheby’s follows with 36% of the whole. But across the past quarter century of sales, that hasn’t always been the case. “Each auction house has been stronger or weaker at given points in time,” explained art adviser Todd Levin, owing to shifts in strategy and numerous changings of the guard at each house.

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It’s a stark divide—just two out of the 100 most expensive artists at auction are women. The difference in price between the most expensive female and male artists is also vast; Georgia O’Keefe’s auction record of $44.4 million for Jimson Weed/White Flower No.1 (1932) is a quarter of the $179 million that was paid for Pablo Picasso’s Les Femmes d’Alger (1955) in 2015. The perpetuation of this gender gap is due to numerous factors.
One is historical. Even when significant numbers of women artists participated in a movement—take Abstract Expressionism, for example—they were largely ignored. The art historians, curators, critics, and gallerists of the day instead promoted their male counterparts, like Pollock and de Kooning, in shows and in reviews. This past prejudice is difficult, even impossible, to correct from the present day. Only recently have artists such as Agnes Martin and Alma Thomas been properly reintroduced into the historical narrative through long-overdue retrospectives. Their markets still lag far behind their male counterparts. Experts have also placed the blame on the way wealth is distributed between the genders. That is to say, the richest people in the world, those able to bid on eight- and nine-figure lots, are overwhelmingly male.
There’s no question that Western Europe is home to the majority of artists whose prices have launched them to the very top of the art market. Of the 100 most expensive artists at auction, 54% were born in the region. In pure volume, North America sits neck and neck with Asia, at 21% and 18%, respectively. Eastern European artists follow at 6%. One South American artist makes the list, Lucio Fontana. Since he is known more widely as Italian, some would argue that this is merely by technicality. Africa and Australia are not represented at all.
Breaking down the data further reveals that despite being in close competition by volume, North American-born artists still fetch much higher prices on the whole than their Asian counterparts. Of the top 20 most expensive artists at auction, only two—Qi Baishi and Wang Meng—are from Asia, and they come in low at 17 and 19. Five of the top 20 are of North American birth.
After two years of astronomical, double-digit growth, the post-war and contemporary art auction market took a bit of a tumble in 2015, contracting 14%, in comparison to a 7% contraction of the art market as a whole. According to the 2016 TEFAF Art Market Report, post-war and contemporary works nonetheless accounted for roughly 46% of the entire auction market by value last year—the largest of any sector.

Why Impressionist and Modern Works Are Losing Ground at the Top End of the Auction Market
Read full article
Looking at the very top of the market over time, however, artists in the Impressionist and modern category continue to dominate. Of the 100 most expensive artists at auction, 35% come from this segment of the market. Post-war and contemporary artists do represent a relatively close second, at 27%, followed by Chinese Painting and Calligraphy at 17%. Old Masters appear rarely among the most expensive artists sold at auction, with only 13 artists from the time period cracking the list.

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It will come as no surprise that painting dominates the most expensive works sold at auction. The medium represents nearly three-quarters of the works that set the 100 most expensive artists at auction’s records. That 18% of the pieces in our data set are works on paper, however, is slightly surprising. The Western art market generally doesn’t support a strong market for works on paper in comparison to their canvas counterparts due to preservation and condition issues, among others. But the medium’s market has benefitted from an influx of Asian buyers. Of the 18 works on paper in the top 100, all but three—a pastel by Edgar Degas, a drawing by Raphael, and a watercolor by Sir Edward Coley Burne-Jones—are the work of Asian artists. (Due to issues of non-payment in China, it is possible that the sales of some of these works weren’t fully realized.)
Sculpture comes last among the three mediums represented. However, these nine works don’t lag behind paintings in value. Alberto Giacometti’s L’Homme au doigt (1947) comes in at number four, having sold for $141 million at Christie’s New York in 2015. And sculptures by Jeff Koons, Henri Matisse, and Constantin Brancusi all appear in the top 50.
The market’s recent fascination with young artists might fool one into believing that living artists’ prices would more routinely break into the upper echelons of the art market than they do. In fact, only eight of the top 100 artists at auction are still alive, and none are younger than 50 years old. That’s not to say that death automatically causes a spike in prices for an artist’s work. According to a recent study, the relationship is more complex than conventional wisdom suggests.
Overall, posthumous prices trend upward for well-established artists, but the rapidity of those changes depends partially on age. The older an artist and more mature their market at the time of death, the less obvious the subsequent rise in price. The biggest increase is seen for artists who pass away young—the prime example being Jean-Michel Basquiat, whose prices increased by some 350% in the five years following his death. The health of financial markets, more broadly, also plays a major role in determining posthumous prices. In the five years after Francis Bacon died, the value of his work fell by more than half as a result of the recession in the early 1990s.
In case there was any doubt, New York is the dominant city in the global art market for selling big ticket works. Among the 100 artists whose works top the list of most expensive pieces sold at auction, 56% set the record for their priciest work in the Big Apple. New York was also the site of every single sale currently in the top 10. London was second, serving as the home to 25% of the sales, while China (including Hong Kong) came in third at 18%.

Why New York Owns the Top End of the Auction Market
Read full article
But what explains New York’s undisputed place at the top of the heap? Frank Sinatra glory aside, it’s the major concentration of wealth in New York, said art adviser Todd Levin. “And not just people who live here full time, but even people who are outside of the city or outside of the country but also have either business interests and/or part time homes here.” An enormous amount of wealth is required for an individual to be liquid enough at any point in time to purchase works over the $20 million mark.
And while London is undoubtedly a major conduit of global capital, coming in second to New York in terms of financial and art market influence, “there’s a substantially smaller amount on a relative scale,” said Levin. That is both in terms of “the amount of actual money flowing through the City at the ultra-high-net-worth level and the number of people who control that money,” he added.

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—Artsy Editors

Data provided by Art Analytics.











prices...



  artnet
August 10, 2016
 
 
 
 
 
Johnny Swing
Murmuration, 2012
Sold for 112,500 USD (with premium)
The Four Seasons
July 26, 2016
Wright
 
 
 
1
 
 
Design duo Gartha and Ada Louise Huxtable broke Pablo Picasso’s streak as the most popular artist at auction in July. They had 224 works offered at a single sale, Wright’s The Four Seasons, which lasted an impressive 14 hours and featured furniture and objects from the iconic Four Seasons restaurant in New York.
 
 
2
 
 
Despite losing his title of the most popular artist at auction, Pablo Picasso remained the most searched artist on artnet for the month of July, while the top-searched decorative art specialty was Chinese works of art.
 
 
3
 
 
Christie’s London came out on top with the highest sale total in July, achieving $104,414,551 with a sell-through rate of 65%. One stand-out work was Peter Paul Rubens’ Lot and his Daughters, which broke the record for the most expensive lot sold by their Old Masters Department at $58,002,713 on July 7.
 
 
4
 
 
Peter Paul Rubens, Zhang Daqian, and Yan Baozhen were the three top-selling artists at auction in July. The artists brought in $61,720,200, $19,543,505, and $9,522,812, respectively.
 
 
5
 
 
For the fourth consecutive year, artnet has partnered with the China Association of Auctioneers (CAA) to publish the Global Chinese Art Auction Market Report. It will provide an in-depth look at the auction market for Chinese art, which accounted for almost a third of the global art auction market in 2015. This must-read report will be published in the coming weeks—stay tuned!
 
 
 
 
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The art world has been plagued with a wave of vandalism by curious people who can’t help themselves from touching


Video

Museum Visitor Breaks a Clock Exhibit

Surveillance video from the National Watch and Clock Museum in Columbia, Pa., shows a man handling a clock on display, only to have it come crashing down in pieces.
By NWACM on Publish Date August 8, 2016. .
A man walked into the National Watch and Clock Museum in Columbia, Pa., in May. A video showed him admiring a sculptural wall clock on display, touching and pulling on it at least five times to see how it works.
Any observer could sense that something bad was about to happen. And, indeed, it did.
The wooden clock, which was made by the artist James Borden, fell off the wall and collapsed into pieces, footage showed. The unidentified visitor alerted a museum staff member and confessed, PennLive.com reported. The director of the museum, Noel Poirier, said the clock was sent to the artist to be repaired.
Photo
The wall clock, by the artist James Borden. Credit National Watch and Clock Museum
The episode is one in a recent series of disastrous encounters between humans and historical, natural and artistic exhibits that resulted in the art or displays being defaced, punctured or broken because of curiosity, clumsiness or carelessness.
Officials in the museum community say that no plan to protect exhibits is foolproof, and that the recent episodes reflect the balance that museums seek between making their collections accessible to visitors and keeping them secure.
Wayne LaBar, the president of the board of the National Association for Museum Exhibition, a professional network of the American Alliance of Museums, said common sense guides museums about what precautions to take, but even with the best systems, “every once in a while, people surprise us.”
The problem is a global one:
■ Last month, two boys used a sharp object to outline a 5,000-year-old historical carving in Norway thought to be among the earliest depictions of skiing anywhere in the world, The Telegraph reported. They apparently intended to “fix” it to make it more visible, but permanently defaced the carving, on the island of Tro.
Norwegian officials described the episode as a national tragedy, according to news accounts.
Photo
A 5,000-year-old rock carving in Tro, Nordland, Norway, before it was damaged, left, and after. Credit Nordland County, via European Pressphoto Agency
■ Also last month, a 90-year-old woman visiting the Neues Museum in Nuremberg, Germany, used a pen to fill in the spaces in an artwork that depicted part of a crossword puzzle. Officials filed a criminal complaint about the unidentified woman for defacing the exhibit, “Reading-work-piece,” by the avant-garde artist Arthur Koepcke.
A lawyer for the woman later said that she did not damage the artwork — which included the phrase “insert words” — but merely completed it as the artist intended, the German news agency DPA reported.
■ In June, a boy smashed a giant LEGO sculpture of Nick from Zootopia” at an expo in Ningbo, China. The artist had spent days piecing it together, reports said.
■ In May, two children at the Shanghai Museum of Glass were caught on camera touching a sculpture, “Angel Is Waiting,” by Shelly Xue, as their parents recorded them. When one child pulled the sculpture away from the wall, it fell and broke. A video of what happened went viral.
Kids Smash Art at Glass Museum While Adults Stand by Filming Video by REAL HD VIDEO
■ In 2015, a 12-year-old boy in Taiwan tripped and punched a hole into an oil painting that was more than 300 years old and valued at $1.5 million.
Steve Keller, who has worked in museum security since 1979, said the phenomenon of visitors’ defacing exhibits has been going on for years. He linked their actions to mental instability, a lack of appreciation of art or sheer ignorance.
Mr. Keller, the president of a consulting firm, Architect’s Security Group, in Ormond Beach, Fla., worked at the Art Institute of Chicago. He recalled a visitor who wanted to take a photo of himself with a sculpture in the foreground and a painting in the background. The visitor could not frame the photo to his liking, so he wrapped his arms around the abstract sculpture, which was the size of a person, and turned it on its pedestal to get the best angle.
On another occasion, a teenage boy lifted a girl so that she could put her lipstick marks on a portrait at the same museum. While it was not necessarily a malicious act, Mr. Keller said, it was “kids being stupid.”
“You can’t protect every object on display and guarantee it will not be damaged,” he added. “That is the nature of display.”
Mr. LaBar said the number of exhibits being damaged has not prompted any widespread discussion within the museum community because curators, designers and security experts wrestle with these issues all the time.
Jim Coddington, the Agnes Gund chief conservator at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, said: “I think the first and most important point is that events like these are outliers. While they trend on social media, they do so because they are highly unusual.”
The balance comes in not putting up barriers that distract from the exhibits. For instance, Mr. LaBar said, visitors want to be able to appreciate the brush strokes of a painting without protective glass inhibiting the view. Forms of protection can be static, such as barriers that make you pause before going farther, or more active, such as posting security guards. Other systems sound an alarm if a visitor breaches an area.

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Beth Redmond-Jones, the senior director of public programs at the San Diego Natural History Museum, said there had been a shift over the past 30 years with the growth of children’s museums, which have led visitors to expect hands-on, interactive exhibits. She said research has shown that museum-goers have a better appreciation of their experience when they can make a personal connection.
Ms. Redmond-Jones called the recent episodes “incredibly unfortunate.” She said she hoped that parents and teachers instill in children a sense of museum etiquette, including the notion to look but don’t touch.



From Singular Determinist Interventionism to Critical Pluralism – Reflections on Some Trends in Art Criticism Today... e no cu, não?!


20160602berlinbienalle_promo1

From Singular Determinist Interventionism to Critical Pluralism – Reflections on Some Trends in Art Criticism Today

Art criticism today tends to revolve around a basic formula. It states a problem (say, consumer culture). It describes an art work (say, a video by Ryan Trecartin). Then it takes one of three positions: Trecartin’s work affirms consumer culture; it negates it by detraction; or it negates it by excessive affirmation. What it means to write about the artwork, then, is framed consistently by its relationship to a singular determinist theme – be that capitalism, the nation-state, or sexuality. We praise works because of their ability to undo something we deem pernicious, and we criticize ones that fail by the same metric. Witness the recent reviews of the Berlin Biennale. After two scathing take-downs in The Guardian and Hyperallergic for the show’s lack of criticality, a defense was recently posted on The Creators Project which argued that the Biennale was, in fact, “one big critique.” 1 The show could be defended on no other terms than that it was, pace its harsh critics, a useful act against capital.
What concerns me here is not, as Toke Lykkeberg put it, that “It feels like, for a terribly long time, art criticism has been a critique of various things except art.” 2 Such a stance, I believe, ironically re-affirms the basic underlying belief of much of today’s art critique: that art is a substantive thing which can make claims about other fields. It might seem counter-intuitive to name this as a shared problem of political and non-political critics alike. After all, isn’t the point of criticism today that art is related to politics, is not for its own sake, and must as such take a stance on the world? To be sure. But what Lykkeberg shares with the critics and supporters of the Berlin Biennale is an idea that is somewhat bizarre when we think about it: that the politics of an artwork are to be found (or not) in the work itself – that the work either “possesses” political effects or not, in some magical way.
Critical theorist Gabriel Rockhill has developed a vocabulary around this kind of criticism that echoes magical practices, speaking of “ontological illusion” and “the talisman complex.” What he is referring to are the ways in which it is assumed that there is a single meaning to an art work, and that that meaning is believed to have a talismanic power to create effects in the social world. The irony, of course, is that the actual social world is bracketed out in this process – questions about the conditions of production, the circulation of works, the conflicted field of interpretation, the parties and rumor and gossip – all of these conditions are actually part of the work’s political meaning disappears. 3
Thus while political judgements about art matter, there are also tremendous limits to this current mode of criticism. Perhaps most especially are the loss of the question of efficacy, the hubris of the critic who purports to know so much (the state of the world, the meaning of the artwork, and the way the art relates to the world), and the reduction of artworks to the political analyses of critics.
One practical concern in response may be that gathering up all that information can take years, even decades. (One of Rockhill’s examples is the still-unfolding history of the Cold War politics of abstract expressionism.) What can art criticism, meant to be immediately responsive to works on display, do in the face of such a critique of its governing practices? Equally, how are we to understand the meaning of criticism if that meaning is distributed so vastly over space and time, and not contained in the essay or argument itself? 4
And there is a potential problem here of self-contradiction. Critics are often quick to point out that critiques like Rockhill’s, or more famously those by Jacques Rancière or Bruno Latour, rely on the same basic structure in order to critique itself. 5  So what Rockhill must do to make his claim is gather up all the various bits of art criticism, name their general function, and then dispute them based on a given criterion that is again abstracted from the social world. Doesn’t criticism, like art, exceed its immediate given context and, take on new meanings through Facebook feeds, comments, rebuttals, rumors, prestige, long-term effects on shows and curation, and so forth? If art needs to be returned to its place in the institutions and ambiguities of the social world, surely art criticism is no exception either. 6
Critique and its criticism thus share the domain of what I would call “singular determinist interventionism.” This is the act of picking out a single thread of a practice, deciding that that thread determines the meaning of the practice, and then intervening for or against the practice as a result of that determination.
An obvious response to this claim is of course to turn it again on me – that, I, too, am surveying a vast field, naming a particular element, and making a claim against it. Except that this is not my point at all. I have nothing against singular determinist interventionism as a critical practice. What I am opposed to is a critical monoculture that defines this kind of critique as the highest operative value, 7 and ignores not only the multiple meanings of artworks, but also ignores such dimensions as the prestige generated for the critic, the institutional location of the critic, or the actual political efficacy of the claims.
The point is not that every piece of art criticism should understand the complex reception histories and production processes of every work of art, but only that more space should be made for analyses that integrate such research. One good example is Whitney Kimball’s fieldwork for a piece in Art F City about another hotly politically debated exhibition – Thomas Hirschorn’s Gramsci Monument. In “How Do People Feel About the Gramsci Monument, One Year Later?” Kimball showed how much of the artworld critique of the piece missed both the community’s appreciation and internal critique of the project. 8 Obviously not all criticism can or should become ethnographic, but the absence of such research is puzzling if we want to understand better the political valences of artworks.
The 9th Berlin Biennale is many things. It is a too-hip, too-slick, too-ironic rebranding of an accelerated consumer culture. It is also a critical examination of that very culture at its most perverse extremes. It’s meaning is not contained in either of these, nor in the exhibition itself, but also in the ways we debate it in person and online, and the ways in which it will echo into future artworks and exhibitions in ways we may never know. Slamming the show, praising it, researching its effects, or simply describing what it was – these are all important critical acts whose plurality will help shape art discourse to come.
More than an opposition to a certain mode of criticism, then, what I am in favor is a kind of critical pluralism – one that embraces the fact that there is value in all kinds of works and in all kinds of critiques, and that the task of the critic can be to define the problem, or a problem, or a social field, and that works of art can aim to be beautiful or mirror-like or lamp-like or hammers (as Brecht had it), with implications that can be located both immediately and over the longue durée, both good and bad, and different for different subjects in different times and places, and even for the same subject given the multiple affects and cognitions unleashed in any viewer by any work of art.
Pluralism is not relativism. It does not reject taking positions or criticizing others. It only rejects the hubris of those who claim to know the world and what must be done. It refuses the friend/enemy distinction that dominates certain modes of art and criticism and politics – the sense that you are either with us or against us – and pursues instead the tragic and difficult work of creating a common world with those with whom we want to live least of all, be they misogynist abstract expressionists, post-internet brats, or social practice goody two-shoes.

Image: Ei Arakawa, “How to DISappear in America: The Musical (Studie study),” 2016. Image courtesy Ei Arakawa.
  1.  Batycka, Dorian. “The 9th Berlin Biennale: A Vast Obsolescent Pageant of Irrelevance.” Accessed July 12, 2016. http://hyperallergic.com/306932/the-9th-berlin-biennale-a-vast-obsolescent-pageant-of-irrelevance/.
    Buffenstein, Alyssa. “Disposable DIS-Dain: Berlin Biennale Critics Miss the Point.” The Creators Project. Accessed July 12, 2016. http://thecreatorsproject.vice.com/blog/berlin-biennale-critics-are-missing-the-point.
    Farago, Jason. “Welcome to the LOLhouse: How Berlin’s Biennale Became a Slick, Sarcastic Joke.” The Guardian, June 13, 2016, sec. Art and design. https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2016/jun/13/berlin-biennale-exhibition-review-new-york-fashion-collective-dis-art. ↩
  2.  Lykkeberg, Toke. “The Critique of Critique.” DIS Magazine. Accessed July 12, 2016. http://dismagazine.com/discussion/59621/the-critique-of-critique/. ↩
  3.  Radical History and the Politics of Art (New York: Columbia, 2014), p. 7. ↩
  4.  One solution would be for criticism to become “slower”, as Anya Ventura has argued. “Slow Criticism: Art in the Age of Post-Judgement,” Temporary Art Review, February 15, 2016, http://temporaryartreview.com/slow-criticism-art-in-the-age-of-post-judgement/. ↩
  5.  As Hal Foster has recently done in Bad New Days (New York: Verso, 2015), chapter five. ↩
  6.  The “sociology of philosophy” of Jean-Louis Fabiani, building on the work of his mentor, Pierre Bourdieu, tracks some of these concerns. ↩
  7.  Rita Felski has developed this point in The Limits of Critique (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2015). ↩
  8.  Kimball, Whitney. “How Do People Feel About the Gramsci Monument, One Year Later?” Art F City, August 20, 2014. http://artfcity.com/2014/08/20/how-do-people-feel-about-the-gramsci-monument-one-year-later/. ↩

Armenia's first international art event aims to regenerate the region





News

Armenia's first international art event aims to regenerate the region

Dilijan Arts Observatory will culminate in exhibitions at the Hamburger Bahnhof and Pompidou Centre
by Anny Shaw  |  10 August 2016
Armenia's first international art event aims to regenerate the region
Maria Esayan (1916-1998), an agronomist in Dilijan, Armenia. (Image: courtesy of Dilijan Centralised Library System)

Unemployment and emigration may be on the rise in Armenia, but a new art initiative launching on 22 August aims to stem the brain drain and develop a road map for the cultural and economic development of the country.

The Dilijan Arts Observatory will see artists, designers, cultural historians and environmental scientists convene for three weeks in and around the ancient spa town of Dilijan, once a favourite with the composers Dmitri Shostakovich and Benjamin Britten. The observatory will have its headquarters in the former Soviet Impuls electronics factory, which formerly employed 4,000 people.

Participants—a third of whom are Armenian—will present their research on local craft, astronomy and Soviet architecture, among a myriad of other subjects, in a public event on 10 and 11 September, which will feature an all-night symphony, food tasting, performances and exhibitions. The line-up includes the Armenian curator Vigen Galstyan, the Lebanese artist Haig Aivazian and the Australian fashion designer Misha Hollenbach of Perks and Mini.

There are plans to hold a second think tank next year, which will culminate in exhibitions at the Hamburger Bahnhof, Berlin, in November 2017 and the Centre Pompidou, Paris, in summer 2018.

“We didn’t want to create a biennial or put pressure on artists to produce works in three weeks, but we didn’t want it to be a purely discursive summit either,” says Clémentine Deliss, the director of the Weltkulturen Museum in Frankfurt am Main who is the curator behind the project.

Instead, the long-term plan is to establish an art academy in Dilijan that will encompass what Deliss describes as “life practices” such as botany, medicine and law. As well as teaching and research, the academy might also be a site for the production of goods. “I’m interested to see if we can put our finger on a prototype; it could be a plant-derived product like Moroccan argan oil,” Deliss says. “The idea is to create a model for an institution that could apply to all parts of the world.”

Vigen Galstyan says the idea of culture being a force for regeneration in Armenia has existed since the population voted overwhelmingly for independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. “Culture as a form of production has always been the nexus of Armenian life,” he says. “It is hoped the Dilijan Arts Observatory will come up with ideas that will have a real impact on the region, which it so sorely needs.”

The project is supported by the philanthropists Ruben Vardanyan and Veronika Zonabend, who founded the Dilijan Art Initiative, sponsors of the Golden Lion-winning Armenian pavilion at the Venice Biennale in 2015. The Dilijan Art Initiative also supported 13 artists at last year’s Istanbul Biennial whose works related to the Armenian genocide, an atrocity not recognised by the Turkish state 100 years on. The couple are also behind IDeA (Initiatives for Development of Armenia) Foundation and United World College Dilijan.





Rumblings in the Auction World

Photo
Henry Moore’s monumental ‘‘Reclining Figure: Festival’’ sold at Christie’s for £24.7 million, an auction record for the artist. Credit The Henry Moore Foundation. All Rights Reserved, DACS 2016/www.henry-moore.org
A year or two ago, in less unsettled times, it was relatively easy for the wealthy to enhance their social status, and maybe make some money, by collecting art. Auction houses courted sellers with lavish guarantees; buyers, even at the top of the market, could be reasonably certain that quality works by blue-chip names would hold their value.
Things are rather more complicated now. Christie’s reported that sales of art and collectibles had fallen by 29 percent in the first half of this year compared with 2015, to 2.1 billion pounds, about $3 billion. The company said the decrease was “mainly due to the impact of a drop in supply of works of art above £20 million at auction.”
Comparative figures at Sotheby’s, where last month the Taikang life insurance company in China became its largest shareholder, are to be released on Monday and are also expected to show a decline in sales.
“It’s all about supply,” said Wendy Goldsmith, an art adviser in London. “If you don’t offer $100 million guarantees, you’re not going to get the best things.” She added that demand had also become highly selective: “Things either stagnate, or they sell like hot cakes. There isn’t any middle ground any more.”
In May 2015, for example, Christie’s guaranteed a low estimate of at least $130 million to the seller of the 1955 Picasso “Les Femmes d’Alger (Version ‘O’)” It sold for $179.4 million as the centerpiece of the company’s “Looking Forward to the Past” auction, which took in $705.9 million.
A year later, with Christie’s less willing to buy market share by guaranteeing headline prices — and risk having to own unsold works — the equivalent auction, titled “Bound to Fail,” grossed just $78.1 million.
Lower guarantees aside, other events over the past six months have made art a more thought-provoking investment.
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In April, the leak of 11.5 million files from the Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca — the so-called Panama Papers — showed how collectors like the Russian billionaire Dmitry E. Rybolovlev and dealers like David Nahmad used offshore shell companies and Swiss “freeports” to shield their assets.
Soon after the revelations, the Swiss authorities seized a Modigliani portrait valued at up to $25 million that had been the subject of a long legal battle. The painting had been stored in the Geneva Freeport by the International Art Center, an entity registered in Panama that, the leaked papers showed, since 2014 has been solely owned by Mr. Nahmad, the patriarch of the family of dealers.
In a separate case last month, Swiss officials, working with the United States authorities, seized works by van Gogh and Monet that had been bought by the Malaysian financier Jho Low, who is alleged to have paid for the works with money stolen from a Malaysian government investment fund.
The Panama Papers and the investigations that followed threaten the very opacity that for some wealthy individuals has been one of the main attractions of the art market.
The Financial Conduct Authority “rules are now clear about full disclosure of beneficial owners in all transactions,” said Paul Ress, the chief executive of Right Capital, a company in London that provides loans secured against art. (He was referring to the independent British regulatory body.) “We will simply not do business with opaque company or trust structures without full disclosure of the underlying beneficiaries and controlling parties.”
Other issues have added to the general sense of uncertainty: the Brexit vote in Britain, the American presidential election, the terror attacks in Europe and a new law in Germany that will restrict the export outside the European Union of certain artworks.
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Hauser & Wirth gallery has opened a multi-use complex in Somerset that treats art as an immersive experience. Credit Aaron Schuman/The artists and Hauser & Wirth
To be sure, new players continue to enter the market, and there is still plenty of money available for big-name trophies. In June in London, at Christie’s 250th anniversary sale of British art a telephone bidder bought all three of the most expensive works, topped by a monumental Henry Moore bronze, “Reclining Figure: Festival,” which sold for £24.7 million, an auction high for the artist.
Adding to the pressure on the status quo, collectors’ tastes appear to be shifting away from high-concept “wall power” paintings that appear to be about nothing much more than painting.
In May in New York, two large-scale trademark word paintings by the auction favorite Christopher Wool sold near the low end of their estimates, with the 1990 “Chameleon” selling for $13.9 million at Sotheby’s and the 1992 “And If You” for $13.6 million at Christie’s. Both were far below the $29.9 million that a similar work, the 1990 “Riot,” brought at Sotheby’s in May 2015.
Even the acclaimed abstracts of Gerhard Richter can now struggle to attract buyers. A 1994 “Abstraktes Bild” estimated at $19 million at Christie’s in London in June was withdrawn just before the auction.
America’s hottest artist right now is arguably Njideka Akunyili Crosby, 33, a Nigerian-born figurative painter in Los Angeles whose meticulous portraits currently are not available to private collectors.
Her latest work, “Super Blue Omo,” was snapped up at the Art Basel fair in June for a five-figure sum by one of the 18 or so public museums waiting to buy her paintings.
Lisa Schiff, an art adviser in New York, and others pointed out that the softening of demand for what has been regarded as blue-chip art might be about more than overambitious estimates or shifting fashions.
“Some of my clients are fatigued,” Ms. Schiff said. “Buying art for a private museum or foundation is no longer the most exciting thing.”
She said that people were increasingly valuing the experience of art over acquisition. That has prompted her and the curator Lauri Firstenberg to start an advisory company called there-there (the quirky title is inspired by a Gertrude Stein line) that aims to “develop programming and produce projects in collaboration with artists, foundations, corporations and institutions.”
Art as an experience, rather than an investment, is gaining traction elsewhere in the market. Hauser & Wirth’s gallery, bar, restaurant and garden complex in rural Somerset has attracted around 273,000 visitors since it opened in July 2014, almost double the 149,000 the company’s London gallery has attracted over the same period.
And Joseph Nahmad, the younger brother of the London dealer Helly Nahmad, opened his new Nahmad Projects space in Cork Street in June not with an exhibition of collector-friendly paintings, but with a series of performances by 30 artists.
Billionaire megacollectors such as Stephen S. Cohen, Kenneth C. Griffin and Eli Broad will, of course, continue to spend spectacular sums of money on spectacular works of art. But the culture of ownership that underpins these purchases — and indeed the entire art market — may not have the same appeal for the next generation.
“Consumers worldwide are seeking out experiences,” said Sarah Quinlan, a senior vice president at Mastercard who analyzes luxury spending. “Even the 1 percent is changing,” she added. “It’s not displaying its wealth so obviously.”
This behavioral shift, which Ms. Quinlan compared to patterns of consumer spending after the 1929 Wall Street crash, could potentially be a far more serious threat to the cult of art as an investment than the mere vagaries of collecting taste or the global economy.
What happens if it’s no longer cool to own expensive art?
Correction: August 8, 2016
An earlier version of this article misstated the title of a Christie’s themed sale in London in May 2015. It was “Looking Forward to the Past,” not “Looking Forward to Tomorrow.”