Friday, November 10, 2017

Kenny Schachter Goes for a Swim in the Summertime Art Market and Gets Stung

Kenny Schachter Goes for a Swim in the Summertime Art Market and Gets Stung

After a fateful dip in the waters off Ibiza, our plucky columnist learns that jellyfish and art dealers have a lot in common.
Kenny Schachter discovers the hard way that jellyfish and art dealers are of the same genus. Video still by Kenny Schachter.
Kenny Schachter discovers the hard way that jellyfish and art dealers are of the same genus. Video still by Kenny Schachter.
As much as global warming has disrupted the traditional cycling of the seasons, the 24/7 maelstrom that is the art market has also had an impact of its own: it has eradicated summer as a time of hiatus, at least for those in the trade. Even on the chilled-out Spanish island of Ibiza, there were plenty of art dealers on hand, cagey and cunning as ever. During the 1930s, Walter Benjamin, Raoul Haussmann, and Tristan Tzara were among the many creatives and intellectuals that sought solace at this sandy Mediterranean retreat. It was, and still is, a place of freedom in all senses (for better and worse), replete with a storied aura of special energy, if you believe in such things; I’m not sure I do. But since Pasha and Amnesia, the mega-nightclubs with capacities of 5,000 each, only launched in the mid 1970s (to be followed by many others), there must have been something more than the ready supply of MDMA that lured vacation-goers.
Ibiza has always been a hippy hangout and thus faced very little brand-saturated over-commercialization (aside from the clubs); most of the land was restricted from development in the past, and has become more so under the leftist-led political party, Podemos. There are more shamans and healers on hand than in Los Angeles, even—one morning I came down for coffee and found my wife jerry-rigged to an improv IV bag hanging from the chandelier over the dining-room table, mainlining vitamins.
Ilona on the drip. Photo by Kenny Schachter.
Ilona on the drip. Photo by Kenny Schachter.
On a Friday evening (if 2:30 am can still be considered night), I was semi-coerced to attend the “Music On” party with DJ Marco Carola at Amnesia. I lasted ’til 7:30 am, the horror. The club was peopled with a thick layer of middle-aged, well-off white men who seemed to relish falling off the deep end after having spent years beavering away to be able to afford behaving like a child again (and dressing the part). The positioning of the private tables above the dance floor is like the floor plan of an art fair—there is a hierarchy for the coveted slots. Shimmying next to our prime perch was none other than art dealer Jude Hess; I couldn’t resist seizing the opportunity to shout over the juddering ruckus about a Judd I had on offer.
Body tattoos in Ibiza. Photo by Kenny Schachter.
Body tattoos in Ibiza. Photo by Kenny Schachter.
I was handed a reddish pill I assumed was MDMA, which I proceeded to flush down the toilet; said to increase empathy and euphoria, it’s akin to an emotional subsidy. I’m not saying I would have passed a urine test the following day, but the last thing I need or want is a drug that makes me indiscriminately like people. I’d be out of a job. But it did occur to me to make my own pills—to try and outdo Richard Prince, who recently made his own strain of marijuana—and then hand them to clients, especially disgruntled ones. After all, ecstasy already comes in designer colors and shapes to connote different variations, just like Jeff Koons editions. I’d call it KenDMA. Anyway, I noticed that what passes for music played by star DJs—who are celebrated like deities—sounds more like the commotion heard at a construction site, or from a reversing truck. The incessant throbbing bass pauses, restarts, then repeats; each time the crowd goes ecstatic, as if surprised. With all the drugs consumed (and lack of short term memory) they probably were.
After a peaceful family lunch—or as close to peaceful as the Schachter clan can get—on the nearby island of Formentera, the smallest of the Balearic Islands (Majorca, Minorca, Ibiza, and Formentera), we jumped in for a leisurely dip. (I work like a dog and swim like a turtle.) Of course, I was stung by a jellyfish. It felt like a battery charger clamped onto my flesh had been blasted with a jolt of burning electricity. After I let out a commensurate scream, it was the fastest I’ve ever seen my 21-year-old move in retreat. Increased climactic conditions have resulted in a jellyfish plague, and the Pelagia Noctiluca, or mauve stinger, indigenous to the area are classified as among the harshest, under the heading ‘highly irritating.’ Like my writing. As anxious as I ordinarily am, now I’m scared to swim in a pool.
Kenny's jellyfish-inflicted wound. Photo by Kenny Schachter.
Kenny’s jellyfish-inflicted wound. Photo by Kenny Schachter.
It made me think that art dealers are really more like jellyfish than the predatory sharks to which they are popularly compared—after all, sharks violently devour their prey, and dealers can’t afford such totality, requiring the opportunity to bite again (and again). And we mustn’t annihilate our enemies, lest another deal may arise. As a friend said, “business is business and liquor is liquor”—i.e. it’s not wise to mix (too much) business and friendship. Just as in the ocean, I’ve found out in art (the hard way) that you must always proceed with caution and swim at your own risk!
The Parra & Romaro Gallery in Ibiza (and also Madrid) is a family run enterprise headed by Guillermo Romero Parra, whose parents started the business by dealing in secondary-market Spanish art in the 1980s. This is his fifth season in Ibiza and, with a “rigorous program between the boundaries of conceptual and minimal art,” he doesn’t make it easy for himself. But his focus and dedication is heartening, as was the fascinating Nancy Holt show with drawings starting at under $20,000 (a deal!). Holt is known for her land and installation art, and once collaborated on a video with Richard Serra in the 1970s.
Nancy Holt at Parra & Romero. Courtesy of the gallery.
Nancy Holt at Parra & Romero. Courtesy of the gallery.
As the accordion playing, stilt-walking, fire-eating, poker-playing, and street-busking billionaire founder of Cirque du Soleil, Guy Laliberté also operates two spaces on the island under the banner Art Projects Ibiza/Lune Rouge. In collaboration with Lisson Gallery, there was a ho-hum Cory Arcangel exhibit in tandem with the artist Olia Lialina (also underwhelming). Arcangel, called a “post-conceptualist,” whatever that might be, had a few of his popular color-gradient Photoshop photos sell at $85,000 and $350,000, and had a pair of flip-flops on offer that read: “FUCK NEGATIVITY.” I’d need to retrieve the little red pill I tossed to appreciate those. Laliberté’s estate was closed to the pubic this year, after hosting a Jenny Holzer sculptural show on the grounds last year. So much for chill.
Cory Arcangel at Art Projects Ibiza. Photo by Kenny Schachter.
Cory Arcangel at Art Projects Ibiza. Photo by Kenny Schachter.
The perfect transition from Ibiza was a brief stopover back in LA. I didn’t see any celebrities (because I don’t Soul Cycle) but I did eat a celebrity tomato (“cultivar is a hybrid that produces long fruit-bearing stems holding 20 or more very plump, robust tomatoes,” according to Wiki). You can daily track earthquakes in California, where, as of Tuesday morning, it appeared there were 33 in the past 24 hours; 176 in the past week; 785 in the past month; and a total of 8,154 in the past year. Nevertheless, LA continues to grow at a torrid pace, a testament to human resolve, foolishness, or both. If there was a quake in central LA, who wouldn’t be up for a little looting at The Broad
This time of year, LA is crawling with art-worlders ranging from the Nahmad clan to European and Middle Eastern collectors galore. Most can be found in the lobby of the Beverly Hills Hotel—owned by the Sultan of Brunei fitting enough, and formerly Ivan Boesky’s. I awoke in my room to find a fireplace blaring; it took an engineer 20 minutes to find the light switch that controlled it. I still have a hard time adjusting to indoor fires…. When I asked the concierge directions for a meeting, he turned his head sideways like a confused dog when I said I’d be walking. I should have heeded his concern—crossing the monstrous intersection in front of the hotel was as complex as geometry. I was invited to a dinner where one guest drove three doors down the street to eat, another brought up Scientology to the agent of an adherent, and the values of the flats vs. the hills of Beverly Hills were debated.
Jon Pylypchuk sculpture. Photo by Kenny Schachter.
A Jon Pylypchuk sculpture. Photo by Kenny Schachter.
Jon Pylypchuk is an eclectic sculptor and painter whom I’ve admired for ages, and had the opportunity to visit via an Instagram intro. His openness and generosity of spirit was reminiscent of the 1990s New York art scene I started out in, when a sense of community was in the air (and innocence, to some extent); in fact, I don’t think I’ve experienced it since. Pylypchuk frequently gives over portions of his studio to emerging artists—when I visited it was Luis Flores—and operates a gallery, Grice Bench, with a partner who didn’t want to be named. One of the gallery’s artists, Christina Forrer (a weaver of wacky wall hangings), has since been picked up by Luhring Augustine Gallery, but that does nothing to besmirch the purity of intent between Pylypchuk’s studio and gallery practice.
The artist Luis Flores. Photo by Kenny Schachter.
The artist Luis Flores. Photo by Kenny Schachter.
Born into another art-dealing family, private dealer Niels Kantor has operated public galleries, as his late dad did before him for years. Residing in the former family home across from the Beverly Hills Hotel, Kantor built a miniature gallery in the house complete with cement floors, a simulacrum of a space made to measure for Insta-only shows—a first, as far as I know.
Here are a few LA stories. A museum board member called Mark Grotjahnthe world’s most successful outsider artist in history, having met the naïve artist fresh out of art school, when Grotjahn’s first words to him were: “I will be a million-dollar painter.” He was wrong—he’s the $16 million man (for some odd reason). When it rains, it pours—now the world is tripping over itself to “collect” the paintings of his wife, Jennifer Guidi; aboriginal-esque, formal, Arte Povera in feel, they are decorative mark-making that looks nice and has a fine pedigree. Ca-ching. My pal also mentioned that his museum had a strict no-collect policy regarding a certain young, well-known, ubiquitous artist, even for proffered donations. And Venus Over LA let go its staff and appeared to subsume the Lower East Side emerging gallery Ramiken Crucible in its entirety, hiring its dealers and importing them to the city of angels. I guess like Victor Kiam, who famously loved the Remington razor so much he bought the company.
A LA pool party with a masked Chinese “influencer.” Photo by Kenny Schachter.
A LA pool party with a masked Chinese “influencer.” Photo by Kenny Schachter.
My summer was bracketed by trying to secure a guarantee for a work in the coming London October contemporary sales; last time I checked they’re still having them despite the fact that Christie’s bowed out of the June proceedings—a first since they began selling contemporary art at night. (London is pretty down at the moment, I feel.) One contract specified that the auction house could claw back the advance of the guarantee within a certain period: if London was declared a disaster area, if the Dow Jones average declined by 20 percent, if stock-market trading was halted, or if any auction sales results were equal to or below 50 percent of the presale low estimate. What if it rains in Spain, does that give rise to a cancellation clause? In the heat of negotiations between two houses, a Phillips associate whom I previously helped with career advice wrote me this peach of an email:
“You’re the loser here (and coming across as a total prick). If you’re not prepared give our guarantor more time, to raise their offer, then you will not get the deal that you wanted from us. Going forward don’t waste my, and my colleagues time, unless you are prepared to deal seriously—and not pathetically crumble to other pressures. Best luck with Sothebys [sic]!”
Lovely! I sold it privately.
This kind of art-world sting makes me long for Ibiza, which may be the land of clubs gone wild and horrible full-body tattoos, but the natural beauty is unparalleled and the seafood for lunch and dinner was likely swimming earlier in the day. (My actual jellyfish wound is still itching as I type nearly a month later, but I survived, got out with my hair and molars; what more can you ask?) And with works sold by artists from Zaha Hadid to Rachel Harrison (to my kids), both privately and to museums, the “Nuclear Family” show at Ibid Gallery was another LA story with a happy ending. Stay tuned for the sequel(s) beginning in November at the 021 fair in Shanghai.

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How Rodin’s Studio Paved the Way for Donald Judd, Jeff Koons, and the Art of the Future

How Rodin’s Studio Paved the Way for Donald Judd, Jeff Koons, and the Art of the Future

The artist's approach to fabrication and the multiple was ahead of his time—and still not fully understood.
Auguste Rodin's Bourgeois de Calais (The Burghers of Calais) (1889). Philippe Huguen/AFP/Getty Images.
Auguste Rodin's Bourgeois de Calais (The Burghers of Calais) (1889). Philippe Huguen/AFP/Getty Images.
Jean-Jacques Neuer is a lawyer and solicitor based in Paris who has represented major artists’ estates, including the Picasso Administration and the estate of Constantin Brancusi. He is a former member of the board of the Musée National des Arts Asiatiques Guimet and a former member of the legal affairs department of the International Council of Museums. The below is an op-ed published on the occasion of Rodin’s centennial celebrations.
To mark the centennial of Rodin’s death, museums around the world—from the Grand Palais in Paris to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York—are organizing exhibitions dedicated to the great sculptor. But visitors to these shows may be surprised to learn that Rodin sculpted few of the works on view directly himself. Indeed, the sculptor never produced a work in plaster, bronze, or marble with his own hands.
The Met’s exhibition of nearly 50 marbles, bronzes, plasters, and terracottas by Rodin (“Rodin at the Met,” September 16–January 15) offers an ideal moment to reconsider the complex notion of the “original work”—an obsolete but persistent idea that haunts our understanding of art history, the art market, and its legal framework.
Rodin—who created his works alone but produced them in partnership with others and was an early adopter of the multiple—took a forward-thinking approach to the “original” that would go on to inform many great artists in the 20th century.
Jacques-Ernest Bulloz's General View of the Studio in Meudon (1904–1905). © Musée Rodin.
Jacques-Ernest Bulloz’s General View of the Studio in Meudon (1904–1905). Courtesy of Musée Rodin.
Our conception of what constitutes an “original” has implications far beyond the exhibition hall. If we do not recognize that Rodin created works without physically forming them by hand, we cannot fully understand the artists who come after him.
As a lawyer responsible for maintaining artists’ legacies, I believe it is important that misconceptions about the concept of originality never prevent artistic genius from being duly recognized. This issue will only become more urgent as the production of art becomes more mechanical by the day. Now, artworks are produced not only by third parties but also by robots. Does that mean that creativity and authorship have disappeared? Certainly not—originality has more to do with spirituality than materiality.
In Rodin’s oeuvre, we see a harbinger of this new world. A careful analysis of his approach—and the ways in which it has been misinterpreted—will make us better equipped to understand the art of the future.
Auguste Rodin's <i>The Thinker</i>. Photo by Hans Anderson via Wikimedia Commons.
Auguste Rodin’s The Thinker (1906). Photo by Hans Anderson via Wikimedia Commons.

From a Clay Model to a Monumental Sculpture

To fully understand Rodin’s process, we must start at the beginning. In the studio, Rodin completely immersed himself in the production of small-scale sculpture—but left the production of plasters, bronzes, and marbles to others.
Take, for example, Rodin’s most famous work, The Thinker. The artist completed a clay model for the figure around 1880 as part of a larger commission for Dante’s Gates of Hell. Originally one of many elements in this composition, the diminutive clay Thinker was enlarged by a consortium of third-party molders and casters under the artist’s direction. The first bronze edition of The Thinker dates from 1906 and is now on show at the Musée Rodin.
In terms of dimension and material, The Thinker modeled in clay by Rodin’s hands has little in common with the masterpiece the world knows and reveres. (In fact, both the clay model and the mold would often be destroyed in the casting process.) Yet no one would contest that the bronze is an original work by Rodin, even if numerous other people were involved in bringing it to fruition, impacting its form along the way. Today, there are more than 20 copies of this famous Thinker (created both posthumously and during Rodin’s lifetime), executed for the most part by the Rudier Foundry.
Rodin's <i>The Kiss</i> (1901–1904). Courtesy of Tate.
Auguste Rodin’s The Kiss (1901–1904). Courtesy of Tate.

The Intervention of Compass and Carver

The misconceptions only grow when discussing works in marble, a material that still takes pride of place in the popular imagination and prompts a vision of the sculptor with hammer and chisel, working away against an intransigent block of stone.
Consider The Kiss, another iconic work by the artist. At the exhibition “Rodin, l’Exposition du Centenaire,” held this summer at the Grand Palais, the sculpture was accompanied by a plaque that dates it to 1881–82, but also notes that it was carved by Jean Turcan between 1888 and 1898.
Like many of Rodin’s most famous works, this one was executed based on a small-scale sculpture modeled by Rodin in clay. This model was then enlarged, carved and finished by a carver (or “practicien” in French) thanks to a procedure of measurements made using compasses to retain the model’s proportions. Looking at the back of the female figure, one will notice small holes—marks left by the tips of the compass.
Does this part of the process diminish Rodin’s merit? Certainly not. It’s quite simply that his genius finds its expression in the initial conception and the modeling of clay on a small scale. Once Rodin chose the material and final size, he left the execution to a carver, a subordinate practitioner.
To complicate the picture further, take the example of Rodin’s Gates of Hell. Art historian François Blanchetière is correct in his assessment that the “Gates of Hell is, in every sense of the term, the central work of Auguste Rodin’s career.” And yet, as he points out, “Rodin never finished his Gates of Hell.” He stopped working on it after 1889.
Like Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony, the work was never truly completed, and thus never formally acknowledged by the artist. Yet what work could be more emblematic of his style?
What these examples illustrate is the difficulty of defining the scope of any “original work.”
Auguste Rodin's <i>Gates of Hell</i> cast in bronze by Alexis Rudier, (1917). Museé Rodin, Paris, France.
Auguste Rodin’s Gates of Hell cast in bronze by Alexis Rudier, (1917). Courtesy of Museé Rodin.

Rodin Casts a Long Shadow

Rodin is not the first artist to frustrate our conventional definitions of an original work. As the Musée Rodin notes in its online education material, “Starting in the Renaissance, sculptors only do the modeling; the work in plaster, bronze, or marble is produced by casters or carvers.” Later, in the 17th century, under Louis XIV, sculptors including Antoine Coysevox and François Girardon were already supervising large staffs and armies of many assistants of every variety.
Rodin’s approach influenced an entire generation of artists that followed. As Catherine Chevillot, who organized the Grand Palais exhibition, wrote in the catalogue: “At the beginning of the 20th century, all the young sculptors, including Brancusi, Henri Gaudier-Brzeska, and Picasso, do, in fact, go through a Rodinian phase.”
Rodin’s influence continues into the Modern era. As the sculptor Antony Gormley writes in the catalogue for Rodin’s Grand Palais exhibition, the sculptor’s greatness “lies in a paradox: on the one hand, he embodies the public narrative statuary prevalent in the late nineteenth century; on the other hand, where multiplication, industrial production, the serial repetition of ways of associating one object with another, and his capacity of taking a body apart to then recreate it are concerned, he prefigures Carl Andre and Donald Judd.”

From the Unique to the Multiple Original

Rodin also prefigured contemporary practice—and upended our notion of the original—with his use of the multiple.
The precedent for multiples dates to the 1850s, when artists like Antoine-Louis Barye or Emmanuel Frémiet began to sell a kind of patent for design objects. Foundries such as Barbedienne in Paris produced decorative elements of all sizes, which is how the same candelabra could end up on bridges and fountains from Clermont-Ferrand all the way to Buenos Aires. It is in France that this kind of democratizing art was invented.
Not long after multiples were popularized in the design field, Rodin began creating multiple casts of his works, starting with She Who Was the Helmet Maker’s Once-Beautiful Wife in 1889. Such casts are usually fabricated from a mold while the artist is alive but can be made posthumously as well.
The (sometimes mistaken) idea that a work made during the artist’s lifetime was produced under his supervision has historically justified a difference in value between lifetime and posthumous works. In fact, the artist did not always oversee production closely, and the artist’s estate must adhere to much stricter rules governing the quality of production than the artist himself did. As attitudes change, this market inequality may come to an end. Indeed, some artists, such as Giacometti, have recently seen an increase in prices for posthumous works. The artists’ beneficiaries may profit from this shift—but so does the public at large, which gains a fuller understanding of the value of the artist’s work.
Castings by Rodin displayed in his studio, Meudon. At left, "Le baiser" (The kiss), third left, a casting of French writer Honore de Balzac. Pierre Andrieu/AFP/Getty Images.
Castings by Rodin displayed in his studio, Meudon. At left, The Kiss (1901–1904); third left, a casting of French writer Honore de Balzac. Photo by Pierre Andrieu/AFP/Getty Images.

12 Copies—the Limit of the Original Work?

When production occurs on various timelines, how can we distinguish between the original and its reproduction? In France, the law (particularly in terms of customs or tax regulations) provides some elements of an answer—although the relevant text is rather obscure, cryptic, or merely an article in a provision to the general tax code concerned with the application of reduced VAT rates. In this context, the term “original work of art” encompasses “the casts of sculptures in drawings limited to eight copies and under the control of the artist or his beneficiaries.”
Under French law, the maximum number of casts allowed for copies to qualify as “multiple originals” is 12. (It is commonly permitted to add to the eight copies another four artist proofs.)
The origins of this figure stretch back to the beginning of the 20th century, when the first limited editions entered the market courtesy of French designers. At the time, the sales price of a work in bronze was about three times the cost of its production. Eight copies were drawn for the dealer (numbered 1/8 to 8/8) and four additional for the artist, which served as payment in kind to the sculptor (these épreuves d’artiste are numbered differently, from E. A. I/IV to E.A. IV/IV).
From France, this number has made its way around the world and has entered, for example, American legislation to serve as the basis for defining multiple originals.
In a 2012 decision, the French Cour de Cassation, aware of the as yet undefined nature of these multiple copies, elaborated further on the definition of original works to note that they must be drawn from the plaster or terracotta model produced personally by the artist; in its execution, “these material supports of the work bear the mark of their author’s personality and are thereby distinct from a simple reproduction.”
Americans deal with such problems more pragmatically. Instead of anchoring descriptions on a qualifier as original, the essential thing for United States law is ensuring public awareness of an object’s characteristics, whether it is a multiple, produced during the artist’s lifetime or after their death, the name of the caster and the precise number of copies. For, in the end, what is important in law is that no one is deceived and everyone can form a subjective opinion based on objective facts.
©Jeff Koons. Courtesy Noirmontartproduction. 3D Illustration of the work in situ.
Rendering of Jeff Koons’s Bouquet of Tulips (2017). Courtesy of Noirmontartproduction.

Contemporary Ties

Rodin’s novel approach to the original enables us to draw a direct line between the French artist and major contemporary artists today. Jeff Koons, for example, maintains and extends this tradition of a communal artisanal studio practice. In an article by Béatrice De Rochebouet published in Le Figaro in 2014, Koons’ studio is described as a place where “a veritable army of more than a hundred people contemplates materials, ranging from wood via stainless steel to ceramics, with an elite group of physicists and technicians.”
Just this year, Koons offered a monumental work, Bouquet of Tulips, as a gift to the city of Paris. Created from polychrome bronze and steel, the sculpture stands at more than 38 feet and weighs more than 72,000 pounds. It was produced in a German factory under the watchful eyes of an agent of the artist and, barring further delays, is expected to be installed later this year. It is noted as an original work and is accepted by the Paris authorities as such.
Koons is one of many contemporary artists who push Rodin’s approach to its logical conclusion, using machines and studio assistants to realize his vision. He is, in a certain way, the ultimate symbol of the distinction between creation and production.
French sculptor Francois Auguste Rene Rodin (1840–1917) in his museum at Meudon. Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images.

The Romantic Approach to Art and Law

Nevertheless, despite the wide recognition for artists like Koons, many still hold onto erroneous conceptions that only works that come straight from an artist’s hands can be deemed original. We are willing to tolerate that multiples are produced, but, even then, we seek to be reassured by tracing the artist’s touch back through the complex molding process.
What complaints we hear when posthumous casts are produced, while artists such as Rodin never cast even the smallest bronze themselves! Do people seriously think that Giacometti or Brancusi created their bronzes in the heat of their own fireplaces? Are people aware that all of the Degas bronzes in the Musée d’Orsay were cast after the artist’s death? The case of Brancusi is all the more significant as the Rumanian sculptor was, in 1907, Rodin’s student and could not but have learned the rules of the great master’s artistic production.
What will people say when, in the near future, an artist sends an electronic file from New York to Hong Kong, where a 3-D printer produces a sculpture that the artist never laid hands, or even eyes, upon? As Rodin reminds us, what really counts is the mind, not the hand.

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Kenny Schachter Holes Up in Trump Tower, Spills the Beans on Mark Grotjahn, and Gets Arrested

In a Post-Truth Art World, Kenny Schachter Holes Up in Trump Tower, Spills the Beans on Mark Grotjahn, and Gets Arrested

Our indomitable dealer-columnist had a busy month, to say the least.
An anonymous auction-dominating art dynasty. Image courtesy of Kenny Schachter.
An anonymous auction-dominating art dynasty. Image courtesy of Kenny Schachter.
It doesn’t take much to get me out of the house, but what choice have I? Opportunities in the art world are scarce, and these days you need to chase them more than ever. The especially cautious economy is no time to sit still. All it took this go-round was an invitation to speak on a panel at EXPO Chicago on criticism and art writing in “the post-truth era.” I find that the art world is fine with lies—it’s the truth that market players (or quasi-participants) blanch at. That was followed by a New York stopover where I visited a fistful of galleries and the Bridge, a car show and micro art fair on a private golf course in the Hamptons.
People love to complain about art-fair overload, so get this lineup: the 20/21 British Art Fair, Contemporary Istanbul, art berlin (pretentious spelling not my own), the Code Art Fair in Copenhagen, La Biennale Paris, EXPO Chicago, and The Bridge. That would be a heavy slate in any month—and it’s only September. We are in the midst of a new (art) world order. There have been reams of press about the worrisome attrition of mid-tier galleries, seemingly dropping like flies. The notion of the traditional small-to-mid-sized gallery is fast falling by the wayside and perhaps on its way to becoming obsolete, replaced by models not yet fully articulated. I understand galleries are under pressure, but of late it’s escalated to hysteria. Tell me, when has it ever been easy to run an art gallery?
For me, 30 years in, the art business is still like crawling through mud. I lectured in the past that galleries should be federally subsidized below a certain income level if they could establish sufficient hardship—by which I mean financial hardship, not anguish over disingenuous advisors. Have dealers got a bad rap? I know an advisor formerly in the tech sector who sold buckets of art until the day he made the gaffe of referring to himself as “a dealer” in front of his friends, who had been doing all the buying previously. Hey everyone, I am no longer an art dealer (but you can call Artnet if you want to get in touch).
I don’t envy young galleries. Besides bleeding for sales, the allure of free alcohol—a common courtesy at openings—attracts a fair number of the strange and disgruntled, too. Well, misery loves company. It’s not much easier on the other side. A dealer who extricated himself from a mid-level gallery and interviewed at one of the majors was told that he wouldn’t get more than a cursory salary until he met his sales quota, which exceeded $2.5 million (at which point his share would be 10 percent of the gallery’s net profit).

EXPO Chicago

I was told by a collector that Illinois was the third most populous state and that the word “Illinois” itself derives from the Chippewa word for brave. Fact-checking revealed that it’s the fifth-largest state, and means “he speaks the regular way” or “tribe of superior men.” Indeed, Chicagoans are regular in a superior sort of fashion. For one thing, there is a Midwestern mindset to show up early for work, followed by a good night’s sleep. I also observed a civic generosity of spirit in Chicago—at least when it comes to the art world—that seems quite unprecedented. An internationally prominent museum benefactor told me: “We all like each other and support each other in collecting. There’s no jealousy or competition.”
On the other hand, there is a sign at the entrance of O’Hare International Airport reminding passengers not to bring their guns with them. In 1962, Frank Sinatra gigged for a week at the Villa Venice for noted mafioso Sam Giancana (who later got a bullet to the back of the head), famously crooning in the song “Chicago (That Toddlin’ Town)”:
On State Street that great street I just want to sayThey do things they don’t do on BroadwayThey have a time, the time of their lifeI saw a man who danced with his wifeIn Chicago, Chicago my hometownChicago, ChicagoThat toddlin’ town
Chicago also has a great collecting tradition and I was amazed by the depth of the art in the city that I hadn’t been to for 20 years. The previous iteration of the fair had been the biggest in the US until it was cannibalized by Art Basel Miami Beach in 2002. The fair formerly known as Art Chicago went from being a stalwart on the calendar to folding pitifully, only to be reborn in 2012 as EXPO Chicago (this edition being the sixth). I found it a solid undertaking in a robust region filled with a passion for art, and there was plenty of it to be admired on the walls of the great museums and private residences that I visited.
I didn’t really pay much heed to pricing or sniffing out what was and wasn’t sold—it was a more laid-back, casual atmosphere with lower price points and more experimentation by established galleries. A gallery partner who shows at the Basel fair spoke of lots of indigenous collectors and described the fair as up-and-coming; he returned after giving it a shot in 2012. He also mentioned there were not as many parties, and fewer tire-kickers. A talented local dealer, on the other hand, considered the event too expensive, with weak branding and no identity. I liked it.
It's a Gagosian world. Image courtesy of Kenny Schachter.
It’s a Gagosian world. Image courtesy of Kenny Schachter.
Imagine a globe with a Gagosian on every street corner—according to his booth signage, he’s nearly there. I’m in awe of Larry G., from his partnering with Leo Castelli to the dominance of his worldwide emporium. This time around he sported a Richard Prince protest painting at $650,000 (I’ve seen them for $1 million at other fairs). Richard Gray, of Chicago and New York, had a Mark Grotjahn for $1.75 million, which had been handsomely dressed in a new frame since its last fair outing. Ross Bleckner may be many moons from his market-darling moment, but his works looked great at Maruani Mercier from Brussels, priced from $60,000 to $100,000—a steal compared to what the young’uns fetch today. (Hmm, seems I did pay some attention to pricing after all.)
Designed by Renzo Piano, the Modern Wing of the Art Institute of Chicago opened in 2009 and got a boost in 2015 when Stefan Edlis and Gael Neeson donated nearly 50 great works (valued at nearly half a billion), from showstoppers by Jasper Johns and Warhol to a cache of interesting works made since. No vanity private museum, this was instead a charitable gesture that benefitted the city—an exemplary act. I also admire gallerist and art teacher Shane Campbell, a sweetheart with a rigorous program to boot, whose South Loop gallery featured a formidable installation by local talent Tony Lewis consisting of a mountainous cascade of graphite-laden paper nearly reaching the ceiling.
Dealer Shane Campbell with an Adam Pendleton in his office. Image courtesy of Kenny Schachter.
Dealer Shane Campbell with an Adam Pendleton in his office. Image courtesy of Kenny Schachter.
Corbett vs. Dempsey (the names of the two dealers behind the gallery, and also two famous boxers who never fought, hence the “vs.”) hosted “Small Sculpture,” a tabletop show bursting with covetable, intimately scaled objects. When I tried to buy a Rachel Harrison and asked for a courtesy discount as tiny as the works on display, I was shot down—even though I’ve worked with the artist for 27 years. Charming.
The art market is a little like Trump, and not just because its largely made up of his supporters. Much like the president, top collectors don’t want to disclose their taxes or anything else for that matter, including the machinations of the market. In a sense, there’s fake news everywhere. You’ve always needed common sense and healthy dose of criticality—hyperbole, after all, is human nature, as is the propensity to present things (or oneself) as better than their reality. Ask anyone at a fair how the art is selling and you will hear much of the same. I, for one, admit to once telling Bloomberg News I had sold out when I hadn’t sold a single, sad, solitary piece.
In my panel presentation at EXPO, in order to illustrate auction shenanigans, I projected an image of one well-known dealing dynasty, with obscured eyes to protect their identities. I also recounted an instance where a high visibility lot in a ubiquitous charity auction was the subject of a guarantee, a practice that’s never been publicly disclosed. In another slide, I reproduced the now widely seen and much-commented-upon Mark Grotjahn Instagram post that said: “Yo Phillips. (. Dm. Me.). I’m not sure I made this. Either way it sucks.” It reads like a concrete poem, but it incited an avalanche of chatter, and forced Phillips to remove the now-aspersed work from an upcoming auction.
Mark Grotjahn's Instagram. Image courtesy of Kenny Schachter.
Mark Grotjahn’s Instagram. Image courtesy of Kenny Schachter.
Here is the rub: on the undisputedly Mark Grotjahn-made artwork there is the letter ‘K’ painted in glowing red. ‘K’ is for Kimberly, as in Kimberly Chang, art advisor to Cirque du Soleil founder Guy Laliberté. I guess Mark wasn’t amused by the deaccession. Speaking of deaccessions, I also heard from Deep Pockets—now returned from a summer of island-hopping—that Leo DiCaprio and his advisor Lisa Schiff have parted ways, although she’s working out her contract term. Leo’s frequent selling activities are known by many and understood by few. I should start an art-advisor advisory business.

New York

Arriving smack in the middle of the 72nd session of the UN General Assembly meetings, I found myself squeezed for a reasonable hotel room. A friend kindly mentioned the discounted rates at the Trump International Hotel and Tower, otherwise known as One Central Park West (to me anyway), which is where I would tell people I was staying. (Don’t tell Jerry Saltz, please). Due to the creepy, weird vibe, I practically had to serpentine in from the sidewalk with my chin tucked down. A decrepit, moldy-smelling room it was, but damn cheaper than many others. Wonder why. The views were great but the downside was Trump-branded everything: wine, mouthwash, soap, matches. My blood pressure spiked every time I entered my room. Good thing I’m not on American healthcare.
Cheers, Jerry! Image courtesy of Kenny Schachter.
Cheers, Jerry! Image courtesy of Kenny Schachter.
Then, not more than an hour after arriving (and immediately seeing someone getting arrested at LaGuardia), a cop car swooped in as I spoke to my wife while sipping a beer on the sidewalk in front of Brooklyn’s Clearing Gallery. Despite my repeated protestations that drinking in the streets is perfectly legal where I come from (it is), the officer took my license and went on to deliberate for nearly 30 minutes inside the vehicle with his partner on the beat before finally issuing me a ticket for public drinking. The give-and-take convo must have been a real-life good cop/bad cop moment. I was going to make another kind of negotiation, maybe a $10 or $15 bribe in cold hard cash (just to be annoying, as I am wont to do), as opposed to the $25 fine. We know how badly that could have ended… cops these days! They might consider enforcing the penalty with community service at Phillips.
To bribe or not to bribe? Image courtesy of Kenny Schachter.
To bribe or not to bribe? Image courtesy of Kenny Schachter.
Maxwell Graham, trenchant conceptual warrior and proprietor of Essex Street Gallery on the Lower East Side, was a student of Shane Campbell back in Chicago. When I paid a visit, Max offered up his entire gallery for sale to the young dealer I showed up with. He then introduced me to the work of sculptor/installation artist Cameron Rowland, who considers issues of subjugation and abuse in the workplace. Sometimes you can buy the work, other occasions you must rent it—the sales agreement is part and parcel of the art. The new waiting list, these days, is for young art in commercial galleries that is not for sale.

The Hamptons

The Bridge, a six-gallery art fair in the Hamptons in the middle of September, goes a long way to prove that I am not alone wanting to spend most of my waking hours looking at, thinking about, talking about, and working in art. Call it Process Addiction, which is the physiological, chemical necessity for incessant sex, eating, gambling, shopping, and in my case, arting. I find it a healthy and satisfying obsession. And with my limited attention span, six galleries actually seems an ideal quota of galleries for a given fair—Basel, take note! Though I suspect, from the initial success of this cozy event, next year’s edition of the Bridge will grow, like the fake weeds crafted by sculptor Tony Matelli at the booth of Marlborough Contemporary, a founder of the event.
Caroline Hoffman, Adrian Schachter, Caio Twombly, and Kai Schachter with a Mercedes 300SL at the Bridge fair. Image courtesy of Kenny Schachter.
Caroline Hoffman, Adrian Schachter, Caio Twombly, and Kai Schachter with a Mercedes 300SL at the Bridge fair. Image courtesy of Kenny Schachter.
This was a ritzy shindig, but a nice experience for those that could make it: the commingling of art and classic cars. Paddy Johnson of Art F City has criticized the “casual privilege” evidenced by my writings and I agree she’s got a point. I’m glad she wasn’t in Bridgehampton last week. Not to dodge the implications, but it is what it is, and always has been. He or she who had the most shells, sticks, or rocks (or the equivalent) bought the first off-the-cave art, and probably flipped it shortly thereafter to another caveman/woman for the wampum of the day.
I also visited gallerist/artist (today’s actor/bartender) Joel Mesler of Rental Gallery, who will host a retrospective of the artworks I’ve created for my artnet columns (and for over 30 years before) next summer in East Hampton. And, in an extreme act of onanistic nepotism, Joel will display his own paintings in Miami at the next version of NADA. He calls himself the young me (since he writes, deals, and makes art) and frequently refers to himself as unsuccessful despite vast efforts. I consider myself lucky to have my art-world DNA in such fine hands.

Home Again

Back in London, on way to pick up a newspaper (with which I still engage in the physical world, call me old-fashioned), I stumbled across a pop-up exhibition just down the street from my house called “Old and Young.” The space was being invigilated by 18-year-old Sebastian Mahal, an artist with work in the show, along with a collective called, fitting enough, Fiasco. Turns out Seb’s dad is a Fiasco member, and an “ex-hedge fund and investment banker now launching a new start up in the co-working sector.” Making art about the ruthless, omnivorous financial sector—how could you not love the hypocrisy? But it evinces a never-ending stream of endeavors to present works of all stripes on a street corner near you (unless Gagosian gets there first).
The art world is my favorite world, and though I have overall macroeconomic concerns—especially in London—I am anticipating a massively strong fall. What could prove to be emblematic of a still surging art market is the fact that Loic Gouzer of Christie’s is on the verge of announcing a blockbuster addition to the November New York sales that will be valued in excess of $100 million. That’s a lot of clamshells. I doubt whatever it is won’t sell, and sell well.

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