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HELMUT NEWTON FOUNDATION
VANESSA BEECROFT, YANG FUDONG, INEZ & VINOODH, JÜRGEN KLAUKE, ROBERT LONGO, ROBERT MAPPLETHORPE, HELMUT NEWTON, BARBARA PROBST, VIVIANE SASSEN, CINDY SHERMAN, BERND UHLIG, ERWIN WURM
Opening: 29 November 2019, 8 pm 30 November 2019 - 10 May 2020
Performance is an independent art form and photography is its constant companion. Human actions in front of the camera can be conscious or unconscious, choreographed or accidentally observed. For the first time, this group exhibition brings together photo sequences whose origins lie in performance art, dance, and other staged events, complemented by conceptual photography series. With their common focus on the human body, the images document or interpret performances, which in many cases have also been initiated by the photographers themselves.
Helmut Newton, Ballets de Monte Carlo, Anne Derieux and Frédéric Olivieri, Monaco 1988
One relatively unknown work by Helmut Newton is the series of images he made of the dancers of the Monte Carlo Ballet. Taken over many years, the photos were intended for print in the theater’s program booklets and special publications. Newton accompanied the dancers on the streets of Monaco, on the steps behind the famous casino, or in the nude near an emergency exit of the theater.
Added to Newton’s Ballet series, works by 12 internationally renowned artists and photographers are presented throughout the exhibition rooms, among them Bernd Uhlig, who has photographically accompanied the dance choreographies by Sasha Waltz for many years. Here, a genuinely fleeting art form and its visual materialization find a congenial connection.
Vanessa Beecroft presents nude or sparely clothed women in elaborate tableaux vivants, and during the hours-long actions their movements occur in slow motion. Beecroft photographically documents this state of moving motionlessness, and the numerous images of the performance transport the process into the static image, f.i. her performance VB55, presented at Berlin’s New National Gallery in 2005, transformed into life-size prints.
Erwin Wurm asks people for a mini performance in front of the camera. For his “One Minute Sculptures”, people interact with objects to transform the street and various interiors into a stage. Wurm thinks up curious poses or absurd contortions for the collaborators, becoming part of his art for a short period.
Viviane Sassen also works mainly with the human body. She sometimes captures it in extreme contortions for her experimental fashion images. She choreographs and stages her models´ bodies in unexpected ways, for example by coloring their skin or depicting them obscured by shadow, mirrored, superimposed by objects.
It was in the 1970s that Robert Longo shot his photo sequence “Men in the Cities” on the roof of a high-rise building in New York City, which he later reinterpreted as large-format charcoal drawings. In these images, we see people caught by the camera in unnatural poses. They appear to be dancing wildly, or replaying scenes from American western, war, or gangster films – for example, when someone seems to fall in a hail of imaginary bullets.
Thus, in this exhibition we see a broad swathe of approaches expressed in artistic actions and performances focusing on the human body including role play and physical or digital transformation of the body.
Every Monday morning, artnet News brings you The Gray Market. The column decodes important stories from the previous week—and offers unparalleled insight into the inner workings of the art industry in the process.
This week, taking it from the streets to the VIP suites…
KAWS AND EFFECT
On Thursday, Scott Reyburn at the Art Newspaper investigated the growing tension between populist and elitist rhetoric in the art market. And while I think he did an admirable job of assessing the scenario with a cool head and a valuable bit of distance from art-world orthodoxy, the piece also convinced me that the larger debate about structural reform in the market tends to leave one important factor unaddressed.
For context, Reyburn’s piece ultimately cautions members of the art establishment not to dismiss the recent commercial success of artists and galleries that have primarily pursued something resembling mass appeal rather than traditional dealer, curator, or mega-collector approval.
On the artist side, he references the record-incinerating auction performance of Banksy’s Devolved Parliament ($12.1 million at Sotheby’s London last month), KAWS’s The KAWS Album($14.8 million at Sotheby’s Hong Kong this spring), and the lesser-known Stik’s Liberty print portfolio ($250,000 at Christie’s London in September). On the gallery side, he focuses on a trio of London spaces—Unit, Hang-up, and Maddox—that are growing by deliberately courting “a new breed of social-media-aware ‘consumer collector’” unconcerned with the legacy art world’s judgments on either creative merit or collecting norms.
Gallery workers display Banksy’s ‘Devolved Parliament’ prior to a photo call at Sotheby’s on September 27, 2019 in London, England. Photo by Peter Summers/Getty Images.
Reyburn wasn’t alone in addressing the theme this week. Pieces about the popular-art wave seemed to rise everywhere I looked in the art media the past seven days. In the New York Times, Robin Pogrebin unpacked how Yayoi Kusama’s work became mainstream enough to warrant a balloon in this year’s Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade; on Artsy, author-entrepreneur tag team Stefan Heidenreich and Magnus Resch delivered a combined manifesto and game plan for embracing art-market iconoclasm; and over on Artnet News, Eddie Chambers reminded readers that now-celebrated artist Charles White consistently made works (like jazz album covers and low-priced print portfolios) intended for mass consumption.
Although each of the pieces I mentioned above approaches populism from a slightly different angle, together they underscore that contemporary art is overdue for a reckoning with the mainstream. Most trustworthy sales metrics agree that the art market has been in a state of arrested development for close to a decade. For instance, inflation-adjusted auction sales of artworks peaked back in 2011 at about $6.9 billion, according to the latest Artnet Intelligence Report. Worse, the annual total hasn’t even gotten to within $1 billion of that apex since 2014.
So anecdotal and quantitative evidence both suggest the grounds of the art economy are fertile for change. But the amount and the timing of said change doesn’t just depend on the attitudes of buyers and sellers. Within the increasingly charged debate about the market’s future, the most consistently underrated obstacle to restructuring may be the nostalgic vision of success held by artists—and the two artists most frequently cast as harbingers of a new order help illustrate why.
Artist KAWS, honoree at the 2019 Tribeca Ball held by the New York Academy of Art. Photo: Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images.
A STUDY IN CONTRASTS
As Reyburn shows, almost anytime the conversation turns toward a potential populist insurgency in contemporary art, Banksy and KAWS are portrayed as the tip of the spear. In my mind, they should be—but only in the sense that both have gained traction in the blue-blood art market despite starting out in the wilderness beyond the castle walls. What gets glossed over too often in discussions about Banksy and KAWS, however, is that they have used their unlikely art-world clout to forge very, very different types of careers.
Yes, both artists are now fixtures in sales by the Big Three auction houses, maintain direct-to-consumer sales operations for what I’ll call alternative artworks—see: KAWS’s signature line of toys and Banksy’s Gross Domestic Product “home goods”—and, thanks to their street-art origins and populist appeal, both can quickly cause the veins in the average art-world veteran’s forehead to bulge to the circumference of a roll of pennies.
But aside from continued speculation that Sotheby’s was in on the now-infamous self-shredding of his painting Girl With Balloon (2006) at auction last year, Banksy has continued to favor a guerrilla practice that largely only engages with the traditional art system to troll it. He has not signed with a major gallery. He has not produced a single exhibition of his work at a major museum. He still hasn’t even revealed his identity.
KAWS provides a point of stark contrast. As my colleague Eileen Kinsella chronicled, the artist born Brian Donnelly has parlayed the global following he earned for tagging trains and crafting toys into an undeniably traditional version of success as a contemporary artist.
After showing for years with respected rebel Emmanuel Perrotin, KAWS bailed a few months back to show exclusively with the buttoned-up Skarstedt, which also champions classic artists like Pablo Picasso, Francis Bacon, and Yves Klein. He has already signed off on solo exhibitions at the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, the Yuz Museum in Shanghai, and a forthcoming show at the Brooklyn Museum in 2021. The auction success of his work owes in no small part to the significant position in it taken by the Mugrabi family, the powerful dealer-collectors who arguably move the Warhol market more than anyone. He was even the honoree at this year’s Tribeca Ball, the star-studded gala for the New York Academy of Art.
Add it all up, and it’s difficult for me to imagine much more divergent paths than the ones Banksy and KAWS have charted after their respective graffiti-powered breakthroughs into the public imagination. For a microcosm of the difference, consider that KAWS’s track record now includes making bronze sculptures shown in Skarstedt’s pristine white-cube gallery on the Upper East Side. As an artist in 2019, it’s hard to get more classical than that without rocking a beret.
But if you think the takeaway here is that KAWS became an art-world sell-out while Banksy deserves deep respect for remaining a real one, think again.
KAWS, UNTITLED (FATAL GROUP) (2004). Courtesy of Phillips.
Instead of rendering moralistic judgments on these two artists’ career arcs, I want to make a point with bigger implications for populism’s odds of reshaping the art market.
KAWS embodies what, in my experience, most artists still want in a career: blue-chip gallery representation that contextualizes their work with some of the unassailable greats; a growing list of significant museum exhibitions in institutions around the world; invitations to high-profile events that suggest they’ve earned the respect of the art world at large; a studio practice financially sustainable enough that they never have to spend time on any other kind of labor—and all without drastically altering the spirit of the works they make.
There’s nothing wrong with any of that! If I were an artist, it’s what I would want, too. But that’s also one of the overlooked challenges limiting the mainstream’s impact on contemporary art so far.
A populist restructuring of the art market doesn’t just require collectors to buy whatever they want regardless of the status quo, or dealers to radically rethink their strategies for reaching new buyers. It also requires artists to opt out of the old trappings of art-world success even if they have the opportunity to claim them. Because almost all of those trappings reinforce the exclusivity-driven, scarcity-based, gatekeeper-controlled art economy that has helped lock in nearly a decade’s worth of stagnation.
Almost every artist in every medium grows up under the influence of the previous generations’ dream. It’s a major reason why most musicians who become phenomenons through SoundCloud still want to win Grammys, and most filmmakers who sign a distribution deal with Netflix or Amazon still want their movie to get some kind of theatrical release. (Awards eligibility factors in, as well, but that too is an old-school landmark.) These types of symbols tend to get deeply ingrained in the psyche of anyone who spends years, and usually decades, striving to reach the mountaintop in their field.
Imagine how disorienting it would feel to be told halfway through your ascent that not only is the map you’ve been following dangerously wrong, but the destination you want to reach isn’t going to look much at all like the one that helped compel you to start climbing in the first place. The benefits will be different. The lifestyle will be different. The work itself may have to be different.
Think you might resist rerouting, even if you recognized intellectually that it was good advice?
The classical trappings of artistic success are deeply appealing, and I wouldn’t blame any artist who refused to turn them down when they became available. But if most young artists cling to the nostalgic vision of their role, it will limit the amount of structural change in the art world as surely as if most young dealers and young collectors do the same. The people featured on museum banners, gala invitations, and art-fair sales reports will just have more unorthodox origin stories than they used to, while the mass audience that shaped those stories gets left at the door.
Three decades after founding his gallery at the age of 21, Emmanuel Perrotin sits atop an international gallery juggernaut of 145 people spread across six locations, four of them in Asia: Hong Kong, Seoul, Shanghai, and Tokyo. Getting there was not so easy—and for younger dealers who complain about how difficult it is to break into the business today, he reminds them that it was even harder when he was starting out.
So how did Perrotin do it? By finding talented artists far outside the mainstream art-world consensus and nurturing them for years until they became stars; by hiring and empowering an opinionated, expert staff; and by constantly growing, building bigger spaces, finding new markets, striking more ambitious partnerships, and moving restlessly forward like the proverbial shark. Partly this is due to his boundlessly energetic nature; partly it is because he suspects that if he pauses, even for a moment, he’ll be finished.
In his push for scale, Perrotin is greatly aided by the fact that several of his superstar artists—Murakami, KAWS, JR, and, increasingly, Daniel Arsham—have managed to break out of the art world’s confines to engage far larger global audiences. In KAWS’s case, in fact, his challenge remains to break into the art establishment, which to date has been more comfortable marveling at his astronomical auction results than giving him museum shows. Of course, given the pressures on museums to appeal to the same mass audience as Perrotin’s gallery does, you can expect that to change quickly in coming years. His first major New York exhibition, planned to take place at the Brooklyn Museum in 2021, will likely open the institutional floodgates—just as Murakami’s famous show there in 2008, with its standalone Louis Vuitton gift shop, did for him.
How big can Perrotin’s gallery—and, by extension, the art market generally—get? Here, in the conclusion of a two-part interview, artnet News editor-in-chief Andrew Goldstein speaks to the dealer about his ambitions in Asia, why Africa is bound to become the next giant market, and why he is so eager to merge his gallery with another organization.
JR’s installation at the Louvre in 2019 on the occasion of the pyramid’s 30th anniversary. Photo courtesy of JR-art.net / Perrotin Gallery.
The 2008 financial crisis must have been a real whiplash moment for you, considering that you just came out of a period of making a lot of money during the art boom.
Well, I never made a lot of money. I invested a lot of money. You make a lot of money when you don’t develop your gallery, when you don’t try to buy up the real estate of your gallery in Paris and expand to the space next door, when you don’t open a gallery in Miami and then in Hong Kong. Many businessmen don’t put all of their money into developing their business—they put it aside for their family, for their children. These days, if you think I’ve become a bit more boring, maybe it’s because I’ve started to have something to lose. But I will do everything I can to not be boring. I will try to make things even bigger.
I’ve heard you’re very generous in investing in your artists, in production for their shows, and you don’t always do this with an eye to ensuring a profit for your gallery.
When it works, people say, “Oh that’s logical, they’re doing it because it’s profitable.” They don’t know that we’ve been doing it since the beginning, when it was not so logical. I could only sell [Murakami’s] Hiropon sculptures at $10,000, and the production cost $8,000. So, you know, Takashi got $1,000, I got $1,000, but my $1,000 was to pay the shipping. And now the production cost for works like that might be $250,000, and just for one edition. For some artists, the production costs can be more than what we can sell it for.
Murakami, though, was a supernova—there are few artists who have gotten that famous, and that expensive, that quickly.
It was not so quick! When you looked at the numbers he looked like a big success, but that’s superficial, because the difference between primary-market prices and secondary-market prices always distorts the perception. Now, after having the gallery for 30 years, 10 years looks reasonable. But, trust me, at that time it seemed super long.
What were the lessons you learned from Murakami’s success?
So many things. Organization. He’s a master of organization—he can make PDFs that describe every aspect of a project in a very visual way that allow him to answer every question without losing too much time. Now we use his technique in every aspect of our business.
We learned how important it is to respect the idea of an engagement. For Western people, if you decide to change a date, it’s not a big deal. In Japan, you have to do it for a very good reason.
Now, you’re experiencing something that’s almost a re-do of that giant cultural moments with KAWS, who oddly enough you also first showed in Miami in 2008. How did you meet him? You first met Pharrell Williams, and he introduced you to KAWS?
I met Pharrell when I had my gallery in Miami, and he became a good friend and invited me to his home. It’s funny, Pharrell showed me his KAWS collection, and I was like, “OK, it’s fine.” It was the ones with “The Kimpsons” and “The Kurfs.” At the time I was intrigued but not convinced. But Pharrell and Sarah Adelman from Collette both talked about him a lot, and they set up a lunch between us and Brian [Donnelly, also known as KAWS] during the Art Basel fair in Miami. He showed me more recent works, and it was incredible.
Pharrell Williams and Emmanuel Perrotin at a Collette dinner hosted by Pharrell at Asia de Cuba in New York City in 2008. (Photo by NICK HUNT /Patrick McMullan via Getty Imagess)
Trust me, famous people introduce me to artists every month and say, “You have to show him.” Pharrell showed me many artists, and KAWS is the only one I am showing so far. When you meet Brian, you understood his energy much more, and his goals, and the way he sees everything. I was able to feel it was a kind of new revolution, the way he was leading with his merchandising—before being famous in the art world, he was famous for what he built by himself, for his toy shop in Japan, in a parallel world to the art world.
It seems strange now, but it was a risk to show him. The art world used to be more closed to specific practices. I can’t understand why in the music industry it’s evident that you can love opera music, jazz music, and, at the same time, dance music! Nobody thinks that makes you strange. What at the time can seem like superficial music can become very important music 50 years later!
Yes, 2008 was a huge change in the art world, but also because we started to think, “Maybe some artists’ success was exaggerated.” So, people started to look at French artists again—it gave a real chance to French artists. I was using the network I had built with my international artists to provide access for my French artists.
Let me tell you, Jean-Michel Othoniel, Laurent Grasso, Bernard Frize—they are not just “French artists” like we would say before 2008. They are a big part of my income. And I show Pierre Soulages, Hans Hartung, Georges Mathieu—many of these artists are being reconsidered in a very strong way.
Collector NIGO with his KAWS painting THE KAWS ALBUM, which sold for $14.8 million at Sotheby’s Hong Kong. Photo by Thomas Thompson, courtesy of Sotheby’s.
In fact, it was like that two seasons before—you can find it on my Instagram: people were already fighting to buy his t-shirts in Korea. But people only started talking about it after the $14.8 million price.
You can’t build a phenomenon like this artificially—it’s done step-by-step over years and years. His numbers at auction were ridiculous, we all agree. When he was doing $2 million, that’s OK, but when he does $14.8 million? That’s a little bit over the top. For many artists, their record prices start to be a problem, you know? I’ve seen it happen before when artists get too expensive, too fast. We didn’t know it would happen, but it’s the same that happened for Murakami, for that one sculpture. It was just one sale, and you can’t blame him for that.
These days, everyone in the art world is debating, “What does it mean?” What does it mean that somebody like KAWS, from this parallel art world, could achieve these prices?
You have some people who have been collecting this work for a very long time, and you only need two of them to make a crazy price.
The KAWS show “Imaginary Friends” at Perrotin in Paris in 2012. Courtesy of Perrotin Gallery.
People say the buyer was Justin Bieber.
It’s an option. It would be funny if he had made a mistake about the currency. [Laughs] To be honest, it was an anomaly, this sale. The ones around $2 million are more logical. Will it stay like that for many years? Maybe, because many people want to get access to his older works—and you’ll see, many of his records were done with very old works—to complete their collection. And why not? There are many people who are waiting for his older works to come to market. It’s not surprising to me.
We are very far away from the phenomenon of, I won’t name names, but, let’s say, some abstract painters doing $14 million at auction and selling for “only” $4 million to $6 million in the primary market. And then the dealers pretend, “Oh, we don’t have anything to do with the very big prices at auction.” Sorry, my dear, but $4 million or $6 million for an abstract painter who was not doing too many museum shows before looks to be a lot of money.
This was not the case with Brian. I will be surprised if Brian comes back with works for $1 million or $2 million at auction. The problem in the primary market is that you can sell sculptures for a lot, but the production costs are very, very expensive. For a KAWS sculpture that’s 30 feet high, it costs a fortune.
That said, it’s a big deal for me, because after something like that it’s quite difficult to decide who you sell the works to. There’s a huge risk [of the buyer flipping the work at auction].
But considering the number of works my gallery sold originally, very few of them actually went to auction. I am very proud of the work that my team did for KAWS over these 11 years of our collaboration. Unfortunately, that might be not enough to be able to keep him in my roster, considering all the pressure. I doubt he will continue with us for long. In any case, I will be satisfied if his career continues to develop in a good way.
We’re seeing an interesting shift now, where popularity is becoming the chief indicator of value, much more than the traditional metrics of critical acclaim or institutional acceptance.
For sure. But one of my favorite artists in my gallery is someone who sells very few things and is absolutely not popular except among critics and curators in France, and I see him as one of the most important artists in my gallery.
And who is that?
Claude Rutault. Maybe you’ve never heard of him, but he is the perfect example of an artist who makes us feel a little sad as a gallery, that we are not able to share him with the rest of the world. That’s why we need to work hard, because the fact that we are not able to make Claude Rutault more successful internationally—because he’s quite successful in France—is a huge failure.
KAWS, Daniel Arsham, Emmanuel Perrotin, Ivan Argote, JR. Photo courtesy of Perrotin Gallery.
You have an older, critically acclaimed generation of artists working in your gallery, and then at the other end of the spectrum you have these younger artists like JR, Daniel Arsham, and KAWS, who are much more comfortable working in this new twilight zone of the art world between the commercial market and the art market. It seems that this approach is resonating very strongly in Asia, and—it’s almost funny—you happen to be one of the largest galleries in Asia. How did that happen?
I’ve had a fantastic team in Asia, and for years they’ve made my galleries there very successful. In Asia, more than anywhere, if you don’t have the right team, you can’t do it. Every gallery tries to poach my team, and I’m always afraid that they’re going to leave. But in Asia there’s also the opportunity to differentiate the way that I work from Paris or New York.
You opened your first Asian outpost in Hong Kong 2012 and then followed that with galleries in Seoul in 2016, Tokyo in 2017, and then Shanghai in 2018. What led you to ramp up your presence in Asia so quickly?
I have to follow the strategy that we come up with as a team. For example, I had some people working for me in Hong Kong who had special access in Korea, so I became interested in opening there. And later, many were telling me, “We absolutely have to open in Shanghai. If we don’t open in Shanghai now, it will be too late.” You think I was going so fast—they felt we were going too slow.
A fifth of your artists are Asian. What percentage of your sales comes from Asia?
Our two top territories every year are Asia and North America, and after that, Europe. Sometimes North America is number one, sometimes it’s Asia—it can change quickly. I don’t know exactly what it is now, but usually it’s a little bit more than one-third North American and a little bit more than one-third Asia.
The “Happy Birthday Galerie Perrotin: 25 Years” show at the Tripostal in Lille, France, in 2013. Photo: Claire Dorn / Courtesy Perrotin
According to the Boston Consulting Group, Chinese consumers currently constitute 32 percent of the global luxury market, and that number is predicted to rise to 40 percent by 2024. How do you envision Asia impacting your gallery’s business 10 years from now?
The American market is by far the most mature market in the world. But it’s growing very quickly in Asia, and it’s very unfair to compare North America with all of Asia. [Laughs] There are many more people there. And then consider the number of new rich people in Asia, and that they do everything very quickly. It’s the same as America used to be compared to Europe, you know? Americans’ fortunes were growing much faster compared to Europeans after World War II, and they built much bigger collections much faster. So we can imagine that Asia will be a very strong market center over the next 10 years, if only for reasons of demography.
In the same way, there’s now a huge potential in Africa. It’s like in the 1970s, when people were asking when China would wake up and others said, “Oh, come on—give me a break.” Look at where it is now. What took China 30 years might now take Africa 10 years. Now in Africa it’s complicated because you don’t have a hub that exists there like Hong Kong in Asia, so it’s hard to know where to go if you want to do something. But certainly you will have a lot of collectors coming from Africa.
Speaking of market growth, there’s a wide gap in the art world between the smaller galleries and the biggest galleries. In the past, you’ve talked about the idea of gathering together galleries to create larger corporate structures like you see in the luxury industry, like the LVMHs and the Kerings. Why hasn’t that happened yet?
I’m surprised that we are still operating like a 19th-century—or maybe today a 20th-century—business. We will have big revolutions in the art world in the next few years. And, for sure, it won’t only be the provenance of the clients, it’s also going to be the organization of the gallery. If you are a small gallery, if you are a medium gallery, and you are doing it for pleasure, to be part of the community? It’s not the fault of the big galleries if it’s difficult. It’s not that it’s more difficult today, it’s just that this is a very difficult business. And it’s very difficult to share the success equally, and it wouldn’t make any sense in any case.
Emmanuel Perrotin outside his Orchard Street gallery in New York in 2018. Courtesy or Perrotin Gallery.
The most obvious opportunities, in fact, seem to be at the very top, for the apex galleries. Would you ever consider merging with one of the biggest blue-chip galleries, like Gagosian or David Zwirner?
I would love it! I was offered to merge with a gallery, but I have my favorite gallery that I would dream to merge with. I can dream, you know?
Which gallery is that?
Aha, now that’s difficult to say. It’s not a necessity anymore. But it would help to make a revolution. We would love to make some kind of revolution. If I want to find pleasure in this job for the next 50 years, I have to find creative ways to do it.
If my artists are more and more successful and I don’t change anything, they would desert me. And I should not be surprised. More and more, I face the risk of losing artists. The more you attract attention, the more you risk.
With the assets you have in your gallery, from your incredible roster of very popular, commercial artists—who have almost become a genre unto themselves—to your extensive presence in Asia, it would seem you would be able to easily join forces with one of the biggest galleries to forge the beginnings of an LVMH equivalent for the art world. Wouldn’t that be the best way to scale?
Yes, but I don’t think it will happen with the older generation, or the biggest galleries. If I were to merge with somebody it would be to develop something much bigger than what either of us are individually. And the gallery I’m thinking about isn’t any of the ones you might guess.