Tuesday, May 11, 2021

the Back Room: The Inaugural Edition(!)


    The Back Room: The Inaugural Edition(!)

    This week in the Back Room: Frieze NY in a flash, a divorce boom makes waves, a fractional art investment primer, and more—all in 7-minutes.

    Original photo © Taylor Crothers/Getty Images.
    Original photo © Taylor Crothers/Getty Images.

    Every Friday, Artnet News Pro members get exclusive access to the Back Room, our lively recap funneling only the week’s must-know intel into a nimble read you’ll actually enjoy. This first edition is free, but you’ll have to become a member (and click the “subscribe” box during checkout) to receive future editions.


    This week in the inaugural edition of the Back Room: Frieze NY in a flash, a divorce boom makes waves, a fractional art investment primer, and much more—all in a 7-minute read (1,520 words).


    The Big Picture

    Return of the Art Fair

    A fairgoer uses her phone in the cafe during the first day of Frieze art fair. (Photo by TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP via Getty Images)

    It happened: an international array of art-market movers and shakers converged this week to make Frieze New York a reality. (In-person! At scale! In a convention center! Are you tired of this joke yet?) The early returns suggest sales and enthusiasm are bouncing back fast in the U.S.

    It’s not just New York—America is present,” said Hauser & Wirth president Marc Payot at Wednesday’s VIP opening. (He also claimed to have done 12 straight hours of meetings with visitors from Dallas, San Francisco, and elsewhere the day before, marking the first time in my life a humblebrag from a dealer has given me a sense of hope for civilization.)

    Heavy hitters from all branches of the industry were present on day one: collectors Howard and Cindy RachofskyDon and Mera Rubell, Mike Bloomberg, and Agnes Gund; museum directors Thelma Golden and Richard Armstrong; Christie’s C.E.O. Guillaume Cerutti; and more.

    Even NFT sensation Beeple (Mike Winkelmann) put in time at what he called his “first real art fair.” He told Katya Kazakina that “talks are happening” regarding a gallery show. From crypto to cryptic, this guy! Like he’s been in the art world forever…

    As for the trade itself, I’ve never been so pleased to run out the cliche that first-day sales were strong, especially in the mid-five and six-figure range. However, sources said a slew of booths sold out pre-sale, including five new Dana Schutz paintings priced between $500,000 and $1 million at David Zwirner.

    Other reported day one (or “day one”) transactions included:


    ● Louse BourgeoisBlind Man’s Buff (1984) – “around $1 million” (Hauser + Wirth)

    ● George CondoThe Drifter (2021) – $800,000 (Hauser + Wirth)

    ● Hernan BasThe Suspect (2021) – between $350,000 and $400,000 (Lehmann Maupin)

    ● Ha Chong-Hyun, two paintings – “in the range of” $200,000 to $300,000 each (Tina Kim)

    ● Cristina Canales’s paintings – “nearly sold out” from $17,000 to $53,000 each (Galeria Nara Roesler)

    The Bottom Line

    The opening of Frieze New York 2021 came off as close to a best-case version of the “new normal” as could have been hoped. Yes, health checks and masks were a drag. But much of the industry showed up, timed entry made the experience uncharacteristically pleasant, and sales were brisk. The virus situation makes European fairs a question mark, but Frieze’s success bodes well for the Armory Show and Independent’s return in September.




    The Art Detective

    Breakups and Sell-Offs

    Happy Divorce! (Photo by Keith Beaty/Toronto Star via Getty Images)

    Happy Divorce! (Photo by Keith Beaty/Toronto Star via Getty Images)

    pandemic-driven divorce boom is shaking up the world of elite wealth—and it should keep the art market jumping well into 2023.

    That’s the message in Katya Kazakina’s inaugural edition of The Art Detective, her weekly column sleuthing through the market’s best-kept secrets. (Another Artnet News Pro perk, folks.)

    Some of the names parting ways and splitting collections are familiar: Bill and Melinda French Gates, Linda and Harry Macklowe, and even Sotheby’s private sales guru David Schrader, who just finished divvying up a 20-year collection with his ex-partner.

    Appraisers are the first to benefit from the acrimony. Divorce-related valuations of fine art and collectibles are up 25 percent compared to just before lockdown, according to Winston Art Group’s Elizabeth Von Habsburg. The reason? You can’t finalize a divorce settlement without agreed-upon asset valuations.

    Splitting amicably saves collecting couples money, too, and not just because they avoid paying trial lawyers. Quietly sorting out who gets what means soon-to-be-exes also avoid hefty capital-gains taxes that would come from selling to outsiders.

    But if a divorcing couple can’t come to terms privately, they’ll be forced to liquidate at auction, meaning auction-house fees and sales taxes, too. The dueling can even extend to the salesroom. Lawyers agree spouses often wage bidding wars against one another, sometimes strictly to inflict pain—exemplified by one husband threatening to win a piece just so he could burn it on video.

    Expect 12 to 36 months of art-market action from all this, according to Schrader. Between appraisals, settlement negotiations (or trials), and a pandemic-induced bottleneck in divorce court—to say nothing of the private sales and auctions—the trade is in for a different kind of COVID-related long haul.




    Stock in Trade

    Can Masterworks Master Scale?

    A promotional image for Masterworks's offering of shares in Andy Warhol's 1 Colored Marilyn (Reversal Series) (1979). Courtesy of Masterworks.

    A promotional image for Masterworks’s offering of shares in Andy Warhol’s 1 Colored Marilyn (Reversal Series) (1979). Courtesy of Masterworks.

    Masterworks, the investment platform securitizing fractional shares in blue-chip paintings, is on a mission to become “the largest buyer in the market” according to founder Scott Lynn. After acquiring more than $100 million in paintings in 2020 alone, and attracting more than 140,000 users to date, the company’s Silicon Valley-style growth strategy is premised on the notion its shareholders can consistently beat the niche art trade through its Wall Street models, proprietary market analytics, and economies of scale.

    But art-industry veterans questioned three elements of the Masterworks sales pitch:


    ●  Fee Structure

    Is it too much to charge a 10 percent fee inside the initial offering price, a 1.5 percent management fee yearly, and a 20 percent fee on the resale profit when a painting is finally dealt?

    ●  In-House Data Accuracy

    Has contemporary art at auction really posted bigger gains and softer losses than the S&P 500, global equities, and other assets since 1995? And is an index tracking repeat sales of U.S. homes really the best model for tracking changes in individual artists’ historical results under the hammer?

    ●  Aggressive Growth

    With plans to spend $300+ million on art by EOY—“typically” resulting in its acquiring new work every week—can Masterworks consistently buy low and sell high on top-quality paintings for the long run? Or will this torrid pace prove incompatible with the narrow supply and irregular market conditions of blue-chip art?

    “Auction houses were knocking themselves out to get good pictures. I didn’t have any clients coming to me desperate to sell. If you spent $100 million in 2020, were you getting the best opportunities?”

    – Megan Fox Kelly, president of the Association of Professional Art Advisors, on Masterworks’s shutdown-era buying spree.

    The Bottom Line

    Masterworks acts as a Rorschach test, even for finance-savvy collectors: Do you see great paintings as an asset whose value can be standardized, quantified, and diversified invisibly into a portfolio… or a highly specific, irregular good whose value must be experienced, not just traded? If the former, read the fine print. If the latter, ignore the whole enterprise.




    Data Dip

    March 2021 Fine-Art Auction Sales Up 22 Percent Vs. March 2019

    All data © Artnet Analytics 2021.

    You read those dates right: global fine-art sales at auction this March ($1.1 billion) were more than one-fifth higher than in March 2019 ($940 million)—a full year before shutdown—according to the Artnet Price Database.

    The biggest difference? Fifteen lots sold for $10 million or more this March, against only seven in March 2019.

    Even on its own, the resurgence in trophy sales would have boded well for supply and demand at the house’s this spring. Add in the bonanza of choice pieces pushed onto the block by marital strife, and signals suggest May will be an epic bounce-back month for the auction market.

    Smash the button below for more detailed analysis from Julia Halperin.





    “Shortly after I arrived at [MOCA Los Angeles], Eli asked us to print out all of the museum’s financial records from the past several years. I delivered to Eli a two foot stack of accounting records. This would be his weekend reading. Eli was unique in combining this financial acumen with an enthusiasm for the latest artistic innovations.”

    – Jeffrey Deitch remembering Eli Broad, whose death at age 87 was announced last weekend.



    Express Checkout

    Adam Chinn’s Incognito Sales Platform + Three More Market Morsels

    Ex-Sotheby’s dealmaker Adam Chinn will launch LiveArt Market, a peer-to-peer online sales platform powered by machine learning and extreme discretion, this month. (Wall Street Journal)

    Aimed at cutting out the middleman for high-end sales, features will include…

    ● Free automated estimates via algorithms that crawl auction data

    ● Control over what data remains anonymous (including a work’s current owner)

    ● In-house provenance researchers and conservators

    ● Flat 10 percent buyer’s premium (vs. up to 25 percent at major auction houses)



    Veteran collectors (surprise!) have almost no interest in NFTs. (New York Times)



    Zona Maco was lively thanks to a focus on local galleries and restriction-free travel from Europe and the U.S. (Artnet News Pro)



    Positive outlooks for economic growth and corporate profits have led investors to greet Joe Biden’s proposed tax hikes as follows: ¯\_(ツ)_/¯. (New York Times)


    Artwork of the Week

    Roy Lichtenstein’s Interior: Perfect Pitcher

    Roy Lichtenstein, <i>Interior: Perfect Pitcher</i> (1994). Courtesy of Christie's Images Ltd. 2021.

    Roy Lichtenstein, Interior: Perfect Pitcher (1994). Courtesy of Christie’s Images Ltd. 2021.

    Date:  1994

    Seller: Private Collection, New York*

    Presale Estimate: $20 million to $30 million

    Selling at: Christie’s 20th-Century Evening Sale, New York

    Sale Date: Tuesday, May 18

    Clocking in above 10 feet by 16 feet, this vibrant example of Lichtenstein’s “Interiors” series epitomizes the value of a sterling provenance. Only the artist himself and his estate held the painting before its current unlisted owner… who sources claim is none other than Larry Gagosian. (A Gagosian spokesperson denied the claim.) What we do know is that the painting is backed by a third-party guarantee, so no matter what happens on auction night, someone will walk away with this bravura painting—and I’ll bet you that someone owns exactly zero NFTs.


    Thanks for joining us in the Back Room. See you next Friday.

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    THE NEXT SPACE 11 MAY 2021

    As summer approaches and countries begin to loosen their entry restrictions for the first time in over a year, travel is naturally top of mind. But, for luxury travellers, priorities have naturally changed since the world was pandemic-free. How, exactly, is something that our business editor Peter Maxwell took up in conversation with Tom Marchant, the founder of high-end travel agency Black Tomato. More and more, Marchant explains, ‘clients are looking for remoteness and real solitude, places where they can just breathe in the surrounding scenery.’ What’s more, he says, those travellers are willing to take their time in planning itineraries. What will this shift mean for the hospitality sector? Read the full interview below.



    The pandemic has transformed luxury travel. Here's how

    Tom Marchant, co-founder of high-end travel agency Black Tomato, explains how the pandemic has altered the sort of holiday experiences luxury consumers see as aspirational, what the work-from-anywhere revolution looks like at the top of the food chain, the (eventual) return of city-centre hotels, and adapting to a post-plane world.


    10 MAY 2021 • HOSPITALITY


    Tom Marchant, co-founder of high-end travel agency Black Tomato, explains how the pandemic has altered the sort of holiday experiences luxury consumers see as aspirational, what the work-from-anywhere revolution looks like at the top of the food chain, the (eventual) return of city-centre hotels, and adapting to a post-plane world.

    Do you think the last year has caused any fundamental shifts in how your clients approach travel? 

    TOM MARCHANT : As a bespoke travel company, we've always endeavoured to be able to do the impossible for our clients. That attitude has remained the same but it's just been applied to slightly different things, not just necessarily the fantastic experiences we can create in different places around the world, but also the functional aspects of where we can actually get people to. The watchwords now are flexibility and agility. For our team it was clear that our role as advisors was becoming more apparent, rather than just someone who inspires.

    In terms of how the pandemic has altered travel intentions, our clients’ responses have been mixed. Some have taken the approach that, when they travel again, they’re looking to do something that's just off the scale and life-affirming. Alongside that, however, is definitely a more centred approach to travel, where clients are looking for remoteness and real solitude, places where they can just breathe in the surrounding scenery. We’ve certainly had people ask us to simply get them away to the wilderness with just their family and a few bookings for two weeks of headspace.

    Has what travellers prioritize in their accommodation changed?

    Expectations have changed, but in a way they’ve changed around things that guests at this level should really already be receiving as standard, foremost around levels of hygiene. But to give you some insight into the ways those conversations are evolving, when some guests are enquiring about hotel accommodation,  they want to know the distance from their door to other guests’ rooms, literally down to the metre, or they want to know the details of how room service will be delivered. As an extension of that, we've definitely seen an increase in requests for either private properties or hotels that can offer private accommodation within the wider facility.

    If you look at somewhere like, say, Amangiri, a hideaway in Canyon Point, Utah, they’ve opened Camp Sarika. That offers guests the ability to stay in these beautiful private pavilions in remote areas where it’s very easy to isolate, but still provide great facilities and incredible service. That addition predates the pandemic, but is exemplary of what guests are looking for. Another place that’s just opened up in Norway is Aurora Lodge, by renowned architect Snorre Stinessen. That has again proved popular because it’s secluded but it still provides the right standard of accommodation. These are the types of property people are looking for.

    That whole shift in expectations towards finding deeply private places impacts across the industry. Even in more traditional hotels, the ability to check yourself in and out without having to enter any sort of waiting area has really taken on greater importance. I believe a lot of these changes will remain after the pandemic, because, simply put, it’s a better experience. If you can travel entirely privately from your front door to your holiday accommodation, without any friction or interruption, that’s something people will continue to seek.

    What does that mean for city-based venues? 

    Some of the things we loved about travel before COVID won’t disappear, such as staying in a buzzy bustling hotel, the sort of places that trade primarily on the atmosphere created by people, pace and energy. That should give the owners of city hotels hope; it's really clear to me that people still like being around people. Indeed we’ve already got clients making bookings for 2022, when they anticipate that these properties will be full of life again. The way many city-centre properties have innovated over the last year, repurposing spaces such a rooftops as restaurants, creating new revenue streams, will help them be more resilient moving forward.

    Aurora Lodge, by architect Snorre Stinessen, is situated in the remote Lyngen Alps of Norway, one of the best places in the world to observe the Northern Lights. Photos: Courtesy of Black Tomato

    Is the work-from-anywhere revolution impacting high-end travel?

    We have seen a number of people going from taking an extended break and then saying, actually, I can make this work from here. Especially since schools started online teaching, we have had a number of clients who have been moving around to various remote locations with their family.

    Facilitating some of these moves, seeing people up sticks and create a home in a new place and helping them discover incredible experiences with their children during what’s been a very dark period, it's been a really joyous thing to be involved. They’re working or studying during the day and then we’ve been programming things in for them during the morning, evenings and weekends. When school is back, it will bring families back because they want to be near certain schools and communities. For individuals and young couples, however, I think having that flexibility will be part of how companies now attract talent.

    It's a different style of holiday with a different mindset. People are away, but they’re also available – they may have found a great house in Joshua Tree to do some work and then go for a hike when they have a break in their commitments; it's just a new form of travel. For hospitality brands trying to adjust to that trend, the focus really has to be on the infrastructure, the ability to help people move from one place to another seamlessly.

    As consumers across all demographics become more sustainability minded, air travel is becoming evermore contentious. How is that impacting luxury travel? 

    There’s certainly a shift in ethos towards this idea of ‘low and slow’ in luxury travel, which translates into a lot more journeys by motor vehicle and train and less of an emphasis on flying by default. There’s more of a sense of calm and, even though people are desperate to travel, there’s a greater desire to take their time that contrasts with the frenetic nature of some pre-COVID itineraries.

    The largest share of our clients are in the US, so we had a US product portfolio before COVID happened, but we quickly sought to strengthen it.  For instance we created a partnership with Auberge hotels and Mercedes based on a series of iconic road trips across the states. We had to show to our clients that we knew the US well enough to still introduce them to new experiences, even when they couldn’t travel further than their own country.

    We've definitely seen an uptick in train journeys through Europe and the States. I’m increasingly getting asked to consult by a lot of people looking to enter the luxury train game, so I can tell you that we’re going to see more in that world; there's some really special stuff coming out. Companies like Belmond are setting the standard there.

    Cover image: Camp Sarika offers guests the ability to match high levels of isolation with equally high levels of service. Photo: Courtesy of Amangiri