- RSS Channel Showcase 9154630
- RSS Channel Showcase 9636486
- RSS Channel Showcase 9444148
- RSS Channel Showcase 3477559
Articles on this Page
- 09/22/14--10:15: _Slideshow: Glenn Ka...
- 09/22/14--10:50: _MOCA's Opening Rece...
- 09/22/14--11:54: _Abu Dhabi
- 09/22/14--13:24: _Free Arts Day at th...
- 09/22/14--19:39: _Florence
- 09/23/14--04:00: _Glenn Kaino’s Balan...
- 09/23/14--12:22: _The Human in the Ma...
- 09/23/14--12:35: _New York
- 09/23/14--12:57: _BRIC Rotunda Gallery
- 09/23/14--16:45: _Serralves Museum Re...
- 09/23/14--23:21: _L’École de Van Clee...
- 09/24/14--05:25: _24 Questions for Sc...
- 09/24/14--06:39: _Van Gogh Musical in...
- 09/24/14--09:05: _"The Open Road" Ape...
- 09/24/14--09:33: _Slideshow: Marlboro...
- 09/24/14--10:14: _Marlborough Chelsea...
- 09/24/14--10:51: _London
- 09/25/14--11:44: _“We Are in Mania Mo...
- 09/25/14--11:45: _New York
- 09/25/14--11:47: _New York
- 09/22/14--10:15: Slideshow: Glenn Kaino's "Leviathan" at Kavi Gupta Gallery
- 09/22/14--11:54: Abu Dhabi
- 09/22/14--19:39: Florence
- 09/23/14--04:00: Glenn Kaino’s Balancing Act in Chicago
- 09/23/14--12:22: The Human in the Machine: Bjork’s “Biophilia Live”
- 09/23/14--12:35: New York
- 09/23/14--12:57: BRIC Rotunda Gallery
- 09/23/14--16:45: Serralves Museum Retools to Face a Globalized World
- 09/23/14--23:21: L’École de Van Cleef & Arpels
- 09/24/14--05:25: 24 Questions for Sculptor Alyson Shotz
- 09/24/14--09:33: Slideshow: Marlborough Chelsea's Broadway Morey Boogie
- 09/24/14--10:14: Marlborough Chelsea Puts the Boogie in Broadway
- 09/24/14--10:51: London
- 09/25/14--11:45: New York
- 09/25/14--11:47: New York
Los Angeles-based Glenn Kaino is a busy man at the moment. He’s just celebrated the opening of “Leviathan,” a solo exhibition at Chicago’s Kavi Gupta Gallery that features a series of sculptures made from things like mirrors, rulers, wine bottles, and bomb-fin cases. Down in Washington, DC, as part of the 5x5 curatorial project, the artist recently unveiled “Bridge,” a fiberglass-and-steel hanging sculpture that replicates the arm of Tommie Smith, responsible for an iconic Black Power salute during the 1968 Olympics. And he’s currently working on a project for the Prospect.3 biennial in New Orleans for which he’s growing coral on pieces of a plastic-cast military tank. Kaino “believes that art can change the world, that it has political agency,” he said — but “with a constant struggle for its own relevancy, particularly within the museum and gallery space.” The artist’s Chicago solo exhibition raises interesting questions in this regard: Is a MakerBot-printed rock as efficacious as a real one, hurled at the cops? What is gained (or lost) when politics is mined for aesthetics, and how can the works’ origin story be imparted without coming across as preachy?
“Portugal. China. Russia. Syria. Athens. The Philippines. Indonesia. Ferguson. Crimea. And Yemen’s in there somewhere,” Kaino said, ticking off the actual rocks that are included in the sculpture “Suspended Animation,” arrayed along a conveyor belt contraption that is balanced on its rear wheels. The various chunks of asphalt were all culled from protest sites in areas around the globe; Kaino brought back a piece of rock from Tahrir Square during a trip to Cairo in 2012, and then asked an international roster of friends to help him cull other possible-projectiles from their own cities. The artist is fascinated by the changing, contextual nature of these simple stones, and the way they’re activated for political means: “Once it’s in the air it has the full-on agency — it’s armed, it has potential and value — but once it hits its target and falls back to the ground it becomes street detritus again.”
The rocks led to another series of works, which Kaino referred to as “dent paintings”: Geometric arrangements of mirrored, polished steel, loosely representing door-window configurations at American embassies around the world, against which he hurled rocks in the studio. The impact left divots that drastically alter how the surface reflects, creating warped fish-eye moments. (“What an amazing way to increase space,” Kaino noted, with a level of enthusiasm that belies his side gig as senior vice president for digital over at Oprah’s empire. “This act of protest resolves itself, even for a moment, in a new world and a new type of reflection on our world.”) An additional work in the show, “Don’t Bring a Gameboy to a Gunfight,” is a pile of protest-rocks 3D-printed using the popular MakerBot; since printing a single rock takes hours, Kaino found assistants online who were willing to generate the objects using the digital files he sent. It appealed to his sense of building a “new ecosystem of an idea” — an exchange of data and a system of exchange that breathes new life into the original object. A slightly taboo, quasi-legal kink didn’t hurt, either. “The State Department has governed the digital transfer of what they call munitions,” Kaino said. “Technically, I was asserting the idea of digitally transferring a weapon, which is now contraband, through this network.”
Other pieces in “Leviathan” are built around notions of “precarious balance,” often quite literally. (It’s somewhat astounding that a particularly drunk gallery-goer I spotted at the weekend’s opening managed to escape without sending anything crashing to the ground.) “We Have Found The Enemy And He Is Us” is a stack of bomb-fin boxes that Kaino saw at a military archive; they reminded him, he said, of a wobbly Jenga game. For the sculpture, he’s reconstituted them into the rough shape of an Easter Island Moai head. “In the process of making it look like a Moai, it became more and more precarious,” he explained. “For every pull that I made to try to make it look like a monument, it actually looked more vulnerable, and more in jeopardy.”
The works in Kaino’s “Leviathan” are proof of his restless intelligence, one that is prone to connect often disparate dots. His Prospect 3 project is much the same: A personal experience that mutated into a reflection on the world’s larger patterns. Years ago, Kaino said, he discovered that the military dumps old tanks into the ocean, providing a foundation for coral reefs to grow. For the past year or so he’s been doing the same, having cast an entire tank in plastic, and then cut it into smaller segments that are placed in aquariums. Kaino is intrigued by the way the coral itself grows. “When corals touch, they actually sting each other,” he explained. “It’s a constant fight, a war for space going on. When I started growing the coral, I realized the shapes began to look like states and countries. It looked like Greece!” In Kaino’s symbiotic worldview, one thing is always a springboard — sometimes whimsical, sometimes deadly serious — to the next.
It’s tempting to say that Bjork is entering one of the most fascinating periods of her career. The same can be said for any period of her career really, and many people have their favorite periods of Bjork’s output — the richly emotional early material, the crunchy electro-experimentalism of the last decade or so — but recently, over the last four to five years, there has been something of a renewed focus. Each album is less a conscious break from the one before; each new thing isn’t original for the sake of it. There’s absorption of the old and the new, the human and the machine, and the tension between the two, always essential to Bjork’s most interesting work, comes out most fully-realized on 2011’s app-based album “Biophilia.”
The album, which exists more as a multimedia-based project than a traditional album (even though it exists on fuddy-duddy plastic formats as well), contains a set of songs linked to closely related apps that went beyond mere visual accompaniment. Each song-app visually engages with the track’s themes, some even letting you deconstruct the elements and put it back together again. The concept is useful in that it ties together two strains of Bjork’s work that have, in other periods of her career, felt remote — the personal and the technological. Human interaction is filtered through machines, opening up the process of making and exploring music into the hands of anybody with a handheld device. (The Museum of Modern Art purchased the app back in June, the first ever in its collection. A week later, the museum announced it would be staging a massive Bjork retrospective in 2015.)
But how does this all translate to a live setting? Bjork is one of the most captivating performers around, but this project is, for obvious reasons, hard to put on stage. “Bjork: Biophilia Live,” a new film that will begin a run at the IFC Center in New York City on September 26, provides an answer, although it’s a bit muddled. Directed by Peter Strickland (“Berbarian Sound Studio”) and Nick Fenton, the film misses the album’s high concept. David Attenborough provides an introduction, and the film is clearly influenced by his historic BBC nature films, interspersing stunning footage of nature and the internal workings of the body. But the results seemed slapped together after the fact. The concert that was filmed, without the outside footage that blends in and out of the performance, could have been any concert film anywhere.
Except for the fact that, even when displayed in the most matter-of-fact way, Bjork’s performances are still more interesting, sonically and visually, than almost anything else. This performance, which is heavy on material from “Biophilia,” sees the singer wearing a dress that resembles the innards of a wild animal coiled around her small frame, joined by an all-female choir wearing sequin dresses and dancing erratically around a stage placed in the middle of the audience. Around all of this is the music, of course, but more importantly, the instruments. Bjork created a handful of specific instruments for the “Biophilia” project, many with the idea of blending the electronic with the analog. Joining the large group on stage is a Tesla coil that can be played and a pendulum that creates sounds by the way it swings.
Beyond the new material, the most exciting thing about “Biophilia Live” might be the way that Bjork filters some of her old material through this process. “Isobel,” one of the most evocative songs Bjork has ever written, is here stripped of its lushness and transformed into a mid-tempo floor-thumper, while the combination of instruments turns “Declare Independence,” Bjork’s most political song and a perfect concert-closer, into a wild and distorted anthem, transposing her earliest, Crass-inspired punk roots onto her computer-generated experiments. After years of searching in the furthest corners of sound, it seems Bjork has finally found the human in the machine.
“It feels a bit of a gamble,” said Suzanne Cotter of her vision for the Serralves Museum of Contemporary Art in Porto, Portugal, where she arrived from working on the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi project from New York just over a year and a half ago, succeeding outgoing director Joao Fernandes. As such, her program is just now beginning to bear fruit, but the harvest so far has been sweet, including critically lauded presentations of the Swiss-Brazilian artist Mira Schendel (the first in Portugal), a show demonstrating the symbiotic relationship between art and architecture, and “12 Contemporaries: Present States,” an exhibition of a dozen young Portuguese artists.
Cotter has had the advantage of a canvas that is a work of art in its own right, a jewel of a museum lined in marble and granite completed in 1999 by Pritzker Prize-winner Alvaro Siza. The museum forms a part of the Serralves Foundation, established in the long wake of the country’s 1974 democratic revolution to incubate contemporary artistic production in Portugal. The museum itself has always had international ambitions, however, and attracts some 450,000 visitors annually to the city caught between the Atlantic and the Douro Valley. Artists, too, are coming at Cotter’s invitation; Theaster Gates recently completed a residency with his Black Monks of Mississippi musical troupe.
The Monks’ soulful sounds wafted through the hallways of the coolly opulent Art Deco-era Serralves Villa as guests were welcomed last weekend to fete the foundation’s 25th anniversary and the museum’s 15th. The event marked the end of the summer-long show “Histories: Works from the Serralves Collection,” and Cotter sat down to speak to ARTINFO about her plans for the museum.
What have you done so far that you’re most proud of, or that sets the tone for how you’d like to proceed in the future?
I don’t like to talk about pride too much because I’m always a bit worried about that. But what I’m happy about is that my idea of the way the program can unfold and function is actually having some impact on our audiences locally, nationally, and internationally.
I think the key strategic areas for me as far as an artistic vision are about highlighting the collection, making sure it’s visible. We have a big show on the collection on view now that also includes recent work, to try to give a new, fresh perspective of what the collection might be, offer some narratives that I think are interesting and relevant with respect to art in Portugal, but also broadly.
Can you be a little more specific about some of those themes?
Well, the large theme is narrative histories, but my sense is that when people think of contemporary art here and particularly in relation to Serralves, they think it’s about abstraction and conceptual art. That’s something that was part of the manifesto when this museum opened. We have a lot of work here that, although it may be conceptually driven to some degree, has stories to tell. And those stories may be fictional but most of them have some relationship to reality in some way. And then the other aspect is that we’ve begun to think, with the people at the museum and then with our publics, about how those narratives extend more globally. You know, Portugal has always been part of a broader conversation in the world. So how might we begin to reflect on that, or reflect that a bit more through the presentation of the collection?
Who are some of the artists that you’ve recently acquired in this context?
In the current presentation of works from the collection, we have new contributions by Amalia Pica, Liam Gillick, Haegue Yang, Charlotte Posenenske, Walid Raad, the Akram Zatari installation that we showed last year in Venice, and paintings by Tala Madani, Paulina Olowska, and Lucy McKenzie. We also have a major installation of work by Leonor Antunes, a Portuguese artist living between Lisbon and Berlin, paired with pieces by Danh Vo. It’s not that many works, but it does show the direction that we’re trying to go in. What I’m happy about is that people have been very responsive.
So you don’t feel isolated by being in Porto, off the usual art circuit?
Oh no. Especially after having the experience of living in New York, where you feel you are the center of one world, but you’re actually far away from other worlds. Here I feel I am back in the European conversation that I’ve been part of for more than 25 years. My community doesn’t feel so far away and Portugal is a pleasurable place to come. But the positive response has also come from the community here. It’s important that the artistic community here in Portugal feel that what’s happening at Serralves is meaningful for them. Symbolically it’s an incredibly important institution, because of its history, but it is also important in reality.
When we announced the program late last year to the press here, one of the first questions was, “So there’s no big names?” I was kind of prepared for that, but it does send a kind of doubt into your mind. But the Mira Schendel show that we presented here with the Tate and the Pinakotheke Sao Paulo was an absolute revelation. People were writing me letters thanking me for putting the show on. This spring we did “12: Contemporaries: Present States,” a show of young Portuguese artists show that generated a lot of response.
In terms of the art scene in Portugal, my impression is that people decry the lack of state support for the arts here, on account of the financial crisis, but the scene in Lisbon strikes me as a scrappy, DIY community that stuck by its members. I was thinking it could be the new “New York in the 1970s” moment. Would you agree?
Could be! I was actually thinking of London in the early 1990s — before Tate Modern and Frieze, Charles Saatchi hadn’t begun collecting YBAs yet, and it was still a conservative government. Here the critical mass is smaller, simply because it’s a smaller population, but I think there are some really interesting artists here, very cosmopolitan, who move around a lot. There’s a lot of smart artists, and they’re collected and cared for here. I think what’s lacking — and this is where Serralves comes in — is a platform for them to be seen in relation to what’s going on elsewhere, because it’s a different kind of value system. It’s like, your mother thinks you’re the most beautiful person in the world, but what about your neighbor, or the man across the street?
There’s no doubt that a healthy art market is a reflection of a healthy art scene and artistic community. My sense is that collectors are very loyal and supportive of artists here, but there are only so many venues. The others are more dependent on state support than we are.
How has your work with Abu Dhabi impacted what you’re doing here?
Many of the questions remain the same. My job before that one was chief curator of Modern Art Oxford, out of the metropolitan center. There are similar questions about constituency and the artistic community. Like what language do we speak and what language do they speak, and can we find a common vocabulary. And then there’s the question of context. If you’re a visitor who comes to Serralves, what do you want to see? You want to learn something, not see what you can see in any other capital city. In Abu Dhabi as well, we tried to generate a sense of ownership and relevance for people in that part of the world, but at the same time speak to a broader context. It’s exactly the equivalent here in Porto.
After a show of Iranian contemporary artist Monir Farmanfarmaian, which will travel to the Guggenheim in New York, next year in the autumn we’re organizing a major retrospective of the Portuguese artist Helena Almeida, who’s begun to garner an amount of interest institutionally. That exhibition will travel to Paris, Brussels, and Sao Paulo. We have a great history of collaborating with other curators and institutions, but this really represents a new moment in the history of the museum where we are initiating and sending out shows. Sometimes change is not only about just the things you can see; it’s about the dynamics of what comes in and what goes out.
Name: Alyson Shotz
This October you have a show at the Wellin Museum in upstate New York, for which you will create site-specific installations in response to light in that space. What is the defining quality of the Wellin’s light? What kinds of works did it provoke?
I’m making a few site-specific works for the Wellin Museum show. One is an expandable sculpture shaped by gravity and the material properties of the piece itself. It’s made of stainless steel wire and glass beads, and the scale is about 18 feet high by 16 feet in diameter. This sculpture in particular will reflect the sunlight as it passes through the space and it will seem to materialize and dematerialize depending on the way the light hits it at any particular moment. Also, I just finished installing a 49-foot wall drawing there, which will also react to the light. The drawing, made with linen thread and pins on the wall, is something between a two-dimensional and three-dimensional entity. The thread creates a kind of surface plane, raised two inches off the wall, and this plane casts shadows on the wall behind. The shadows and the density of the thread create an illusion of three-dimensionality that shifts as one walks along it. In addition there will be an etched vinyl piece (also site specific) going into Archive Hall, which will also react and change with light and one’s position in relationship to it.
You also have two gallery shows this fall at Derek Eller and Carolina Nitsch. How does your process change when you are making work for a gallery? Is it on a smaller scale?
I try always to scale and shape the work to the space. At Derek’s I’ll be showing work in two locations, which is a very special occurrence. In the main space will be a series of linen drawings on panel and bronze sculptures that both deal with the idea of progression through time. In the second space I’m installing a 20-foot long floating glass bead sculpture, “Invariant Interval #4.” For the past few years I’ve been trying to gain a better understanding of time. Without time, there is no space and vice versa, so the two are intimately linked, as Einstein described many years ago. As a sculptor, space is a primary subject for me, but I’ve just begun to think about time and its relationship to space. I see these works in the Eller show as ephemeral moments contained within a specific event, rendered in the very slow materials of thread, glass, and bronze.
Do you consider your work to be in dialogue with Light and Space or other artists who work with light?
I hope it’s a continuation of the conversation.
What project are you working on now?
I’m still trying to finish work for the upcoming shows opening in October. I’ve been doing some work in porcelain, which is an incredibly persnickety material, and if they work out, they should be done just in time.
What’s the last show that you saw?
Christopher Williams at MoMA.
What’s the last show that surprised you?
“The Photographic Object, 1970” at Hauser and Wirth uptown. Incredible dense photographic objects made by many artists who I regret to say, I’d not heard of until this show, like Carl Cheng who made some bubbly molded plastic photo things which I really loved.
Describe a typical day in your life as an artist.
Get up too early, walk the dog, drink a lot of coffee, check email, bike to studio, work, bike home, walk the dog, check email, eat dinner, maybe watch a show, read, sleep.
Do you make a living off your art?
What’s the most indispensable item in your studio?
Maybe the studio itself.
Where are you finding ideas for your work these days?
Mostly from reading: a combination of science, fiction, and some science fiction. I’m also in the midst of a research residency at Stanford University, and I’ve had some really interesting conversations with a few people, which I think will lead to some new work.
Do you collect anything?
Not really… maybe interesting natural stuff you find on the beach or in the woods.
What’s the last artwork you purchased?
I’ve not yet had the opportunity to buy art.
What’s the first artwork you ever sold?
A drawing on brown paper with Sumi ink and gouache, I think.
What’s the weirdest thing you ever saw happen in a museum or gallery?
Everyone looking at their phones, standing in front of some really amazing work.
What’s your art-world pet peeve?
It feels like an intellectual loss that the people running galleries are not as accessible as they were in the ’90s when I first moved to New York. I have some very good memories of inspiring spontaneous conversations that broke out between dealers, artists, and curators who all happened to be in a gallery at the same time. The art world was definitely more casual at that time and ideas seems to be afloat in the streets. Or maybe I was just young and idealistic?
What’s your favorite post-gallery watering hole or restaurant?
I don’t go out that much, so usually home.
Do you have a gallery/museum-going routine?
I used to go once a month to see what’s around, but lately it can be a few months in between visits, because of my travel schedule. Walking around to look at art is still one of my favorite things to do.
What’s the last great book you read?
“The Round House” by Louise Erdrich; anything by Alice Munro.
What work of art do you wish you owned?
A Sugimoto seascape.
What would you do to get it?
I’m not that acquisitive.
What international art destination do you most want to visit?
What under-appreciated artist, gallery, or work do you think people should know about?
I recently encountered “The House of the Future,” a piece by David Hammons permanently located on two vacant lots on the east side of Charleston, South Carolina. It was part of the exhibition “Places with a Past,” 1991, and it’s a “Skinny House” — 6-feet wide, two stories high — built with local contractor Albert Alston. I thought it was absolutely incredible.
Who’s your favorite living artist?
That’s a toss up between David Hammons, Rosemarie Trockel, and Lee Bontecou, and I’m sure I’m forgetting others.
What are your hobbies?
Walking the dog, being an avid bike commuter. Not too much time for other hobbies at the moment.
— Van Gogh Musical in the Works: It was only a matter of time before the legendary life of Van Gogh was set to music. Slated to debut in Amsterdam next fall during festivities around the 125th anniversary of Van Gogh’s death, “Vincent” will “bring Vincent van Gogh’s works to life in a non-traditional way,” said Martine Willekens, spokeswoman for the Van Gogh Europe Foundation. [Telegraph]
— John Kerry Speaks at the Met: In a Monday night speech at the Met, Secretary of State John Kerry spoke out against the destruction of cultural heritage in Syria and Iraq. He called the spread of ISIL forces “one of the most tragic and one of the most outrageous assaults on our shared heritage that perhaps any of us have seen in a lifetime. Ancient treasures in Iraq and in Syria have now become the casualties of continuing warfare and looting. And no one group has done more to put our shared cultural heritage in the gun sights than ISIL.” [TAN]
— Whitney Gets American Photos:Sondra Gilman Gonzalez-Falla and Celso Gonzalez-Falla have promised 75 photographs from their collection to the Whitney Museum. All the usual suspects are there: Walker Evans, Alfred Stieglitz, Robert Frank, Diane Arbus, William Eggleston, and Imogen Cunningham. “This promised gift from the greatest benefactors of the Whitney Museum’s photography program has a transformative effect on the museum’s collection,’’ said Whitney director Adam D. Weinberg. “The works are classics of 20th-century photography that enable us to tell the story of 20th-century American art.’’ [NYT]
— Altamira Caves Stay Open Until 2015: Officials have decided to continue to allow a select number of visitors (five per week!) into Spain’s Altamira Caves after the impact was found to be “virtually imperceptible.” [TAN]
— Jeffrey Deitch Talks Looking For a New York Space:“I’m looking for a space of 40,000 square feet plus. And so there’ve been a few things that were almost there, but didn’t quite work out. So I’m very patient.” [ARTnews]
— Buy a Johns Flag at Sotheby’s: A 1983 “Flag” work by Jasper Johns is expected to sell for $15 million to $20 million this November. [NY Observer]
— We’ve really been enjoying Andrew Russeth’s weekly Art of the City feature; the latest one covers nine Chicago shows. [ARTnews]
— Fordham’s new Pei Cobb Freed & Partners-designed building has opened at Lincoln Center. [NYT]
— Shane Campbell Gallery in Chicago will move to a bigger space next year. [ARTnews]
ALSO ON ARTINFO
Check our blog IN THE AIR for breaking news throughout the day.
“There’s some razzle-dazzle things and then more quiet ones,” explained Marlborough Chelsea director Pascal Spengemann, discussing the 10 works that are part of “Broadway Morey Boogie,” a public art installation organized by the gallery that spans the breadth of the Broadway Mall in New York. (The title is a mash-up of Mondrian’s famous painting and the Morey boogie board brand.) The six-month exhibition, overseen by Spengemann and Marlborough principal director Max Levai, does indeed hit both ends of the spectrum: Devin Troy Strother’s ecstatic, glittery women are the razzle-dazzle to Paul Druecke’s whipsmart text-based intervention, or Davina Semo’s imposing concrete-and-CorTen-steel behemoth. Tony Matelli has placed “Stray Dog,” a realist canine, at 73rd Street (rumored to be a replacement for the initial choice, the artist’s controversial sleepwalker sculpture, which is currently trudging along in its underwear on Marlborough Chelsea’s second-floor patio). Lars Fisk abstracted the design of a Con Ed truck into a sphere dropped at 79th Street — and no, the utility company didn’t sponsor the project, nor did they explicitly bless it. There’s an interactive, kid-friendly piece — Dan Colen’s “Jazz and Leisure,” up at 137th Street, which includes actual boulders painted the colors of M&Ms, as well as park benches warped into cartoonish semi-circles. (You can sit on both.)
Semo’s “Everything Is Permitted,” which the artist said she imagined as a cross between a security booth and a bunker, is a somber contrast to Colen’s sugary sculpture, its pigmented-concrete surface roughed up, chiseled, and weather-degraded. And Sarah Braman’s “Another Time Machine” is a similarly Minimalist monument, albeit one in transparent, tinted glass that casts rich purple and blue shadows onto the sidewalk — inviting new ways of looking at the surrounding buildings and traffic, and engaging in an oblique way with the angles of Philip Johnson’s 1999 public work, “Timesculpture at Lincoln Center,” which stands next to it.
With art prices ever-soaring, the question of whether the art market is currently experiencing a bubble — and, perhaps more urgently, when exactly that bubble might burst — is an issue on the minds of gallerists, auctioneers, and collectors alike. Yesterday at the Blouin Creative Leadership Summit, a group convened at the “Art & Economics” panel to discuss the practical sustainability of the art market’s current climb, as well as its uncertain future.
Moderator Sarah Hanson, editor-in-chief of Art + Auction magazine, opened the discussion by framing the recent boom — from $21.3 billion in global art sales in 2003 to $60.8 billion in 2013 — within some broader conceptual trends. “The past decade has seen a qualitative shift in the art market, one marked by the entrance of the formerly sleeping dragon of China and by soaring prices for a select few artists who have become, essentially, branded commodities,” she said. “In contrast to ages past, these prices are being increasingly realized for contemporary, living artists.”
Though China’s role remained relatively untouched, the panel offered opinions on the celebrity status of certain artists — specifically, Jeff Koons and his infamous “Balloon Dog” sale at a benchmark $58.4 million. Amy Whitaker, art business faculty at the Sotheby’s Institute, asserted that Koons is “a wonderful, extremely interesting performance artist” and that “the Christie’s sale is a sort of pinnacle of the performative part of how the price tag and the participation in collecting is related to the work itself.”
She also noted, however, that even to discuss the current art market in this way is to take its structure for granted. “The question I would ask is why we don’t invest in artists, we invest in collectibles,” she said. “That is actually fundamentally different from the way we invest in the stock market. You don’t invest in Nike shoes, you invest in Nike the operating company.”
Meanwhile, Donald Thompson, professor emeritus of marketing at the Schulich School of Business at York University, laid out the ways in which mid-level dealers — that is, “the dealers that nurture young artists” — are being squeezed out on both sides by “über-dealers,” who take up the majority of positions at major art fairs, and Internet commerce platforms, which snatch up business on the lower end, leaving artists “orphaned” in their wake.
Thompson and Whitaker’s concern for the role of the artists touches on the seeming incongruity at the art market’s center: “Art, by definition, always has something about it that can’t be captured by the market,” Whitaker observed — what Roman Kräussl, associate professor at the Luxembourg School of Finance, dubbed “pure philosophy.” His advice, at the end of the day: “Buy what you like. Never buy art solely for investment purposes.”
And still, the fact of art as a bought and sold commodity persists — and with it, the concern over this ever-looming “bubble” effect. “We can only say it was a bubble after it’s burst,” observed Kräussl. Still, he ventured a guess, based on his analysis for the Blouin Art Sales Index: “I think, right now, we are in mania mode.”
So, how long will it last? William Goetzmann, professor of finance and management studies at Yale University, brought up the issue of income inequality, pointing out that so long as the gap continues to widen, the art market’s superrich participants may well be able to continue up-bidding indefinitely.
“I don’t know if that means I’m an optimist or a pessimist,” he said.
“I think that means you’re an economist,” offered Hanson.