Market Monday: Transformers
Re-assembling the key pieces from a week of change...
Nate Freeman checked in from the Outsider Art Fair, arguably the world's leading sales event for works by self-taught artists. Led by Henry Darger, the late hospital janitor whose undiscovered-til-death depictions of a self-created fantasy world "can run as high as $750,000," the genre seems to be well into its transformation from overlooked niche to major critical and commercial destination. Which raises the question: Does more of the change owe to aesthetic connoisseurs' reacting against the populist stampede into mainstream contemporary art, or to investment-minded COINs' (Collectors Only In Name) hunting for a new arbitrage opportunity in an undervalued market sector? [ARTnews]
Rachel Donadio surveyed the opening of Ai Weiwei's exhibition at high-end Paris retailer Le Bon Marché Rive Gauche. And right inside the piece, she delivered a takeaway better than any I could construct from scratch: "Anyone needing more evidence that the distinctions between public and private, high and low, art and commerce, and actual versus Internet celebrity have now imploded beyond recognition need look no further than this example of a populist Chinese dissident artist exhibiting in a luxury department store in one of the world's fashion capitals." I'll just add that I'm increasingly certain Ai's latest show is a harbinger, not an outlier, concerning art and commerce's future. Buckle up for the blue-chip branded collaborations. [The New York Times]
Molly Gottschalk interviewed Lorenzo Rudolph, former head of Art Basel and current director/co-founder of Art Stage Singapore, about developments across the 21st-century Asian art market. Among the variety of interesting points raised in their conversation, what stood out to me was Rudolph's reminder that right now "even the best galleries in China are run by westerners." That fact calls into question what industry analysts even mean when they talk about the "Chinese art market," whether they realize it or not. And projecting to the macro view, it also implies that when the for-profit art industry in Asia DOES become organic, that evolution will likely create outcomes that most outsiders may not be thinking about yet. [Artsy]
In the wake of Sotheby's reporting a substantial 4th quarter loss (which you can read about here), Scott Reyburn took a microscope to the auction house's plans for how to move back into the black. Its core strategy will involve pivoting toward art advisory and private sales while simultaneously de-emphasizing auctions, save for those "marquee calling card" sales at the market's high end. In other words, Sotheby's, one of the two most storied auction houses in art history, will try to grow by becoming much less like an auction house and much more like a vertically integrated, 360-degree art services firm––or essentially, the same thing as a mega-gallery. Just another sure sign that we've entered the era of market consolidation. [The New York Times]
That's all for this edition. No matter what your blueprint, good luck transforming the week ahead into something special.