Market Monday: Do You See What I See?
This week, a trio of stories questioning where the industry should and shouldn't look for answers…
Consider the Source: Amid this week’s incessant tide of Art Basel Miami Beach recaps, Guelda Voien's hit the beach carrying what seems to be the dominant meme from this year's edition of the fair: an allegedly calmer, more considered atmosphere than the feeding frenzy we've grown used to. The sales were supposedly there, but the scenester-ism had quieted down, and everyone involved was better for it––at least, if the art-media reports from South Florida can be believed.
But can they? On closer examination, Voien’s tale was told largely by hedge-fund executive Scott Lorinsky, a “true art addict”—according to his wealth manager and art adviser—as well as a motley crew of finance people, PR guys, and construction magnates. In other words: a list of people with a vested interest in portraying themselves (and the event they were attending) as more than just components in a market-driven lifestyle carnival. Maybe that’s why, two days prior to running Voien's recap, Observer published a piece with the headline, “Will Fashion or Art Get Top Billing at Basel Miami?” To which I would respond: If it was even a question, don’t we already have the answer?
In the end, I’m left thinking about something I heard the writer Wesley Lowery––author of the just-released book “They Can’t Kill Us All,” on the Black Lives Matter movement––say in an interview earlier this week: No matter which beat they’re covering, journalists are always at risk of overrating the importance of the people who return their calls. I can’t judge Miami firsthand since I spent the week prepping for a business trip to Japan. (Side note: You’re now reading the first international edition of The Gray Market Weekly.) But based on the details I picked up through my periscope, I’m skeptical that ABMB, or many of the other fairs and satellite events swirling around it, constituted much of a sea change this year. [Observer]
One Hand Robs the Other: At the tail end of a piece about the alleged profitability of the politically charged works on view at Basel Miami, Anny Shaw spent a few paragraphs discussing how president-elect Donald Trump’s top-heavy tax reform policies are likely to affect the art market. She assumes (rightly, I think) that the pending plethora of cuts to the wealthiest Americans’ April dues will only accelerate the industry’s polarization toward the top of the price hierarchy.
That said, here's the X factor that I keep wondering about: Considering the Donald’s well-documented intention to enact protectionist (if not outright isolationist) economic policies, could he impose a set of jingoistic tariffs that undermine all of the tax-based benefits American mega-gallerists, superstar artists, and top-tier collectors seem ready to collect under Trumponomics? We’ve already been seeing a dress rehearsal of such a scenario in Germany and western Europe, thanks to the implementation of various “cultural heritage” laws that prevent consenting adults from buying and selling works across national borders without government interference. Could this be the shape of things to come stateside too?
Naturally, we have no way of knowing for sure. But based on DJT’s backward-looking formula for Making America Great Again, I’d caution the art industry’s elites not to get too aroused about their future account balances just yet. If the 2016 US election taught us anything, it should have taught us to be wary of how tight a grip the pundit class—myself included—ever really has on what comes next. And as they say, you never hear the one that gets you. [The Art Newspaper]
In Medias Res: Finally this week, let’s step away from the art scene in South Florida to bask in a faint ray of hope from your nearest device screen. With little to no advance warning, the estate of late multidisciplinary artist Peter Cain went live with a digital catalogue raisonné of his works this past Monday. Created in conjunction with the estate’s high-end bicoastal gallerist, Matthew Marks, the archive is simultaneously a rich and easily accessible repository of Cain's output, as well as somewhat of a work in progress. Case in point: Its info page disclaims that (emphasis mine) "To the best of our ability all information on this site is accurate."
While I suspect that at least some purists would call this approach misguided, if not an outright travesty—how could a responsible estate and its representative launch a catalogue raisonné without complete confidence they had verified everything there was to verify about the artist’s work?—I find the project’s surprise release and fluid nature refreshing. Inside and outside the art niche, nothing hamstrings the publishing industry like the laborious process of finalizing and printing physical books that, once released, can only ever be corrected at huge expense. And thanks to its responsibility to be both absolutely comprehensive and absolutely stunning, the catalogue raisonné stretches that industry-wide inefficiency to the point of farce.
Yet Marks and the Cain estate have barrel-rolled around these all-too-familiar obstacles. By immediately releasing a “roughly right” digital catalogue raisonné rather than holding back until a sanctified, quintuple-checked, high-dollar print edition could be produced, they aren’t just giving Cain’s work an opportunity to reach the widest possible audience as quickly as possible. They’re also using its open-access character to hasten the all-important refinement process. If the online catalogue missed anything, anyone in the know can now catch the mistake or omission and contact the compilers to request an edit. This means the catalogue can be improved almost instantaneously—and as many times as it takes to reach perfection. True, it’s a relatively modest advancement in an art industry with lots of room for improvement. But at least it’s a reminder that not everyone has chained themselves to tradition for tradition’s sake yet. [ARTnews]
That’s all for this edition. Til next time, remember that letting your eyes wander a little isn’t always a bad idea.