Market Monday: Tall Tales
This week, let's gather around a campfire where each story is more incredible than the last...
Andrew M. Goldstein conducted a deep-dive interview with Davida Nemeroff that traced her entire evolution from "transplanted Columbia MFA grad 'smoking a tremendous amount of pot'" to "industry power broker at the helm of Los Angeles's increasingly gush-inducing Night Gallery." Her narrative is fascinating to me on numerous levels. But if I had to choose, I'd say its most valuable lesson is that one or two artists with superstar potential can carry an inexperienced gallery more than long enough for its founder to figure things out––and that those same artists should leverage their rare strength as much as possible in hammering out the terms of their representation. [ArtSpace]
On Thursday, the National Gallery Singapore unveiled Gallery & Co., which Low Lai Chow described as the museum's new 8,800 square-foot "merchandise and dining venue." Not sure what that means? How about a "curated experience" that combines "bookstore, bar, cafeteria, café, and museum store [into] one continuous space"? Further clarifying the concept forces Chow to use more zeitgeist-y buzzwords than a Silicon Valley advertising conference sponsored by pharmaceutical-grade cocaine. (See: "interdisciplinary collective," "brand curation," and a merger of "artisanal design with artistic encounters.") Although some might dismiss this frothing brew of colliding concepts as an anomaly, I think it pushes us one step further into a future where multiple luxury platforms use high culture to bond themselves together into a cohesive über-market. Hope you're all saving your loose change.... [Blouin ArtInfo]
Matthew Goldstein uncovered that late last year, Morgan Stanley agreed to extend billionaire investor Steven A. Cohen "a personal loan of an unspecified sum" backed by some portion of his allegedly $1B collection––at least a month before Cohen settled an outstanding civil suit with the SEC over insider trading at his previous fund. Neither of these aspects of the story seems particularly wild in itself. But I think things change when you consider that the average art financier will lend up to half of the appraised value of the artworks used as collateral, meaning that Cohen could have theoretically borrowed up to $500M strictly off his collection. I'm sure he didn't max out, but the pure fact that he may have had the option speaks volumes about the financial sector's acceptance of the "art as asset" narrative. [The New York Times]
In the most impressive feat in art media this week, Dan Duray managed to wring a substantive story about art-and-antiquities-market regulation out of a lede that includes the mind-altering phrase "a promise from the actor Nicolas Cage to repatriate a dinosaur skull to its native Mongolia." Duray's subject is Preet Bharara, the US Attorney for the Southern District of New York. His jurisdiction includes NYC itself, putting Bharara in the center of both the American and global trade for high-end objects. The Cage restitution marks the 15th "high-profile art-related forfeiture case" that Bharara has prosecuted since being sworn in five years ago. And all clickbait aside, I found the most interesting aspect of the story to be Duray's passing mention that Bharara's current post has often been a stepping stone to higher political office in the US. If history repeats itself with Bharara, his ascension to national power could be one of the (very) few real game-changers possible for the regulation of the fine art trade––assuming, of course, that the world's dealers don't take inspiration from his most recent target's acting reel and subdue him with a bee helmet first. [The Art Newspaper]
And finally, if you think it's impossible to end this week with a story more top-to-bottom batshit than one involving Nic Cage's return of a dinosaur skull to Asia: This week saw the opening of the long-awaited trial of Ann Freedman, the former director of New York's storied Knoedler Gallery, which was forced to close almost overnight in 2010 amid allegations that it had trafficked more than 40 forgeries purported to be legitimate Abstract Expressionist masterworks. The most remarkable element of the saga isn't that several high net-worth collectors felt comfortable buying paintings allegedly sourced from an anonymous Swiss collector referred to only as "Mr. X," despite the fact that the details of his story repeatedly shifted over time. It isn't that Freedman allegedly felt secure enough in the subterfuge that she and other gallery staffers would commonly refer to "Mr. X" as "Secret Santa." It isn't even that the con netted Knoedler over $60M in sales. It's that all of the above is so par for the course in the day-to-day business of the high-end art market that the accusations couldn't manage to make it to trial for ALMOST 20 YEARS. And if that isn't an authentic portrait of the business, I don't know what is. [Artnet News]
That's all for this edition. Programming note: Market Monday will be on hiatus next week so I can make a pilgrimage to the Rothko Chapel and Menil Collection over the weekend without gluing my phone to my face the whole time. Plus, after this week's stories, maybe we could all use an extra seven days for the absurdity to wear off. See you next time.