Market Monday: Welcome to Heartbreak
In the aftermath of Valentine's Day, a collection of reminders that almost no love in this industry lasts forever...
After 23 years of representation, White Cube confirmed this week that it had severed ties with YBA original gangster Marc Quinn, who inspired both adoration and outrage in the 1990s for his ongoing series of self-portrait busts cast using 10 pints of his own blood preserved in frozen silicone. Though roster churn at a blue-chip gallery is hardly a plot twist in 2016, the split seems to have delivered an outsize shock to many observers, mainly because Quinn also happens to be the first artist that White Cube founder Jay Jopling ever signed. However, there should be no shock at all in Lorena Muñoz-Alonso's report that "insiders' rumors" suggest the decision was "one-sided," with Jopling possibly dropping Quinn because of "poor critical reception of the artist's work in the last few years." Personally, I'd bet that the cut had less to do with critical reception than commercial reception. For artists, the cold truth of the matter is that the industry's increasingly high stakes have made the gallery sector like the mob: You're not safe if you're not earning––no matter what your standing in the family may be. Just ask Tone [NSFW]. [artnet News]
Based on its overall tenor and corresponding headline ("Middle market shines through during week of uncertainty at London auctions"), I'd forgive anyone who came away from Anny Shaw's latest sales recap thinking that buyers had suddenly broken off their enduring marriage to high-end secondary-market works. However, there's one small problem with her analysis: None of the pieces she highlights as indicative of the week's results actually belong in the middle-market price range. Instead, Shaw calls attention to above-estimate lots that all hammered down for no less than 670,000 GBP, and she notes that the average value of works in Christie's sale still slotted in at 1.1M GBP. Now, we can quibble over the exact boundaries of the "middle-market" price range––I define it as $5,000 to $70,000 based on dealers' input––but even the most liberal definition falls far short of Shaw's examples. That such a reputable analyst could even suggest otherwise tells you just how skewed the 21st-century market has gotten toward the extreme high-end. [The Art Newspaper]
Before going on to reinforce my own anti-middle-market take on the London auctions, Scott Reyburn's latest survey of the sales landscape opens with a serious gut check: Art Basel czar Marc Spiegler's recent declaration that about 80 percent of the artists in demand today will be "basically unsellable" in 20 years. Spiegler is broadly right, but the more interesting question seems to be why the global director of a major art fair brand would shout something so likely to spook the very horses he needs to keep riding to the bank. My guess? His hair-raising sound bite signals to asset-minded collectors that, because Spiegler is hyper-aware of the reckoning to come, he'll go the extra mile to insure that his fairs stay flush with the 20 percent of artists worthy of long-term investment. And at the same time, his comment also subtly implies that Art Basel's global competitors won't be able to do the same, making Spiegler look crazy like a fox rather than crazy like much of his industry. [The New York Times]
After serving an 18-month jail sentence for selling forged paintings by lesser-known postwar British painters, former dealer Rizvan Rahman has returned to the general scene of the crime––by trying to build a career as a postwar British painter himself. Although Rahman trained as a fine artist and worked for a few years as a portrait and landscape painter before turning to dealing, he credits his time behind bars for helping him to hone his craft to a new sharpness (or so he hopes). But while his central narrative is as compelling––and therefore, potentially lucrative––as any an artist could ever hope for, I'll be curious to see whether gallerists and collectors will overlook the burn scars that Rahman left on members of their respective tribes in the past. Narratives matter, but not nearly as much as relationships do.
And finally, in other forgery news, the industry's most torrid three-week legal affair abruptly flamed out this week when both Ann Freedman and, shortly thereafter, Knoedler Gallery settled their respective civil suits with the de Soles over an $8.3M fake Rothko painting. I'm planning to write a bit more about the fallout this week, but in the interim, I recommend Laura Gilbert's insightful piece on why this outcome was always the most likely one. And her line of thinking also explains why I ultimately expect the other open suits against Knoedler to end in the same way as the de Soles' and the five before it. Then again, as this week's other stories remind us, the past and present can never quite guarantee the future... [The Art Newspaper]
That's all for this edition. If the love doesn't constantly pump through your hearts until next time, remember that as long as the blood does, you've always got something to look forward to.