Market Monday: Flashbacks and Flashforwards
This week, a collection of developments that either take their cues from the past or anticipate the future...
After a handful of top-end contemporary lots underperformed at this month's London auctions, Marion Maneker called a (temporary) end to the "masterpiece bull market" and unpacked what he sees as the major causes. The most interesting to me was his reminder that "the market wants to see works and prices validated by great collectors with proven taste"––a box left unchecked by a few of the key works that bled out on the auction block this time around, which were instead consigned by what Maneker calls "serial over-payer[s]" like young Malaysian wheeler-dealer Jho Low. While the quality, not just the quantity, of buyers and sellers always plays a major role in moving the art market, this is a great example of how much more important the players' identities become once collectors have started to get nervous. [Quartz]
In a surprising development, this week Lauri Firstenberg announced her departure from LAXART, the contemporary-art nonprofit that she's spent the past decade building into arguably Los Angeles's most powerful and important. LAXART's press release only indicates that Firstenberg will "pursue other career opportunities." But I'm intrigued by the move because a little-discussed W Magazine feature from last month identified her as one of the select few people hired by Joshua Roth to help lead UTA Fine Arts. If Firstenberg gave up LAXART to man that post full time, it's a significant positive sign for both UTA FA and the nascent artist-agent sector as a whole. And if Firstenberg is NOT expanding her role at the agency despite her newfound freedom, then that's just as meaningful a negative for the division's––and the entire model's––future. Let's see what happens from here... [ARTnews]
A decade after abandoning the gallery system (including her then-dealers Jeffrey Deitch and Larry Gagosian), Vanessa Beecroft delivered what was allegedly the "most-viewed performance artwork in history" at Madison Square Garden a few weeks ago. The feat came courtesy of her ongoing collaboration with Kanye West, whose dual premier of a new album and fashion line gave Beecroft a collective audience of over 20 million people on site, in theaters, and online. Nate Freeman tagged along with Beecroft for a day in the life of her unorthodox business and practice, which, for the past 8 years and counting, has exclusively consisted of being something like West's Creative Director. The arrangement allegedly empowers her to do as she pleases, and as a result, has left her with no desire whatsoever to re-enter the traditional art market. However, the revolutionary aspect of Beecroft's strategy isn't its newness, but rather its oldness. Knowingly or not, Kanye has actually resurrected the Medieval and Renaissance idea of an artist spending much of his or her career working directly for a single wealthy patron, such as the Catholic Church or the Medicis, without the intermediary of a gallery or agent. And as wealth continues magnetizing to the uppermost reaches of our increasingly winner-takes-all economy, I wouldn't be shocked to see more of these partnerships forged in the years to come. [ARTnews]
And finally, in a move the art-fair sector may look back on as its version of the first major American subprime lender's quiet bankruptcy filing in 2007, Reed Exhibitions cancelled both of its fairs planned for Los Angeles this year–– what would have been the fourth Paris Photo LA and the first FIAC LA––due to "a lacking presence of local collectors" in the city. That justification seems suspicious to me, since so much of the business at major art fairs flows from collectors traveling in from out of town themselves. But regardless of its truth level, the cancellation indicates that even high-end fairs have finally overextended themselves. I expect Reed's contraction to be a harbinger of what's to come for fairs in general as the industry continues its consolidation. And the process will only speed up if key world markets dip into recession this year, as some macroeconomists are now warning. Buckle up. [ArtForum]
That's all for this edition. Til next week, try to keep history in mind as you step into the future. They say "past is prelude" for a good reason...