Market Monday: Black Math
This week, a set of stories about numbers and the dark side (in more ways than one)...
British superstar sculptor Anish Kapoor created a rift in the creative cosmos by securing exclusive artistic rights to the use of Vantablack S-VIS, billed by its manufacturer, Surrey NanoSystems, as "the world's darkest man-made substance." (Cue Spinal Tap.) Vantablack absorbs 99.964 percent of visible light––so much that, when used as a coating, it makes three-dimensional objects appear to be only two-dimensional (like this). The deal insures that Kapoor will be the only fine artist legally permitted to use Vantablack in his work until further notice. Which begs the question I haven't seen answered yet: How is Kapoor compensating Surrey NanoSystems for this privilege? Straight cash? The intangible branding value of his name? A small percentage of sales proceeds from any Vantablack-coated pieces he produces? For Surrey's sake, I hope they chose door number three, because whenever Kapoor's results are ready, they're going to do serious numbers. [Daily Mail]
Attorneys for Banksy reportedly delayed the publication of a research paper that used a statistical technique to conclude that their mysterious client is, in all likelihood, a former middle-class Bristol resident named Robin Gunningham. The technique in question is called geographical profiling (or just "geoprofiling" if you're edgy). It involves triangulating the locations of a series of similar events––like crime scenes, infections, or now, street-art pieces––to try to identify "hot spots" of possible common origin. Banksy's legal team did not attack the paper's substance. They only requested (and were granted) wording changes in the corresponding press release. However, even if Gunningham is indeed the Bruce Wayne behind the Banksy persona (as The Mail on Sunday also theorized in 2008), I don't think it matters anymore from a business standpoint. The mystique has already served its purpose: to generate hype and establish a brand. Banksy's unmasking would only be the next chapter in a narrative already guaranteed a feature spot in the library of contemporary art history. [BBC]
In the past seven days, Sotheby's accepted the badges and guns of four more high-level officers. Last Sunday came the resignation announcements of David Norman, vice chairman of Sotheby's Americas and co-chairman of Impressionist and modern art worldwide, as well as Alex Rotter, global co-head of contemporary art. A day later we learned that the chairman of Sotheby's Europe, Henry Wyndham, would be clearing out his office. And on Thursday, Miety Heiden, Sotheby's senior VP and chief of contemporary private sales for North America (not to mention someone I used to work with occasionally in my gallery days), followed her three other colleagues out the door. The continued exodus makes me wonder where all of Sotheby's expats go next. The knee-jerk answer would be that they'll just end up at rival auction houses. But I'd expect more than one of them to accept an in-house position at a mega-gallery looking to strengthen its secondary-market sales department. As auction houses continue acting more like elite galleries, and as elite galleries continue consolidating power at the market's high end, the two sectors' personnel become more and more interchangeable. [artnet News]
Finally, on Tuesday Christie's filed a $32.1M lawsuit against mega-collector/dealer Jose Mugrabi and his family's firm, the Jombihis Corporation, over alleged nonpayment for Jean-Michel Basquiat's "The Field Next to the Other Road" (1981). Mugrabi was the painting's winning bidder during Christie's New York Postwar evening sale last May, but according to the complaint, the house had only received a $5M initial deposit by February 15, 2016––the date by which Mugrabi had agreed to pay in full. However, by the end of the day Friday, Mugrabi and Christie's settled the dispute, with Mugrabi reportedly agreeing to cover the balance in its entirety (despite blaming the whole thing on a delinquent client for whom he was only the middleman in the bid). To me, the episode speaks to the power of both contracts and transparency in the art market. Christie's put the payment plan in writing, and after Mugrabi skirted it in private for nearly 10 months, the house finally got what it was owed within three days of putting his family name on blast. Here's hoping more of the industry takes a lesson from Christie's satisfaction than from Mugrabi's public shaming. [artnet News]
That's all for this edition. Til next time, try to keep your accounting in the black and the rest of your life out of the darkness.