Market Monday: Unusual Suspects
This week, a lineup of stories dominated by media outlets that rarely, if ever, appear in this space...
On Thursday, entertainment industry mega-agency WME and its sports-and-fashion-centric little brother IMG struck a "strategic partnership" with the Frieze brand. So far, the only concrete detail of the pact is that WME-IMG will supply some or all of the 150,000 GBP budget for the Frieze Tate Fund, which the prestigious British museum has deployed to acquire 100 works by 69 artists at the Frieze London fair since 2003. The rest of the announcement drowns in vagaries about "realizing innovations" and "expand[ing] resources and expertise... through events, media, and technology." My best guess, however, is that the alliance positions the agencies to follow UTA Fine Arts' lead in pursuing cross-media licensing and co-branding deals for both Frieze and the artists added to the Tate's collection through the fund. To paraphrase former Chicago Bulls center Joakim Noah, prepare yourselves for the art industry to continue on its path toward becoming Hollywood as hell. [The Wrap]
Only three months removed from the last substantial ruling on the matter, the US District Court in Los Angeles rejected the entirety of the California Resale Royalty Act, the nation's only legislation granting artists a percentage of their secondary-market sales. The Court ruled that copyright law effectively pre-empted the CRRA, even though that position directly conflicts with the very Ninth Circuit Court precedent that the latest decision was supposed to be bound by. I encourage you to click through to the full analysis only if you have a JD or a rabid fetish for legal jargon. Otherwise, the bottom line is that the District Court's decision will be appealed––and until it is, artists in both California and the rest of the US will remain in resale royalty limbo. [Sullivan & Worcester Art Law Report]
Moving to the museum sector, critic Lori Waxman unloaded both barrels on the Art Institute of Chicago after seeing the new patron-driven rehang of its contemporary wing. Waxman argues that the core of the problem––quite literally, based on the six centrally located "mini-galleries" built to hold them––are 44 works donated last year by collectors Stefan Edlis and Gael Neeson. Although their estimated $500M gift plugs crucial gaps in the museum's postwar holdings, it comes attached to the most extreme terms I've ever seen a donor impose. The AIC must exhibit the Edlis-Neeson collection in its entirety for the next 50 years: exactly as it is now until 2031, then with the option to be "reintegrated" elsewhere in the AIC's galleries until 2056. If those Godfather terms still don't convince you that the private sector has become vastly more important to the world's museums than the public sector, I sincerely hope that your spam filters are blocking every email from a distressed Nigerian prince desperate to move money out of his home country with the help of a sympathetic westerner's bank details. For the rest of us, the truth is crystal clear. [The Chicago Tribune]
While it received little to no coverage at the time, controversial art-market man-crush Oscar Murillo sparked an international incident last month when he intentionally flushed his British passport down an airplane toilet during a flight to Australia, where he was set to debut a work titled "meandering - black wall" at the Biennale of Sydney. Upon landing, Murillo was detained by authorities and eventually deported, even though he still had his Colombian passport in hand. While some in the industry have speculated that Murillo's mile-high document dump was simply a tantrum/freak-out over the prospect of unveiling a piece he no longer believed in, the artist's version––reported for the first time this week––is that it was an act of protest against western colonialization, both inside and outside the art industry. Murillo actually unleashed the money quotes while on a panel at Art Basel Hong Kong a few weeks ago, declaring that, "The West is a salivating penis, you know, pretty much ready to penetrate the rest of the world, as it has been for 500 years or more." Also, "we... in the art world need to get rid of people like Hans-Ulrich Obrist, Cecilia Alemani, Massimiliano Gioni, and all these curators and individuals that keep the status quo." Here's the thing: This is theoretically an interesting position for a young and highly sought-after artist to take. But given that Murillo owes his career so far to the status quo's buy-in––most visible in his representation by a sector-leading mega-gallery with three existing locations and a colonial eye focused on a fourth space in Hong Kong––I'll believe he's the art industry's Che Guevara when he walks out on David Zwirner and starts declining shows at MoMA. Until then, I can't treat this as anything but a bad-boy branding exercise. [ARTnews]
Finally this week, online auctioneer Invaluable released survey results indicating that US Millennials prefer to discover and buy art online over every other channel. Before visions of disruption start dancing through your head like a Silicon Valley conga line, allow me to present four points: First, it's always informative to consider the source and its incentives; here, we're talking about a survey conducted by an online auction platform that implies there will be tremendous online sales growth in the future. Convenient, no? Second, I promise that the high-end buyers who drive the art market are not responding to any online surveys; that makes Invaluable's results a mass-market study of an elite-centric economy. Third, even if we give the survey the benefit of the doubt, it shows that US Millennials prefer to buy art online in theory, but aren't actually buying much of anything in practice––which feels a bit like how 2 in 3 Bernie Sanders supporters reportedly balk at spending more than an extra $1,000 per year to actually implement his vastly more-expensive agenda. And fourth, less than half of the people surveyed––meaning only about 2,200 of the already-meager 4,534 respondents––even said that they "like and/or appreciate art" to begin with(!). Put those points together, and my take is that it's about as wise to trust this survey as it is to waltz into a National Rifle Association meeting while torching a copy of the Constitution. Revolutionaries: Good luck. [Business Wire]
That's all for this edition. Til next time, here's hoping we all stay above suspicion in this anxious world of ours.