Market Monday: A New Day
This week, a bundle of stories about fresh starts, new pursuits, and next chapters...
On Thursday, industry insiders and press were welcomed inside the lavishly expanded SFMOMA, which will reopen to the public on May 14th. The unveiling marks the completion of a project begun nearly seven years ago, when local royalty Doris and Donald Fischer agreed to donate their 1,100-piece contemporary-art collection to the museum. Per the terms of their pledge, the Fischers' holdings occupy three of the expansion's seven floors in the inaugural hang, and the same 270 canonical, blue-chip pieces now on view there will be re-installed in the exact same layout once every decade for "a minimum" of the next 100 years. In his review, Ben A. Davis emphasized the inner conflict this "public-private partnership" creates for SFMOMA's identity: Essentially, the museum became undeniably world-class by accepting a donation that rendered its collection largely interchangeable with that of other world-class contemporary-art museums. Yet, if you're an institution striving for legitimacy in an increasingly cutthroat global art marketplace, you make that trade 100 times out of 100. Besides, as Davis points out, SFMOMA's new footprint still leaves four floors available for innovation and differentiation even when its patron-supplied skeleton is fully exposed. If any museum is positioned to be the best of both worlds in the 21st century nonprofit climate, it's this one. [artnet News]
A group of highly respected US artists has begun collaborating on a novel project aimed at leveraging art into political change: a Super PAC. Led by artist-activists Hank Willis Thomas and Eric Gottesman, the For Freedoms committee seeks to promote transparency and the fair exchange of ideas from both sides of the American political aisle. Primarily, its contributors––which include the likes of Marilyn Minter, Alec Soth, and Carrie Mae Weems––will pursue this goal by by creating artworks that advocate a distinct position relevant to candidates and/or issues in the 2016 election, then adapting those works into ads and marketing materials distributed to the general public. It's a worthy and interesting strategy for engaging with the wider world. In fact, after this election cycle ends, I hope that For Freedoms (or another group following its lead) will turn its attention toward advocating for political issues that specifically impact artists, such as resale royalty rights, unionization, and standardized compensation for nonprofit commission projects. Because if artists themselves never unite to address these problems, history has shown that no one else will. [The New York Times]
François Pinault, the French mega-collector and CEO of luxury conglomerate Kering, finally satisfied his decades-long desire to secure a site in Paris for a museum dedicated to his vast art holdings. The historic Bourse du Commerce building––located a catwalk away from the Louvre––will be converted at Pinault's expense by renowned architect Tadao Andao, with an anticipated debut set for the end of 2018. While the building will be Pinault's first privately held exhibition space in Paris, it teams with the Punta della Dogana and Palazzo Grassi, both in Venice, to become his third overall. To me, that number is the most telling detail in this story. Despite all the attention being paid recently to the private museum trend, Pinault's expansion shows that we've already moved past an era in which the world's wealthiest collectors feel satisfied to maintain just one personal art foundation. The next phase is to do during one's own lifetime what the Guggenheim only did generations after Solomon R.'s death: build an international museum empire. Buckle up for the private founder arms race. [The Art Newspaper]
To help explain why the auction sector has entered a new era of unprofitability despite record sales, Katya Kazakina went deep on the financial concessions being made by major houses to secure headline-making artworks (and to keep them out of their competitors' catalogs). In particular, she highlights the so-called "enhanced hammer" deal, in which a house sacrifices some or all of its sales commission to the consignor. These arrangements began under the thinking that, even if the house took a loss on a few prime works per sale, those same works would act as a bidding aphrodisiac––one that would stimulate spending on the other lots in the same auction and thereby put the house ahead in the aggregate. Unfortunately, time has proven that thinking wrong, and now it's too late for Christie's and others to cram the genie back into the lamp. The entire situation provides yet another example of why high-end dealers go to such great lengths to keep their business private: If the identities and sales prices of your best inventory never become public knowledge––and thus will never be used in your marketing efforts––you can never be pressured to bargain down your margins for the sake of consigning an artwork with record resale potential. [Bloomberg]
Regen Projects revealed on Friday that it had signed Chicago-based Theaster Gates, the globally renowned yet locally controversial artist who has managed to blur the line between social practice work and real-estate entrepreneurship. The alliance ends Gates's (clearly self-imposed) four-year fast from American gallery representation. (White Cube has managed his career worldwide since 2012.) While it may seem odd to some observers that Gates would reintroduce himself to the US market through a Los Angeles gallery rather than a New York one, remember that Regen has effectively shared rosters with Barbara Gladstone for much of its existence––a natural result of founder Shaun Caley Regen's original partnership with, and eventual marriage to, Gladstone's late son Stuart. Therefore, I'd anticipate one of two developments to follow this one in the near future: a Gates show at Gladstone, or an announcement that White Cube is expanding to the Empire City. [artnet News]
And finally: Speaking of Gagosian, Elisa Lipsky-Karasz delivered a major new profile of the gallery's patriarch this week. I found the piece to be as entertaining as it was informative about the business. (Say what you will about Larry's tactics and/or personality, but the man has lived a hell of a life, and he's a tremendous quote.) To me, though, the most interesting aspect of the story is his mentorship under Leo Castelli, particularly because the industry has so widely deified Castelli and so widely vilified Gagosian. What could these perceived foils possibly have in common with each other? I expect the parallels run much deeper than even this story reveals. But one common thread that arises is this: Somehow, some way, both gallerists seem to have always figured out how to say "yes" to their most valued artists, no matter what the ask may have been. And as their dual success stories prove, "yes" is an incredibly powerful word in an industry so often defined by exclusion, frustration, and denial. [The Wall Street Journal]
That's all for this edition. Til next time, keep your eyes toward the horizon.