Market Monday: School's Out for Summer
This week, a little summer reading to tide you over while the industry lights out for Basel and yours truly lights out for a week of much-needed vacation...
Roughly four months after declaring his interest in expanding his empire to Hong Kong, David Zwirner announced on Friday that he had signed a lease in the city's Central district. His fourth worldwide gallery will occupy a two-story, 4,000-5,000 square-foot space in the soon-to-be-completed H Queen's tower. Some real-estate analysts criticized the mega-gallerist’s timing, as China’s still-worsening economic downtrend theoretically means that Zwirner could have gotten a superior deal if he’d held out even longer. However, journalist Enid Tsui heavily implies that H Queen’s owners already drastically reduced Zwirner’s price below what market conditions would justify, in order to lure an anchor tenant to a building premised on attracting peak-quality brands from across the luxury lifestyle spectrum. And that, to me, is the takeaway here: Decision-makers in high-end sectors such as fashion, timepieces, and jewelry now recognize David Zwirner as enough of a peer to influence their own relocation/expansion strategies. Then again, if you were following Zwirner on Instagram (or me on Twitter) last month, you probably already knew that. [South China Morning Post]
The revolving door to (and from) Gagosian’s roster spun again this week, as Archduke of Appropriation Richard Prince exited Larry’s empire after 11 years. So far, neither side has gone on record about the split’s motivations, and it’s just as unclear which big-time gallerist will earn the opportunity (and perpetual legal liabilities) of representing Prince next. Influencing both answers is the artist’s recent Don Draper-level promiscuity, including one-off solo shows with the likes of Barbara Gladstone, Blum & Poe, Luxembourg & Dayan, Almine Rech, and others—all while still living under Gagosian’s roof. In that sense, Prince is the artistic embodiment of Chris Rock's observation that a man is basically as faithful as his options [NSFW]. And Prince's willingness to exercise those options reinforces that we’re well into an era where the most sought-after talent packs as much branding punch as the most in-demand galleries. The open question is whether any of these top-ranked artists will use their newfound muscle to do something more innovative than periodically swapping mega-galleries. [artnet News]
For an up-close view of the extraordinary preparations that major gallerists and dealers now make for Art Basel, Robin Pogrebin embedded with private-sales powerhouse Dominique Lévy as she strategized for “the most important art fair" in the world. Aside from a carefully curated survey of blue-chip works from across the American and European postwar era, Lévy’s 2016 contributions to Basel will include a booth enhanced by an architect, a lighting designer, and Le Corbusier furniture; a circus-themed off-site party, "created by a tightrope acrobat" and featuring dinner under an actual big top; and an alleged all-in price tag over $300,000. On the one hand, Lévy’s efforts underscore that today’s collectors tend to value events and “art experiences” above even the most well-executed traditional exhibitions. On the other, Pogrebin’s access for the piece also illustrates that high-end dealers and gallerists keenly understand that conspicuous spending has become one of their greatest marketing tools. They want every elite client to know that, when he enters their orbit, he’ll always get the very best that money can buy, from art to food to entertainment. And that makes Lévy’s detail-rich Times feature a priceless advertising spread in the world’s paper of record—and a rare instance where a major gallerist recognizes transparency as an asset. [The New York Times]
Under the provocative headline "Sotheby’s Is Paying Buyers to Bid on Its Artwork," Katya Kazakina unpacked one of the auction sector’s latest financial innovations: the irrevocable bid. Essentially, the concept means that a house pays a fixed fee to a collector in exchange for his advance agreement to buy a particular lot at a specified price should no other bidders emerge during the sale. Notably, David Nash (of blue-chip mainstay Mitchell-Innes & Nash) surfaces near the article's conclusion to lambaste irrevocable bids as, in Kazakina's relay, "financial machinations that distort the art market." But in a separate response piece, Marion Maneker argues—convincingly, I think—that Nash and other critics are intentionally miscasting these arrangements as something more devious than what they are: fully disclosed insurance policies against a piece going unsold at auction and thereafter entering the unpredictable private negotiation stage—a stage where Nash and other well-connected, well-capitalized dealers can often buy valuable works for bargain prices. Viewed through that prism, irrevocable bids double as a reminder about an important art-industry truth: Whenever prominent insiders emerge from their shadow-castles to publicly condemn some marketplace innovation, their real beef may be that said innovation neutralizes one of their long-held, little-discussed advantages in the sales space. #StayWoke [Kazakina's piece: Bloomberg | Maneker's response: Art Market Monitor]
Among a wide range of other thoughtful answers, Tate director Nicholas Serota mentioned in an interview last Tuesday that he has made collecting contemporary art one of the venerable museum’s major missions during his 28-year tenure. The reason? His predecessors refused to do the same during the first half of the 20thcentury, ultimately leaving the Tate with voids in its permanent holdings that are now too expensive to fill. Several other renowned institutions around the world made the same mistake in the modern to early postwar period. Like Serota, many of their current leaders have also announced their intentions not to repeat the error. And that nearly sector-wide commitment to the here and now points to a very human reason that contemporary art has come to dominate the industry. Never underestimate how much impact the fear of missing out can have on a market, especially when that market has as few reliable long-term signals of quality as the one for young artists. [The Art Newspaper]
Finally this week: Russia released home-grown performance-art seditionist Pyotr Pavlensky from custody, roughly eight months after arresting him for his work "Threat"––a nocturnal arson of the state intelligence agency’s front door. Pavlensky's only sentence is to pay a fine of about $15,400 US, which he has publicly stated he will never do, even if he actually had the money. Considering that we’re talking about a guy who has sewn his own lips shut and nailed his scrotum to Red Square, I’m pretty sure the powers that be trust he’s serious. And considering the enormous global media attention Pavlensky has attracted through his cultural guerrilla tactics, I also expect Putin and company are perfectly content to absorb the minuscule financial loss and get him out of their lives for a while. Taken in total, Pavlensky's ongoing body of work about state oppression may be one of the most high-stakes, visceral, and attention-worthy performance pieces of our era. And yet, despite how *obsessed* they all are with the medium of performance art after "The Artist Is Present," global luxury brands and mainstream celebrities don’t seem to be reaching out to Pavlensky with the same enthusiasm they’ve shown toward late-career Marina Abramović. So weird, right?? If any of you have any ideas about why that might be, please shoot me an email. I don’t want to spend my whole off-week drowning in the unexplainable! [The Art Newspaper]
That's all for this edition. The blog and the newsletter will be on hiatus until the week of June 20th. Til then, remember that you don't have to put the books down to live a little.