Market Monday: Private Parts
This week, a trio of stories focused on the growing appeal and changing nature of private art sales...
Two for One: On Friday Jonathan Laib, a senior VP and senior specialist at Christie's, became the latest high-profile auction-sector expat to land in the gallery sector. Laib agreed to assume a directorship at David Zwirner, where he will focus on private sales (I mean, obviously) and managing some of the renowned artists' estates represented by the mega-gallery. Not coincidentally, Zwirner also gains control of the Ruth Asawa estate as a part of the deal, since Laib was named its sole commercial representative shortly after the artist's death in 2013.
The move simultaneously constitutes something new and something old in the industry. On one hand, it's yet another sign of the gallery sector's growing consolidation at the high end. After all, Zwirner just effectively acquired a historical artist thanks to his ability to add yet another director to his already-sizable payroll. (Aside from Laib, the gallery currently boasts seven other staffers with that title.) He didn't have to negotiate separately with Asawa's estate. He simply had to make a deal with Laib, who then brought the artist's legacy in house with him.
On the other hand, this is at least the second time in recent memory that Zwirner has pulled this same maneuver. Remember, in early 2015 he gained dominion over the Francis Bacon estate in the UK and Europe by bringing on as a partner the respected London dealer Gérard Faggionato, who had represented the estate in those two territories for the previous 17 years. So regardless of whether we see the Laib-Asawa package deal as fresh or stale, either interpretation demands that we look in the same direction to see what's coming next in the art market: up. [ARTnews]
Wheel of Fortune: Yesterday, Phillips unveiled the richest private-selling exhibition in the auction house's history: 11 paintings by sultan of the squeegee Gerhard Richter, collectively valued at $95 million. Not surprisingly, Katya Kazakina frames the show as further evidence that, during the market's current spell of (relative) conservatism, auction houses can more easily entice collectors to consign high-dollar works if they agree to sell discreetly rather than expose themselves to public scrutiny on the auction block. And that strategy inevitably escalates the growing turf war between Phillips et al and the gallery/dealer sector.
All of the above is true. But at the same time, it's worth keeping in mind that this paradigm shift's impact will always wax and wane with the state of the art market and the broader economy. The moment consumer confidence starts to return in force to the world's socioeconomic elites, many, if not most, consignors and auction houses will once more prioritize the gavel over the gallery-style sale.
Why? Because most of the time we're all just dumb animals instinctively responding to risk versus reward. And when market cycles rotate to a place where buyers and sellers think they can feel the familiar warmth of art-world publicity and bidding-war-driven profits on the backs of their necks, they'll feel compelled to pull their transactions out of the back room and onto the block again. [Bloomberg]
There's No Place Like Home: Finally this week, Casey Lesser chaperoned readers on a trip through the private sector's latest exhibition and entrepreneurship trend: the apartment gallery. For the unfamiliar, the concept is exactly what it sounds like. Rather than taking on the crushing overhead expenses and additional responsibilities of a dedicated exhibition space, more and more motivated residents of the industry's capitals are mounting shows and (occasionally) selling work out of their rented homes––some of which may only be a few hundred square feet total, with the furniture and other domestic trappings simply left as a part of the layout.
In fairness, the apartment gallery has been around for decades, via figures ranging from Leo Castelli in the 1950s to Daniel Reich just after Y2K. But Lesser's piece shows that the idea hasn't just gained new traction DESPITE the 21st century's increasingly opulent and expansionist expectations for traditional galleries. It's gained new traction BECAUSE of those expectations. At bottom, the apartment gallery is the product of many collectors', artists', and enthusiasts' shared longing for community and freedom in a scale-mad, winner-takes-all gallery sector. They are an opportunity to look deeply, talk freely, and just try stuff––activities that too often feel antithetical to present-day for-profit exhibitions.
The only problem, as some of the featured founders admit, is that the apartment gallery still isn't much of a business model. So while these spaces undoubtedly enrich and diversify the contemporary-art scene, they won't counteract the gallery sector's incentives to super-size and brand-focus for survival's sake in the nascent global art market. Whether you see that as okay or not okay depends on what you're hoping to get out of your art experience––and how much you're thinking about where these trends lead. [Artsy]
That’s all for this edition. Til next time, good luck keeping the private parts of your world private––at least, if that's what you really want.