Art World

Five Must-Read Art Business Articles for August 2018

August tends to be a slow time throughout the art market, but there were some interesting stories in the news nonetheless. From the changing strategies of galleries and dealers in the face of new market realities, to a couple of interesting Old Master issues, there is a lot to learn about both old and new in the field. Read on to see links to this month's five selected top stories along with short blurbs to accompany them.

  1. David Zwirner appoints curator-cum-Instagram-influencer as its first online sales director—why?
    by Margaret Carrigan via the The Art Newspaper (August 3)
    Carrigan explores the Zwirner's decision to add Elena Soboleva, a self-described "curator, innovator and global art adventurer" to head their online sales. Zwirner is one of the largest galleries in the world, and has seen a huge increase in sales via online in recent months. As they look to corner this market and improve on their strategies in the space, it made sense to reach out to an expert with a following of her own. This posting is likely a harbinger of changes to come at other galleries looking to bolster their digital footprint.

     
  2. Sotheby’s Posts $57.3 M. Net Income for Second Quarter of 2018, Down 26 Percent from Same Period Last Year
    by Annie Armstrong via Art News (August 6)
    Although overall, Sotheby's saw a steep decline in income from the same period last year, company officials pointed to a bookkeeping issues related to Asian sales to underscore that overall sales remained strong. In Asia, sales were actually up 15% overall which points to the future of the market to some extent. The financial health and sales strength of leading auctioneers like Sotheby's, Christie's, etc. is indicative of the broader condition of the market.
     
  3. The Strategies Art Dealers Use to Discount Artists’ Work
    by Anna Louie Sussman via Artsy (August 20)
    Discounts are a regularly used tactic throughout the gallery market and one that remains controversial. Many good collectors insist on discounts while artists tend to push back against them. Sussman's article does a great job of bringing together a nice array of sources in different positions in the field to learn more about strategies behind this practice as well as opinions of it. A great read for artists and gallery professionals alike.
     

  4. Italy Revokes Export License for Frick Collection’s First Painting Acquisition in Decades
    by Staff via Artforum (August 24)
    The Frick Collection, one of the great private-turned-public collections in the world, recently made its first painting acquisition in years. Now this purchase of a full length portrait of Prince Camillo Borghese by François Gérard is in jeopardy as the Roman culture ministry responsible for approving export permits has reneged on its initial 'ok' on the grounds that the gallery where the painting was purchased did not fully complete their paperwork and left out important details about the piece. This is a great illustration of just one of many potential pitfalls of acquiring Old Masters in Europe and it will be an important story to follow especially if it heads to arbitration in the Italian courts.
     

  5. A large Artemisia Gentileschi painting is coming to auction for the first time ever.
    by Benjamin Sutton via Artsy (August 28)
    Gentileschi is one of the great women artists of the Baroque period, and has seen a renaissance in interest over the last decade or so. The Dorotheum, the great Viennese auction house, will offer a painting of Lucretia by the artist featuring a pre-sale estimate with a high end over $800,000. Of course compared to other Old Master pictures this may not seem like a huge sum but it is significant. Sutton notes that the National Portrait Gallery acquired a self portrait of the artist as Saint Catherine last month for over $4millon. Lucretia will be sold at auction for the first time on October 23 after more than a century in a private collection. It will be interesting to see how the market reacts.

Martin Puryear is Perfect for The Venice Biennale

The Trump Administration's tardiness in announcing which American artist would represent the United States at the forthcoming 2019 Venice Biennale was incredibly unusual. And it lead some to speculate that partisan officials were plotting to push the selection of an artist who would exhibit work that represented Trump at the expense of artistic quality. Thankfully, that was not the case and a few days ago it was announced that Martin Puryear would create new pieces for the United States Pavilion at one of the most important events in the international art world. Puryear is in many ways the perfect choice to represent the United States in 2019, with a decades-long body of work that is an effective  foil to the Trumpian zeitgeist.

The 77-year-old Puryear, a native of Washington DC, earned his undergraduate degree in Fine Art from the Catholic University of America in 1963 and holds an MFA from Yale. He served in the Peace Corps in Sierra Leone and studied at the Royal Swedish Academy of Arts as well. He has been featured in the Whitney Biennial three times. MoMA, SFMoMA, MoMA Fort Worth, and the National Gallery collaborated on a traveling retrospective of his work. The recipient of both a MacArthur "Genius Grant" and a Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship, Puryear received the Gold Medal in Sculpture from the National Academy of Arts in 2007. He was awarded the country's highest honor for artists, the National Medal of Arts, in 2011 by President Obama. In short, Martin Puryear has the pedigree of an artist who should be featured at the Venice Biennale.

Puryear is also multi-talented. He is primarily a sculptor, but has also created furniture, tools, and other non-art objects. His work is often large scale and regularly commissioned for the public sphere. In 2014 he unveiled his Slavery Memorial on the campus of Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island. The work takes the form of a half-buried ball and chain. The ball emerges from the ground as a bronze dome with a chain jutting towards the sky where it terminates in a broken link. At the breakage, the chain is polished to a mirror finish, reflecting the sky and trees above. On a granite plinth nearby, a plaque displays a text remarking on the ways in which Brown University profited from the international slave trade and the unpaid labor of Africans and African-Americans. It is an incisive and moving piece that calls to account for historic wrongs committed by the University that commissioned it.

Brown University Slavery Memorial , Photo via Brown Univeristy by Warren Jagger

Brown University Slavery Memorial, Photo via Brown Univeristy by Warren Jagger

Puryear is an artist who is not only concerned with the conceptual, but also with the craft involved in making objects. As a result, his work is often both formally and conceptually complex. His large scale sculptures have an inkling of abstraction but also reveal narratives that reflect the real world. One of his most notable works, Ladder for Booker T. Washington (1996), shows his dedication to craft and thoughtful construction as well as his interest in history, politics, and sociology. The piece is a dramatically foreshortened and abstracted ladder that appears to recede into the far distance. It was constructed utilizing a single ash sapling hewed from Puryear's own New York property. The sapling was split precisely down the center and connected with maple rungs. Although it is essentially an abstraction, Puryear's Ladder is also a highly familiar and recognizable object. And it tells a story, too.

Ladder for Booker T. Washington,  wood (ash and maple), 1996,  The Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth

Ladder for Booker T. Washington, wood (ash and maple), 1996, The Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth

Booker T. Washington  was one of the most prominent thinkers of his generation. An advisor to Presidents Roosevelt and Taft, Washington advocated for African-Americans in a variety of ways but suggested that through industrious pursuits they could improve their own opportunities in the United States. This idea made him the intellectual counterbalance to other intellectuals like W.E.B. Dubois, who sought political routes and protested to broaden civil rights for African-Americans. Puryear's Ladder for Booker T. Washington suggests the winding road of progress that comes with proposed self-improvement. It also reflects the idea of the sometimes-apocryphal "American Dream" in which raising one's own status through labor and entrepreneurship would allow for a rise up the societal ladder.

In this piece, Puryear punctures Washington's arguments by suggesting the fraught nature of self-improvement for groups of people who are systematically disadvantaged by the political structures of their society. Puryear ironically utilizes his own skills and industriousness to undermine the idea that these qualities alone can change the course of an individual life. The work is quintessentially American and plays on many preconceptions about American life. It is a great expression, not only of an idea about African-American history, but also of the experience of a broad swath of the American public. It successfully combines craft and concept to educate and inform viewers.

In another large scultpure, Big Phrygian (2010 - 2014), exhibited at Matthew Marks Gallery in 2015, Puryear uses painted red cedar to created a monolithic version of the Phrygian Cap which was worn historically to denote liberation. During the French Revolution les sans-culottes often donned le bonnet rouge as an additional sartorial statement of their ardor for liberté. The use of such headgear to mark free men in the eighteenth century is likely a bastardization of the pileus, another type of hat, which in antiquity was the sign of a manumitted slave. Re-contextualized for the American scene, Puryear's Phrygian suggests the incomplete work towards emancipation, justice, and a liberal society. Through this comparison between American democracy, Revolutionary France, and their ancient antecedents, Puryear comments on the veracity of claims about American exceptionalism. His cap is impractically enormous, not meant to don a head, but to demarcate space.

Big Phrygian , painted red cedar, 2010-2014,  Glenstone Museum, Potomac, MD

Big Phrygian, painted red cedar, 2010-2014, Glenstone Museum, Potomac, MD

For both his exceptional skill and his exquisite use of sculptural craft to evoke American historical and political realities, Puryear is not only a justly respected American artist, he is a fantastic choice to represent his fellow Americans in Venice. He will also be the second consecutive African-American artist to be featured in the Biennale's United States Pavilion. It is fitting, too, that his work in Venice will be commissioned by the Madison Square Park Conservancy, which recently collaborated with Puryear on his Big Bling installation. The Park's Deputy Director and Senior Curator Brooke Kamin Rapaport will spearhead the project, representing New York's cosmopolitan tastes on a global stage.

Madison Square Park was notably the site of the installation of the Statue of Liberty's flame bearing arm from 1876 - 1882 as fundraisers sought to publicize the donation of the sculpture from the French in order to pay for its base. It is appropriate that in our current political climate, a craftsman, an African-American, an artist who has commented on the American experience through his work, should show the world what Americans are thinking and making now. And it is interesting that the patron of this work will be New York City, one of our nation's most open, most liberal, most international metropolises.

Whatever Puryear creates for the 2019 Venice Biennale will bear the mark of his singular sculptural acumen, and it will also certainly share the very best of American culture with our neighbors around the world.

 

Additional Resources to Learn about Martin Puryear:

Five Must-Read Art Business Articles for July 2018

In this second installment of what will hopefully be an ongoing series, I outline my five must-read art business articles for the month of July. This month it was very tough to narrow down the five articles I selected. With issues as varied as Brexit, Holocaust Restitution, Copyright Law and other details in the news, I picked a few pieces that I felt covered issues of key concern to a broad audience. There is so much incredible arts journalism being written right now, so be sure to follow these links and explore other stories that interest you.

  1. Ending a Seven-Year Dispute, a US Court Rules That Artists Aren’t Entitled to Royalties for Artworks Resold at Auction
    by Eileen Kinsella via artnet (July 9)
    Kinsella was one of the first journalists to break the news that the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has struck down a California state law, the 1977 California Resale Royalties Act (CRRA). The law had required fine artists to be paid royalties of 5% when their work is resold. The court ruled that the statute was pre-empted by the Federal Copyright Act, which does not provide for resale loyalties to artists. This is a blow to artists whose works sell for high values in the secondary market after leaving their studios.
     
  2. 19th Century Women Artists Get Overdue Recognition—Will Their Market Follow?
    by David D'Arcy via the New York Observer (July 18)
    This piece examines the ascendancy of 19th Century women artists in recent scholarship and exhibitions and questions whether the market for such works, which has often been rather soft, can gain interest to match the renewed energy in the institutional sector. D'Arcy provides a review of the Women in Paris exhibition now on view at The Clark in Western Massachusetts and includes a few market examples. The market for these artists will be interesting to follow going forward.
     

  3. The End of Exhibitions? As Attendance Plummets, New York Dealers Are Scrambling to Secure the Future of the Art Gallery by Rachel Corbett via artnet (July 18)
    Corbett outlines what people in the gallery business have known for some time, which is that gallery attendance is on the decline across the board. As individuals seek out new and varied venues for seeing and purchasing works of art, the gallery exhibition seems to be increasingly less relevant. This fact precipitated the inaugural Chelsea Arts Walk, which offered visitors after hours visits with thirty members of the ADAA. This article indicates some of the tactics galleries are using to resurrect their practice; ideas of relevance to those working in every part of the sector.
     

  4. Christie's Sales Soar in Strong Art Market
    by Kelly Crow via The Wall Street Journal (July 24)
    Crow is one of the best market analysts working today. In this piece she breaks down Christie's central role in the current market and their astounding success in the first half of 2018. Perhaps most notably, Christie's online-only sales rose nearly 50% to $37.7million. The overall success of Christie's first six months of 2018 was helped in no small part by the once in a lifetime auction of the David and Peggy Rockefeller Collection which made up a fifth of their total revenue for the period. Their sales though, along with competitor Sotheby's, indicate that the market conitues to be going strong.
     

  5. How Leo Castelli Changed The Art Market Forever
    by Nate Freeman via Artsy (July 31)
    This great profile by Nate Freeman gives a very accessible introduction to the story behind one of the most legendary art dealers of all time: Leo Castelli. Through his eponymous gallery, Castelli not only shaped the careers of many American artists in the mid twentieth century but also laid the groundwork for the commercial gallery model that exists, almost unchanged, today. Without Leo Castelli, there would never have been a Larry Gagosian.

Five Must-Read Art Business Articles for June 2018

Artists, collectors, and people interested in art often ask me for good venues to learn more about art business and the art market. There are so many great publications and blogs to follow it can be tough to keep up. So, I will be putting together a curated reading list each month to help highlight some of the key stories related to the business of making and selling fine art. This month's listing includes stories on the financial perils of being an artist and insights into the auction and gallery business. I hope you might keep an eye out at the end of each month as I share must-read articles to keep you apprised of the goings on in the art world.

  1. Advice for Artists on How to Make a Living—When Selling Art Doesn’t Pay the Bills
    by Carroll Michels via Artsy (June 25)
    In this excerpt from her popular book How to Survive and Prosper as an Artist, Seventh Edition, published recently as an editorial on Artsy, Michels expertly outlines different career options for artists to help supplement their creative work. The majority of working artists do not make their entire living from their work, so this is especially timely and helpful.
     
  2. Artists Support Themselves Through Freelance Work and Don’t Find Galleries Especially Helpful, New Study Says by Benjamin Sutton via Hyperallergic (June 14)
    Benjamin Sutton does a great job in this article of breaking down a recent study from the Creative Independent on how artists support themselves. The findings are quite interesting, if not totally surprising. One important note I do not think Sutton mentions though, is that the majority of respondents to the survey were younger artists in the early part of their career. This likely influenced the results.
     

  3. Cheim and Read, Storied New York Gallery, Will Close Its Chelsea Space After 21 Years and Transition to ‘Private Practice’ by Eileen Kinsella via artnet (June 28)
    As shakeups in the commercial gallery market continue, news broke this week that New Yorks' Cheim and Read would close its Chelsea gallery space, move uptown, and shift to a private practice model. Kinsella's article provides some excellent background analysis on Cheim and Read, and gives some insights into the change, which is indicative of larger movements in the marketplace.
     

  4. Why Guarantees Are Actually Good for the Art Market
    by Doug Woodham via Artsy (June 28)
    In this article, Doug Woodham does a wonderful job of explaining the sometimes obscure process by which major auction houses offer guarantees to consignors. He breaks down the issue giving some very interesting real world examples, highlighting the differences between house guarantees and third party guarantees. This is a useful piece to read for those interested in learning more about the functionality of the auction marketplace.
     

  5. Meet the entrepreneurs catering to fresh crop of digitally-savvy art collectors
    by Isabel Togoh via The Irish Independent (June 24)
    This piece covers the incredible rise of Unit London, a gallery in London run by two entrepreneurs in their late 20's. Joe Kennedy and Jonny Burt founded their first space in 2013 and just this week moved into a new 6,000 square foot permanent home in London's Mayfair district. These young gallerists have built an international following for their artists and have utilized social media to make their gallery accessible to a broader range of potential collectors. They are a bright spot in the gallery market and their story provides some solid insights for other gallerists on how to do business.