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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.

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.

John French Sloan's Ashcan Nudes

John French Sloan (1871-1951) is likely best known as one of the key members of the Ashcan School, the rough association of realist artists working primarily in New York at the turn of the century. Sloan's oeuvre is full of the gritty streetscapes typical of his movement. Some of his most well-known paintings like Dust Storm, Fifth Avenue, of 1906, Six O'Clock, Winter, of 1912, or The City from Greenwich Village, of 1922, convey a sense of the complex relationships between New Yorkers and their urban environment. From the beginning of the twentieth century into the depths of the roaring twenties, such images shape an understanding of what it meant to be a New Yorker and, more broadly, an American. Like his peer Edward Hopper, Sloan had a keen sense of the isolation and loneliness that often accompany life in a vast and impersonal metropolis. Upon closer inspection though, Sloan's body of work contains some unexpected images, including a series of nudes produced throughout his career. These images, often executed as etchings, capture solitary moments of female models in the artist's studio. They are artworks full of disparate qualities. At once sensitive and personal, they are also incredibly retrograde. They express, perhaps accidentally, the uniquely precarious relationship between artist and model, while also exhibiting the patent objectification of women which makes female nudes so problematic.

John Sloan (1871–1951),  Prone Nude , etching, 1913, 3 1/4" × 6 7/16" (plate), Gift of Mrs. Harry Payne Whitney, 1926, Metropolitan Museum of Art

John Sloan (1871–1951), Prone Nude, etching, 1913, 3 1/4" × 6 7/16" (plate), Gift of Mrs. Harry Payne Whitney, 1926, Metropolitan Museum of Art

In an early work, Prone Nude, of 1913, Sloan references the canonical nude prototype. His model copies, with a few alterations, the infamous pose from Paul Gauguin's Spirit of The Dead Watching (Manao tupapau), a painting created twenty years earlier in Tahiti, which depicts Gauguin's terrified native wife Teha'amana laying prone on their bed. Sloan's use of the etching process flips the pose, mirroring his own subject to Gauguin's. While Teha'amana spreads her hands slightly in the earlier painting, the model in Sloan's etching half buries her face in folded arms. Both figures tightly cross their ankles and stare out chillingly at the viewer.

The gesture in Sloan's Prone Nude in the final etching also coincidentally recalls that of Francois Boucher's scandalous la Jeune Fille allongée, a portrait of Marie-Louise O'Murphy, the petite maîtresse of Louis XV. Both Gaguin's and Boucher's subjects were underage girls, bound by overtly patriarchal societies to take part in relationships that are unthinkable today. Even without the contextual baggage of Gaguin and Boucher, neither of these associations is a particularly positive one, as both are images of women presented exclusively for objectification. Sloan does not seek to correct the issues with the earlier exemplars, and instead presents a woman along the same lines as Gauguin and Boucher, devoid of agency or power in the face of the presumably male gaze. This continuity remains in Sloan's later depictions of women.

John Sloan (1871-1951),  Nude Reading , 1928, etching, 5" x 7" (plate), Gift of Bernard F. Walker, Detroit Institute of Art

John Sloan (1871-1951), Nude Reading, 1928, etching, 5" x 7" (plate), Gift of Bernard F. Walker, Detroit Institute of Art

In another etching, Nude Reading, completed fifteen years after his Prone Nude, Sloan makes an image more his own. A nude model, presumably resting between poses, lounges on a bed while leisurely perusing a thick book. In the background, the artist's press is littered with materials. The scene is outwardly beautiful and meditative, but shares the same issues with Sloan's earlier Gauguin-inspired print. The woman is depicted in a one-to-one relationship with an object: the press. As the press has "a bed", the model lays on a bed. The insinuations of model as a tool of the artist, no different than a press, are obvious. The work is also a meditation on the process of creating the etching. The subject is present and so is the press on which this very print was likely created. In addition to revealing aspects of the artist's creative process though, it also presents a decidedly traditional view of the model's role in the creation of such work, as a passive object.

John Sloan (1871-1951),  Nude and Etching Press , etching, 1931, plate: 4 15/16" × 3 15/16" sheet: 12 11/16" × 9 5/8", Gift of Ernest Shapiro and Family 1995, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

John Sloan (1871-1951), Nude and Etching Press, etching, 1931, plate: 4 15/16" × 3 15/16" sheet: 12 11/16" × 9 5/8", Gift of Ernest Shapiro and Family 1995, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

In 1931, Sloan revisits the model and press motif in Nude and Etching Press. This time the figure stands with some discernible confidence next to the artist's press. The lithe arms of the anonymous woman replicate the outstretched "arms" of the press. The curvilinear qualities of the press's legs mirror the shapely legs of the model. Again, Sloan presents a woman one-to-one with an object. Neither this figure, nor the Nude Reading, interact with the press at all. Both merely pose in front of the it, and are nearly as still as Sloan's early Prone Nude. Both images elevate and personify the press, while simultaneously diminishing the humanity of the model. This piece, like the earlier nude paired with the press, is an apparent study of the artist's process. Tacked up haphazardly on the wall above the press are nearly a dozen nudes. Perhaps the model here is stretching between more formal poses, with the knowledge that her image too will be added to this collection.

John Sloan (1871-1951),  Nude and Arch , etching and engraving, 1933, 7" x 5", on offer at Swann Auction Galleries March 13, 2018 19th Century Prints and Drawings Auction (Est. $1,500-$2,500)  This work was Unsold.

John Sloan (1871-1951), Nude and Arch, etching and engraving, 1933, 7" x 5", on offer at Swann Auction Galleries March 13, 2018 19th Century Prints and Drawings Auction (Est. $1,500-$2,500) This work was Unsold.

Another Sloan nude appeared in Swann Auction Galleries' recent Prints and Drawings sale on March 13. The work, which went unsold, comes two years after the Nude and Etching Press, and features a  model seated uncomfortably on a cushion in front of a window overlooking Greenwich Village. Stanford White's Beaux Art Washington Square Arch stands in bright sunlight in the eponymously named park, framed in the window behind the model. Scenes of city life are also evident, as cars can be seen through and around the arch. Windows of the apartment blocks abutting Washington Square Park form a further backdrop, and an added urbanity. The wrought iron railing and arch give the scene a vaguely Parisian air, imbued with the distinctly Bohemian feeling of the Village in the twenties and thirties. The model here is much more engaged with the viewer than her predecessors, staring out at us wanly. Still though, she is presented one-to-one with an object: the arch. The classical associations of arch and nude are quickly evident. Here though they are updated to New York in 1933, the Città Eterna of the New World.

In all of these pieces the aesthetic values of the Ashcan School are laid out in the medium of the etching. Richly and darkly inked, each plate is thick with crosshatching. Even the smooth-skinned model is criss crossed with descriptive lines. Sloan clearly revels in the textural and linear qualities inherent to the printmaking process and tends to fill the whole field of the plate with lines, independent of their necessity to express value or space. This technique results in prints that are as course as his paintings of metropolitan life. In terms of execution, these images hold together with a stylistic coherence that spans much of Sloan's career.

The problems present in Sloan's portrayals of his models are rather obvious to contemporary onlookers, if not unusual in his own day. The use of models to hone hand-eye coordination and express supposedly universal or eternal artistic values was a time honored tradition and would have been a key point in Sloan's education at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. It is difficult, though, to reconcile the avant-garde nature of so much of Sloan's oeuvre with the way in which he envisaged nude women. He was a leader of a liberal art movement, an avowed communist, and a rebellious spirit, yet his depictions of women are ensnared by many of the trappings shared by more conservative artists.

While they do offer access to usually unseen moments in the artist's studio and creative practice, these nudes also engage in typically misogynistic portrayals of female bodies. They can and should be appreciated for their craftsmanship, for their ability to show Sloan's process, and for their storytelling capability. But they are surprisingly out of step with the values evident in Sloan's life and in his broader body of work.

Swann to Offer Important Ossawa Tanner Painting in October Sale

Swann Auction Galleries remains the only major auction house with an entire department dedicated to the consignment of works by African-American artists. In the October 5 sale of African-American Fine Art, there are numerous praiseworthy lots available. Of particular interest though, is a painting by one of the most popular African-American artists of the nineteenth century; the Pittsburgh-born Henry Ossawa Tanner.

The fourth lot in the October sale is from Tanner's series of paintings that focused on the biblical story of the Holy Family's flight into Egypt. The most well-known work using this motif is in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. In the Met's picture, Joseph, Mary, and the infant Christ are shepherded into the gates of a city under the cover of night. Mary swaddles her newborn son while riding a donkey, the whole scene foreshadowing Christ's entry into Jerusalem in adulthood. The lamp of a faceless attendant lights the path and an architectural background likely inspired by Tanner's travels in North Africa and Palestine. The work is executed in Tanner's painterly style, a later improvisational mode in his technique which blossomed in the early years of the Jazz Age. The rich milky blues in the painting at the Met match tones seen throughout Tanner's work in this period.

Henry Ossawa Tanner (1859-1937)  Flight Into Egypt , 1923 oil on canvas 29 x 26 in. (73.7 x 66 cm) Marguerite and Frank A. Cosgrove Jr. Fund, 2001 Accession Number: 2001.402a The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Henry Ossawa Tanner (1859-1937)
Flight Into Egypt, 1923
oil on canvas
29 x 26 in. (73.7 x 66 cm)
Marguerite and Frank A. Cosgrove Jr. Fund, 2001
Accession Number: 2001.402a
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

In the painting that will be auctioned by Swann, Tanner returns to the same story. The Holy Family is pictured in a tight grouping with two donkeys, a town low in the distance and a hazy moon hidden by clouds overhead. This nocturne bears the hallmarks of Tanner's style after the turn of the century, with the same cool blues seen in the Met's painting and throughout his oeuvre. It is a fine example of Tanner's mature work. With that latter-day Impressionist handling of the brush, it could as easily have been painted the artist's contemporaries Sargent or Sorolla. Completed between 1920-1925 it was made at the same time as the Met's version and at the height of Tanner's public fame. He was awarded the rank of Chevalier of the Légion d'honneur by the French Government in 1923. This painting is a bit murkier than its well-known counterpart, but conveys the tense foreboding and drama of a quintessential biblical scene rendered by an artist with a passion for religious subject matter.

Henry Ossawa Tanner (1859-1937)  Flight into Egypt  oil on linen canvas, circa 1920-25 23 1/4 x 37 inches, 590 x 952 mm Signed in oil, lower left. Swann Auction Galleries Sale 2456 Lot 4

Henry Ossawa Tanner (1859-1937)
Flight into Egypt
oil on linen canvas, circa 1920-25
23 1/4 x 37 inches, 590 x 952 mm
Signed in oil, lower left.
Swann Auction Galleries Sale 2456 Lot 4

Tanner was born just two years before the start of America's Civil War to Benjamin Tucker Tanner, a Bishop of the African Methodist Episcopal Church and Sarah Tanner, a mixed race woman who had escaped the slavery into which she had been born through the Underground Railroad. His family prized education and independence, and ran in intellectual circles. This included a close friendship between the artist's father and Frederick Douglass.

In 1879, Tanner was admitted to the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. The only black student in the Academy, then the preeminent art school in the United States, Tanner was able to study directly under Thomas Eakins. Eakins, the master of American realism, would have inspired Tanner with his commitment to new fashions of studio practice, enabling the young artist to explore painting without the burdensome and outmoded practices of more rigid instructors.

Though Tanner is regarded as the first African-American artist to gain international acclaim, he lived most of his life after 1891 as an ex-patriot in France due to widespread racism in his home country. In 1899 he married the white opera singer Jessie Olssen and they had one child together. Such a union would remain illegal in the United States until 1967. The more liberal French culture of his time lead to success and comfort for Tanner. In an interview regarding the 2012 exhibition Henry Ossawa Tanner: Modern Spirit, curator Anna Marley, PhD, notes that in the United States Tanner was regarded as a "Black artist", while in France he was simply know as Monsieur Tanner, artiste Americain.

Thomas Eakins  Portrait of Henry O. Tanner , 1900 oil on canvas 24⅛" × 20¼" The Hyde Collection

Thomas Eakins
Portrait of Henry O. Tanner, 1900
oil on canvas
24⅛" × 20¼"
The Hyde Collection

Tanner's frequent explorations of biblical stories throughout his career underscore his religious upbringing in an erudite Christian home. But his repeated return to the imagery of the Holy Family fleeing King Herod bears a more significant symbolic weight. The images of pilgrimage for safety and freedom pictured in his scenes of Joseph, Mary and the Christ-child are natural metaphors for the journeys of escaped slaves like his own mother.

In using accepted canonical imagery in the genre of religious painting, Tanner avoided being pigeonholed as a "Black artist" while subtlety exploring themes of great relevance to the Black experience. The Civil War was a notoriously religious affair, with both sides claiming God's solidarity with their cause. In the aftermath of the War and in light of the newly held but tenuous rights of African-Americans in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Tanner utilized American religiosity as a means to deliver a message about family, freedom, and love that was powerful for African-Americans who continued to work to see their rights properly recognized.

With an estimated sale price of $200,000-$300,000, it is probable that the painting on offer at Swann in October will be bought by an institution. It will be interesting to see the amount of activity this work generates in the marketplace and if, in the end, it goes into another private collection or if Flight into Egypt becomes available for the public in a museum setting. The potency of Tanner's personal story and artistic accomplishments makes his work particularly prized in any situation, but in the current political and social climate a painting of such quality by a groundbreaking African-American painter may be even more sought after.