George Lindemann Wins Inaugural Better Beach Award
March 26, 2013
March 26, 2013
SAN FRANCISCO — “This is one of my favorite things to do,” Barry McGee said as he drove along the Bayshore Freeway on a glowering winter day, pointing out random patches of new graffiti. He was supposed to be talking about his traveling midcareer retrospective, which opens Saturday at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston. Instead, he was revisiting some of the places where he’d spent time in the late 1980s and early ’90s, as he rose to prominence as the graffiti artist known as Twist.
Since those days, the whole South of Market area, once known for its seediness, has been redeveloped, gentrified. Mr. McGee had to drive past several blocks of trendy loft buildings before finding a slice of ruined waterfront that resembled the streets he once roamed. He finally stopped at a crumbling warehouse by the bay.
As he searched for an entrance, Mr. McGee recalled that he and his friends had once plastered that building and others many times over with writing and drawings. “It’s the last square mile of San Francisco that’s like this,” he said. “You feel it closing in, though.”
Mr. McGee, 46, seemed to be talking about more than real estate. For more than two decades he has worked in two worlds: that of graffiti art, where he’s still revered though no longer openly active, and that of museums and galleries, where his street-culture-inspired installations, often featuring kinetic sculptures, Op-Art-inflected abstractions and finely wrought depictions of sad-sack bums, have flourished.
Since 1991, when he finished his B.F.A. at the San Francisco Art Institute, Mr. McGee has created installations at scores of well-known venues, from the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles and Deitch Projects in New York to the Carnegie International and the Venice Biennale expositions. Now his career itself seems on the brink of gentrification, starting with the retrospective, which opened in August at the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive. “Barry is arguably the most internationally influential artist who lives in the Bay Area,” said Lawrence Rinder, the museum’s director, who said he mounted the show because it was time “to look at the development of his themes and modalities.”
There’s a smaller show, too, opening on Sunday at the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, featuring three new installations. Next September, Mr. McGee will make his debut with the blue-chip Chelsea gallery Cheim & Read, better known for representing the estates of Joan Mitchell and Louise Bourgeois.
“Barry doesn’t need to be in a gallery that will put him into a program of street art,” said Mr. McGee’s primary dealer, Chris Perez, the owner of Ratio 3 gallery in San Francisco. “That’s a context he’s entirely uninterested in.”
Yet Mr. McGee, gentle and tending toward self-deprecation, seems on the fence. On the one hand, he’ll say, “I’m definitely too old to be talking about graffiti, that’s for sure.” But on the other: “I’m glad it’s over,” he said of the Berkeley show. “I’m not sure I like the attention.”
Later, leafing through the show’s catalog, he asked: “Should we really go through it? Is that weird?”
He spoke in a half-genuine, half-joking way that made it hard to tell whether he was really bothered. “I hate this catalog more than anything in the world,” he said. “I’d love to spray-paint over areas.”
Jenelle Porter, the senior curator at the Institute of Contemporary Art, who is organizing the Boston show, said: “Barry likes to keep his feet in both worlds and yet is conflicted about that, I think. He has an interesting kind of situation to straddle that other contemporary artists don’t, in that it’s important for his work to maintain credibility for a younger audience, as well as all the collectors who are buying his work.”
Prices for that work range from $15,000 for a diptych to $300,000 for an installation. “It’s very tricky to manage something like that,” Ms. Porter added. “You just have more people with more expectations.”
But perhaps the person with the biggest expectations is Mr. McGee himself.
“I think the results at all the houses were solid and respectable, but the demand felt more tempered than in the last two sale seasons, and there were not as many breakout prices as one has come to expect in a December season,” said Jodi Pollack, head of the 20th-century design department at Sotheby’s. “Collectors are increasingly discerning when it comes to quality and pricing.”The majority of buyers this season were North American, but all of the houses reported bidding from European, Asian, and Middle Eastern sources as well.
What are they buying? Almost anything French. Standbys Charlotte Perriand, Jean Prouvé, and their cohorts continue to sell, but the biggest numbers were in Art Deco, the only category with lots surpassing $1 million—though there were only two of those this time around, both at Christie’s. Tiffany is stable, though possibly leveling off a bit; Arts & Crafts is solid; Giacometti is a good bet; experts noted some “fatigue” in the Nakashima market, possibly indicating a leveling-off after years of being a hot brand; and demand for both Italian and Scandinavian works is steady when the offerings are good. Cutting-edge design fresh out of the studio was less visible this time around, as auction houses and buyers seemed more interested in merchandise with proven track records.
Phillips de Pury & Company launched the season with two sales, bringing in more than $5.5 million. The late afternoon Design Masters sale on December 11 reached back to the 19th century for works by Edward William Godwin and Charles Rennie Mackintosh, but offerings were as recent as an elegantly sculptural 2006 Hiroshi Suzuki hammered-silver vase. In his last appearance for the house, Simon de Pury, who 10 days later announced his departure, kept up his usual charming patter but failed to draw much animation from the audience. Bidding was light, with a number of pieces selling just at or slightly below estimates. The top lot was a Tiffany Wisteria lamp, circa 1905, selling for $506,500, just above the $500,000-to $700,000 estimate, a solid though not outstanding price (another example sold at Bonhams in June 2011 for $792,400). The circa-1867 Godwin sideboard, in the designer’s typical Japanese-inspired form, sans the usual slim legs, had just one bidder, who took it home for $482,500, below the $500,000-to-$600,000 estimate. According to Alex Heminway, director of the design department, it nonetheless represented “a healthy margin” over the previous auction price for a piece by Godwin: £91,250 ($150,000), achieved at Christie’s in May of last year for a circa-1870 Gothic Revival oak bookcase. While prices for private sales have approached $500,000, Heminway notes, auction results have been far more modest.
Later works fared better. A Jean Royère coffee table, circa 1948 (est. $30–40,000), brought $74,500, and a circa-1960 set of three Serge Mouille ceiling lights drew lively interest from several bidders, going for $146,500, well above its $60,000-to-$80,000 estimate. Mouille pieces, and lighting in general, seem to be a much-sought-after category, particularly among interior designers. The high point of the sale in terms of bidding activity came when a Magdalene Odundo vase made of carbonized terra-cotta, a sensuous organic form made in 2000, soared to $105,700 (est. $40–60,000). Lots by Line Vautrin and Axel Salto also did well, evidencing strong demand for good accessory pieces. Apart from these, many lots went for prices near the estimate, a number selling to a single commission bid. Passed lots included a 1997 Ron Arad rocking chaise (est. $80,000–120,000).
At Phillips’s Design sale the next morning, a Francois-Xavier Lalanne epoxy-and-bronze sheep, 1993, estimated at $80,000 to $100,000, brought $194,500. These quirky animals—also found in both epoxy and wool versions—remain in high demand, though nothing is likely to approach the $7.5 million a flock of 10 similar ones garnered at Christie’s in December 2011 (est. $600–900,000). Less subject to fickle fashion, a circa-1961 Pierre Jeanneret bookcase sold at the midpoint of its $100,000-to-$120,000 estimate to bring $110,500, and several buyers bid on an Aldo Chale bronze-and painted-metal coffee table from 1970, pushing the price to $64,900, well over its $25,000-to-$35,000 estimate. A Nakashima Conoid bench, one of the designer’s classic pieces, passed (though a similar one sold at Sotheby’s a few days later).
In Chicago, sales at Wright began December 13 with a single-owner collection of Italian design, keyed to works by Gio Ponti and his compatriots collected by scholar and author Loris Manna. Leading the sale was a rare matching pair of 1954 chandeliers by Fontana Arte offered as separate lots, each estimated at $20,000 to $30,000 and bought by the same bidder, but at widely different prices. “The winning bidder had a place to use them,” said founder and president Richard Wright after one sold for $42,500 and the other for $91,300. Another standout was a multicolor Venini chandelier, 1946, a flamboyant explosion of color and craftsmanship from Gio Ponti’s own residence, that sold for $68,500 (est. $50–70,000), and a Max Ingrand floor lamp, 1955, that more than doubled its low $30,000 estimate to sell for $67,300.
Other fixtures, too, brought excellent results. Happy with the outcome, Wright commented, “The freshness of the material, the correctness of the pieces, and good provenance all came together.”
Wright’s Important Design sale the same day drew advance publicity for a rare game table set byHollywood designer Billy Haines: table, chairs, lamp, and game pieces in leather, parchment, and other luxury materials, circa 1939. It brought $92,500, a bit under the $100,000-to-$150,000 estimate, and was slightly outdone by a circa-1958 Le Corbusier desk with the same estimate, from one of the architect’s most famous project sites—the city of Chandigarh, India—which brought $98,500. An 18-inch-tall Salto vase, 1947, estimated at $90,000 to $120,000, sold for $98,500. Prices for this Danish craftsman’s distinctive pieces, with their irregular surfaces suggesting budding or sprouting plants, are escalating steadily, as are ceramics as a category.
Christie’s virtually wiped out the competition in three days of selling, pulling ahead from the start with a two-session single-owner sale on December 12 and 13: the Art Deco collection of the late Steven A. Greenberg, considered the most important American collection of its kind, and probably the last such grouping to come on the market. Though not quite equaling the auction house’s blockbuster sale of the Yves St. Laurent and Pierre Bergé collection in Paris in 2009, the Greenberg holdings drew the largest audience and generated the only real excitement of the week, bringing in more than $17 million.
Top price was earned by an incised lacquered screen, circa 1922, by Eileen Gray, which sold for $1,874,500 (est. $1.5–2.5 million) to Stephen Kelly, an ophthalmologist and longtime collector who recently opened a gallery on New York’s Upper East Side. But the most heated competition was for works by Jean Dunand and Jean Dupas. A Dupas painting, Allegorie du Tissu, a circa-1937 study for a mosaic at the Paris Exposition of the same year, brought $1,650,500, crushing the presale estimate of$150,000 to $250,000 and setting a world auction record for the artist. Two persistent bidders pushed the price of a 20-inch-tall Dunand vase, 1925, in black lacquered metal with a striking geometric pattern in silvery eggshell inlay, to $902,500 (est. $150–200,000). Three more works by Dunand, two by Dupas, and lighting designs by Emile-Jacques Ruhlmann and Edgar Brandt rounded out the top 10. The expected star lot, a supersize half-round black lacquer desk designed by Ruhlmann in 1929 and made in 1932, failed to sell, a fact attributable possibly to the lofty estimate of $2 million to $3 million, or to the less-than-pristine finish. A similar desk brought €2.3 million ($3.2 million) at the Gourdon sale at Christie’s Paris in 2011. Carina Villinger, head of 20th-century decorative arts for Christie’s, noted, “with a piece that rare, you can’t just go out and find another in better condition.” Art adviser Ben Walker commented, “You can’t really use it…. It’s an iconic piece, but what can you do with it?” In general, accessories and highly decorative pieces drew more interest than classic furniture. “Having a whacking great Art Deco piece in the middle of a room is a bit stale,” Walker observed. “People are looking for more dynamic objects and accent pieces.” Indeed, about 20 lots of assorted accessory pieces, including boxes and cigarette cases, went to a single buyer in quick succession.
The Important 20th-Century sale at Christie’s on December 14, with Tiffany bundled in, starred two Alberto Giacometti lots: a console and bas-relief from 1939 that brought $842,500 (est. $800,000–1.2 million) and a stunning pair of alabaster table lamps, 1939, that shot up to $530,500, many multiples of the $40,000-to-$60,000 estimate. “We knew they’d do well, but who would have thought they would take off like that?” said a pleased Villinger. Two other Giacometti lots, both table lamps, made the top 10 of the event, along with Ruhlmann pieces and the cover lot, a Frank Lloyd Wright window—but nothing else had such explosive results.
Sotheby’s held a three-catalogue event on December 15, and though the Saturday scheduling failed to draw much attendance, phone bidding brought solid results—close to $13 million—with Pollack reporting bids from Europe, Asia, South America, and the Middle East, as well as from U.S.–based museums and private foundations. French design again took over the top lots: Two bidders fought it out for a 10 footlong Paul Dupré-Lafon console table, circa 1935, a massive but elegant work in leather, limed oak, and brass, pushing the price to $752,500 (est. $500–600,000). More Lalanne sheep—a pair of woolly models circa 1967, one a headless ottoman—brought $542,500 (est. $300–500,000). In November Sotheby’s Paris sold a full flock of 12 of the figures for €1,744,750 ($2.3 million), but as consultant Greg Kuharic, a longtime observer of the auction scene and former Sotheby’s specialist, commented, “The Lalanne moment will come and go—the market is always looking for the next hot thing.”
The third standout at Sotheby’s was a small version of Demetre Chiparus’s Les Girls sculpture, circa 1928, which sold for $434,500 (est. $300–500,000). The house had sold one of the less rare 20-inch versions in the November Paris sale for €552,750 ($717,500). Arts & Crafts objects did well, with a Charles Rohlfs 1901 wood wall shelf, a circa-1900 Teco vase, and a Harvey Ellis music cabinet, circa 1903, all going for multiples of their estimates. There were surprises too: A sleek, lifelike ivory marble, Chat Assis, circa 1926, by Edouard Marcel Sandoz, estimated at $80,000 to $120,000, purred to a robust $278,500, despite a repaired ear, and one of the most recent offerings, an Ayala Serfaty wall light from 2011, shone at $104,500 (est. $40–60,000). Several lots of Lalanne furniture from the Lila Acheson Wallace Garden, which had made their auction debut in December 2005, were recycled profitably: Side chairs that had originally brought $96,000 for a lot of four sold in two pairs that each brought $68,500.
The Tiffany offerings from Sotheby’s came with two catalogues, one for the single-owner Geyer Family sale, with the top lot a circa-1905 Peony table lamp that went for $746,500 (est. $800,000–1.2 million); and Important Tiffany, starring a strikingly colored Trumpet Creeper table lamp, circa 1902, that came aglow at $914,500 (est. $400–600,000). The moderation in bidding might be attributable in part to the lackluster results of a November Tiffany sale at Michaan’s Auctions in Alameda, California, where the much-anticipated offering from the collection of Japan’s Garden Museum brought just a $4.3 million hammer total, compared with expectations of $7.5 million.
Kuharic commented that the sale “put a damper on the market. You’re down to just a few Tiffany dealers, where there used to be a lot more. I don’t see a lot of new, young collectors coming in. It’s a changing taste, but it’s still an important segment of the 20th-century market… I think there will be more interest down the road.”
Ghanaian-born artist El Anatsui has had five record sales at auction in the last year and a nearly sold-out show at the Jack Shainman Gallery in New York. He's winning rave reviews for his solo exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum. And one of his huge pieces hangs next to New York's High Line park, a prime tourist attraction. But none of this solves what gallery owner Jack Shainman calls his "luxury problem": Mr. Anatsui's pieces are too big for some collectors, and the artist is disinclined to make smaller works to feed his hungry market.
"I have a waiting list that is probably over 500 names for smaller works," says Mr. Shainman. "It's really good, but it's also really bad."
Mr. Anatsui's rise in the last decade has been, in the words of one dealer, "meteoric," thanks in large part to the success of his monumental tapestry-like metal works, made from twisted bottle caps, milk-tin lids and other recycled material gathered near his home in Nsukka, Nigeria. Ten years ago, his works sold for 1/30th their current prices, says Elisabeth Lalouschek, artistic director of London's October Gallery. She has been working with Mr. Anatsui since 1995.
Though Mr. Anatsui has worked on smaller-scale wood pieces in the past, he has lately focused on his metal works, which don't often come in a size small. Ranging from around 10 by 10 feet to much larger, the sheer size of his metal works makes them desirable but unattainable for many collectors.
Mr. Anatsui says that he made a few smaller metal works (around 5 feet by 4 feet) about two years ago, and that he "may make them depending on how the spirit moves [him]." "I would let work determine its own dimension," he added.
To be sure, some buyers will find room for the large pieces. At Mr. Anatsui's gallery show "Pot of Wisdom," which ended Jan. 19, Mr. Shainman sold nine of the 11 works, up from a normal year in which he might sell three or four. Mr. Anatsui's dealers say that his big pieces sell for between $700,000 and $2.5 million.
His prices are high at auction, too. Bonhams London set the record last May with "New World Map," which sold for $849,152. In November, Christie's and Sotheby's BID -0.15%in New York both sold pieces for $722,500, and in February Sotheby's sold "Zebra Crossing 2" for $772,150.
"There's this momentum that's developing," says Christie's Saara Pritchard, head of New York's First Open contemporary-art sale. Though relatively few of Mr. Anatsui's works have come to auction, she noted, five of those sales in the last year brought in record prices for him.
Mr. Anatsui's international success is a rarity for an artist living and working in Africa. Other African artists—like William Kentridge from South Africa or Yinka Shonibare, who grew up in London and Lagos, Nigeria—have achieved some prominence as well. But unlike them, Mr. Anatsui has always been based on the continent, in Ghana and Nigeria.
Ms. Pritchard said that the size of the pieces does play into their collectability. "It's made them difficult," she says. "It becomes prohibitively large in some cases," though she said she didn't think the monumental works will lose their appeal. "It's something that contemporary collectors understand and are willing to work around," she said.
Whether collectors are willing or not, Mr. Anatsui's dealers say that demand has never been a driving force for him. "He doesn't want to just produce work that can fit in people's homes," said Mr. Shainman. "He wants to produce great art."
As his solo exhibition continued at New York's Brooklyn Museum, and in the wake of a nearly sold-out show and record-setting auctions for his works, the Nigeria-based artist El Anatsui on Friday answered some questions about success, studio work and time off. Below, a lightly edited transcript.
What kinds of projects and materials are you most excited about right now?
I'm invited to do more projects outdoors now, and it comes with the challenges of reckoning with a far wider environment beyond the enclosed space of a museum/gallery. [Plus, there are] opportunities to work with other media and professionals like architects and engineers.
How has your life changed since you retired from your teaching position at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka? What do you most want to do with your time now?
I find there is a simplicity in managing one's time, and so one concentrates or focuses on studio practice more.
Your work has been selling extraordinarily well over the last few years. Your recent show at New York's Jack Shainman Gallery nearly sold out. What has the impact of this financial success been on your day-to-day life? Has it changed it in any significant way?
Beyond more-frequent invitations to projects abroad, and therefore more travels, I do not see a significant change in my daily life. It is still basic, and, given the circumstances of the countryside where I live, simple.
Do you find any differences in how your work is understood and appreciated in Africa, versus how it is viewed in America, or in the wider international art world?
Probably the works are understood and appreciated in the wider world. To me the issue is not who and where one is appreciated or understood, because art is a universal phenomenon. I believe connections are made when people who have seen my works come to tell me (this is common at openings) how the experience has touched them, or several artists claim it has inspired or challenged their own practices.
Your dealers have mentioned how prolific you are as an artist. How many hours a week do you spend on your art? What does a typical day of work look like for you? And how do you stay disciplined?
I'm in the studio every day, occasionally on Sundays too. A regular day is: 6 a.m., get up and go walking and play some squash; 9 a.m., arrive at the studio, work with assistants and the studio manager, reviewing what's been done or introducing a new project till 3-4 p.m. Then home to work out new ideas or take on secretarial aspects of my practice, the two of which at times can lead to late nights or early mornings.
What do you do when you're not making art?
[On] free evenings I go to the faculty club to interact with colleagues at the university, playing games like draughts [a variety of checkers], or occasionally chess, or catching up on the latest news around.
Tech entrepreneurs are starting to peer out from their hoodies and explore the art world, and dealers and museum boards couldn't be more thrilled. WSJ's Ellen Gamerman joins Lunch Break with a look at the new players, and the culture clash it's setting up with Wall Street's elite. Photo: Getty Images.
Next week, San Francisco will unveil a major public art installation using 25,000 energy-efficient lights to illuminate the city's Bay Bridge in countless abstract combinations.
The Bay Lights, set to run every night for the next two years, will also spotlight a new role for the area's tech entrepreneurs: patrons of the arts.
Created by artist Leo Villareal, the $8 million computer-assisted light sculpture has been financed by some high-profile tech donors including Yahoo YHOO +2.86%CEO Marissa Mayer and Internet power couple Mark and Alison Pincus. Mr. Villareal, who designed the bridge's light patterns using software he created, is also emblematic of a new breed of artist that is especially attractive to wealthy technology executives. A former researcher at Microsoft MSFT +0.61%co-founder Paul Allen's think tank in the early 1990s, Mr. Villareal weaves that tech background into his work.
"This was a whole I.T. job, which you wouldn't associate with a monumental piece of public art," Mr. Villareal said one chilly evening on a San Francisco pier as he tested the work with his laptop. Every time he stabbed at the keyboard through a hole in his glove, the lights rearranged across the bridge.
Around San Francisco, tech entrepreneurs who spent years building businesses and accumulating wealth are starting to peer out from under their hoodies and explore the art world. As the Internet industry matures, the people who helped make it happen are having children, buying houses and taking tentative steps into philanthropy—and now the art world. It's a lucrative emerging market that is gaining the attention of museums, dealers, consultants and other art-world heavyweights.
"Art comes between buying the Ferrari and getting the kids into college," said New York mega-dealer Larry Gagosian, who added that he sees "tremendous potential" from tech entrepreneurs as they grow older.
As they have with risky and fast-growing startups, the new tech players are putting a distinctive spin on the art scene—both in the type of work they collect and the low-profile way they acquire it. Many tech collectors exploring the market, for instance, are seduced by works with a digital twist.
"An engineer will look at a photograph or video art in a way a banker couldn't—we think in ones and zeros, we think in terms of screens," said Trevor Traina, a 44-year-old collector of photography who sold his first tech company to Microsoft for more than $100 million.
Unlike on Wall Street, where a trophy canvas can work as a passport to highflying social circles, flaunting isn't part of the tech culture. "If you saw these people, you'd never guess that they have money—it's all about just being cool," said San Francisco dealer Chris Perez, who works with about 20 tech clients.
Two years ago, as a service largely to its growing base of tech clients, Christie's began shipping artworks to San Francisco ahead of the major modern and contemporary art sales, said Ellanor Notides, who runs the Christie's San Francisco office. She said tech clients are chasing pieces by market darlings like Gerhard Richter, whose work sold for more than $34 million at Sotheby's last year.
Lately, some art insiders have been buzzing that the wife of Google co-founder Larry Page, Lucinda Southworth, is starting to buy art. (A Google spokeswoman said the company doesn't comment on executives' personal endeavors.) Tech entrepreneur and investor Marc Andreessen collects—including works by Robert Rauschenberg—as do tech venture capitalists Matt Cohler, who favors contemporary photography, and Jim Breyer, who owns pieces by emerging artists in China and Brazil.
Mr. Breyer, a board member of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, finds parallels between art and startups. He loves taking a chance on lesser-known talent and often visits galleries while traveling abroad on business. He particularly admires artists like Picasso who show the capacity to reinvent themselves. "It's a personal characteristic not only of the artists I gravitate to but the entrepreneurs," he said. (Mr. Breyer sits on the board of News Corp NWSA +1.04%., which publishes The Wall Street Journal.)
The new collectors' interests sometimes contrast with the more traditional tastes of tech pioneers before them: Oracle ORCL +1.18%CEO Larry Ellison buys centuries-old Japanese art. Yahoo co-founder and former CEO Jerry Yang hunts for leading examples of Chinese calligraphy. Microsoft's Mr. Allen collects masterpieces by blue-chip artists like van Gogh and Mark Rothko.
Now San Francisco museums are stepping up their pursuit of the tech industry, particularly as companies like Twitter, Pinterest and Dropbox settle in new offices in the city rather than Silicon Valley.
Mr. Traina, the Internet entrepreneur, loaned his impressive photography collection for a show at the city's de Young Museum last year. Dave Morin, an early Facebook FB +2.68%employee who is now CEO and co-founder of the private social network Path, just joined the board of SFMOMA.
Since 2010, SFMOMA has brought on 12 new trustees—at least half from the tech community, according to museum deputy director of external affairs Robert Lasher. He added that in addition to donating money and loaning artworks, tech contributors are helping retool the institution's digital strategy and guide the museum to a more global role in a nearly $555 million expansion.
Next week, the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco's annual Mid-Winter Gala is expected to be populated by a number of tech-world all-stars. Yahoo's Ms. Mayer bought a table while Apple lead designer Jonathan Ive is expected to come as well. Organizers are hoping for the return of past attendees like Yelp co-founder Jeremy Stoppelman.
From her glass-walled office at Web retailer One Kings Lane, co-founder Alison Pincus has been working her contacts for San Francisco's Contemporary Jewish Museum, which recruited her for its board last year. At her company's headquarters, which sits in the same San Francisco building as Twitter and Yammer, the Givenchy-and-Balenciaga-clad Ms. Pincus described going to last year's TED conference in Long Beach, Calif., with a mission: to convince friend and fellow art collector David Krane, a general partner at Google Ventures, GOOG +0.60%to join the museum's board.
Ms. Pincus, whose husband, Mark, is founder and CEO of the social-gaming company Zynga, ZNGA +1.63%also lends the museum her expertise. The 38-year-old mother of two is helping revamp the museum store, where the home page now showcases little more than a small mezuza. The shop needs "bespoke products," a sleeker website and items not limited to Jewish themes, she said.
As art and tech circles overlap more frequently, a cottage industry of dealers and specialized consultants has sprung up to offer advice. San Francisco art adviser Sabrina Buell is a Stanford graduate and former New York gallery director who helps tech honchos—some of them old college pals—begin collecting art.
The 36-year-old San Francisco native meets clients in her downtown office, with its high ceilings and exposed ductwork, first asking them broad questions about their tastes—abstract or figurative? color or muted? Then she goes analog, loading them up with resource books and catalogs. "I like people to look at a thousand things before they buy one," said Ms. Buell.
Her clients tend to avoid status symbols. "If you're young and you walk into someone's house and see a Picasso, it would be like, 'Whoa'—just because you have the capacity, you don't have to buy the most expensive things," she said. Still, her clients often get blue-ribbon treatment, with galleries and auction houses sending art directly to their homes so they can see the art up close while mulling a purchase.
Ms. Buell, whose great uncle is Napa vintner Robert Mondavi, bought her first work of art when she was 15, a Michael Kenna photograph she had written about for an English class. Today she fills the loft she shares with her partner, industrial designer Yves Behar, with edgy contemporary works. Ms. Buell and her colleague, Mary Zlot, trade in discretion: Zlot Buell + Associates doesn't even have a website.
Despite the stepped-up activity, some art dealers still bemoan what they call the indifference of the tech world and write off tech billionaires as glorified engineering nerds who skipped art history to play with their computers.
Others see a shift happening, thanks in part to the booming art market. "It once was a very culturally vapid community, but it's become incredibly rich lately," said Adam Sheffer, a partner at the New York gallery Cheim & Read. "I think people are coming to realize fine art has come to be worth something."
Dealers who work with tech clients are protective of them, wary of a culture clash with snooty art climbers. When a tech entrepreneur who favors Patagonia jackets and sneakers told San Francisco dealer Claudia Altman-Siegel he was headed to the Swiss art fair Art Basel, she had some advice: "I was like, 'No one's going to be nice to you if you're not dressed up,'" she said.
Then again, relative anonymity can be a plus. San Francisco tech investor Art Berliner, managing director of Walden Venture Capital, said when he walks into certain New York galleries he rarely gets the hard sell—or any sell at all—because most people don't know who he is.
Mr. Berliner, whose eclectic collection includes work by Israeli artist Michal Rovner, keeps some of his pieces in his office. He said his artwork helps set a creative tone and soothe nerves when entrepreneurs come to pitch their businesses: "Having art around does make the scene less intimidating."
Apple senior director Jeffrey Dauber owns a $50,000 video work by artist Lincoln Schatz that features layered video images of Mr. Dauber engaging in his morning ritual—including a shot of him pulling down his pants. The voyeurism resonates with a man whose industry helped redefine the idea of privacy.
"The thing about being in tech is, I have no illusions—I know we're being watched," said Mr. Dauber, who keeps his extensive art collection in its own house in San Francisco.
Dick Kramlich, an early pioneer in the tech venture capital scene, plans next year to open a private museum of new media art—which includes video, film and computer-assisted installations—in a Napa Valley building designed by Herzog & de Meuron, the architecture firm behind Beijing's Bird's Nest and the Tate Modern in London. The 77-year-old chairman and co-founder of New Enterprise Associates said the collection's tech orientation was his wife's idea: "She said, 'Look, you're going down to Silicon Valley every day, I think if I did something in this area it might be of interest to you,'" he said.
Internet entrepreneur Mr. Traina, who recently launched a new startup called IfOnly.com, now has 300 master works of photography on the six floors of his mansion in San Francisco's Pacific Heights. During a recent tour, walking by a room wallpapered in peacock feathers, he pointed out classics by Diane Arbus (Mr. Traina bought one of her iconic photographs of identical twins for just under $500,000 at Sotheby's in 2004) and contemporary works like a Doug Rickard photograph of a computer screen showing a Google Street View of a depressed city neighborhood.
Raised in a moneyed family among art lovers—his father had a world-class collection of Fabergé cigarette cases—Mr. Traina promotes the art world to his tech buddies. He organized the Mid-Winter Gala for the Fine Arts Museums in part to lure a "farm team" of young donors and future board members. Trustees now include Zachary Bogue, a tech investor married to Yahoo's Ms. Mayer, an SFMOMA board member.
The institution returns the favor by opening up singular experiences to Mr. Traina, who recalls a trip to the Netherlands he once took with fellow board members. Early one morning, he was allowed to visit an Amsterdam museum while it was still closed. "This very nice woman left me alone in a room with five Vermeers," he said. "I realized the power great art can have."
Write to Ellen Gamerman at email@example.com
This internationally known and respected boutique institution, the first modern art museum in America, is about to unveil its first permanent installation in more than 50 years. And the pervasive feeling in-house is that the new arrival—a beeswax chamber designed by conceptual artist Wolfgang Laib, opening Saturday—couldn't be more true to the vision of Duncan Phillips (1886-1966) when he opened his private collection to the public in 1921.
"Duncan wanted the museum to be an intimate experience and have a spirit of experimentation," says Dorothy Kosinski, director of the Phillips. "A wax chamber by Wolfgang would be the biggest, most powerful expression of that spirit."
The German-born Mr. Laib has been creating beeswax chambers—small spaces lined with beeswax, gently lighted by a single hanging bulb—for more than 25 years. He uses hundreds of pounds of pure melted beeswax much like plaster, smoothly coating walls and ceilings until they almost resemble yellow marble—except with a warm glow.
The spaces offer room for perhaps two people comfortably but are said to be best visited alone. (The room at the Phillips, a former storage closet, is 6 feet wide by 7 feet deep and 10 feet high.) "There's a feeling you get inside the space that can't really described," says Mr. Laib, a diminutive, almost fragile-looking man with a voice barely above a whisper. "But it moves you."
The aroma of the beeswax is "totally seductive," Ms. Kosinski says, employing the kind of sensual language most often used to describe Mr. Laib's chambers. The intense color of the wax and its close proximity to your own skin in an austere space have also been cited as evoking a curiously visceral experience that is also meditative and spiritual. "It's really a new way of entering the artist's world," says Susan Behrends Frank, associate curator of research for the museum.
Mr. Laib's installations—involving other natural substances, such as pollen and rice, as well as beeswax—have been displayed at prominent museums and galleries around the world, including New York's Museum of Modern Art. Ms. Kosinski fully expects that visitors may not know what to make of the chamber when they see it. "But people being slightly perplexed is maybe not a bad thing," she adds.
Duncan Phillips might well agree. Though initially his collection consisted largely of Impressionist paintings, hardly controversial by the time he acquired them, he soon became known for bucking mainstream taste. He was one of the earliest patrons of the American modernists John Marin and Arthur Dove, and he bought the late work of Pierre Bonnard (1867-1947) in depth after World War II, a period when it was dismissed as emptily decorative. And Phillips's admiration for Abstract Expressionism, when that was still a suspect style, is evident in pieces by Richard Diebenkorn and Willem de Kooning, among others.
In 1960, six years before his death, Phillips added a permanent exhibit of four Mark Rothko oils to be housed in a dedicated room. No other artist had received such an honor there. While Phillips designed the Rothko Room, as it came to be known, the artist was directly involved with deciding which walls the color-field paintings should hang on, the kind of lighting and even furniture that should be in the room. "I think it's the only exhibit Rothko himself installed," Ms. Kosinski says.
Now, for only the second time in its history, the Phillips Collection is dedicating another space for permanent residence, and Rothko has a lot to do with it. Two years ago, while participating in the museum's "Conversations With Artists" series, Mr. Laib stepped into the Rothko Room for the first time and was transported by "a very emotional, deep feeling," he says. "Like being in another world." Not unlike the effect Mr. Laib seeks in beeswax chambers.
Until then, Mr. Laib had concentrated on pieces that could easily tour. But he says he had begun to think it was "important that some things should stay, be permanent." He thought a permanent wax chamber in the Phillips would be ideal for intertwining reasons: The compatibility he felt between the color-fields and his wax chambers, and the chance to dispel what Mr. Laib has long considered a facile comparison some have made between his work and Rothko's. Mr. Laib's pollen pieces consist of the brightly colorful substance, which he gathers from near his home in southern Germany and then feathers on a dark platform, prompting a reaction he says he has heard too often—"Rothko on the floor." (Mr. Laib's "Pollen From Hazelnut" installation is on display at MoMA through March 11.)
"I have a deeper, more complex relationship with Rothko," Mr. Laib says, "and a permanent room would demonstrate that." His room is in the center of the original Phillips mansion; the Rothko room is at the far end of the Sant Building, an extension added in 2006.
"My immediate reaction," says Ms. Kosinski, recalling when she learned of Mr. Laib's desire to install a permanent beeswax chamber in the Phillips, "was that he's right. It would make total sense to have it here."
The Phillips had been exhibiting contemporary art, but Ms. Kosinski saw an opportunity for "the perfect expression of the desire to experiment, to let viewers have encounters with art on their own terms," she says, thus reinvigorating a key component of the museum's original mission.
"Duncan Phillips started off as a kind of timid collector," Ms. Behrends Frank says. "But toward the end of his life he made a really bold move by creating the Rothko Room. And now the beeswax chamber is really bold."
"Besides," adds Ms. Kosinski, "it's just cool."
Mr. Triplett is a writer in Washington
The Endless Renaissance, now at the Bass Museum, is an ambitious exhibit. It combines masterpieces from the permanent collection with contemporary video, sculpture and painting from six international artists, who incorporate ideas, concepts or imagery first forged in the Renaissance into their 21st century creations. This means there are some direct references, such as religious iconography in the work, and more highly conceptual and abstract connections that still attempt to thread a history of art throughout.
The most fascinating and enjoyable pieces in the exhibit are on the first floor, from Thailand’s Araya Rasdjarmrearnsook. They include large photographs and a delightful video, where the artist plays with co-mingling Western art and Eastern culture. She took paintings so well-known to a Western audience, such as a Rembrandt and a Van Gogh, and put large prints of them in front of Thai villagers, both men and women. The juxtaposition posed within the photos is simply beautiful. In one we see only the backs of the farmers, sitting on the ground in a lush green bamboo forest, staring at Manet’s Luncheon on the Grass encased in a baroque frame.
She has rightly named the work Two Planets. It’s incongruous to see this painting positioned in the open in tropical Southeast Asia — not how most Westerners view our classic art, usually in museums. What are these villagers to make of the French Impressionist’s depiction of fully dressed men and a naked woman? The settings are both pastoral — but worlds apart.
We get to hear what the villagers have to say in the darkened video room. While looking at a Van Gogh, they question and exclaim things such as “their ox carts look different from ours.” Or, “what, no bamboo. How do they do it?” “Is that a beard, is that a man?” And then they try to figure out how the French farmers are “thrashing the rice” when they are hauling hay. In this case, the 19th century farmer in Europe and in today’s Thailand do not appear too distant from each other; they would have similar concerns, and humorous observations, about everyday rural life.
On the ramp leading to the second floor we are fed examples of the real deal from over the last 500 years. From the Bass collection, there are paintings from the Flemish, Austrian and Florentine schools, each with their own tell-tale marks and coloring. Hanging here are a Rubens, El Greco, a Botticelli, and a huge tapestry covering one wall, from the 1500s. Most of these paintings depict scenes from the Christian Bible, with the ubiquitous inclusion of the Virgin Mary and various saints.
That easy familiarity with famous works dissipates as you walk onto the second floor. Barry X Ball’s portrait busts draw directly from a Renaissance heritage, but these are disturbing sculptures, ones not likely found in a Tuscan villa. The California native uses an amazing array of materials to make these busts, which can seem to be in frightening pain as they sit on their pedestals or hang from the ceiling. Crafted from unusual stone and steel, they appear to be melting or disintegrating.
Some of the portraits are based on famous sculptures that you’ll recognize; others are based on contemporary art-world figures such as Matthew Barney. There are some very lovely moments in Ball’s room too: The first duel grouping of busts that hang from the ceiling as you enter the room throws off incredible shadows. A shiny black figure of Belgian black marble reclines in the corner, looking so sensuous to the touch. The figure has breasts and a penis, and is called The Sleeping Hermaphrodite.
Figurative form altogether disappears in the next space, and so too does the clear connection to a Renaissance art history. But London-born Walead Beshty’s abstract, conceptually complex pieces are a highlight. There is a lot about process here. For instance, his copper panel sculptures are installed without gloves, leaving smudge marks all over them. The white “paintings” have a similar quality and look dirty from a distance, but the more you study them, the more interesting they become. His FedEx boxes also record a process, a journey, that has not changed much since the time of Michelangelo: artwork has always been shipped, bought, resold, ending up in a time and a place far removed from its origin.
Han-Peter Feldman and Ged Quinn’s paintings are a complete departure that can be difficult to digest. Liverpool native Quinn’s surreal allegorical paintings are in vogue across Europe. Scenes set in Romantic-era forests might include a bubble house, historical figures, a bleeding martyr or a crucified cat. The link to art history is overt here, intentionally over-the-top, but they aren’t to everyone’s taste.
You’ll need to take some time to figure out all that is going on in three large video screens that make up The Annunciation, from Finland’s Eija-Liisa Ahtila. Like the video on the ground floor, this is special for its simplicity of its everyday “characters.” Of course, the annunciation is one of the most depicted scenes in art since the dawn of Christianity, the gospel of how the angel Gabriel announced to Mary that her child will be the son of God. Here on screen it is reenacted in a studio by some friends (not actors). They too look at classic paintings and discuss them — how much did the angel really scare Mary? — along with talk of why donkeys are wondering around Finland (“don’t they belong in warm countries?” one asks).
The Bass came up with a nice mix of styles and forms for this exhibit, from some important artists on the world stage today. It might be hard for the viewer to keep up with the Endless Renaissance thread; each room feels like its own show, and, in fact, they are described as six solo projects. That’s OK. In fact, when exhibits try and force a theme, lead an audience down one path, it often doesn’t work. These speak for themselves, individually, and out of the broad scope of the artists’ work, you can take away what you want.
The American designer Wendell Castle is known for his idiosyncratic, organic and slightly surreal furniture, which he has been producing in laminated wood, plastic and other materials since the 1960s, and which is highly collectible. Castle, who turned 80 in 2012, showed his work at Design Miami last month, and today his exhibition “A New Environment” opens at Friedman Benda in Chelsea. (Another Castle show, “Volumes and Voids,” is on view just upstairs from Friedman Benda at the Barry Friedman Gallery through Jan. 26.)
The exhibition’s centerpiece is a massive, arresting environment of stack-laminated, carved wood that is rasp-finished and stained black. It comprises a modular platform, three sculptural chairs, a totemlike structure studded with LEDs and a cantilevered spiral stair that leads to a podlike chamber, lined in flokati carpet, which offers snug lounge seating for one, complete with reading light, shelf and several openings to let in light and air. It’s kind of a treehouse for grown-ups — rich ones, that is. At this writing, the price of the environment had not been set, but Castle said that it would likely be in the vicinity of a $1 million.
This is Castle’s largest work to date. It is a follow-up of sorts to his 1969 piece “Environment for Contemplation,” which also featured a pod but which was set on the floor. “I wanted to put something in the air,” he said. A steel structure reinforces the central column and stair treads; as the designer explains, this is necessary to support the pod, which weighs about 1,000 pounds.
On the fringes of the environment are three other pieces — a settee, a desk and a chair with its own table and light — with the same biomorphic forms or, as Castle calls them, “ellipsoids, kind of mushed together.” He cites the artists Henry Moore, Joan Miro, Jean Arp and Constantin Brancusi as early influences, but it’s clear that they’ve stayed with him. “I loved the idea of a ‘soft’ vocabulary, and still do,” he said. Castle enjoys chewing over ideas that have provoked him for years, but now he’s doing it with the aid of a robot, which he said will help to “carve some crazy-shaped voids,” since it can work in smaller spaces than traditional woodworking tools.
Next on the horizon is an exhibition in the fall at the Carpenters Workshop Gallery in Paris. There will be at least one bronze piece in the show, and Castle is experimenting with even rougher textures. For now, however, he was busy putting the finishing touches on the environment before the opening party. And when told that the piece’s outsized scale really called for its own, specially designed space, Castle replied, “I’ve thought about how to do that room.”
“A New Environment” is on view at Friedman Benda, 515 West 26th Street, through Feb. 9.
Stationed in front of one of his large self-portraits, the artist Chuck Close raised his customized wheelchair to balance on two wheels, seeming to defy the laws of gravity.
The chair’s unlikely gymnastics underlined the points that Mr. Close was making to his audience, 40 seventh and eighth graders from Bridgeport, Conn.: Break the rules and use limitations to your advantage.
The message had particular resonance for these students, and a few educators and parents, who had come by bus on Monday from Roosevelt School to the Pace Gallery in Chelsea for a private tour of Mr. Close’s show. Roosevelt, located in a community with high unemployment and crushing poverty, recently had one of the worst records of any school in the state, with 80 percent of its seventh graders testing below grade level in reading and math.
Saved from closure by a committed band of parents, the school was one of eight around the country chosen last year to participate in Turnaround Arts, a new federally sponsored public-and-private experiment that puts the arts at the center of the curriculum. Arranging for extra funds for supplies and instruments, teacher training, partnerships with cultural organizations and high-profile mentors like Mr. Close, Turnaround is trying to use the arts to raise academic performance across the board. “Art saved my life,” Mr. Close told the children. And he believes it can save the lives of others, too.
So now he was giving a pizza party and answering a question about why he started to paint.
“I wanted people to notice me, not that I couldn’t remember their faces or add or subtract,” he said, referring to the learning and neurological disabilities that set him apart from his classmates when he was growing up in Monroe, Wash.
A terrible writer and test-taker, Mr. Close used art to make it through school. Instead of handing in a paper, he told the children, “I made a 20-foot-long mural of the Lewis and Clark trail.”
Starting in Pace’s large central gallery, where his giant portraits of other artists like Philip Glass, Paul Simon and Laurie Anderson looked on, Mr. Close told the group that “everything about my work is driven by my learning disabilities.”
Born with prosopagnosia, a condition that prevents him from recognizing faces, Mr. Close explained that the only way he can remember a face is by breaking it down into small “bite-sized” pieces, like the tiny squares or circles of color that make up his paintings and prints.
“I figured out what I had left and I tried to make it work for me,” he said. “Limitations are important.”
With Mr. Close were a few other members of the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities, which helped develop the Turnaround program. One of them, Damian Woetzel, a former principal dancer with the New York City Ballet who is a mentor to two other Turnaround schools, picked up on his theme.
“In dance we limit ourselves, as well,” he said. “There are five positions and everything comes from that,” he added, quickly demonstrating the basic ballet poses.
Filling out the cultural spectrum were the Broadway producer Margo Lion, a chairwoman of the committee, and the musicians Cristina Pato, Shane Shanahan and Kojiro Umezaki, all members of the Silk Road Ensemble, an international collaboration founded by the cellist Yo-Yo Ma, who is also a committee member and a mentor. One by one, they entered from different doors, startling the students with an impromptu concert featuring a tambourine, a gaita (a Spanish bagpipe) and a Chinese flute.
Clapping and stamping in time to the music, Mr. Woetzel soon turned the gallery’s open space into a dance floor. A couple of students whipped out phones to record the proceedings, while others raced across the room to avoid getting pulled in as participants. One reluctant dancer, captured by Rachel Goslins, a filmmaker and the executive director of the president’s committee, rolled his eyes and mouthed “Oh my God” as she circled him around the floor. Other students joined hands and began dancing as Ms. Lion and the school principal, Tania Kelley, her head flung back, swung each other around.
Mr. Close swerved through the crowd in his wheelchair.
“I never danced before,” Carolyn Smith, 13, said excitedly when the music stopped. “Usually I sing.” Carolyn was the lead in the school’s production of “The Wiz” last year. A brain tumor had caused her to miss so much school that her literacy teacher initially wanted her to turn down the part and focus on catching up, Ms. Goslins said. But being in the play — and reading and memorizing the script — helped her reading skills so much, Ms. Goslins said, that the literacy coach later told her, “I’m a believer.”
The afternoon offered a series of firsts for many of the students. Most had never seen such instruments, heard of Mr. Simon or Mr. Glass, or even visited Manhattan.
“It’s pretty cool to be in New York,” said David Morales, 14, who later asked Mr. Close about his technique, explaining, “I like how he makes it, how it comes all together.”
David, like the other Roosevelt students, had studied Mr. Close’s work in class and met him when he visited the school last month. So Mr. Close patiently answered questions.
“Is it easy to make these pictures?” (Well, it can take a while, Mr. Close replied.)
“How do you know what colors to use?” (Trial and error.)
“Can you draw? (Yes.)
“There is no artist who enjoys what he does every day more than I do,” Mr. Close told the group, setting off applause from the students. Repeating advice he often gives to young artists, he said: “Inspiration is for amateurs. The rest of us just show up for work.”
When the bus arrived for the return trip, Ms. Pato and Mr. Shanahan again took up their instruments, this time to lead a parade of clapping students and teachers out the door.
Carolyn Smith, a pink rose in her hair, paused at the doorway and turned to Mr. Close. “I had a blast,” she called out. “Bye, Chuck. See you later.”
Bogie knew, “you must remember this …” Here are a few art world surprises to remember, and some we’d rather forget.
The Chelsea Flood: Who could ever have imagined that a silly old hurricane would sink the entire Chelsea art district and parts of Red Hook? Sandy not only inundated basement storages; first-floor galleries had their key November exhibitions floating in six feet of dirty seawater. I walked through the tragic scene the morning after, and saw trashed galleries with dirty art dripping and salty. It’s amazing how fast many of Chelsea’s galleries reopened, some acting as if nothing had happened. What’s next, a tsunami?
A Big Top on Randall’s Island: Who needs another art fair … Rio? Istanbul? Phnom Penh? Anywhere but New York, right? How could a city that is filled with galleries and that already hosts the Armory Show (which just sold to the eccentric art magazine publisher Louise Blouin) and the ADAA Art Show possibly handle another fair? Turned out it could—and then some. In May, London’s successful Frieze franchise opened a game-changing new fair housed in a big top tent on Randall’s Island with over 170 international galleries, and thousands of shoppers flocked in. It seems like most buyers today can’t be bothered to take in a gallery show; they want their art product sliced, diced and hung side-by-side in tidy cubicles, so they got what they were looking for. It was a huge success, and confirmed that the fairs—art’s shopping malls—are where it’s at. They’re like the World Series and the Super Bowl of art combined. All that’s missing is stadium vendors selling peanuts and Cracker Jack, and one that yells: “Bee-ah Heeyah!”
Schimmel-Gate in Los Angeles: Nearly three years ago, one of New York’s most beloved impresarios, the inimitable Jeffrey Deitch, gave up his gallery when tapped by his friends on the board of the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art (MoCA) to run their troubled museum. Mr. Deitch was known for discovering new talent and putting on art spectacles that attracted a large and youthful downtown following. When he arrived in L.A., rumors spread that veteran MoCA curator Paul Schimmel was not pleased. Under Mr. Deitch’s direction, a worthy Jack Goldstein retrospective was canceled in favor of a timely Dennis Hopper retrospective. This was only the beginning of bitter infighting between curator and director, infighting that this past summer led to Mr. Schimmel’s departure and prompted all the artists to resign from the museum board, including hometown heroes John Baldessari and Ed Ruscha. The L.A. press was all over it, as were several in the New York art community who had once lauded Mr. Deitch; in lockstep, they all turned on him. Will he remain in L.A. after the museum’s Urs Fischer retrospective this spring? In hindsight, mistakes were made all around; let’s hope the museum and everyone involved looks at the bigger picture.
Christie’s Record-Breaking Contemporary Art Sale: In November, Christie’s Contemporary Art Auction tallied a sale of historic proportions, totaling a whopping $412.2 million. This type of result creates a myopic view that, despite the bad economy, art is selling like hotcakes. Though big numbers were achieved for blue-chip names like Franz Kline and Mark Rothko, the theater of it all helps keep all the smaller boats afloat—and disguises the reality that, outside the tippy-toppy-type “trophy” auction results, the rest of the art market has slowed down.
Red Hot Richter: German artist Gerhard Richter’s greatest contributions to painting are his photography-based figurative works, especially those relating to Germany’s Nazi past. But his color abstraction paintings, of which he has made many over the years, have recently hypnotized the art market. A large one sold for $21 million a year ago, and soon after that, this past October, came an inexplicable price of $34 million for a particularly luscious picture. Only a month later, a painting of a similar size hammered for only $17.5 million. Go figure. Sure, each one is different, but the prices for pictures of equal size and comparable quality are bouncing between $15 million and $35 million like a dented Ping-Pong ball. It just goes to show how irrational today’s art market can be. As my grandfather always used to say, it’s “Easy come, easy go!”
Koons Flies the Coop: All over Miami earlier this month, rumors were flying that mega-star Jeff Koons was leaving his roost at Gagosian Gallery to have his next show hosted at the new Chelsea digs of the David Zwirner Gallery. Many felt this just couldn’t happen, and then it did. At the highest level, star artists have more power than they seem to realize—perhaps now they’ll start to use it. Fast on the heels of the Koons news came the announcement that Damien Hirst would split from Gagosian. But Mr. Hirst, who had been showing with Gagosian for 17 years, was never really “represented” by any gallery, since he’s always done as he’s seen fit, even when that meant putting his own work up for auction and thereby trashing his market and the collectors who supported it. Then the mysteriously mad Yayoi Kusama, as if she were psychically tuned in to Messrs. Koons and Hirst, announced that she too will leave the Gagosian Gallery. Through “loyalty,” lethargy, apathy or fear, the biggest-name artists have been willingly shackled to their heritage galleries—now that may be changing. I don’t believe this trend is specific to Gagosian. The very foundations of the “artist representation” model are crumbling. Maybe all the top-selling artists will fire their galleries and form one big collective, then they can just set prices and cut out the dealers. I’d prefer it if they charged one price at the door and then a bingo machine randomly chose which artwork you got; that would make it fun again.
Tate Talent to the Met: By hiring Tate Modern’s dynamic curator Sheena Wagstaff, Tom Campbell, the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s youthful director, is reinvigorating the Met’s stodgy contemporary program; he’s got the space, too, having rented out the Marcel Breuer building, which the Whitney Museum will soon move out of.
Dishonorable Mention: Venus Over Manhattan, my uptown gallery, opened in May with a theme show titled “À Rebours,” inspired by the story of the Duc Jean des Esseintes, the debauched 19th-century art collector. One day, a thief walked into the gallery and plucked a fine Dalí off the wall, right under the nose of a gallery guard and smack in the crosshairs of a well-focused security camera. After the heist generated over 500 news stories around the world, the culprit shockingly mailed the piece back to the gallery in a poster tube. Was it a take from the old Thomas Crown Affair or some dangerous and delinquent art performance? No doubt it was a wacky prank—don’t get me wrong, we love when people enjoy the show, but kleptomaniacs are no longer welcome.