Auction House Layoffs (the latest version)

Less than two weeks ago, Christie’s responded to a report in the Times of London that up to 25% of the 800 employees in London would be let go by saying this:

A spokesman said Christie’s would not discuss specific numbers until the review was over, which the Times said could take four months.

Today, in a story that retails a rumor started by the FT’s Alphaville blog speculating that Francois Pinault is looking to sell Christie’s (a rumor Ed Dolman, Christie’s CEO flatly denies,) Carol Vogel reports:

Christie’s, which had a total staff of about 2,100, predicts a loss of about 300.

Since Christie’s has already divested itself of 80-100 workers, the remaining 200 would be in line with the Times of London’s report. There is no word whether the review has been completed or Christie’s has simply decided to confirm the earlier reports. Update: Christie’s reiterates: “We are in a consultation period and there are no firm figures until the process is complete.”

In her story, Vogel goes on:

“Our staff reductions are a need to match the business with the scale of the market over the next 24 months,” Mr. Dolman said, adding with some understatement, “It’s unlikely we’ll see 2006-2007 sales results in the short term.”

Despite the global economic crisis, neither Sotheby’s nor Christie’s is planning to scale back recent efforts to build markets in Russia, elsewhere in Asia or the Middle East. Most of the people they rely on in those countries are not full-time employees but rather advisers or consultants, which makes the cost of maintaining offices there relatively modest.

The European layoffs reverse the growth process that took place in recent years as London became a center for Gulf State and Russian buyers. Now that the surpluses generated by extremely high energy prices have stopped accumulating–and no one knows for how long–the London offices of the auction houses are feeling a disproportionate impact:

Both auction houses are also laying off people in Europe but at a slower pace, because employment laws there pose more obstacles. Sotheby’s, which had employed more than 1,555 people worldwide, estimates that 250 will lose their jobs. [ . . . ] Over the last few years when times were good, sales large and profits hefty, the companies increased their head counts considerably.

Hard Times Hit Auction Houses (New York Times)

Adding Up the Rose Decision

From various bits of information emerging around the internet on the Rose Museum closing, there’s a chance Brandeis is using art to fill their budget gap because of the accounting. Judith Dobrzynski covers the particulars of Brandeis’s endowment losses and the harsh choices the school must face to deal with them. She also makes this point that Brandeis can only spend capital gains:

But by Massachusetts law, French said, Brandeis can only spend gains, not capital, from the endowment—and it will be some time before there are any of those. Brandeis’s reserve fund, which is included in the endowment for management purposes, is projected to run out in about 18 months.

As luck would have it, Felix Salmon has discovered from a Brandeis official that the art in Rose is carried on the endowment’s books at a value of $1.

Nathan also said something else which was extremely interesting to me: apparently all of the Rose Art Museum’s artworks are considered to be assets of the university endowment, valued at $1 each. All the proceeds from the sale of any artwork, then, is automatically a desperately-needed capital gain for the endowment.

That means that any value realized from the sale of art can be treated, for the university’s accounting purposes, as a gain and spent directly on the school’s operating buget.

If this is true, it would explain some of the schools actions and the remorselessness with which they’ve undertaken those decisions.

Brandeis on the Brink (The Daily Beast)

How Deaccessioning Rules Doomed the Rose (Market Movers/Felix Salmon)

They Don't Call It "Copy Right" for Nothing

Jeff Koons, NiagraThe Wall Street Journal‘s Daniel Grant has an excellent tour of the issue of copyright protection and appropriationist art. In response to the Cariou suit against Richard Prince, Grant explores Jeff Koons’s win and a loss over the same issue:

Other artists have stumbled into this gray area of the law. “It’s meant to be a gray area, because the copyright law is designed to be flexible,” said John Koegel, a lawyer who successfully represented artist Jeff Koons in an infringement lawsuit by a commercial photographer, Andrea Blanch, in 2005. “The law states that the use of a copyrighted image is transformative based on the ordinary lay observer’s sense of if the new work is different and how different it is. It is very much of a visual thing, and there is no bright line that artists can go by.” [ . . . ] Working against artists, Mr. Koegel claimed, is the fact that “the law hasn’t accepted two principles that are well understood in the art world. The first is that a change in medium is transformative. If you go from two to three dimensions, you are transforming something and it is experienced very differently than it had been. The second is that re-presentation is transformative; when you are taking something and making a comment on it, even when the thing you are commenting on is relatively unknown, that comment makes it protected as a fair use of a copyrighted image.”

Like so much in the field of copyright law, those two principles are not absolute. Shifting from one medium to another is not a way of avoiding a lawsuit. For instance, turning a novel into a film is a shift in medium, but without the permission of — and, probably, a payment to — the author, the filmmaker would be in violation of the writer’s copyright, because the author has the exclusive right to make “derivative” works or license the making of a film. “Where derivativeness ends and transformative begins is not at all clear,” said Robert J. Kasunic, principal legal adviser at the U.S. Copyright Office in Washington. Also, he noted, a commentary or parody works only “if the average person can see” that some comment is being made.

Color this Part of the Law Grey (Wall Street Journal)

The Smoking Deaccessioning Gun?

Felix Salmon had a curious interchange with someone from Brandeis University:

But he did confirm for me that the reason the Rose Art Museum is being closed has everything to do with deaccessioning rules.

Brandeis has been saying that it’s not going to be selling off all of the Rose Art Museum’s art at once — or even, necessarily, any of it at all. So I asked Nathan why the musem needed to be shut down, if the university is going to hold on to the vast majority of its art for the near future.

Nathan told me that the reason is that selling art which is part of a museum is very difficult indeed. Clearly, Brandeis has come to the conclusion that by shutting down the museum, it can ignore all rules pertaining to deaccessioning, and worry only about the strings attached by donors to individual artworks.

Nathan also said something else which was extremely interesting to me: apparently all of the Rose Art Museum’s artworks are considered to be assets of the university endowment, valued at $1 each. All the proceeds from the sale of any artwork, then, is automatically a desperately-needed capital gain for the endowment.

How Deaccessioning Rules Doomed the Rose Art Museum (Market Movers/

Old Master Rashomon

An art auction can be a Rashomon event: no two observers see it the same way. Where Souren Melikian saw a robust market dominated by connoisseurs and observed by chagrined dealers who could not get enough credit, Carol Vogel sees a cooling market where dealers cannot afford to sit on inventory and private buyers chase only the best of the best work:

“For great things there’s still a lot of money,” said Mr. Feigen, who sat in the front of Sotheby’s salesroom watching the morning’s proceedings.

But what money there is was being spent judiciously. While the market for old master paintings has not seen the wild gyrations that contemporary art has, and while its buyers tend to be older and more conservative, there was still a noticeable resistance when it came to spending more than $1 million.

And unlike the markets for Impressionist, Modern and contemporary art, old masters sales are traditionally dominated by dealers. While many of them could be seen in the salesroom both at Christie’s on Wednesday and Sotheby’s on Thursday, they were not the biggest buyers. Neither Sotheby’s nor Christie’s made anywhere near what they had estimated. The reason, several dealers said, is that business has not been good since the financial crisis in the fall. So there is no longer pressure to replenish stock, nor cash to go shopping.

“There was no loose money,” George Wachter, vice chairman of Sotheby’s old master paintings department, said after the morning’s session. “Private people were still bidding, but dealers were particularly selective.”

The morning’s sale brought $57.7 million, well below its low estimate of $74.4 million. “It was hard to know how the market would react,” Mr. Wachter said when asked if he would have put less expensive works in his sale. “Eleven paintings still made over $1 million.”

Meanwhile, the Master, Judd Tully, gives a detailed and thorough look at the breadth of the Old Master market on Here’s his conclusion:

Even with results falling well below pre-sale estimates and long patches of no-bid buy-ins, the decidedly conservative Old Masters market have proven there’s still serious money being spent on standout artworks with reasonable estimates.

Digging deeper into the details of the sale, Tully shows that the real action was often at the lower end of the estimate scale:

At the Held sale, which kicked off Old Masters week on January 27, impressive results were earned by Joachim Beuckelaer’s A Market Scene (1562), an oil on panel groaning with game and vegetables, which shot to $542,500 (est. $200–300,000); and Hendrik van der Borcht’s loose-leaf-page-sized A Collection of Ancient Objects, which fetched $182,500 (est. $30–50,000). Even attributed works not bearing a signature found interest. The dashing Portrait of Edward Wortley, Lord Montagu, dressed as an Arab sheik — an ovular painting attributed to George Romney — shot to $46,250 (est. $3,000–5,000).

And he singles out a few remarkable sales at Sotheby’s as well:

If anyone doubts there’s little juice left in this old timers’ market, note the intense heat generated for two very different pictures, which both sold for many times their estimates: Francois Boucher’s The Muse Erato, originally painted for the Marquise de Pompadour, which sold for $1,314,500 (est. $300–500,000) after last selling at Christie’s New York in January 1991 for $330,000; and Pierre Subleyras’s signed and dated sleeper Portrait of Pope Benedict XIV from 1746, which sold to New York dealer Adam Williams for $986,500 (est. $100–150,000).

Turner and A Few Others Succeed at Slow Sales (New York Times)

Risk Brings Rewards in Old Masters Sales (

An Impressionistic View of the Old Master Market

BarocciSouren Melikian says the art market is sound in his International Herald Tribune story covering Christie’s Old Master Painting and Sculpture sale. Despite several significant works failing to find buyers (the sell-through rate for the sale was 65%,) Melikian sees great wisdom in the prices paid for Barocci, Constable and Ghirlandaio:

“Head of Saint John the Evangelist,” a study done for an altarpiece depicting the entombment of Christ, was hitherto unrecorded and was estimated by Christie’s to be worth $400,000 to $600,000, plus the complex sale charge in excess of 12 percent. At the end of a bidding contest that lasted nearly five tense minutes, the sketch cost its winner, the international connoisseur dealer Luca Baroni, $1,762,500. [ . . . ]

There was another extraordinary price, also paid for an image illustrating the first spontaneous artistic vision that precedes the painting of a picture. The small “View of Salisbury,” likewise sketched in oil on paper laid down on canvas, was done by Constable in Salisbury in 1829. The boldness of the work, which goes far beyond anything the French Impressionists would attempt in the 19th century, heralds the evolution toward Abstractionism that would take place in the early 1900s. Christie’s estimate was $500,000 to $800,000. The connoisseurs’ verdict on this work, which had been on loan to the Art Institute of Chicago, was $1,082,500.

The vigor of a market is not just established by the competition that out-of-this-world gems will trigger.

Paintings that were good or simply very interesting thanks to some unusual feature elicited strong prices within their category. An unsigned “Virgin and Child with the Infant Saint John the Baptist,” which was assigned to the “Master of the Fiesole Epiphany,” opened Christie’s session with a $40,000 to $60,000 estimate. The 15th-century Florentine panel gracefully ascended to $128,500.

The next painting, “Saint Jerome and Saint Joseph with a donor,” was also an anonymous panel given to another reconstructed artist. Having discovered the name of Michelangelo di Pietro Mencherini in period archives, where it appears as that of a painter active in Lucca between 1489 and 1521, art historians set about attributing works to him.

When last seen at Christie’s on May 14, 1965, “Saint Jerome and Saint Joseph” had made 2,200 guineas, or £2,310. This week, Christie’s experts reckoned that the quirky picture in which the saints are portrayed by a painter who had a quizzical perception of his fellow humans might sell for $60,000 to $80,000 plus the sale charge. In the event, the panel made $230,500.

Old Master Paintings Soar at Christie’s Sale (International Herald Tribune)

Room for One's Own Work

29iranianlarge3The New York Times looks at Shirin Neshat’s loft renovation:

The transformation of the loft — an 1,800-square-foot space on the second floor of a five-story former warehouse built in 1902 — has been a collaboration involving not only the two women but also Mr. Azari, Ms. Neshat’s partner and artistic collaborator. An Iranian filmmaker and actor, he shares writing and directing credits with her on some films, including their first feature, “Women Without Men.” The movie, nearly completed, is based on the Iranian author Shahrnush Parsipur’s book about women and gender relations in Iran.

As with many artistic partners, Ms. Neshat, 51, and Mr. Azari, 50, don’t always see eye to eye. “We fight a lot,” Ms. Neshat said with a laugh. “When it comes to making films, he’s logical, and I tend to another way: I am more fragmented.”

The differences don’t stop at home: the sleek design is more her taste, while he prefers a rustic ambience, with rugs, for instance, in every room. But, he admitted, “I gave up on rugs.” So only the media area and bedrooms have them, while the rest of the floors are bare.

A Minimalist Loft, Accessorized Like Its Owner (New York Times)

Martin Gayford Believes in Global Art

Bloomberg‘s art critic makes this passing observation, in the context of reviewing Charles Saatchi’s Unveiled show,

The new exhibition at London’s Saatchi Gallery makes one thing clear: Contemporary art is now a truly global phenomenon. Once, Charles Saatchi used to go truffle hunting in the artist studios of London; now, he can find what he likes just about anywhere in the world. [ . . . ] Global-style contemporary art is probably here to stay. Admittedly, its triumph seems fragile at the moment. The contemporary-art market, like so many other markets, has turned sharply down. It may be that as the bubble bursts, we’ll be hearing somewhat less, for a while, about brand-new art — wherever it may come from.

Can the global art market withstand the economic collapse?

Saatchi Shows Veiled Women Made of Foil, Iran Sex-Worker Dolls (Bloomberg)

Moscow Does Not Believe in Tears

Sarah Douglas just published this scoop:

Art Culture Studio, the organizers of the Moscow World Fine Art Fair, have decided to cancel the sixth edition of the fair, which was to have taken place from May 25 to June 1. The company plans to announce the decision on Friday.

According to General Manager Sixtine Crutchfield, who was reached by phone, the cancellation came mainly due to the inability to secure sufficient sponsorship. Sponsorship covers the approximately €3 million ($3.9 million) production costs of the fair, said Crutchfield, while booth fees from dealers pay for the rental of the Manege building, where the fair takes place.

According to Douglas’s sources, dealers were plentiful but sponsors were few and prominent jewlers Bulgari and Harry Winston were presured by Mercury Group not to have their own booths. Nonetheless, organizers put a brave face on the decision and hoped for another shot in 2010.

Moscow World Fine Art Fair Canceled (ArtInfo)

The Names of the Rose

Lindsay Pollock’s Bloomberg story on the Rose Museum fiasco fills in some important blanks on the source of the museum’s economic value in one gift from Leon Mnuchin:

The bulk of the collection’s value stems from the purchase of 21 works in 1963 with a $50,000 gift from New York lawyer and collector Leon Mnuchin and his wife, Harriet Gevirtz-Mnuchin.

Mnuchin’s son, Robert Mnuchin, worked at Goldman Sachs for 33 years and is now an art dealer in New York. “He had the money and I had the inspiration,” said Sam Hunter, 86, the Rose’s founder and first director. [ . . . ] The collection is worth about $300 million, he said.

Hunter and Leon Mnuchin bought work from artists such as Warhol and Lichtenstein when they were starting out, and more established names like Robert Rauschenberg — many costing $2,000 to $5,000 apiece, he said. The paintings have escalated in value. Lichtenstein’s 1963 “Forget It! Forget Me!” with a blonde woman scolding a man, is worth around $35 million, dealers said. Rauschenberg’s 1961 “Second Time,” a drippy painted collage in pinks and reds, is worth about $15 million. Both are in the Rose.

Critics Blast Brandeis Plan to Close Rose Museum, Sell Artworks (Bloomberg)