Artspace Raises $2.5m

The New York Times’s Randy Kennedy announces that Artspace has raised new capital:

Artspace.com, one of a wave of online art dealers that is starting to change the way contemporary art is bought and sold, announced Monday that it had raised $2.5 million from a group of investors and had also signed up several prominent museums and galleries – among them the New Museum, the Institute of Contemporary Art in Philadelphia and the Mexico City gallery kurimanzutto – as partners that will offer works to buyers through the Web site. [...]

Artspace already offers works from partners like the Guggenheim, the Brooklyn Museum, the David Zwirner gallery in New York and White Cube in London. Along with the funding from investors, the site also announced that it had hired Andrew Goldstein, the former executive editor of the art news site Artinfo, to serve as Artspace’s editor-in-chief, in an effort by the site to provide more news, educational material and information about artists to prospective buyers.

Art-Sales Web Site Announces New Funding and Partnerships (ArtsBeat/New York Times)

Tennessee Museum Fends Off Private Rivales for Wiley

A Tennessee auction brought $107k for a painting by Anna Catherine Wiley which will go to a local museum instead of a private buyer as some feared:

“This is a world auction record for a painting by a female Tennessee artist, and it puts Catherine Wiley up there with Gilbert Gaul, William Edmondson and Beauford Delaney in terms of top-selling Tennessee artists,” said Sarah Campbell Drury, vice president of decorative arts for Case Antiques Auctions & Appraisals. [...]

She suffered a mental breakdown, was institutionalized in 1926 and never painted again. Wiley remained hospitalized until her death in 1958.

David Butler, executive director of the Knoxville Museum of Art, said securing the winning bid was a top priority given Wiley’s East Tennessee ties, the quality of the painting and the limited number of her known works.

“Catherine Wiley was not prolific, and her paintings rarely come on the market,” said Butler.

“This is one of her greatest works, from her best period, and shows why she is ranked among America’s premier impressionists. We are pleased and grateful that this masterpiece will stay here.”

Who Was Murdock Pemberton?

Sebastian Smee was the first on the scene to re-discover Murdock Pemberton, the New Yorker’s first art critic and a man who was never meant to be a member of the cultural vanguard.  Smee was approached by Sally Pemberton, Murdock’s granddaughter, who discovered his “archives” in her mother’s attic and set about creating a lavishly illustrated “scrap book.”

The massive tome, Portrait of Murdock Pemberton is now available but perhaps some background is necessary. Here’s Smee on the unlikely conversion of Pemberton to cultural crusader:

Pemberton was a master of breeziness, and he wrote for the magazine’s general – and generally affluent – readership with a good deal of drollery and cultivated ingenuousness. But somewhere along the line, Pemberton had caught the modern art bug. And over the years he became a passionate crusader for modern art, both European and American.

This must have taken a good deal more courage than his casually offhand columns suggest. It’s easy to see, in retrospect, that the country was on the cusp of a great change in its attitudes toward modern art. But for a courageous pioneer of modern art like Alfred Stieglitz, for dealers like Valentine Dudensing and Erhard Weyhe, for critics like Henry McBride and Pemberton, and above all for America’s first wave of modern artists, all this was a question of faith.

Pemberton was also a great puncturer of pretension, goading the Metropolitan Museum and harassing Lord Duveen, Andrew Mellon and the plans for Washington’s National Gallery of Art. We’ll have more on Pemberton and the National Gallery’s other great benefactor, Chester Dale, in later posts.

Through the Eyes of Murdock Pemberton (Boston Globe)

The Evils of Financialized Art

Bloomberg View has taken an odd turn of late publishing a number of academic articles with very cynical views of capitalism. The latest is a facile piece from Mark C. Taylor’s religion-cum-art history work, “Refiguring the Spiritual: Beuys, Barney, Turrell, Goldsworthy.”

The structure and development of financial markets and the art market mirror each other. As art becomes a progressively abstract play of non-referential signs, so increasingly abstract financial instruments become an autonomous sphere of circulation whose end is nothing other than itself. When the overall economy moves from industrial and consumer capitalism to finance capitalism, art undergoes parallel changes. There are three stages in this process: the commodification of art, the corporatization of art, and the financialization of art.

Professor Taylor offers us Andy Warhol and Jeff Koons as examples of the first stage, commodification. But Prof. Taylor seems to think Koons’s interest in art antedates his brief career selling commodities:

Neither Koons nor his art gives any hint of the irony and parody that lend Warhol’s art its edge. While Warhol’s work unsettles, Koons’s art is crafted to reassure. Unapologetically embracing banality and freely admitting his ignorance of art history

Then Murakami gets dragged into it because Kaikai Ki Ki is a corporation.

Yet Murakami’s corporatization of art does not express the fundamental economic transformation that has taken place since the late 1960s. As financial capitalism expands, the production of tangible goods is increasingly displaced by the invention of intangible products. This is as true in the art market as it is in the stock market.

We’ll have to wait until part two to find out what that means.

Is Modern Finance Ruining Modern Art? (Bloomberg)

A Picky Old Master Market

Another report from our friend, Howard Rehs, art dealer and market observer:

January is a fairly quiet month for the art auction market. Much of the action can be found in the Fine Art exhibitions taking place around the country. We spent that latter part of January in Los Angeles at the Los Angeles Fine Art Show where over 100 dealers came to exhibit their wares. I can tell you that the crowds were pretty good … thousands upon thousands of art lovers came; and many left with a new work to add to their collection. In addition, from the dealers I spoke with, there was a resurgence of activity in the lower price levels — a segment of the market that has been very quiet over the past few years. Buyers and collectors had been focusing on the ‘blue chip’ names and leaving the ‘new chips’ on the sidelines. This resurgence of activity in the ‘new chip’ market is a very good sign since I believe that once the lower/entry levels of the art market become robust, we will see far more strength in the overall market and higher prices in all schools and levels.

Now I do not want you to think that there was NO activity in the public forums, but much of it was in areas of the art and antiques market I do not follow; however, during the last week of January the New York salerooms offered their Old Master painting sales and the results showed that the market for Old Masters is still a bit picky.

First up were two sales at Christie’s: Old Master Paintings Part I and The Art of France. In the Part I sale the top position was taken by Tiepolo’s The Arrival of Henry III… which made $5.9M (est. $4-$6M), in second place we found Dou’s A Young Lade Playing the Clavichord at $3.33M (est. $1-$2M) and in third was Van Dyck’s A Rearing Stallion at $2.54M (est. $2.5-$3.5M). Now from just those first three results you might say … not too bad! Two out of three met or beat their estimates … but hang on. Of the top three works with the highest estimates only one sold, the Tiepolo; the Memling ($6-$8M) and the Arcimboldo ($3-$5M) passed. And if we look at the top ten works with the highest estimates, only five sold. Since I am not an Old Master dealer, and I was unable to view the sale since I was away during the viewing, I really cannot give you my personal opinion as to why the big lots had trouble; but what is obvious is that really good Old Master paintings are getting harder and harder to find and just because a work carries a very high estimate, does not mean it is worth it.

When this session ended, the results were very telling. Of the 59 works offered 42 sold (71% sell-through rate) and the total take was $34.3M, which was well short of their expected $38.8M (low end of the presale estimate range — also keep in mind, that the final total includes the buyer’s premium while the presale estimate does not). In addition, the total take for the top 5 sold lots was $16.3M, almost half of the total sale’s gross. Oh, here are two additional (interesting) results … this sale included a painting recently attributed to Frans Hals that belonged to Elizabeth Taylor. The portrait was estimated at $700-$1M and sold for $2.1M … the question is, was the high price a result of the painting’s quality, its new attribution or its previous celebrity owner? And, a portrait by Thomas de Keyser blew past its $300-$500K estimate to sell for $1.5M … the buyer, the National Gallery of Art in Washington.

Then we had The Art of France and here the top slot was captured by Fragonard whose Le Jour brought $3.67M (est. $2-$3M). Coming in a distant second was Watteau’s The Union of Comedy and Music at $903K (est. $800-$1.2M) and in third was a Boilly still life at $843K (est. $150-$250K). In fact, all of the top 10 lots either met, or beat, their estimates … sounds pretty good so far. Well, hold on for the final numbers … of the 44 works offered, only 25 sold (57% sell-through rate) and the total take was $10M and they were expecting at least $14.9M. In addition, the top 10 lots brought in $8.44M, almost 85% of the sales total.Continue Reading

India Art Fair 2012 Sales

Georgina Adam has sales from the India Art Fair:

  • Among buyers on the first day were the leading Dhaka-based collectors Rajeeb and Nadia Samdani, who bought a Rashid Rana from Lisson and were tempted by a Hirst butterfly piece at White Cube.
  • Tasveer Gallery was very successful with images of animals in Indian palaces by Karen Knorr, priced from €6,000-€14,500, all going to private Indian collectors.

The Art Market: All New in Delhi (Financial Times)