Are Museums Priced Out of the Art Market? A Call for Papers from The National Gallery, London

Old Man in an Armchair was ruled by the National Gallery to be by a follower of Rembrandt

The National Gallery in London is doing the right thing and looking into the currently fashionable idea that the value of art has priced institutions out of acquisitions:

Call for papers

Deadline for submissions: 18 September 2015

This two-day conference on the relations between art dealers and museums, organised by the National Gallery in collaboration with the University of Manchester and the University of Liverpool, will be held at the National Gallery, London.

This joint conference, which has its origins in the acquisition of the Thos. Agnew & Sons archive by the National Gallery, aims to explore the relationship between art dealers and museums, in the UK and worldwide, and across a wide chronological period. Although there will be a focus on the London and British art market in the late 19th century, we wish to include papers that span the period 1855-2015 and across a range of geographical areas, in order to establish connections and assess contrasts between places and periods.

Many fundamental topics are implicated by the subject of this conference. For example, the relationship between consumption and culture; the creation, separation and ethical remits of professional specialisms; the nature and role of art institutions; and the multifaceted – and conflicting – roles of art collecting. We have singled out four key themes, which we envisage will comprise discrete conference sessions, and we invite paper proposals that engage with some aspect of them:

  • Mechanics of the relationship: How did the relationships between dealers and art museums work? Were these business relationships, advisory roles, or both? Which sources can we use to establish such relationships? Can quantitative evidence like pricing be used to illuminate these relationships further? Can any shifts in these dynamics be identified or measured over a geographical or chronological range?
  • Biographies: Who were/are the main dealers associated with art museums? Can the personal and institutional biographies of specific dealers, agents, curators and other associated players assist in the reconstruction of the dealer-museum relationship, either in the historical or contemporary domains?
  • Collaboration and conflict: How close was/is the relationship between various dealers and art museums? To what extent can these relationships be construed as successful or otherwise? Are there examples of conflict, such as failed deals, arguments over pricing or the breakdown of relationships? How were successful cases, such as acquisitions mediated by dealers, negotiated? What happens when dealers are in competition with each other? And what happens when museums are in competition with each other?
  • Works: How can case studies of single artworks or groups of pieces help us to understand better the model of dealer-museum interaction? How do the previous histories of works, their provenance, and the manner of their acquisition (e.g. private treaty or auction sale) affect their afterlife in the museum?

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Peer Pressure: ArtBasel’s Jury Under Scrutiny

The jurors, clockwise from top left: Tim Neuger, Eva Presenhuber, Jochen Meyer, Marc Blondeau, Lucy Mitchell-Innes, and Franco Noero.
The jurors, clockwise from top left: Tim Neuger, Eva Presenhuber, Jochen Meyer, Marc Blondeau, Lucy Mitchell-Innes, and Franco Noero.

Last weekend’s New York Times story on the ArtBasel jury must have made everyone very happy. The Times was touting the story on social media as something of a cabal: “At Art Basel, six dealers have become among the most powerful gatekeepers — and tastemakers — in the art world.” But Times own story details the ways in which the jury is constituted and can be circumvented that counter the suggestion there is a seniority system by some other name.

No matter. The very suggestion the fair is hyper-exclusive will only increase the perception that ArtBasel remains at the apex of the art market:

Most galleries admitted for the first time, or after at least one year’s absence, end up in second-tier locations at the fair, according to six years of fair data. And most are not invited back the next year. More established dealers — the Gagosians, Paces and Zwirners, who derive power from their superstar clients and artists — dominate the inner aisles of the ground and second floors of the main hall, considered by many the most sought-after real estate in the art fair world.

On the ground floor, home to more than 100 galleries, typically about 90 percent were in the fair the prior year.

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Italian Artists Star at Dorotheum’s “Record” Contemporary Sale

One of the limitations on regional auction houses is the way they try to limit information to what the house feels is beneficial. The Austrian auction house Dorotheum seems to have had a very interesting and successful sale of Contemporary art last week with strong performances by artists in the very hot category of Italian abstract works.

The auction house claims it was the highest total ever in the category. But they don’t provide figures for the sales, only highlights:

Leading the sale was a work by Enrico Castellani, one of his striking and internationally acclaimed Superficie canvases, which sold for just under €1million. The winning bid of €965,000 represents a new record price for a Superficie.

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Bendor Grosvenor’s Picks for London’s Master Paintings Week

In a few weeks, July 3rd to be precise, Master Paintings Week opens within London Art Week. The central draw, of course, is the auction houses’ Old Master offerings which are now viewable online. Here are Bendor Grosvenor’s picks from the catalogues:


an epic Bellotto of Dresden, at £8m-£12m. There’s a Gainsborough three quarter lengthportrait of Sir Richard Brooke at £2m-£3m. I particularly like an English School 1567 full-length portrait on panel of William Herbert, 1st Earl of Pembroke, which is cheap at £150k-£250k.


The portrait type is derived from Holbein’s original in Rome, which shows the king as a younger man. Here, the head type is re-used – as was common practice – and you can clearly see the pencil tracings used to lay out the details of the face. The detail in the rest of the costume is good, but not perhaps up to Holbein quality. So it’s correctly catalogued I think as ‘Workshop of Holbein’. The estimate is £800,000-£1,200,000. The price compares to a recent ‘Workshop’ Henry VIII that sold at Christie’s in July 2011 at £657k. The Castle Howard isn’t the same celebrated composition as the Christie’s picture, but it’s in better condition.

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As ArtBasel Opens, Easy Credit, Hard-to-Find Stock and Brand Consciousness Haunt the Market

ArtBasel opens tomorrow. In the meantime, the crowd is settling into to town, traipsing around Liste and generally musing on the state of the art market. Here are a few quotes from Katya Kazakina on Bloomberg:

  • “Interest rates are so low that people have so much money they don’t know what to do with it,” said Robert Landau, owner of Landau Fine Art, which is offering a $30 million Pablo Picasso painting. He said one of his clients is a 37-year-old man who retired after earning a fortune and is “sailing around the world and buying paintings to put on the boat.”
  • “When people see auction prices they think everything we have is very cheap,” said Landau, owner of the Montreal and Meggen, Switzerland-based gallery. “The auctions are helping us. They are raising prices on everything.”

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Simon de Pury Single-Owner Sales Platform Partners with Mallett

One question after last week’s announcement of Simon de Pury’s new single-owner sale venture is whether the new operation, De Pury, which is backed by European venture capitalist Klaus Hommels also has more extensive ties to the Stanley Gibbon empire through Mallet, the antiques dealer that is partnering with De Pury to show works:

De Pury’s first sale will include some 400 pieces from the Lambert Art Collection, of the eponymous Belgian family that has been collecting for more than a century. Baroness Lambert oversees it today. The auction will include contemporary art alongside furniture dating back hundreds of years. The sale is titled “A Visual Odyssey: Selections from LAC (the Lambert Art Collection),” and a preview will be shown with designer Jacques Grange handling the exhibition design at Mallett’s London headquarters at Ely House. Bidding takes place on Monday, October 12, “in person in London and online, including tablet and mobile,” with video providing a high-quality stream of the action, according to a news release. The platform will eschew print catalogues for digital offerings.

De Pury’s financial angle seems to be to gain market share by undercutting competitors on lots under $2 million. The platform, which is backed by investor Klaus Hommels, will charge a 15 percent buyer’s premium on the first $2 million of a hammer price, lower than the 25 percent that Christie’s and Sotheby’s now charge on the first $100,000 and the 20 percent that is marked up to the $2 million figure. Above that threshold, de Pury’s charge will be 12 percent, which is in line with competitors.

Simon de Pury on His New Digital Auction Platform (ARTnews)

Art & Culture Major Tourists Draws for Berlin

Culture, with museums at the apex of the cultural complex, is a major industry for many cities and regions. Others aspire to create cultural destinations. Skift reports on how Berlin depends upon tourism and focuses on culture to attract those tourists:

“Berlin lives from tourism, and tourists come here largely for culture,” said Hermann Parzinger, president of the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation, which manages most of the city’s museums. “Today, London is more dynamic but Berlin has more potential.”

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The Name Is Bond. Alan Bond.

The Master, Judd Tully, gives the full story behind Alan Bond’s machinations with art. Once the holder of a record-price bid, Bond lacked the funds to pay for the work. That didn’t deter Sotheby’s which did everything it could to consummate the transaction:

Bond couldn’t pay for the painting and Sotheby’s, led at the time by ceo Diana D. Brooks, who later would be prosecuted for price-fixing, cut a post-sale deal through the firm’s financial services arm, essentially loaning the skinned magnate some $27 million (roughly half the purchase price) and holding the painting in an undisclosed location as collateral.

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Who Paid More for His Trophy Art? The Czar or the Emir

Reyburn Art Price v per capita wages

Scott Reyburn has generated an interesting list that tries to get at the real value of works of art relative to the general economic environment. Based upon a conversation with inequality economist, Thomas Piketty’s ideas for how to calculate cost, Reyburn has produced a selection of top prices and adjusted them for US per capita income. Though the exercise is revealing, one wonders why global per capita income or country-specific were not used. A lack of available information? Whatever the reason, measuring the Czar’s purchasing power (or someone in Qatar’s, for that matter) against US wages seems to leave out the inequality in the countries of purchase, especially in a global art market:

“It’s O.K. to use the C.P.I., but I think it would be even more meaningful to take into account the rise in average income and wealth over the period,” said Thomas Piketty, a professor at the Paris School of Economics and the author of the best-selling “Capital in the Twenty-First Century.” Mr. Piketty suggested in an email that landmark art transactions from any given year should be divided by average per-capita income to reflect divergences of wealth. “It would be interesting to have some art price index over the entire 1914-2015 period and see whether it follows the evolution of inequality (I suspect it does),” Mr. Piketty added.

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Everybody Hates the Art Market


One of the more curious aspects of today’s art market is the way so many long-time art dealers seem to have a high level of disdain for buyers in the market. Is this merely a way to flatter their own customers by rubbishing other buyers or is it a sign of growing frustration and disenchantment? Here’s an example of Scott Reyburn’s latest column:

“In the old days you had a small market. Now globalization is a huge factor,” said James Roundell, a director at the London and New York dealer and adviser Dickinson, who, while working at Christie’s in 1987, represented the winning Japanese telephone bidder for Van Gogh’s “Sunflowers.” That $39.9 million was the first of the modern “art boom“ prices.

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