The Financial Times has run an edited version of Harald Falckenberg’s essay for Art Basel 44. The art market overview has gotten a strong response and is well worth reading whether you agree with Falckeberg or not. Here are just two excerpts worth pondering:
At the same time, the growth of now almost 100 biennials and triennials around the world saw the orientation and organisation of “critical art”, with its often counter-cultural impulses, increasingly defined by a network of international curators, so significant that they are accused of “curatism”: a group of impresarios who use artists as living arguments and evidence of their own ideas. […]
Personally I’m neither a believer nor a pessimist. I track the evolution of this society and its art. While others might think that evolution always leads to something better, to me there is no morality in the process. Just change. The end of art has repeatedly been announced. But there is no end: art is always open to new developments. Every serious collection has to face this challenge.
The art world we deserve? (Financial Times)
During Friday’s stock sell-off, Sotheby’s (BID) held its $40 price floor suggesting there are buyers at the crucial support/ceiling level. Nonetheless, at least one fund manager doesn’t see the logic in the stock at that level or above considering the strong valuation against earnings:
Art aficionado Christopher Tsai, 39, who runs Tsai Capital, a much smaller hedge fund in New York — and owns 40 works, considered one of the world’s largest collections, by the world-famous Ai Weiwei of China — had this advice for Loeb: Get real.
Tsai doesn’t see a lot of value in Sotheby’s stock, regardless of any future window dressing and the recent sell-off.
“This is a cyclical name, and one is paying 18 times 2014 earnings for a company that is producing close to record revenue and healthy earnings,” Tsai told The Post.
“That’s a lot different than paying 18 times for trough earnings. For that reason, despite any change that Loeb may facilitate, [Loeb’s] investment could wind up taking a long time before paying off in a meaningful way.”
Hedgie not sold on Loeb for Sotheby (New York Post)
The Atlantic unearths an interesting program in Mexico that allows artists to pay their taxes in art. With the rise of ambitious programs like the Artist’s Pension Trust, the idea of sponsoring artists by allowing satisfy obligations with their work is compelling:
For the past 28 years, Gritón has not paid a dime to the Tax Administration Service (SAT), the Mexican equivalent of the IRS. But he is no criminal. In fact, in a country that has lost an estimated $872 billion to money laundering and tax evasion over the past four decades, Gritón is in good standing with the law. Like more than 700 artists across Mexico, he takes part in a Pago en Especie (Payment in Kind) program—the only one of its type in the world—that allows artists to pay federal income taxes with their own artwork.
The program was hatched in 1957, in the throes of the so-called “Mexican Miracle,” a period of 40 years that saw sustained annual economic growth of between 3 and 4 percent. As legend has it, muralist David Alfaro Siqueiros, one of the most influential artists of his generation, approached the secretariat of finance in 1957 with a proposal to keep a friend and fellow artist out of jail for tax evasion: Let him pay his debt in art. The agreement laid the foundation for Pago en Especie, which today is a public collection of nearly 7,000 paintings, sculptures, and graphics accepted as tax payments from some of Mexico’s best-known artists. […]
The program is simple—donations are made according to reported sales. If an artist sells between one and five pieces of art in a given year, he or she donates one piece to the federal government. If the artist sells between six and eight pieces, he or she donates two, and so on, with an annual cap of six donations. Only painters, sculptors, and graphic artists can participate, though program administrators are currently considering whether to include performance art as an acceptable means of payment. A committee of artists and curators oversees the donations process to ensure that the art received meets certain quality standards. If the art is of a particularly high caliber, it becomes part of the “national-heritage collection,” which is displayed in a permanent exhibit in Mexico City. All other pieces are divided up and shipped across the country to fill public museums and administrative buildings.
Yonkers is turning into the new SoHo or Chelsea as artists move into the Hudson River community that lies just across the border from the Bronx:
The artist David Hammons has bought a warehouse in a section of southwest Yonkers, where he will open a new art gallery. Hammons is the latest artist to buy property in the city with the goal of exhibiting work.
In November city officials announced that they had sold the former Yonkers City Jail on Alexander Street to artist and architect Maya Lin and her husband Daniel Wolf, who will convert part of the jail into an exhibition space.
The Times explains why the $142m Francis Bacon triptych of Lucian Freud was shown so quickly in a museum in Portland, Oregon. At the time, the answer was given as taxes. But here the Times actually explains the process:
Dozens of important works have come to the Schnitzer in recent years, largely because of the tax break, museum officials believe — so many that the museum has a program called “Masterworks on Loan”; the featured works are housed in a second-floor gallery.
Similar loans — which rarely extend beyond a few months — also flow into other museums in Oregon, and occasionally New Hampshire and Delaware, all states that have neither a sales nor a use tax. […]
Experts said that for many years it was known in art circles as the “Norton Simon rule,” because Mr. Simon, an industrialist who died in 1993, was one of the first art collectors to make ample use of it with loans to several museums like the Portland Art Museum.
Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mangue, son of the long-serving president of Equatorial Guinea and vice-president in his own right, is under formal investigation by French judges for money laundering. At the heart of the affair are claims that Obiang, who is also defence minister and interior minister, has plundered his country’s natural wealth to amass a fabulous collection of late nineteenth art worth 104 million dollars that lined the walls of his luxurious home in Paris. Meanwhile 60% of Equatorial Guinea’s population have to survive on less than a dollar a day.
Going back to 2010, $40 has been a significant price level for Sotheby’s stock (BID). When the stock is above $40, the price acts as support. Below $40, it becomes resistance.
With the battle over board seats heating up, the question is whether $40 will keep supporting the stock.
Ever doubtful of the health of the art market, the Wall Street Journal takes the trend toward buying cheaper works related to famous artists as a sign of an overheated market. That may be but one could easily see this as a trend toward a broader interest in owning art:
“These are the names everybody knows—they feel safe for people, especially when no one quite knows exactly how long a good run is going to last,” said Meredith Hilferty, a director at Rago Arts & Auction Center in Lambertville, N.J.
In the last five years, roughly 17,000 limited-edition pieces, works on paper and paintings by 10 top artists including Marc Chagall, Joan Miró and Degas have sold at auction for $1,000 to $10,000—a 45% increase over works sold by the same artists a decade ago in a comparable price range, according to the auction database Artnet.
As lower-priced pieces enter the mainstream, some art experts bristle at what they see as a rising acceptance of irrelevant work with little artistic merit.
“Some of these things are indeed becoming financially valuable because they are praised by a growing number of ill-informed collectors,” Véronique Wiesinger, former director of the Giacometti Foundation, wrote in an email. “It no doubt reflects a loss of connoisseurship, from collectors and auction specialists.”
Scott Reyburn might be trying to read too much into the recent off-season sales in London but his weekly International New York Times column focuses on the action at Phillips Under the Influence sale and early reserves at Art Cologne for the kinds of works that seem to be made to flip:
The Flip Art aesthetic practiced by artists like Mr. Rees, Mr. Smith, Mr. Murillo, Mr. Ito and other wunderkinder is instantly recognizable. They make abstract paintings that are a clever play on the act of painting. These abstracts often employ novel — not to mention cheap — painting techniques, such as using a fire extinguisher (Mr. Smith) or home improvement products (Mr. Rees). They’re often big, and have significant wall power. Equally important, there are plenty of them. Mr. Smith, for example, has produced as many as 300 of his paint-droplet “Rain” canvases, according to dealers. Mass production allows artists to make as much money as possible. It also enables contemporary art investors, nervous of notions of rarity, to buy multiple works and to track their price fluctuations, like a commodity, on databases such as Artnet. Flip Art, like Andy Warhol’s Factory-produced Pop Art, can be as reassuringly numerous and uniform as gambling chips.
Hot New Artists, Getting Hotter (NYTimes)
You’ll remember that a Koons Popeye statue was at the center of the row between Koons’s dealer Larry Gagosian and Ronald Perleman a few years ago. This statue does not seem to be the granite one that was at issue in the contretemps. But the appearance of this 7ft-tall work that is an edition of 3 (the other two are owned by whom? Gagosian and Steven Cohen, of course) does raise some questions about the consignor. The $25m estimate raises all sorts of other questions.