Sarah Thornton quit writing about the art market two and a half years ago with a plaintive list of 10 reasons not to write about art market that seemed to circle around the theme of manipulation, lack of regulation and veneration of money over art. She signed off with, “Oligarchs and dictators are not cool.”
Not that Ms. Thornton was done with artists or art. She wrote a book, this time about artists, and had a life change that brought her from London to San Francisco where her partner runs a gallery.
Perhaps, then, it was only a matter of time before Thornton began writing about the art market again, especially in San Francisco.
Today she sent out an email newsletter pointing to her latest piece in the Economist, a profile of the San Francisco art advisory firm, Zlot Buell whose clients include Chairman of SFMoMA, Charles Schwab (his personal and corporate collections,) George Roberts (founder of KKR), Lucy and Larry Page (CEO of Google), Kaitlyn Trigger and Mike Krieger (co-founder of Instagram) and Alison and Mark Pincus (she is co-founder of One Kings Lane, an online marketplace; he is the co-founder of Zynga, a social-gaming company).
True to her anti-market convictions, Thornton advocates for the old-school Zlot and presents her as the last bulwark against the deluge of market flippers:
Whereas Mr Simchowitz uses hype to engineer speculative bubbles, Zlot Buell tries to protect its clients from them. It generally advises collectors to buy on the primary market (first-time sale) rather than secondary one (resale); the selection is broader and prices tend to be lower. When a client is keen on an artist whose work they consider overpriced, Ms Zlot and Ms Buell try to divert them towards a similar artist whose work they see as undervalued. For a client who wants to acquire a Jeff Koons (record price $58.4m), for example, they might recommend a work by Robert Gober, an important American figurative sculptor of the same generation. Mr Gober’s record price is $4.2m.
That last piece of advice seems hard to reconcile. Gober and Koons are such different artists, it is difficult to imagine the conversation that would skillfully steer the eager buyer from the colorful, ecstatic Koons toward the ominous and gnostic Gober. But taste and foresight is what Zlot Buell is selling. As Thornton points out,
After a $300m remodelling, SF MoMA will reopen next spring with a range of new exhibitions, including one of recent gifts; 20 of them will have been acquired with Zlot Buell’s assistance, including works by Jackson Pollock, Louise Bourgeois, Sigmar Polke, Ellsworth Kelly, George Condo, Peter Doig and Mark Bradford.