The sale you really want to watch this season; Robert Indiana estate sells art at Christie’s; Not to show for AI and Block Chain in art world; Mel Ramos’s dream world revealed
This commentary by Marion Maneker is available to AMMpro subscribers. (The first month of AMMpro is free and subscribers are welcome to sign up for the first month and cancel before they are billed.)
Long-Delayed Result of Oligarch’s Attempt to Have Art Intermediary Charged
Almost four years ago, Yves Bouvier was arrested in Monaco. In the time that has passed since, we’ve learned that Dmitry Rybolovlev had worked with Monaco’s Minister of Justice to get Bouvier arrested. Today, Rybolovlev was charged along with his lawyer and the former Minister of Justice’s family members with bribery, according to the Financial Times.
- “In addition to charging the Russian billionaire on Wednesday, police also charged Tatiana Bersheda, Mr Rybolovlev’s lawyer, and the wife and son of Philippe Narmino, Monaco’s former minister of justice, the people said. Mr Narmino, who was justice minister during Mr Bouvier’s arrest, took early retirement last year after cordial text messages between him and Ms Bersheda were published.”
The Sale You Really Want to Watch This Season
The evening sales get all of the attention but the Contemporary market has been witnessing strong growth in the day sales over the past several seasons. Christie’s PWC day sale will bulge this year because of the Anderson collection but the one that allows us to track that growth is Sotheby’s Contemporary day sale.
It’s been a banner year for day sale growth at Sotheby’s. As the day sales morph into a mezzanine market during the marquee sales seasons, Sotheby’s has been busy integrating those sales with the mid-season events they call Contemporary Curated sales.
So far in 2018, Sotheby’s has netted $6.28m online, $57.34m in Contemporary Curated sales and $107m in the May Contemporary day sale. That’s $170.5m combined. In May, the pre-sale low estimate for the day sale was just above $70m. This season, the pre-sale low estimate is north of $74m. That’s tracking toward the potential for another record day sale which tells us a lot about the growth of the Contemporary art market, its depth, reach and potential durability in a downturn.
Robert Indiana Estate Sells Kelly & Ruscha Works
The saga of the Robert Indiana estate continues with the NY Times revealing that two works—one a gift from Ellsworth Kelly; the other an Ed Ruscha—on offer at Christie’s during the day sales are from Indiana’s estate which has been the subject of some controversy over the last several years:
- “The executor of the estate, James W. Brannan, said that, while the probate proceedings over the artist’s will are far from over, he needs money now in light of the house’s leaking roof and the expense of contesting a lawsuit filed in United States District Court in Manhattan against the estate.”
Confusion Over Latest Tech Buzzwords in Art Market
The Financial Times inadvertently reveals just how confused all of the talk of art and tech has become. In a story that claims the art market has found a way forward to incorporate technology into its business practices, we get some very vague pronouncements:
- “For an industry bound by tradition, things are moving — relatively — fast. Discussion has centred on two possible ways forward. Some in the industry are pro-blockchain, a decentralised digital ledger to which data is added in chronological “blocks”; some lean more towards the power of AI.”
This is a chimera driven more by a newspaper’s desire for a trend story than be any evidence that block chain or AI has found a foothold in the art market. On block chain, the FT offers something that is neither meaningful nor being adopted. After offering a vision of some kind of total registry that would bring together all available information to some mythical “block chain” that would allow anyone access all the relevant data to value a work instantly, the FT cautions, rightly, “such a registry would need immense amounts of data, much of it relating to pieces hundreds of years old. The investment, and workload, would be huge.”
The other idea the FT offers is using AI to ‘price art,’ in the words of a Sotheby’s expert. The problem with both of these ideas is that no one needs either mechanism. Art is priced by sales. There is no pre-ordained price, just price or natural price. Prices are dynamic results of human decisions. Technology can’t replace that.
The Unexpected Dream World of Mel Ramos
The New York Times took a couple of weeks to prepare an obituary of Mel Ramos but the wait was worth it. Many know Ramos studied with Wayne Thiebaud but Neil Genzlinger makes the interesting point that Ramos’s controversial nudes combined with consumer products had an interesting lineage. Ramos started painting comic book superheroes.
- “After the comic-book heroes came the heroines, who were really sexy in those days,” Mr. Ramos said. And after the heroines came the nudes.
The nudes have always sat uncomfortably somewhere between kitsch and Pop art. It turns out, Ramos had something quite different in mind:
- “I’ve always considered myself an unreconstructed surrealist,” he said. “And my whole career has been based on a strategy that uses a lot of tenets of surrealism — incongruous relationships, for example.”