Michael Shnayerson puts his finger on the source of the Gagosian’s success; Jonas Wood gets his freedom; Weitman & Zuckerman bring on Robinson; Artcurial’s €30k bronze sells for €3.7m.
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Gagosian’s Secret: Own the Collectors, Not the Artists
Michael Shnayerson, the Vanity Fair writer, has a book coming out in May about the art market. It’s got an already clichéd title, Boom: Mad Money, Mega Dealers and the Rise of Contemporary Art. Presumably, the current Vanity Fair story Duel of the Mega Dealers, draws from the book. It tries with some obvious squeezing to shoe-horn the story of Franz West’s estate into a story where the estate was somehow a bone of contention between David Zwirner and Larry Gagosian. Shnayerson picks up on an observation made in a French profile of Zwirner that the dealer and Gagosian are “so competitive that for all the events they have attended together—the art fairs and gallery openings and ceaseless art-world parties—they have never “broken bread” with each other, says Zwirner. Not one face-to-face meal or drink, not one cheery chat.”
In furtherance of depicting Franz West’s estate at the center of a tug-of-war, Shnayerson tries to make West a prize that would fulfill Gagosian’s greatest desire: “Gagosian had a secret longing. He wanted his own primary artists.”
The story of the West estate doesn’t need this device to make it interesting. But Shnayerson has inadvertently stumbled upon an important point. Though it has nothing to do with having his own primary artists. In fact, it is quite the opposite. Gagosian built the first global gallery, still far larger in terms of its operating outlets than any of his rivals by not focusing on having his own primary artists.
Gagosian has been all-too-happy to acquire artists in mid-career from other dealers or, as he has done lately, sell the work of artists who still have another gallery. That’s because Gagosian recognized earlier than most that he could acquire the work from artists, at whatever prices he could negotiate, if he had buyers, reliable buyers.
- “As they signed on with the older dealer, the artists experienced a new phenomenon: the Gagosian effect. His wealthy collectors stood ready to buy what Gagosian suggested they buy. Newly signed artists, as a result, tended to see their work spike in price over the course of a year or two.”
- “Collectors, more than artists, seemed to make Gagosian’s world go round. The dealer gave elegant dinners, either at one of his homes or his favorite restaurant[….] The guests […] were nearly all male and, of course, quite wealthy.”
- “For collectors who might be a bit insecure, being invited to Gagosian’s soirées conferred a heady validation. They could drop Gagosian’s name in art circles—just “Larry” to them—and tell friends that this or that painting had been bought from him. The Gagosian brand name was now nearly as important as the artists’.”
A certain type of buyer wants art that provides status without risk. On the status side, Gagosian was sure to give them social access to artists and other collectors. On the risk side, trades worked both ways because during the long run-up in art prices after 1998, Gagosian was using his collectors provide sales (and the capital they produced) but also to store work until the dealer could make another trade. These trades would gratify the original buyer with a profit, bring a new buyer into the circle and generate cash and profits for Gagosian.
The formula inverts the relationship every other dealer has had with his artists and collectors. And that’s probably why Gagosian was girdling the globe while his peers were still getting their boots on.
Jonas Wood Advocates Self Defense Funds for Artists
The call for a system of artist’s royalties from secondary sales waxes and wanes. One thing the proponents of those royalties never point out is that what an artist can earn from those royalties is quite small. Worse still, the value of a royalty is irrelevant compared to the value of a market successful artist’s work if he or she has been smart enough to hold onto it.
That point was reinforced recently by one of the most successful young artists, Jonas Wood, in an interview that ran on Artnet’s news site.
- “This is where I’m at now, and it took years, because I was always giving extra work and not really thinking about it. Another thing was just saving my own work and not being so greedy, and being aware that, okay, $5,000 now is $5,000 now. If I sell three more paintings, yes, I’ll get a little bit more money, but it’s not like life-changing money. Maybe I should start holding onto things for myself and not selling everything.”
Wood goes on to say that he worried about letting his dealers get too involved in his production by paying for materials because that might give his dealers too much information on the number of works he was making. The solution for Wood, which he says he learned from Mark Grotjahn and Laura Owens, is to build a barrier between himself and his dealers by hiring a person to handle those interactions (and not feel obliged to give everything to his dealers).
Art Market Advisors Firm Expands
Mitchell Zuckerman and Warren P. Weitman, Jr. have added Deborah Schmidt Robinson to their advisory firm. All three are veterans of Sotheby’s with long experience in Trust & Estates, financial services and transactions. Here’s how the firm describes the value of their “expertise in negotiating financial arrangements and hands-on guidance of the selling process:”
- Art Market Advisors are objective transactional and financial experts who help clients in the sales process of consigning property to auction or through private sale. No other advisors in the industry have more direct, relevant hands-on experience in advising on the art transaction process than the new firm.
Artcurial Sells €3.7m Bronze, Maybe a Giambologna
Fernand Lafarge collection of over sixty sculptures was auctioned in Paris by Artcurial for a total of €6.2M (estimated: €1 M) with 91% of lots sold, 50% of which sold above estimate. The bulk of that total came from Lot 9 (pictured above), Allegory of Architecture, after Giambologna, Florence, c1600, Height 35cm, which sold for €3,747,400 (estimated : €30 000 – 50 000) by a European collector.