Another Kimpsons work is slated for sale in October; Collectors Capture Museum Boards; Italy’s Cultural Populism; Burning Man is for artists.
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.)
Massive $8m KAWS Slated for Sotheby’s HK Sale
Sotheby’s Yuki Terase posted this KAWS work to her Instagram over the long weekend. Untitled (Kimpson’s #1) owned by Japanese entreprenuer NIGO follows two other, smaller 40 x 40 inch works from the series that were sold in April at Sotheby’s in Hong Kong for $2.6 and $2.7m. This much larger 108 by 96 inch (9 feet by 8 feet) work carries an estimate of HKD 48m – 68m ($6.12m – 8.67m) but collector Niels Kantor chimes in on the post to claim there’s already an $8m guarantee in place. The auction takes place in Hong Kong on October 6th.
Who Knows What Evil Lurks in the Hearts of Board Members? Salmon Knows
Perhaps you saw this essay in The Art Newspaper by Axios’s financial correspondent, Felix Salmon. Salmon’s conceit is that somehow the balance of power between museums and their board members has shifted. The museums are now mere tools for the aggrandizement of vulgar art buyers who think only of the value of their collections and nothing of the institutions they steward.
Unlike the noble board members of yesteryear who thought only of leaving the greatest works of art for the pleasure and edification of the masses, today’s “typical big-name art collector,” according to Salmon,
… is an overachieving white male tycoon with an extremely busy life. Often he will buy art at fairs, on the advice of advisers; his time budget is generally limited. He spends millions of dollars at a time and competes aggressively for the best work. He is also hyper aware of how much his art is worth, and he judges his prowess by the degree to which his collection has risen in value.
How Salmon plumbed the inner thoughts of these tycoons is something he is keeping to himself. But trust Felix, he knows from hyper aware. Since Salmon knows the secret chambers of the modern collector’s heart, he is able to tell us that the purpose of sitting on the board of a major museum is to obtain “a key competitive advantage.”
When a big-name museum starts buying up the work of the artists that its board collects, those artists’ prices rise, along with the value of the collections they are in.
It’s amazing how simple this art market thing really is. All you have to do is get a museum to buy work by artists you’ve collected and your collection goes up in value directly and without any volatility or change of taste. We all know that art values remain fixed forever and all works by the same artist are of equal value.
If the typical tycoon hasn’t already bought tons of art by these newly and permanently valuable artists, fear not. There’s always a second chance when you’re a rich insider because …
board members receive priority when it comes to buying new work. At the highest levels of art collecting, board memberships and other institutional affiliations are table stakes: it can be almost impossible to collect the most coveted art without them. In other words, increasingly we live not in a world where museums collect collectors, but rather in a world where collectors collect museums. (See, for example, the way that the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art was effectively acquired by the Fisher family.)
That last bit somewhat speaks for itself. For Salmon to claim the Fisher family had captured SFMoMA he would need to prove that Doris and Don Fisher’s son Bob, the museum’s president, was somehow using his position as an enormous lender of work to SFMoMA (his parents’ collection is on a very long-term loan) to acquire the work of living artists.
Look through Salmon’s essay for any evidence of this, any argument that the Fisher’s have behaved in the ways that Salmon posits. There’s none in the essay. Instead, Salmon turns to Warren Kanders’s defenestration from the Whitney board. That, in Salmon’s mind, somehow proves Kander was using his position on the Whitney board to pump up the value of his art collection.
No one honestly believes museum board members are selfless devotees to the public good. Status, recognition and the sheer fun of having access to curators, other collectors and artists are among the many less than pure motivations for joining museum boards. Is access to art from emerging artists part of the package? It would be hard to believe that it is not for every board member. Acquiring the work of young artists remains a high-risk endeavor even if one is ensconced a the most prestigious board in the world.
Even if we conceded every point in Salmon’s essay, the idea that the art market is so easily navigated for gain is the kind of fantasy that only a person who doesn’t follow the market with any care could maintain.
Italy’s Cultural Populism Drives Out Directors
The Financial Times looked at the cultural populism overtaking Italy and driving out a the group of gifted foreign-born museum directors that have unleashed growth at Italy’s museums like Eike Schmidt who is is leaving the Uffizi after a remarkably successful run:
“With the centralisation involved in this latest reform,” he says, “we can see that it goes hand-in-hand with the politicisation of the museum system.” Struggling to name a country that is pursuing comparable cultural policies, he eventually suggests Saudi Arabia: “I do not think there is a country in the free and western world with such a centralised politics of culture as it is being set out in Italy now.” James Bradburne, Anglo-Canadian director of Milan’s Pinacoteca di Brera, is equally outspoken. He calls the proposed counter reform a “re-Sovietism of the Italian museum system”. “Even though we learnt in the Soviet Union that centralised control does not work,” he adds tartly.
The architect of this centralisation of Italy’s culture industry is Alberto Bonisoli. His plan, according to the FT, “would in effect seize back control of Italy’s top museums, giving the state veto power over museum spending, exhibitions and international loans, and scrapping the independent boards of trustees established to provide guidance to the museums.”
He says he is not against autonomy per se. Objectively, he says, giving freedom to museum directors produced better financial results. “It helps the dignity of the museum, there is a better reputation, more visitors, more links with the city the museum is in,” he says. “But I noted this phenomenon happened in an anarchic manner.” Rules should be applied equally across Italy’s 500 museums and directed from Rome, he says, adding that he plans to hire an unprecedented 5,000 new staff in the culture ministry. Where the money is coming from in Italy’s budget-strapped state is unclear. “The point is this: I want museum directors who are good,” he says. “What is no longer necessary is to go and look for first and foremost foreigners”.
Burning Man Is for Artists
With the end of Labor Day weekend in the United States, it is time for our annual reminder that Burning Man, the 70,000-person Bacchanal in the Nevada desert, is a self-conscious art event. Every year it attracts artists willing to create works on the ‘playa’ ranging from kitsch to cringe-worthy to the occasional sublime.