Sotheby’s has made a series of short videos to promote their sale of Roy Lichtenstein’s Sleeping Girl. (Update: The links have been fixed.) Here they’ve got Irving Blum reminiscing about his time running Ferus Gallery in LA when he sold Sleeping Girl. But it’s really worth watching just to see Blum’s photos from the era.Continue Reading
Kelly Crow put out a pot-stirring report this week in the Wall Street Journal. It’s true that the newspaper likes to dramatize events. This is the Murdoch legacy at the WSJ. But this comparative is a bit over much:
During the recession, Calder’s prices ticked upward as collectors sought pieces that were easy to identify and resell in the global marketplace, some trading privately for as much as $35 million apiece, dealers said. Even so, Calder’s works look cheap compared with those of peers like Alberto Giacometti, whose bronzes have topped $100 million.
It is a bit silly to judge the very strong Calder market by whether there has been a top trophy price that makes headlines, let alone a price at the $100 million level. Crow is right to compare Calder to Henry Moore, another auction mainstay whose work has been gaining traction and recently set new high prices (though far from the Giacometti, Picasso, Cézanne level.) What’s not mentioned here, and is surely of great importance given the need for liquidity and volume for an artist to reach the highest levels of value, is a discussion of how much work Calder made. He rivals Picasso in sheer volume.
Here’s Crow’s rundown of what’s on offer this May in New York, led by Christie’s Lily of Force estimated at $8 to $12 million:
Collectors have always paid a premium for standing and hanging Calder mobiles from the 1940s and ’50s, particularly those with dozens of dangling parts that shiver like leaves or fish at the slightest breeze. Red remains his most coveted color, but hues like white are also popular. Christie’s is asking at least $3.5 million for “Snow Flurry,” a 1950 white mobile that comes from the estate of Eliot Noyes, the Harvard Five architect who, with Philip Johnson, championed the no-frills architectural movement known as the International Style. The Noyes estate is also offering an untitled red mobile with scaly shapes that is priced to sell for at least $3 million. Christie’s wants at least $4 million for “The Red of Saché,” a 1954 hanging mobile. “Blue Flower, Red Flower,” a 1975 multicolored mobile, is priced to sell for at least $1 million.Rival Sotheby’s has four Calders on its auction agenda, including “Sumac VI,” a red mobile from 1952 that is priced to sell May 9 for $2.5 million or more.
Reuters has Akron Art Museum’s sale of Cindy Sherman’s Untitled #96 which Christie’s will be offering in May and hopes to make another record price:
“The museum acquired this work in 1981, the year of its creation, showcasing the forward-thinking approach of the institution,” said Christie’s international head of post-war and contemporary art Brett Gorvy.
Christie’s sold another nearly life-size image depicting Sherman dressed as a schoolgirl last year for $3.89 million, a record price for any photograph sold at auction at the time. That record has since been surpassed.
Gorvy said the auction house was confident it would achieve another record price.
Ginette Heilbronn Moulin’s grandson admits that his family’s pursuit of their Nazi-confiscated Monet was encouraged by the recent spate of news about the Wildenstein family’s weakness. Today’s story in the New York Times, which mostly just recaps the saga of another important French family searching for their lost property, really doesn’t have any news to it. The paper is just stirring the pot for the rest us to enjoy the billowing aroma:
“This painting represents some of the history of our family,” she said. “It was my grandson who pushed me to react. He doesn’t understand how this could happen.”
Ms. Moulin said that in the 1950s, her mother, Paulette Heilbronn, met with an art dealer who had a photograph of the painting, and that he pledged to recover it. But when Ms. Heilbronn approached the dealer again, he told her it was in the possession of people who were “untouchable,” Ms. Moulin said
Years later the family discovered references to the missing painting in the 1979 and the 1996 editions of Daniel Wildenstein’s five-volume inventory, or catalogue raisonné, of Monet’s work. Such catalogs list all known authenticated works by an artist and serve as something of an imprimatur. No major auction house, for example, will sell a work as a Monet unless it is listed in the Wildenstein inventory.
The catalogs’ mention of the missing Monet fueled suspicions in Ms. Moulin’s family that the Wildensteins either had the painting or knew where it was, she said. But the Wildensteins repeatedly stymied her family’s inquiries, she added.
Prominent French Families Battle Over Missing Monet (New York Times)
Kenny Schachter is a prominent collector and dealer. But he brilliantly sees the satire lying right below the surface of Greg Smith’s resignation letter—published in the New York Times—from Goldman Sachs.
TODAY is my last day at Gagosian Gallery. After almost 12 years at the gallery — first as a summer intern in Los Angeles, then in New York for 10 years, and now in London — I believe I have worked here long enough to understand the trajectory of its culture, its people and its identity. And I can honestly say that the environment now is as toxic and destructive as I have ever seen it.
To put the problem in the simplest terms, the interests of the collectors continue to be sidelined in the way the firm operates and thinks about making money. Gagosian is one of the world’s largest and most important galleries and it is too integral to the global art market to continue to act this way. The gallery has veered so far from the place I joined right out of college that I can no longer in good conscience say that I identify with what it stands for.
It might sound surprising to a skeptical public, but culture was always a vital part of Gagosian’s success. It revolved around teamwork, integrity, a spirit of humility, and always doing right by our clients. The culture was the secret sauce that made this place great and allowed us to earn our clients’ trust for 33 years. It wasn’t just about making money; this alone will not sustain a gallery for so long. It had something to do with pride and belief in the organization. I am sad to say that I look around today and see virtually no trace of the culture that made me love working for this gallery for many years. I no longer have the pride, or the belief.
But this was not always the case. For more than a decade I recruited and mentored gallery girls through our grueling interview process. In 2006 I managed the summer intern program in sales in New York for the 20 college students who made the cut, out of the hundreds who applied.
I knew it was time to leave when I realized I could no longer look gallery girls in the eye and tell them what a great place this was to work.
When the history books are written about Gagosian, they may reflect that Larry Gagosian lost hold of the firm’s culture on his watch. I truly believe that this decline in the galleries moral fiber represents the single most serious threat to its long-run survival.
Over the course of my career I have had the privilege of advising two of the largest museums on the planet, five of the largest collectors in the United States, and three of the most prominent ruling families in the Middle East and Asia. My clients have a total asset base of more than a trillion dollars. I have always taken a lot of pride in advising my clients to do what I believe is right for them, even if it means less money for the gallery. This view is becoming increasingly unpopular at Gagosian. Another sign that it was time to leave.
How did we get here? The gallery changed the way it thought about directorships. Leadership used to be about ideas, setting an example and doing the right thing. Today, if you make enough money for the gallery (and are not currently an ax murderer) you will be promoted into a position of influence.
What are three quick ways to become a director? a) Execute on the firm’s “axes,” which is Gogo-speak for persuading your clients to buy art from our stable that we are trying to get rid of because they are seen as having a weakening career. b) “Hunt Elephants.” In English: get your collectors — some of whom are sophisticated, and some of whom aren’t — to buy whatever will bring the biggest profit to Gogo. Call me old-fashioned, but I don’t like selling my clients art that is wrong for them. c) Find yourself sitting in a seat where your job is to sell any illiquid, giant, uncompromising installations and videos by the likes of Mike Kelley.
Today, many of the directors display a Gogosian culture quotient of exactly zero percent. I attend sales meetings where not one single minute is spent asking questions about how we can help clients. It’s purely about how we can make the most possible money off of them, especially the Russians. If you were an alien from Mars and sat in on one of these meetings, you would believe that a collectors success or progress in building a significant collection was not part of the thought process at all.
It makes me ill how callously people talk about ripping their clients off. Over the last 12 months I have seen five different directors refer to their own clients as “muppets.” Vampire Squids? No humility? I mean, come on. Integrity? It is eroding. I don’t know of any illegal behavior, but will people push the envelope and pitch lucrative, dull and derivative Richard Princes to clients even if they are not the least bit good? Absolutely. Every day, in fact.
It astounds me how little Larry G. gets a basic truth: If clients don’t trust you they will eventually stop doing business with you. It doesn’t matter how smart you are.
These days, the most common question I get from junior sales assistants about Urs Fischer is, “How much money did we make off the client?” It bothers me every time I hear it, because it is a clear reflection of what they are observing from the directors about the way they should behave. Now project 10 years into the future: You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure out that the junior assistant sitting quietly in the corner of the gallery hearing about “muppets,” “ripping eyeballs out” and “getting paid” doesn’t exactly turn into a model citizen.
When I was a first-year gallerist I didn’t know where the bathroom was, or how to tie my Prada shoes. I was taught to be concerned with learning the ropes, finding out what a Twombly was, understanding art history, getting to know our collectors and what motivated them, learning how they defined great art and what we could do to help them get it.
My proudest moments in life — getting a full scholarship to go from Connecticut to the Sotheby’s Program, getting a Guggenheim Grant, winning a bronze medal for color theory at the Maccabiah Games in Israel, known as the Jewish Olympics — have all come through hard work, with no shortcuts. Gagosian today has become too much about shortcuts and not enough about achievement and gaining historical knowledge. It just doesn’t feel right to me anymore.
I hope this can be a wake-up call to other gallerists. Make the collector the focal point of your gallery again. Without clients you will not make money. In fact, you will not exist. Weed out the morally bankrupt people, no matter how much money they make for the gallery. And get the culture right again, so people want to work here for the right reasons. People who care only about making money will not sustain this gallery — or the trust of its clients — for very much longer.