Auction HousesPeople 03-04-2017

The Gray Market Weekly

Seven days in the evolving business of fine art — This week, a set of fresh reminders about familiar ideas...

Every Monday Tim Schneider, Director of Research at Kayne Griffin Corcoran Gallery and the brains behind The Gray Market Blog, dissects the most important stories of the week from the art market.



Just when you thought you were safe from art-world data deluges, on Wednesday and Thursday The Art Newspaper released much of its in-depth annual report on museum attendance. Broken into 13 different individual pieces –– each one centered on specific metrics such as overall annual attendance or average number of shows presented per institution since 2007 –– the research offers a refreshingly clear view of the nonprofit landscape's topography. In my eyes, the methodology for almost every one of TAN's capsule studies is more robust than the ones found in even the most-referenced yearly art-market reports. And TAN's willingness to publish the full list of museum/exhibition attendance in its April 2017 issue qualifies as revolutionary disclosure in comparison to the raw-data hoarding that generally characterizes for-profit studies.

True, quantifying the public sector is (and will always be) far more straightforward than quantifying the private sector. Nor do I mean to imply that TAN's visitor-figure findings are unassailable in their conclusions. The difference, however, is that the questions they raise tend to be much more about building on verified knowns than interrogating the validity of the underlying data. That's not the case if, say, Clare McAndrew asks me to buy into a $4.9 billion valuation for the online art-and-antiques market based on a methodology literally comprised of two sentences. I know which of those types of queries I think are more valuable. But until market-based metrics produce the same level of sunlight, at least we can bask in the warmth of trustworthy and transparent museum-sector data. [The Art Newspaper]


Jenny Holzer, Abuse of Power Comes as No Surprise (from "Truisms"), 1996. Image credit: Famous.




Among the many intriguing nuggets of nonprofit knowledge offered by the TAN report, Julia Halperin highlighted one that I think is worth extra attention: Based on the programming of US museums, contemporary art is flexing on the rest of the field more aggressively than a Mr. Olympia promo video. Among 29 major American institutions, including several with encyclopedic collections, "44 percent of the more than 2,300 shows organized... between 2007 and 2015... were dedicated to the work of artists active after 1970." So even for museums with the resources to show anything, the here and now rules.

It's certainly the result I (and many others, I'm sure) expected in the abstract. But the specific degree of dominance speaks volumes. What's more, some analysts (myself included) project that this trend could become a structural feature of the institutional sector. The reason? An outsize number of PhD candidates are concentrating on the 20th century (and soon, I expect, the 21st). As Max Hollein, director of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, tells Halperin in her piece, "It’s certainly much more difficult to find a very good, young, inventive Old Master curator than a contemporary one."

Like Nancy Kerrigan in the moments after getting Jeff Gillooly'd, though, it's worthwhile to ask: Why, why, why? Personally, my sense is that the answer comes down to lifestyle. Scholarship on the distant past largely sentences an academic to a quiet, anonymous existence spent in libraries, museum archives, and lecture halls. Committing to the contemporary, on the other hand, positions young writers and curators for a much sexier, livelier, and more lucrative future –– one peppered with studio visits, biennale trips, and possibly some big gallery paychecks. Hell, maybe they can even mess around and catch a major-museum directorship. After all, every day seems to witness trustees' getting more activist and more focused on the art of our time, as we just saw once again in Thomas Campbell's ouster. Give most people the choice between jet-setting to Roden Crater à la Michael Govan or weathering allergy flare-ups from inhaling too much manuscript dust, and I'm pretty confident I can be Nostradamus about their answer more often than not. But whether that's ultimately good for the arts is another prognostication entirely. [The Art Newspaper]


Art Basel Miami —  © Art Basel




On Wednesday, Katya Kazakina and Anders Melin reported that Sotheby's CEO Tad Smith received just over $6 million in total compensation last year. However, his actual bonus sunk to just $1.68 million, "or 40 percent below the target amount," due to the the house's pay-for-performance policy and an unmet group of fiscal goals for 2016. Other top executives suffered the same 40-percent disappointment when they opened their end-of-year awards. Which, not to be that guy, doesn't surprise me at all, since I diagnosed the majority of Smith's pay package as a pipe dream a year ago. More important: Despite both the rebound of Sotheby's stock price and the narrative of its surge back toward the top of the auction sector under Smith's leadership––especially given Christie's recent struggles––these fiscal gut-checks reveal that the house is still a long way from where its shareholders want it to be. And that's something worth watching as time marches on. [Bloomberg]




Finally this week, a relatively subdued set of expansions and contractions in the gallery sector. Chelsea's Koenig & Clinton announced they would upgrade to a 4,000 square-foot space in Bushwick that will also include co-founder Leo Koenig's independent project space, Century Pictures. And from its two luxurious locations in Zurich, Galerie Eva Presenhuber will launch a Selldorf Architects-designed satellite in New York next month––not exactly a surprise, as Andrew Russeth pointed out, but how much really is when it comes to gallery real-estate grabs in 2017?


That’s all for this edition. Til next time, remember: Everything old is new again, eventually.


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