"Money Isn't Killing Contemporary Art; It's Keeping It Alive"

Amy Cappellazzo's Couple of Hundo; Pushing Back Against Art & Money Laundering; Mr. Chow Built His Dream House; The Judd Show Is Still Coming; Sotheby's Catches Some Identity Thieves

Is the State of the Art Market So Grim?

Devin Leonard watched the upcoming art market documentary, The Price of Everything and came to an unusual conclusion:

  • “[I]s the state of the contemporary art world really so grim? If you look around at some of the other fine arts—classical music, jazz, and poetry—they’re struggling to survive and maintain their relevance. It’s not that the work is no longer good; people just don’t spend enough on it. Contemporary art faces the opposite issue. It’s awash in money, and the high prices keep it in the headlines—stoking the public fascination required for the art form itself to prosper. Money isn’t killing contemporary art; it’s keeping it alive.”

Start at Priceless and Work Your Way Back Down

The reviews of the forthcoming HBO Documentary on the art market keep giving us more to talk about. Here’s another point Devin Leonard makes:

  • Amy Cappellazzo, chairman of the fine arts division at Sotheby’s, enables these megawealthy buyers. In the film, she cruises up and down Park Avenue trying to interest rich people in participating in an upcoming auction. Little is sacred to her. Cappellazzo practically drools over the idea of selling a Matisse, talking in a Trumpian way about how it might go for “a couple of hundo,” as in hundreds of millions of dollars. Yes, it’s “priceless” in theory, she says. But in reality, you start at priceless, “then you work your way backward.”

The Art & Money Laundering Conference That Argued Against It

Many people assume the global art market is rife with money laundering. Their suspicions are based solely on the belief that the art market is unregulated and open to abuse. The reason money laundering is unlikely in the art market has little to do with virtuous behavior and more to do with the size of the market and the heterogenous nature of the objects. Nonetheless, the belief is hard to displace, as Hyperallergic’s Zachary Small learned when he attended FIT’s recent conference on the art market and money laundering:

  • “During her opening remarks at the symposium, Natasha Degen (Chair of Art Market Studies at FIT) noted that despite the public’s perception of the art market as oblique and unregulated, verifiable cases of money laundering are rare. That observation was repeated on the first panel by James McAndrew, a former Department of Homeland Security (DHS) senior special agent of 27 years, who now effectively lobbies on behalf of dealers and collectors. […] Ultimately, the panelists and audience engaged in speculation about why the art market has such a shady reputation when there are no verifiable cases of money laundering. [Columbia Law Professor Jo Backer] Laird observed that just because something is perceived does not make it true.”

Mr. Chow’s House Can Be Your House

Restaurateur Michael Chow’s house in LA is on the market for $78m, the Wall Street Journal informs us:

  • “The over 30,000-square-foot estate in Holmby Hills was modeled after the Reina Sofia museum in Madrid. Designed to house the Chows’ significant art collection, it includes imported carved wooden doors from a Spanish monastery, 400-year-old Moorish columns and 16th- and 17th-century Florentine ceilings. The Chows collect Art Deco furniture and contemporary art, according to Jeff Hyland, one of the listing agents for the home.The Art Deco-inspired library has dark wood walls, with a massive tapestry serving as a backdrop. A central atrium has 30-foot ceilings, limestone floors, matching fireplaces and sliding glass doors that open onto an arched terrace and gardens, where the Chows have entertained.”

What’s Driving Asian Demand for Art?

Tom Hill was interviewed by Robert Frank at a CNBC conference where he offered a little perspective on Chinese demand for art:

  • "In 1949, when Mao took over China, there were 25 museums in China," Hill told CNBC during its Net/Net Conference. "Do you know how many museums there are in the United States today? 35,000. There are under 7,000 museums in China but they're growing at between 500-1,000 museums a year. So there is a massive demand for interesting things to either look at, to talk about."

The System Works: Sotheby’s Roots Out Identity Theft

Joakim von Ditmar and Antonio DiMarco have been indicted for stealing the identity of an 80-year-old client of their decorating business to bid upon and buy two works—a Mark Rothko and an Ad Reinhardt which they bid to $6.4m and $1.15m respectively—in Sotheby’s November sales last year. The two were discovered by Sotheby’s when the auction house did some routine follow up with the woman after the sale. How the two aspiring thieves hoped to get their hands on the art without the funds to pay for it remains a mystery, the AP tells us.

  • “The woman later told the FBI that DiMarco showed her a letter that he claimed would merely provide him access to the auction, and that she signed it without reading it. The woman told investigators that she hired DiMarco in 2014 to decorate her home in Bal Harbor, Florida, but that he took more than $400,000 from her without performing most of the services. The FBI said von Ditmar and DiMarco tried at least two other times to buy works of art using the retiree’s identity. Each attempt failed, the criminal complaint said, when they couldn’t come up the money to complete the purchase.”

Sotheby’s has since resold the Rothko, which came from the Diamondstein-Spielvogel collection of works on paper, most likely to the underbidder. The Ad Reinhardt remains in the auction house’s inventory, the price of protecting their consignors from fraud.

MoMA’s Donald Judd Show Still Coming

Buried in the New York Times article about the plans to renovate more of the buildings in Marfa, TX at Donald Judd’s Chinati Foundation, is this brief comment about MoMA’s Chief Curator Ann Temkin’s plans to hold a Judd retrospective someday. Originally announced in 2015, the exhibition will be the first retrospective of the seminal artist in 30 years (or more, depending on when it finally happens.)

  • The overhaul comes as Ms. Temkin readies a coming retrospective of Judd’s work, which will open after expansions at MoMA, designed by Diller Scofidio + Renfro, are completed, and as the Judd sites in Marfa grow ever more popular as a pilgrimage destination for art lovers.

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