Overshadowed Art

The NY Times Decries Its Own Banksy Distraction; Mystery de Kooning Makes a Million; Sotheby's 1st Dibs Killer

Who Ignored Out Jenny Saville’s Star Turn?

Blasted under the headline, “A Landmark Achievement for a Painting by a Woman, Upstaged by a Man,” the New York Times put the art world on notice on Friday. The paper’s concern was that an important milestone was getting ignored by some cheap art world hype surrounding Banksy’s late-auction stunt:

  • “She should have been the center of attention, but somehow everyone got distracted. The nude self-portrait “Propped,” by Jenny Saville, was bought by a telephone bidder at Sotheby’s on Friday night for 9.5 million pounds, or about $12.4 million. That should have made plenty of headlines.”

With such a strong statement of chagrin in both the lead paragraph and the article’s headline, you might think the New York Times had resisted the cheap sensationalism of a street artist spoofing the toffs at an art auction. Yet the morning after Sotheby’s sale, the Times led with 22 paragraphs on Banksy’s prank before mentioning Saville in the 23rd.

The same author returned the next day with a second article on Banksy. This time the lead sentence was, “Everybody’s talking about it.” That was over an article analyzing the effect of the prank on Banksy’s market value. No mention was made of Saville’s sale or any other significant sale in the auction cycle that concluded the day before.

It took almost a week before the New York Times considered the Saville sale news that could lead a story.

****There’s an interesting footnote to all of this. In August, a Canadian political cartoonist who was working in Glasgow in the 1990s has tried to point out the similarities between 16 of her images and some of Banksy’s work.

How Much Stock Should We Put in Market Prices?

There’s a much longer discussion to be had about using the art market to measure the prominence of artists of color or female artists. Art auctions are a method of distribution, not a measure of art historical value. One wants to remember Benjamin Graham’s famous dictum on the stock market: In the short run, the market is like a voting machine; in the long run, it is more like a weighing machine.

The point Graham was making is that value can seem transitory. Markets measure enthusiasm as much as anything else. In the case of the art market, where there is no underlying measure of value (no revenue, no profits, no interest rates), the swings in enthusiasm can be extreme. For Graham, markets eventually measure value. That’s when they become a weighing machine.

For art, the weighing machine is usually an institution. Art historical value generally comes not from the art market but from museums. And, as a recent study published on Artnet suggests, that hasn’t necessarily been happening for African-American artists.

Further, art advisor Lisa Schiff also took to Artnet on Friday to make a plea against viewing auction spikes as a boon to women artists still in the midst of their careers:

  • “It also sends the wrong message to the people who would stop at nothing to purchase a work on the primary market, only to turn around and resell at an inflated auction price. This sets artists up for issues of trust and fear as discussion of their work revolves solely around the market. This can happen, and has happened to plenty of male artists, but it threatens the staying power of women artists only recently welcomed into the upper echelons of the evening sales. Is this the victory lap for women we were hoping for?”

Are Those de Koonings? And What Are They?

David Killen has gotten a lot of press for a group of works he bought at an abandoned property auction that may have some connection to Willem de Kooning. Yesterday he seems to have sold two of the six works. The largest one went for $1m, according to Live Auctioneers. A smaller work made $60k.

The East Hampton Star tries to explain what these unsigned objects might be by speaking to local resident, Lawrence Castagna:

  • Mr. Castagna previously said that the newsprint drawings were the result of the artist cleaning his brushes when he finished his work for the day in his studio. He would set old newspapers on the floor and run the brushes over them. "People who came to his studio said they liked the resulting images and he would give them away."

Castagna’s explanation might also help us understand why Killen only made a cursory attempt to authenticate the works. Yes, the task would be easier if de Kooning’s foundation authenticated. But, then, it is unlikely a foundation would classify these kinds of works as anything more than ephemera.

That left Killen the option of presenting enough information to chum the interest of buyers hoping to make a find without having to come to a conclusion that might pour cold water on the works and break the fever. Sixty thousand is not a bad price for a de Kooning on newsprint when similar works can go for $100k or more. But $1m, even for a work that is 65 x 43 inches, seems like full value.

Has Sotheby’s Just Launched a 1st Dibs Killer?

James Tarmy looks at the business model lurking beneath Sotheby’s just launched Sotheby’s Home. The secret is in mating Sotheby’s brand name with a low-touch facilitator that can allow owners of high-quality design material to compete with dealers on 1st Dibs. How long until the trade is attracted to Sotheby’s superior brand name?

Here’s Tarmy on how it works:

  • Consignors who contact Sotheby’s will either be visited by a Sotheby’s Home “curator,” who will inspect and appraise the object, or, for people who aren’t located near one of the 13 major markets serviced by Sotheby’s Home, detailed photos of the object will suffice. If the piece passes muster, Sotheby’s Home will arrange for an object to be photographed, then put it up on the site. The object itself, though, will stay “with the consignor in their home or office or warehouse,” [Sotheby’s John] Auerbach says. When the object sells, Sotheby’s will help facilitate its transport. “It goes directly from the seller to the buyer,” he says. After six months, if a piece doesn’t sell, the company simply removes it from the site. No muss, no fuss. Consignors pay Sotheby’s Home a whopping 50 percent of the sale price for the service—and the Sotheby’s brand—so whoever is selling this lovely stack of Danish nesting tables for $1,280 is willing to trade half of its value to unload it. The silver lining (for the consignor at least) is that whoever buys it will have to pay for packing, shipping, and insurance.

Roman Abramovich Builds in Manhattan

The New York Post goes into breathless detail about the plans for Roman Abramovich’s new home on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. Despite their recent divorce, or maybe because of it, Abramovich has transferred several properties on East 75th St. worth $90m to his ex-wife Dasha Zhukova. Both Abramovich and Zhukova have been inconvenienced by increasing constraints upon Russian citizens with connections to Putin. The new project will become a 31,500 square foot residence, the largest in the city:

  • “Architectural renderings for the opulent six-story home, designed by New York architect Stephen Wang and approved by the Landmarks Preservation Commission in November, include 12 bathrooms; an indoor/outdoor pool; a sculpture garden, and an art gallery atrium that soars through two floors of the sprawling home.”

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