How Does the Art World Live With Itself?

The lush new art-world documentary The Price of Everything shows us a system so waist-deep in hypermarketing and excess that it’s hard to look at art without being overcome by money, prices, auctions, art fairs, celebrities, well-known artists, and mega-collectors who fancy themselves conquistadors. In this, it’s a lot like most recent accounts of the art world — which are, all told, pretty accurate. I hate this toxic rot and junkie-like behavior. Yet I love art and the art world. I hate the portrait of that world contained in this movie, but I also recognize in it what I love.

That may sound like a contradiction or paradox, but it feels to me like something else. I used to believe the art world was at war with itself, that money was fighting art and vice versa. But I’ve been living in my own ambivalence about things for a decade now, or more, and I’m starting to think it’s not a war but a new equilibrium state, defined by that ambivalence. It’s not just me. Everyone complains about money in the art world, but few would ever leave. Everyone — from struggling artists to billionaire gallerists — hates the system. But none of us can live outside it, nor would we want to. I mean, why would we? For many of us the question is, how could we?

The Price of Everything is a portrait of this damaged system — a place where big-ticket art made by only a handful of people — maybe 75 mostly male artists — appears in high-end galleries, auction houses, and art fairs before being sold off at astronomically inflated prices. Art and money have always slept together; they’re just doing it more profligately now than ever. The patter of the high-enders in Price is so imperious and spiteful that it’s no wonder the public — and many art-world insiders — have grown cynical about it all. I left the premiere feeling sick to my stomach and ashamed. Oh, and also: I appear in this documentary. More on that later.

NYT Review: ‘The Price of Everything’ Asks $56 Billion Questions About Art

“There are a lot of people who know the price of everything and the value of nothing,” the art collector Stefan Edlis remarks in Nathaniel Kahn’s new documentary. The words, unattributed in the film and the source of its title, come from “Lady Windermere’s Fan” by Oscar Wilde, where they supply the definition of a cynic. But while this colorful and inquisitive cinematic essay on the state of the art world is occasionally skeptical and consistently thoughtful, cynicism isn’t really on its agenda.

Rather than lament the pervasive influence of money on contemporary art, “The Price of Everything” examines the relationship between commerce and aesthetics from different angles. “You can’t have a golden age without gold,” someone says, and by that standard we are currently in an epoch of platinum. The sale and resale of work by living and recently dead artists is a multibillion-dollar market, which bothers some people more than others.

Georg Baselitz: Only in Art the World is Whole

“The most intact world is the world of art. Nothing is better or more interesting to me than paintings.” Renowned German artist Georg Baselitz looks back on his life, his roots and inspirations, and considers where he is at today. “Obsessiveness is a distinctiveness. You always face considerable resistance. You consciously have to take the path of an outsider. They try to humiliate you, tear you down. And that’s why it’s worthwhile continuing.” According to his own words, the great contemporary artist Georg Baselitz seems to be a man who is all about resistance, wanting to stand out, prove himself and to be in control. In the beginning Baselitz got into art because he wanted to “get the girls” as he explains it, and was too lazy to succeed with music or poetry, he says. As an artist Baselitz went his own ways, and again found it most important, to stand out, and to do what had never been done before. Today his work is changing again. There is not going forward he says: “You stand at the stern of a boat and look back. Looking back at what’s gone the ‘passato’ is a more interesting viewpoint for me.

How to Fall in Love With Art

Art is good for you. But it’s not spinach. Its purpose is not to make you healthier or wiser — although that could happen along the way. The reason to nourish a relationship with art is the same as the reason for bonding with other people: to feel more fully human. Just like friendships or romances, these connections can be hard to initiate, and complicated to manage. But it will be worth it. We’re here to help you build confidence in your own taste and make a rewarding place for art in your life. 

Read on …

Seattle Art Fair Artistic Director Nato Thompson on How to Cut the Crap and Connect With an Audience

The Creative Time alum speaks with artnet News’s editor-in-chief Andrew Goldstein about the intersection of art and tech and how to add heft to art-fair programming.

Nato Thompson has a knack for putting artists and other thinkers together in a way that gets people talking. He did this to great effect during his decade at the New York nonprofit Creative Time, where he organized the annual Creative Time Summit—a freewheeling marathon of accessibly formatted art talks with a social-practice bent—and also managed such celebrated projects as Kara Walker’s giant sugar installation A Subtlety in 2014. Now, as the new artistic director of the Seattle Art Fair, Thompson has been tasked with recreating this same kind of engaging, civic-minded discussion around art, only in a city far removed from the slipstream of the in-the-know art world. And, also, within the generally antiseptic context of an art fair. It’s a challenge.

Thompson, luckily, is the right guy for the job—if only because the way he approaches art is less through think-y books of criticism (although he has written two, Seeing Power and Culture as a Weapon) and more as something that, when done right, can be intuitively grasped by the man or woman on the street.

Avant-Garde Psychopathology by Donald Kuspit

“I am sick of the art-adoration that prevails among cultured people, more in our time than in any other:  that art silliness which condones almost any moral or intellectual failing on the artist’s part as long as he is or seems a successful artist.  It is still justifiable to demand that he be a successful human being before anything else, even if at the cost of his art.  As it is, psychopathy has become endemic among artists and writers, in whose company the moral idiot is tolerated as perhaps nowhere else in society.”    

– Clement Greenberg, “The Question of the Pound Award,” Partisan Review, 1949                                                                                                         

Psychoanalysts haven’t been particularly happy with avant-garde art.  Even as some have tended to mythologize the artist as a superior being, others have criticized avant-garde art for its regressive nihilism.  Thus we have Julia Kristeva’s extravagant, even absurd assertion that “freedom does not seem to exist outside of what we agree to call an ‘artist’.”(1)  Erich Fromm goes even further, calling the artist the only “spontaneous…integrated personality”—the very model of mental health, as it were.  “Spontaneity is a relatively rare phenomenon in our culture,” Fromm writes, but the artist’s “thinking, feeling, and acting” is a spontaneous expression of himself because he alone has “positive freedom.”(2)  This adulatory privileging—idealization—of the artist is not without precedent.  Many avant-garde artists agree.  Wassily Kandinsky, for example, speaks, with self-congratulatory fervor, of the “unlimited freedom, depth, breadth, a wealth of possibilities” in avant-garde art.(3)  Nonetheless, what Kristeva and Fromm write is no more than a theoretical endorsement of the conventional modern idea that the artist is a totally free spirit.  And what Kandinsky writes seems more like a fantasy than a fact.  Can the artist and art escape every determinism to achieve unconditional freedom?  Even the gods are subject to fate.  Yet it seems clear that the avant-garde artist is in pursuit of what Meyer Schapiro calls “inner freedom”(4) or an “ideal domain of freedom.”(5)  Whether he has found it, as Kristeva, Fromm, and Kandinsky facilely think, is another question.

Yves Klein: Blenheim Palace’s fusty furnishings feel the shock of the blue

Ai Weiwei’s crabs, Lawrence Weiner’s texts, Michelangelo Pistoletto’s smashed mirrors and Jenny Holzer’s redacted military documents have all given the baroque pile of Blenheim Palace – home to the dukes of Marlborough and birthplace of Winston Churchill – a jolt over the past few years. Inviting living artists to insinuate their works into this world heritage site, major tourist attraction and stately home is one thing. Mounting what the Blenheim Art Foundation insists is the most comprehensive exhibition of Yves Klein in Britain to date is another.

The huge rectangle of ultramarine pigment on the floor of the large entrance hall, a recreation of a 1957 Pure Pigment installation, is ravishing – a bottomless visual pool for the eye, thrumming across the floor. Klein died from a heart attack in 1962, at the age of 35. Had he lived, he would have been 90 this year. Later, we come to a large canvas covered in the same adulterated ultramarine, a colour Klein managed to patent as International Klein Blue (IKB). It is his signature colour, representing the void. The void at the heart of this show is also unavoidable.

The End of Exhibitions? As Attendance Plummets, New York Dealers Are Scrambling to Secure the Future of the Art Gallery

To lure the public back into art galleries, dealers are banding together and adopting vintage tactics like the old-fashioned gallery walk.

On Wednesday night in New York, 30 art galleries stayed open late to accommodate visitors to the inaugural Chelsea Art Walk, a new initiative spearheaded by the Art Dealers Association of America. It’s a “great example” of how galleries are “finding ways to work together to encourage the public to visit their spaces,” says Andrew Schoelkopf, the association’s president.

If you read between the lines, it’s also a great example of how New York galleries are pushing vintage approaches to art viewership to fight plummeting foot traffic—a trend that’s threatening not only galleries’ commercial viability, but also their existential purpose as a free place to exhibit art. To people.

“I’ve seen attendance diminish a lot,” says Julie Saul, who has run a gallery in Chelsea for the past 18 years. “So about six weeks ago my gallery director said to me, ‘We gotta get some people in here.’” That’s when she called up the Art Dealers Association with the idea for the gallery walk. “I don’t think this art walk is going to change anything that significantly,” she says, but special occasions do seem to drive traffic more than mere exhibitions these days. And indeed, the art walk—which also included performances and talks—drew a turnout more typical of the September rush than the dog days of summer.

The Gray Market: Could Auction Houses Really Help Save Struggling Galleries? (and Other Insights)

Our columnist follows the bread crumbs left by the rumor that Art Agency, Partners will offer gallery advisory services for a hefty fee.

It’s not exactly an analytical breakthrough if I tell you that the art industry is deeply troubled and, in many cases, deeply paranoid right now. A lot of people in the trade feel vulnerable. And the more vulnerable you feel, the more likely you are to lash out at any shadow that looks even vaguely threatening.

That’s why it was treated as a minor bombshell when, about two weeks ago, my colleague Kenny Schachter tossed out a few lines stating that Art Agency, Partners (AAP), the prominent art consulting firm and Sotheby’s subsidiary, “will offer up gallery advisory services” to sellers in the market’s battered middle tier. Schachter also whispered that said services would come in exchange for a fee “in the neighborhood of $250,000,” which he assessed would “bankrupt the companies that need support the most.”

The perceived scandal in this chatter stemmed from the not-uncommon belief that auction houses have been encroaching further and further into galleries’ and dealers’ territory for years now. The first flash point was the houses’ increased focus on private sales over roughly the past decade. More recently, Sotheby’s in particular has drawn scorn for acquiring AAP in the first place, before AAP attracted even more critics by providing advisory services directly to living artists and estates in 2017.

A Canadian Museum Promotes Indigenous Art. But Don’t Call It ‘Indian.’

Will a debate over terminology at the Art Gallery of Ontario help the progress of artists who are underrepresented in United States museums?

TORONTO — A group of visitors young and old gathered at the Art Gallery of Ontario in front of a well-known Canadian painting the docent called “Church in Yuquot Village.”

It was a peaceful 1929 image by a national figure, Emily Carr, showing a Mowachaht/Muchalaht settlement she had visited on Vancouver Island. The docent was careful to talk about Carr’s close relationship with “the First Nations,” the popular term in Canada for Indigenous people.

What she didn’t mention was the fact that the Art Gallery of Ontario — one of Canada’s most distinguished art museums — had recently renamed Carr’s painting, originally titled “Indian Church,” saying that the old terminology ‘‘denigrates and discriminates.’’

The action was lauded by some — the art critic for The Toronto Star said the change “pays respect both to the artist and the people she so admired” — and attacked by others as unnecessary political correctness. “I got a lot of angry emails,” Georgiana Uhlyarik, the museum’s curator of Canadian art, said. “People felt they were losing something.”

Is Everything We Know About Gallery E-Commerce Wrong? How David Zwirner and Gagosian’s New Initiatives Break the Rules

With their new online viewing rooms, the mega-galleries are challenging ideas about what can (and can’t) sell online in a changing art market.

Galleries have been offering works to buyers digitally since at least the early days of smartphones. But back then, emailed JPGs and PDF checklists were usually used to whet clients’ appetites for works they would still need to see in person before acquiring.

Even when many, if not most, premier galleries caught e-commerce fever, hardware and software drawbacks potholed the road to progress. The VIP Art Fair, the industry’s first trade show to take place entirely online, made the wrong kind of history thanks to debilitating glitches in its 2011 debut and another bout of lackluster sales the following year. David Zwirner even called the 2012 fair “a waste of time.”

Six years later, however, the game has changed in a big way—offline as much as on. Somewhat ironically, considering his displeasure with VIP, David Zwirner estimated in a Wall Street Journal profile this January that 30 percent of his clients now buy work “solely on the basis of emailed images.”


Bruce Hainley on Elena Filipovic’s David Hammons: Bliz-aard Ball Sale.

IN 1983, David Hammons held his Bliz-aard Ball Sale, which “probably didn’t bear that title, or any title at all,” as Elena Filipovic discloses in her amazing exposition on the artist’s chill maneuvers. Meanwhile, six months or so later, at a coven sponsored by the National Endowment for the Arts, Rosalind Krauss informed the assembled that she—and here Filipovic quotes Adrian Piper’s writing on Krauss’s decree—“doubts there is any unrecognized African-American art of quality because if it didn’t bring itself to her attention it probably didn’t exist.”

Let that cold open thaw for a minute.

Filipovic uses this anecdote to spell out Hammons’s methods, his modes and haunts. Krauss, she writes, “clearly wasn’t looking among the street sellers on the south-east corner of Cooper Square and Astor Place (or, for that matter, taking the ‘funk lessons’ [Piper] was offering that same year). And in light of that startlingly myopic statement by one of the period’s preeminent art historians, one understands better why Hammons felt the need to place himself outside on the street,” where, within spitting distance of Cooper Union, he was teaching advanced lessons on material specificity and conceptual reverb.

The bliz-aard ball was an objet-d’aard moved on the “so-called black market.”

‘It’s a Dream Come True’: Christo’s 600-Ton ‘London Mastaba’ Is Unveiled in London

There is something quietly miraculous about The London Mastaba, Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s 600-ton pyramid-like form that glows red-orange and seemingly sprouts out of its own watery reflections in London’s Serpentine Lake. London is full of verticals, but the glistening structure (on view through September 23) is a matter of horizontals. Rows of 55-gallon barrels laid end to end comprise 90-foot-long flanks sloping at a 60-degree angle, each cylindrical container colored with identical bands of red and white. The rows are minutely off-kilter; the alternating bands that result create a kind of Op Art shimmer.

Billy Apple in Hong Kong: In Focus

To present 21 works in Hong Kong, spanning approximately six decades (1962–2018), is an unusual occasion for Billy Apple, a groundbreaking New Zealand-born artist whose pop-infused conceptual practice is mostly acknowledged in New Zealand, England (where he studied and worked from 1959 to 1964) and the United States (where he lived from 1964 to 1990).

Titled Billy Apple® Six Decades 1962–2018 (9 June–28 July 2018), the exhibition at Rossi & Rossi showcases some of Apple’s dominant artistic preoccupations, selected by Wellington‘s Adam Art Gallery Te Pātaka Toi director Christina Barton. Five categories emerge that circle around the notion of personal identity: the artist’s body; the body’s physical activities; the body’s mental stress; the body/brand and its developing symbols; and the brand as income earner. These groupings approximately parallel the layout of the exhibition.

Adrian Piper’s Show at MoMA is the Largest Ever for a Living Artist. Why Hasn’t She Seen It?

The conceptual artist’s life and work push against the boundaries of race and identity in America.

Adrian Piper, the conceptual artist and analytic philosopher, is almost as well known for what she has stopped doing as for what she has done. By 1985, she had given up alcohol, meat and sex. In 2005, she took a leave of absence from her job at Wellesley, sold her home on Cape Cod and shipped all of her belongings to Germany. On a lecture tour in the United States the next year, she discovered a mark on her plane ticket that suggested, to her, that she’d been placed on a watch list; she has not set foot in America since. Then, in 2012, on her 64th birthday, she “retired from being black.” She did this by uploading a digitally altered self-portrait to her website, in which she had darkened her skin — normally café très-au-lait — to the color of elephant hide. It was accompanied by a news bulletin announcing her retirement. The pithy text superimposed at the bottom of the photo elaborated: “Henceforth, my new racial designation will be neither black nor white but rather 6.25% grey, honoring my 1/16th African heritage,” she wrote. “Please join me in celebrating this exciting new adventure in pointless administrative precision and futile institutional control!” (Through extensive genealogical work, she later determined that her African heritage is closer to one-eighth.)

Richard Long review – modern primitive sees the cosmos reflected in mud

The wandering artist’s perennial walks have led him to contemplate sun, moon and stars with the devoted awe of mankind’s early ancestors.  Mud is not a promising medium to draw with. It is dull, thick, unpromising stuff. A muddy drawing sounds like a vague and boring one. Miraculously, however – or maybe just because he’s spent 50 years making art in and of the land – Richard Long’s huge new mud drawing Gravity Crescent is hypnotic, full of complex 3D curves that snare the eye.

It looks as if eels are nesting in the wall. They writhe and wriggle, each tubular body created by a swerve of Long’s mud-stick. The raw wet earth with which he created this towering work, on a pristine white wall in London’s Lisson Gallery, comes from the river Avon, so perhaps the material is haunted by the river’s flashing, silver-scaled creatures. His muddy swirls mass in an engrossing swarm. The flow and life of the river seems caught in this whirlpool of mud.

Gravity Crescent forms part of a vast unfinished circle. Below one section, muddy drips plummet like raindrops. The filled-in segment is crescent-shaped. Is it a croissant? Is it a piece of cake? No, it is the waxing moon. And beneath it, a stone circle fills the floor. It is a perfect disc, made simply by arranging radiating lines of rocks.

Once again, Long’s feeling for nature lets him do something artistically magical. The stones are all flints. Their glistening white surfaces shine brightly, set off by flecks of black, to create a dazzling circle of light. It is the sun. Long’s installation is a cosmic picture of the two great discs in the sky. It is as if the megalithic builders of the stone age have set up shop at one of London’s top commercial galleries.

Why Joseph Beuys Spent 3 Days Locked Up with a Wild Coyote

With a major retrospective opening in London this week, we focus on a crucial turning point in the career of the pioneering German post-war artist.

Joseph Beuys famously declared “every human being is an artist”.  The German artist believed creativity to be a universal principle that extends into all areas of human existence, and was thus preoccupied with what he saw as the revolutionary power of art to transform society; if each person is an artist, then society itself is one enormous artwork, continuously being made and remade.

An enigmatic, trailblazing and provocative artist, Beuys paved the way for many of his contemporaries in the field of post-war German art. Combining painting, sculpture and performance, Beuys was well known for working with unusual substances, such as fat, felt, copper, sausages, and everyday objects, incorporating the demotic into his exploration of the universal.

From the Green Market to the Gallery Wall

Karin Sander’s Kitchen Pieces draw your attention to the rhythmic ridges of an acorn squash, the bumpy peel of an orange, and the spiky surface of a yellow dragon fruit.

I wanted to write about German artist Karin Sander’s exhibition Kitchen Pieces at Carolina Nitsch in New York from the outset; it’s that novel and striking. The exhibition opened during art fair week, when one gazillion (or more) artworks flooded New York, all competing for attention at the fairs and in exhibitions. Sander’s were among the most startling and compelling I saw — if not the most startling and compelling.

I held off writing, though, with the understanding that it is important to note how Sander’s artworks change over time, which they most definitely do. They can be pristine and exquisite, but they also sag, leak, grow brittle, and decay. Sometimes, when they decay too much, they are replaced by fresh versions, which is just fine with the artist. More on this in a minute. 

For those unfamiliar with Sander’s “Kitchen Pieces,” which have been realized in different incarnations and at different locations since 2012, but not in New York until now, an initial encounter is often marked by wonder and humor, bafflement and unease, because you are not at all sure exactly what you are seeing. Your eyes are enamored, but you don’t trust them. How could a cauliflower be this riveting? How could a single beet be so absolutely compelling? How were they made? What you are seeing looks very familiar, but at the same time strange and unreal.

Museums Shake Things Up by Mixing Old and New

HAARLEM, the Netherlands — Frans Hals, a Dutch Golden Age portraitist of wealthy merchants and jolly rogues, was popular and successful in his lifetime, but before he died, he fell out of fashion. His loose, bold brush strokes were too rough for the 18th century. But the Impressionists rediscovered him in the 19th century, and resurrected Hals as a modern master.

Nowadays, Hals ranks with his compatriots Rembrandt and Vermeer in the pantheon of art history, but Ann Demeester, director of the Frans Hals Museum in Haarlem, prefers to see him as a “transhistorical” figure, whose influence leapfrogs across time, and into contemporary art.

That is why she has taken the unusual step of rehanging highlights from the museum’s permanent collection of Hals works and other Golden Age art alongside the works of living artists such as the photographer Nina Katchadourian, the multimedia artist Shezad Dawood, and the painter and sculptor Anton Henning, for “Rendezvous with Frans Hals.” She hopes to demonstrate that today’s artists are still inspired by Hals’s 350-year-old legacy.

“Transhistorical” is something of a buzz word in curatorial circles these days, as museums seek new ways to ignite public interest in older art. The blending of old and new has drawn interest from collectors at art fairs such as Frieze New York, and auction houses are doing it too: Christie’s sold Leonardo da Vinci’s “Salvator Mundi” in a sale of contemporary art last year for $450 million.

Adrian Piper: The Thinking Canvas

She’s an artist and scholar, and at “A Synthesis of Intuitions” you see thinking — about gender, racism, art — happening before your eyes.

“Adrian Piper: A Synthesis of Intuitions, 1965-2016” at the Museum of Modern Art is a clarifying and complicating 50-year view of a major American artist’s career. It is also an image-altering event for MoMA itself. It makes the museum feel like a more life-engaged institution than the formally polished one we’re accustomed to.

Despite the show’s retrospective cast, we find fiery issues of the present — racism, misogyny, xenophobia — burning in MoMA’s pristine galleries. The reality that art and its institutions are political to the core — both for what they do and do not say — comes through. And the museum, for once, seems intent on asserting this. For the first time it has given over all of its sixth floor special exhibition space to a single living artist. The artist so honored is a woman, who has focused on, among many other things, the hard fact of racism and the fiction of race.

Ms. Piper was born in New York City in 1948 to parents of mixed racial background. (Her father held two official birth certificates. In one he was designated white, in the other octoroon, one-eighth black.) Raised in a cosmopolitan environment, she studied at the Art Students League in her teens, and in 1966 enrolled at the School of Visual Arts. The MoMA show opens with a salon-style hanging of figurative paintings, including self-portraits, from that time, influenced by 1960 psychedelic graphics and by her youthful experiences with LSD.