Thursday, October 9, 2008

From Russia, With Love

As you know, Phillips de Pury, the auction house specialized in niche contemporary arts (you know, the stuff you've seen in European museums for 25+ years but that US collectors, critics and museums will consent to look at only after the works reach the 250k+ benchmark) has been bought by a Russian luxury company.
Do I care? No, not personally.

My only comment is, since the boom in the art market (you know, the one that's coming to an end soon) has been largely fueled not only by Chinese billionaires and hedge fund guys, but also by Russian mobsters oops, sorry, the official term is "oligarchs" in need of money-laundering cultural goods , it comes as no surprise, as they say. Remember all these auction records in London, where you have the biggest concentration of Russian "oligarchs" outside of Russia? Who would have thought Peter Doig was a much more important living painter than, say, Gerhard Richter? Not me, obviously, but 2 Russian guys needed to unload $11 millions on a very banal Doig painting to top Richter's reputation, apparently.

This way, with an auction house into the bag, all the dirty laundry sorting is done in house, cool, much easier for everybody. Ah well.

So people are wondering about the art market, blah-blah-blah, oh but those Damien Hirst sold directly at auction in London did well (yeah, in London!). So, a little historical lesson for my under-20 readers (do I have an under-20 reader? if so (s)he's not known to me personally): each time the stock market and the financial market crash, the tip of the iceberg of the art market (that means the auction houses, Russian-owned or otherwise) do relatively well, for about 6 to 18 months, depending on how fast the money is vanished. You know, if goes poof! Like that!

And then at some point all the wealthy people who think its the end of the world because they have to stop flying private jets to retrograde to 1st class on commercial airlines, they need some liquidities to kick-start some new ventures, and they sell the family jewels, sorry, the Peter Doig and Damien Hirst and Elizabeth Peyton and Neo Rauch and what else. They flood the market, no one has money to buy, and the market goes kaput! Yay!
It lasts a decade or so, during which you finally get to work with good artists, the ones whose voice wasn't heard during the boom, while the Fundamentalist Christians and other racist moose-hunters pelt us with hateful rhetoric as they have nothing better to do. Like, you know, get an education, create universal health coverage, help the poor, that kind of things.
During that time, many, many galleries go out of business, curator stops to be a desirable career option for Trustafarians, and finally the art world is breathable again, if a bit depleted.

Meanwhile, what about art dealers? Well, for the time being the primary market is doing relatively OK, it's a bit slow, it's a bit quiet. Subdued. Instead of hiring assistants, they're getting interns. Opening dinners are a bit downsized, nothing too drastic. The secondary market, on the contrary, has been feeling the heat since... last September. 2007, that is. It's getting worse. I just heard from a NY art dealer telling me how depressing it was right now. We have to wait for the Frieze and FIAC art fairs results, but they are never reliable as art dealers routinely inflate their sales report. But, if I can give you a good advice, if you're trying to start a new gallery right now... keep your day job. If you can.

Lastly, if you'd been laid off, you can also wile away the time by watching the best art video of the month: Vladimir Putin teaching martial arts! Ahh, those Russian leaders. So endearing.


Joseph said...

A brilliant rant.

Frenchy but Chic! said...

thank you. Unfortunately, I don't have enough time for ranting as much as I'd like right now.