Following the Sotheby's recent sale of Jean Michel-Basquiat's untitled painting from 1982 for a record-shattering USD $110 million, there is a proliferation of significant Basquiat paintings on offer at Art Basel this year. Julia Halperin of Artnet News has posted a summary of all of the Basquiat works that dealers have brought to Basel for this year's fair. The combined asking prices for all eight works tops USD $89 million. Notably, several of the works have been sold publicly within the last several years and are now being re-offered with precipitous price increases. For example, the painting "Baby Boom" is being offered by Lévy Gorvy for USD $35 million, which represents a 2,900% price increase since it was auctioned at Phillips in 2001.
New York Times writer Robin Pogrebin has an interesting piece about her own experiences working the art auction beat for the last two years. Though generally skeptical about the high-end evening sale ecosystem, she does admits to some vicarious thrills while watching the jockeying for record-busting lots, such as the Constantin Brancusi sculpture that sold this week at Christie's for USD $57.4 million.
The most interesting aspect of the article, however, is the contrast between the often prosaic details and boredom and the moments of genuine excitement. With regards to the perpetual challenge of determining who is actually bidding and buying, she notes that "there is a premium on figuring it out, getting to know the backs of important people's heads."
Photograph by Kevin Hagen for The New York Times
Damien Hirst's first major exhibition in over a decade, "Treasures from the Wreck of the Unbelievable," opens on Sunday in Venice. The show is housed in two palazzos owned by Christie's owner Francois Pinault. Hirst has undergirded the show's theme with an elaborate backstory involving an underwater recovery of treasures from a sunken ship that mixes classical Egyptian themes with anachronistic contemporary visual references including Kate Moss, Pharrell and Mickey Mouse. Anticipation regarding the show is augmented by intense speculation over how the market will respond to the new works. Oliver Barker of Sotheby's, who oversaw Hirst's 2008 auction house blow-out "Beautiful Inside My Head Forever" sale in 2008, likens the exhibition to Elvis Presley's historic "comeback" performances in Las Vegas.
Photograph by Christoph Gerigk
With all the socio-political turmoil buffeting the nation (and much of Europe) at present, it is surprising how much attention and vociferous debate has resulted from the exhibition of Dana Schutz's painting "Open Casket" (2016) at the Whitney Biennial. The painting, which is based on a photograph of the funeral of Emmett Till in which his mutilated body was displayed, has been the subject of widespread criticism and number of demands, including the suggestion that the work should be destroyed.
Today, co-curator of the Biennial Christopher Lew weighed in with his thoughts. Although the controversy has highlighted concerns that will not be easily resolved, Lew raises some good points--including the fact most people criticizing Schutz's painting have not seen the work in person or in the context of the entire Biennial. In that respect, it recalls some of the art controversies of the 1980s and 1990s, such as the row over the New Museum's exhibition of Chris Ofili's "The Holy Virgin Mary."
Photo © 2016 Scott Rudd
Writing in Hyperallergic, Jason Diamond has an interesting take on the fantastic survey of Raymond Pettibon's work currently on view at the New Museum: Raymond Pettibon- A Pen of All Work. In considering Pettibon's body of work from a macroscopic perspective, Diamond focuses on disparate themes that all seem to point point towards the present dystopian moment that we are all struggling to comprehend. Although moments of profound societal upheaval inevitably tend to sharpen our gaze upon facets of visual culture that seem, in retrospect, to be prescient or perhaps even prophetic, Diamond writes convincingly about how disconcertingly accurate Pettibon's dark visions of America now feel:
"Whether he’s drawing cops, dictators, or American presidents, [Pettibon is] telling us that people will abuse their power and that abuse will lead to untold horrors and the suffering of innocent people. But in Pettibon’s work...What’s frighteningly noticeable in 2017, more than ever before, is that Pettibon’s talking about the here and now. Things are terrifying and bad, they always have been, and they don’t look like they’re changing anytime soon."
Thankfully, Pettibon's drawings and paintings are intermittently leavened by hints of the ecstatic--particularly in his depictions of the physical pleasures associated with surfing and baseball. However, the center of gravity of Pettibon's work inevitably comes to rest at a point beyond which the American dream has already lapsed into nightmare. There are manifold pleasurable elements in Pettibon's art for the viewer to savor: the exuberance of his lines, the recognizable but enigmatic cultural references, and the mordant wit of his text. But right now, the more blighted and threatening facets of Pettibon's vision strike pretty damn close to the bone.
The celebrated German art periodical Parkett has announced that it will cease publication after its 100th issue to be released this summer. The venerable magazine occupied a unique niche in the art publishing firmament, providing in-depth, thoughtful coverage of living artists, including those in the "emerging" category. The articles were typically erudite but not laden with jargon. Moreover, the magazine featured editions by featured artists that were often little treasures themselves. Parkett was a unique resource that will be missed.
Following his unprecedented two day solo artist sale at Sotheby's in 2008, "Beautiful Inside My Head Forever," Damien Hirst has had a prolonged, creatively-fallow period. However, excitement has been building for a major exhibition of new work, "Treasures from the Wreck of the Unbelievable." Opening in April in two large spaces in Venice, the show will reportedly feature 250 new works of art ranging in price from USD $400,000 to $4 million. The Guardian UK has published some of the first pictures of the new works.
Thaddaeus Ropac has called for an industry-wide "blacklist" of speculative collectors. However, informal versions of such a list has been around for some time (including websites that identify the sellers of "flipped" works that come up at public auction). However, such informal sanctions are very difficult to maintain. There is still some smoldering debate about the impact of "flipping," although the propensity for destructive impact on young artists' careers has been clearly demonstrated over the last couple of seasons. There is ambiguity, however, over exactly what market behaviors qualify as "flipping." An essential component of the definition appears to be, "something that other people do."