Copyright Vladimir Kagan January 25, 2011
The world of selling art is a souk. Glitzy Palm Beach art shows shed light on their similarity…. They may take place thousands of miles apart; in different environments with a different cast of players, but the clientele and dealers have one thing in common: A product of transient value which one person wants and the other sells!….. How people buy it makes for the complexity of the game.
This past week’s Art Palm Beach show highlights the nature of the sport. Simultaneous to this swank event at the Convention Center was the “Art Street Fair” held in the hip City Place shopping mall across the street. The contrast is legion. One had the aura of a Middle Eastern Bazaar, the other of a buttoned-up luxury Car Dealership. To bring the similarity to a fine point…in the back of the Coliseum was a shiny Jaguar XJ for visitors to ogle over…. one of the few items in the show that didn’t have a “don’t touch” sign…. That not withstanding, the common denominator was art and perceived values. On the street, the emphasis was on discovering young talent at bargain prices. In the plush environment of the Coliseum: it was a touchy-feely massage exuding good taste and wealth. The marked difference was in the complexion of both the audiences: At the Coliseum the clientele was dressed to impress their fellow viewers while the gallery staff, comfortable in their superior knowledge were manipulating their client’s ego: regaling them with tales of their collections. At the Open Art Fair, the dress code went from casual to “who is not a work of Art?” and the artists looking their part as young yet to be discovered geniuses.
In both shows, it is a buyer’s market…. At the Coliseum: the bargaining is overt, at the street Fair: expected. You put in a bid; you’re willing to walk away and something’s got to give.
But now let’s look at the rarified air of the Art Auction…I’m talking of the Crème-de-la-crème of the genre: Sotheby’s, Christies, Phillips, de Pury and others of their ilk…. things change dramatically. Here we are dealing with commodity trading. Perceived values are established by their rarity and resale value. It is no longer about the art, but art investing. Some people acquire diamonds, others gold and the sophisticated: Art. (I have a client who has cornered the market on Andy Warhol…he owns over 800 of them…. Dealers tremble at his arrival…the auctioneers rejoice.)
I want to talk about Art Palm Beach: “I have come to praise Cesar not to bury him!” This was a delightful show, a tenth the size of Art Miami …much more digestible. It had its share of “from the ridiculous to the sublime”. Missing were the showy young ladies in their ultra high heels and gorgeous legs…. they were replaced by Palm Beach’s matrons dressed and bejeweled to the hilt…. And then there was me in my Electric Go-Cart accompanied by my entourage of Erica and the fashionable Denice.
Denice and me on my "Go-Cart". Erica thought the two of us fitted the painting
Please note my perfectly matched ensemble of shoes, sock and pants!
Doing this show is always a hoot…. The exhibition can happily be digested in an afternoon and my impressions are hopefully worth your time to read. Denice accompanied us to hear my pithy commentary and to vent her feelings about art and collecting.
An Architectural Sculpture in the Entrance lobby...(of course I neglected to get the artist's name)
An entertaining little assemblage by Federico Uribe, who did the fabulous jungle installation last year
A well focused exhibit of Italian sculptor, Polles' powerful bronze sculpture
Can you guess who is the artist and who is the dealer?...(Polles on the left, Nicholas Banner from Prismedesign in Paris)
My friend, Edwina Sandys' bold steel sihouette sculptures at the Liman Gallery exhibit
Another piece by Edwina Sandys in pigmented steel and bronze at the Lyman gallery
An interesting contemporary Vietnamese water color in Raquelle Azran's exhibit
This is Denice’s overview:
…. This art world is one big business. Pushing off some ridiculous garbage and calling it art, conceptual or not. A pile of broken plates, please. One would have to be a moron. The best was the Vietnamese dealer. Basically she goes over there and has these poor artists under contract to her to sell all their output. They have no choice but to deal with people like her if they wish to have a market for their work. So I bet she offers to take all their output for a fixed price, puts it in a container and over it comes. Then she does the grand tour of shows like a circus. No overhead no gallery just inventories. … Goes to Hanoi twice a year on a "buying trip" and the mark-up is phenomenal. Her whole life is a write off. Those $9000 watercolors are $1,000 at best in Hanoi, where cash is king and no tax.
And my comments:
The Vietnamese watercolors were refreshing, executed with elegant details in the school of Japanese Kabuki art. (My father collected these over eighty years ago and they are still proudly in our family’s collection) It takes a discerning eye to invest in Eastern Art and bring it to a Western world. Only the rare and wealthy traveler can go directly to Hanoi, discover the art and more than likely pass it by…. The art dealer, Raquelle Azram, has carved out an interesting niche for herself, dividing her time between Vietnam, Tel Aviv and America…not a bad life style…. it takes a free spirit to live like that. Sure she buys her art at bargain-basement prices and makes a healthy markup…but she is entitled. I thank her for bringing this art to our attention.
This concoction is not necessarily art, but it amused Erica: A double headed swan on top of a goat's body
I'm always a sucker for glass and was fascinated by this optically ground disc giving a kaleidoscopic view of the fair
No Art Fair is complete without it's exhibit of Trash as Art
Beautiful China deliberately broken to create this pastiche
Artists stay awake at night dreaming up their newest creations; this one carved our of N.Y. telephone books
In my perception, Aboriginal painting are right-on: simple pallets exquisitely executed
Here are Denice and I getting our lecture on contemporary Aboriginal Art...I was enthralled... read Denice's comments below
More from Denice:
As to the Australian Aboriginal art, there again in Sydney, the quay is covered with "galleries " with thousands of canvasses piled up, the output from these native artists is unreal. I have three just as good rolled up in my closet from my last trip, never even opened them. There are soooo many Aboriginal artists there, the government subsidizes them then everyone gets into the act. Then we get to hear the stories of the " exploited" aborigines. That gallery guy had quite a tale. Hope he always has the good fortune to tell it to those who don’t know the reality. This is what makes me so suspicious of all these shows and artists. Yes there was some fine work and will agree there but the best fun are the gallery rogues themselves and the stories they weave.
OK…here is my take:
Aborigine’s art is spot-on in our modern vocabulary of minimalism. There is a fascinating corollary between theirs and our America Indian art as well as the primitive art of Africa. (I discovered this on my visit to Australia over fifteen years ago, but didn’t have the sense to buy some). Set off in a gallery environment, tastefully assembled, this wonderful art took on a new and important meaning. I was grateful for the explanation the “gallery rogue” gave us…it broadened my appreciation. This exhibit was to me one of the more exhilarating.
Naturally, my prejudice goes toward furniture... when I see an finely crafted piece, I fall in love. Furniture remains one of the most undervalued works of art in any show. These tables were made by an Hawaiian woodworker showing with William Zimmer Gallery...(one of the virtual dealers without the fixed overhead of a gallery - the itinerate dealer traveling from show to show)
With my architectural background, I am always drawn to the perfectly detailed realist painting of an architectural interior...there you can walk right in....but take off your shoes!
Robert Swedroe, my host of last month for Art Miami, exhibited two montages at this show
Back to Denice:
…. These are people running a business like anybody they need to make a profit. I always take it in stride and soooo enjoy your and Erica’s enthusiasm. I think you incorporate it in a way that brings to light that the art world is not this divine…. Frankly they are there for one thing, and that is to sell you whatever it is and whatever it takes.
Back to me:
OK Denice…here we can agree!
A final note in defense of the Gallery world: Dealers are not collectors! They are editors and businessmen: (Were they collector, they could never part with a work of art.) They look at art through a marketing lens. An unedited exhibit becomes tedious, (and there were a number of them at the show). We look to the dealer’s discerning eye to bring out the best of an artist’s work. He creates the aura that gives a perceived value. Very few artists can do this for themselves. Artists, largely, are not self-promoters. (Glowing exceptions: Andy Warhol, Robert Mapplethorpe, Damien Hurst… to name a few… values far beyond their worth!)
Finally, there is the eternal dichotomy between the artist and his dealer: the artist begrudging the other’s mark-up. Artist’s fail to recognize the dealers contribution: His Gallery is a brick and mortar operation paying rent, advertising, P.R. catalogs, parties and participation in Art shows such as this one. He has the ability to snag an audience and is the consummate Con man, able to make that sale! It is the dealer’s audacious mark-up that establishes new values for the artist, who is too timid to ask this outrageous price on his own.
A last look back at the show...finally, a solution of what to do with your old neckties!
By the time I post this Blog, this exhibit is history…but catch it next year or the one in your back yard.
Charlatan or Savior…it’s the Dealer’s choice!