Hong Kong Confirms NY & London


Christie’s Hong Kong sale this week confirms much of what has been happening around the world.  There is still significant money being spent on art, significantly less than the height in early 2008, but still an impressive amount.  Andrew Foster, Christie’s Asia president, said in an interview with Bloomberg’s that buyers paid an average 30 percent more per lot than at Christie’s November auction.  It is worth noting though that there was about one third less lots this year compared to the same time last year and results were less than half of last year’s total.  


The change since the peak of the bubble has been that the money is being spent on masters and not contemporary art and artists of the last 40 years.  Those spending the money seem to be older collectors with older money wanting art from pre-1970. 


There were several paintings that doubled their pre-sale estimate including a painting by Zao Wou-ki (born 1921)  “Nous Deux” (1957,  63” x 78”) which sold for approximately $4.5 million.  


I’m hoping that this lack of interest in contemporary artists is just a reaction to the crazy prices that spiraled up and out of control in the last few years and it will hopefully correct and settle at a much more realistic and maintainable level………SOON.  


La Biennale di Venezia 2009


The 53rd Venice Biennial in Italy opens to the public on Sunday, 7th June 2009 with press days on the proceeding three days.  The first show was in 1895 created by a Venice City Council resolution two years earlier to celebrate the King’s birthday with a national artistic exhibition.  The decision was made to make it an international event instead and well-renown international artists were invited as well as Italian artists.  200,000 visitors came to that first event; a success by any standards. Today the Biennial includes architecture, music, film, dance and theatre spread over the year. The Venice Art Biennial is considered the Olympics of the modern art world, held every two years.

The Biennale Art this year is titled “Making Worlds // Fare Mondi // Bantin Duniyan // 制造世界 // Weltenmachen // Construire des Mondes // Fazer Mundos” and is directed by Daniel Birnbaum from  Sweden; the youngest director ever of the visual arts section.  Birnbaum is a rector of an international art academy Staedelschule in Frankfurt-am-Main, Germany as well as a prolific author and writer contributing to magazines such as ArtForum New York, Frieze and Parkett.  He has extensive experience in curating and directing international exhibitions around the world. 


Birnbaum explains that “A work of art is more than an object, more than a commodity. It represents a vision of the world, and if taken seriously must be seen as a way of “making a world”. A few signs marked on paper, a barely touched canvas, or a vast installation can amount to different ways of world-making. The strength of the vision is not dependent on the kind or complexity of the tools brought into play.”  This “Making Worlds” theme will be realized by more than 90 artists from 77 countries on all continents by using installation art, video and film, sculpture, performance, painting, drawing and a parade.


The first foreign pavilion was created by the Belgians in 1907.  As the years passed, more and more countries built their own pavilions.  Today there are 29 countries with pavilions.  The US pavilion is being represented by Bruce Nauman, the New Mexico conceptual artist and sculptor  who is known as a pioneer of Post Minimalist video and performance art, and the Philadelphia Museum of Art has been chosen as the commissioner of the US pavilion.  


Other US artists exhibiting at the Biennial include John Baldessari (who with Yoko Ono are each being presented with Golden Lions for Lifetime Achievement awards), Tony Conrad, Spencer Finch, William Forsythe, Wade Guyton & Kelley Walker, Rachel Harrison, Joan Jonas, Miranda July, Sherrie Levine, Arto Lindsay, Gordon, Matta-Clark and Pae White.  


The Biennial will run until November 22nd 2009.  


It’s not about the sex anymore?


Tracey Emin (born 1963 ) is a British artist who is a leading member of the group known as the YBAs (Young British Artists) – although most are now in their 40s. They are conceptual artists who gained fame (or notoriety) in the 1990s for their shock tactic art. They were sponsored by Charles Saatchi at a time similar to these, when the contemporary art market in London had collapsed due to a major economic recession, and many commercial contemporary galleries had gone out of business.

Emin’s is known for her overtly sexual and provocative work. She creates paintings, drawings, videos, installations, photography, needlework neon and sculptures. White Cube who currently represents her suggests that in her work “she reveals her hopes, humiliations, failures and successes in candid and often excoriating work that is frequently both tragic and humorous.” Much of her work is said to be autobiographical with heavy focus on her disturbing sexual history.

Some of her most notorious works includes “My Bed” which was shortlisted for the Turner Prize consisting of her bed with yellow stained sheets covered in detritus such as condoms, cigarettes, underpants with blood stains and other garbage. Another is “Everyone I Have Ever Slept With 1963-1995” which was a blue tent which had names of everyone she has slept with appliquéd on the inside.

Her current show at White Cube has as its central piece a looped animation of 150 drawings that depicts a woman masturbating.

So this sexual exhibitionist; the ‘Bad Girl of British art” is now suggesting that sex is no longer her inspiration. In an interview with the Guardian Newspaper of London she said “It always was about sex, not money,” she said. “Sex was what held me in bed and got me out of it again in the morning. But now it’s fading fast. I don’t have the same craziness about sex that I had – I’m more interested in ideas.”

Having used sex as the basis for most of her work and gained fame/notoriety on the back of it, will there be anything left worth collecting for the impressive honor roll of superstars of the entertainment, business and art world who have long collected her work? Will the grown up Emin be as creative and revered?
The exhibition at White Cube Gallery, London titled “Tracey Emin: Those Who Suffer Love”, runs from 29 May to 4 July.

$56million pocket money to spend, spend, spend!



Saadiyat Island or Island of Happiness is an island just off the coast of Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates.  The island is being developed at the cost of $27million as a cultural destination with a mix of residential, commercial and leisure facilities.


The Guggenheim is already building a new Frank Gehry designed museum which is expected to open in 2011 and will be the largest of the cultural institutions on the island.  There is also a Zayed National Museum which will break ground later this year, a Maritime Museum and a performing arts center in the plans.  The Louvre started construction today having charged $550million for the use of their name.  


The Louvre Abu Dhabi has been designed by award winning architect Jean Nouvel and is expected to open by 2013.  It is being hailed as the first International museum in the Middle East.  Works range from the Greek Classical Period to contemporary art.  Recent purchases for the museum have included Mondrian’s “Composition avec bleu, rouge, jaune et noir” (1922), which sold for €21.7m at the Yves Saint Laurent auction by Christie’s in Paris earlier this year.  The 19 acquisitions and a selection of works loaned by French national museums will be on exhibition in Abu Dhabi from today. 


Part of the contract with the Louvre, is that a team of curators from the French national museums will be assisting with the acquisition of art for the new museum.  The have an annual budget of more than $56million for acquisitions, according to Carol Vogel of the New York Times.  What a nice bit of spending money that is! 


The curators will also be responsible for organizing 4 special exhibitions a year for the next 15 years following the opening of the museum.  The project is expected to earn the French National Museums over €1billion over the next 30 years as well as injecting untold millions into the international commercial sector through acquisitions.  In this current economic climate, it is an exciting project to be involved in and a boost in the arm of the art world.  


Did you miss it too?


I felt bad that I’d missed this Michaelangelo story but when I realized that many of the world’s art museums had also missed it, it made me feel a little better!


Have you heard that a small art museum in Texas has managed to snatch one of only 4 known easel paintings from under the nose of practically every one else?  Even the Metropolitan Museum who cleaned the work and helped authenticate the work didn’t pick it up.  


The work titled “The Torment of Saint Anthony” had been in a private British collection since 1905 until it was sold at a Sotheby’s auction in London last summer.  It was catalogued as being from the “Workshop of Domenico Ghirlandaioand” where Michaelangelo had trained as a youth.  According to Carol Vogol of the New York Times, the painting’s attribution has been the subject of ferocious debate among scholars for four and a half centuries. While experts, citing historical records, agreed that Michelangelo had made a painting of the saint, the question was, “was this the particular piece”?


New York art dealer Adam Williams thought so and bought the painting which is on a poplar wood board measuring 18 ½ inches by 13 1/4 inches for around $2million.  He then took it to the Met for an examination and cleaning.  Years of grime and varnish was removed to show much more vibrant colors and details, leading the Met to believe that it was an original by Michelangelo and thereby making it the earliest painting by the young artist.


The Kimbell Art Museum located in Fort Worth, Texas opened in 1972 at the bequest of Art Kimbell an industrialist and art collector and houses a small collection of European, Asian and pre-Columbian art.  They came to look at the painting at the Met and persuaded their board to purchase it for an undisclosed sum which has been estimated to be in the region of $6million.  


As the tide of expert opinion changes it shows that even the little guys can win in this game.  The Met couldn’t raise the money for the work as their budget was already allocated.  The Kimbell however was able to work quickly and purchase the work before anybody else got their act together.  This work will be the first Michaelangelo easel painting to find a home in the United States.  


It will be on show at the Metropolitan Museum of Art from June to August before it goes to the Kimbell for a fall showing.  

POTY 2009


The 2009 Digital Camera Photographer of the Year is accepting submissions.  The deadline is September 30th, 2009.  The competition is open to amateur and professional photographers of all nationalities who are over 18 years of age at the closing date of the competition and who have access to the internet.  The overall winner receives a cash prize of £10,000 (UK Steriling). 


You have just over four months to get your best shots in.  There is no entry fee, you just have to register online with Digital Camera Magazine.  


Finding Art Everywhere


My teenage son was playing a new game on his Xbox360; “Rainbow Six, Vegas2” based on Tom Clancy’s novel “Rainbow 6: Vegas, a story about an international counter-terrorism group hosted by NATO.  In technical terms it is a “tactical first person shooter video game” or in laymen’s terms, a shoot-em-up game where it looks like you’re holding the gun.  The aim is to shoot as many people in a certain way in a certain place to gain points to get better guns and abilities…..I think anyway! 


So it was with great surprise, while I was being companionable and watching him play that I suddenly saw in the “villa” where they were shooting people, that many of the walls of this house had contemporary works of art on the walls.  Graphics for games has developed at an amazing pace and today, many scenes look very realistic.  However it amazed me that game designers would go far as to search out or create abstract expressionist paintings to hang on the walls of a villa in a scene.  Talk about detail! It instantly creates an atmosphere for the scene, giving the space a very modern and expensive feel to it….perfect for a drug baron’s hide-out!


It really emphasizes how important art is and that it is such an integral part of the fabric of our lives.  It can only confirm the importance of supporting art even in these tough economic times.

A Day Out of NYC, Dia:Beacon


The sun was shining and glinting of the meandering Hudson River.  The green of the mountains and cliff sides were bright with early summer green.  The sky was a beautiful pale blue with puffy white clouds meandering across the expanse.  


The Metro-North, East of Hudson railroad is a spectacularly picturesque ride a mere feet from the edge of the river.  Watching the surrounding countryside slide by, the various boats sailing along and the numerous, towns, villages with their quaint buildings, historic forts and imposing factories and warehouses makes the one hour and 25minute trip to Beacon from Grand Central Station a very quick trip indeed.  The MTA provides a good package that includes a reduced return fare and entry into the Dia Museum. 


Once at Beacon, the Dia Beacon, Riggio Galleries is a scant 10 minutes walk from the station.  We even managed to walk the mile into Beacon’s main street for a spot of lunch at one of the many quaint little eateries that were gearing up for the Memorial Day Week-end.  


The Dia Museum (est 2003) is housed in a magnificent structure which was built by Nabisco in 1929, an excellent example of early 20th century industrial architecture.  The 34,000 feet of wonderful peaked windows in the ceiling provide excellent natural light and the large spans provide unusually large exhibition halls making Dia the largest contemporary art museum in the world.  The building and gardens were redesigned by Robert Irwin and architects OpenOffice to house the many large works in the permanent collection creating an excellent and rare environment to display them to their best advantage.


The museum houses work from some of the most significant artists from the 1960s onwards.  Richard Serra’s inspiring steel installations, Donald Judds magnificently minimalist and expertly crafted boxes, Louise Bourgeois’ organic and sexual forms, Michael Heizer’s dramatic and potentially dangerous excavations, Sol Lewitt’s precision wall drawings, Gerhard Richter’s monochromed glass panels that a viewer has to participate in, Andy Warhol’s subset of 130 variations of shadows, Fred Sandback’s unbelievably simple “string art” and one of my personal favorites, Richard Chamberlain’s colorful, crushed and ribboned metallic forms are just some of the artists displayed in the Dia’s permanent collection.  The museum also exhibits several new artists to supplement their own collection.


We wandered around the museum for two and a half hours but could have easily spent a lot longer and we didn’t even venture into the artistically sculptured gardens.  I foresee that this will become a frequent destination to take our visiting friends on day trips from NYC.  I eagerly look forward to my next visit.

Slow Down with the Speed of Light


I was reading about James Turrell recently; (born 1943 in Los Angeles, CA).  He is the artist that works with light and space, exploring the effect of light on a viewer’s sight, body, mind and spiritual soul.  He works with something that travels faster than anything else known to man and yet he complains that in this current accelerated world where an adult’s span of attention has dramatically decreased to a mere few seconds, viewers spend too little time looking at art, that it makes it hard for them to appreciate the work.  


I think he’s right.  In this age when we are bombarded with stimuli and overwhelmed with information, sounds and images, many of us have succumbed to an accelerated speed with which we view art.   Even those of us who think we’re giving artwork our full and undivided attention with care and interest will admit to doing so faster than in years gone by.  


Turrell recounts a story in an interview he gave to Sarah Douglas for ArtInfo back in 2005: 


“I saw the Mona Lisa when it was in L.A., saw it for 13 seconds and had to move on. But, you know, there’s this slow-food movement right now. Maybe we could also have a slow-art movement, and take an hour.”


Interestingly, Donald Hess, the Swiss art collector and entrepreneur has recently opened a museum dedicated to James Turrell and in a way has addressed this slow-art request.  The museum is probably the most remote contemporary art museum in the world.  


Starting from Buenos Aires, which isn’t quite on the way back from picking up a quart of milk on the week-end for most people, there is a two and a quarter hour flight to Salta in the northwest of Argentina and then a rough four-hour drive on largely unpaved roads through to the foothills of the Andes mountains to the Calchaquí Valley.  It takes some planning and effort to get to the museum.  However the visitor is rewarded with a heavenly vista with a luxury hotel, state of the art winery which happens to be one of the oldest working wineries in Argentina, having been in production since 1831, and of course the latest addition of the James Turrell Museum which opened in April this year according to Mariana Schroeder of the Wall Street Journal. 


Those who visit will be guaranteed an opportunity to take as much time as they need to view Turrell’s magnificent installations.  


It’s given me a desire to slow down a little and enjoy the moment with a little less hurry.  

First Lady – Our Muse for Art?


Did you know that despite the fact that the Muses were supposed to be the goddesses or spirits who inspire the creation of literature and the arts, there never was one that was responsible for the visual arts? Originally there were 3 but by the height of the classical Greek period, there were nine. They’re mainly responsible for various forms of literature including history and also astronomy, music and dance, but no art.

So maybe Michelle Obama can become the proverbial 10th muse for art. She certainly seemed ready to fill the role at the reopening of the American wing of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York yesterday.

“The arts are not just a nice thing to have or to do if there is free time or if one can afford it,” she said as reported by AP. “Rather, paintings and poetry, music and fashion, design and dialogue, they all define who we are as a people and provide an account of our history for the next generation.”

“The president and I want to ensure that all children have access to great works of art,” she told a crowd that included students from four New York City public schools that focus on the arts. “We want all children who believe in their talent to see a way to create a future for themselves in the arts community, either as a hobby or as a profession.”

Mrs Obama also reminded her audience that the President had included an additional $50 million for the NEA in the stimulus package. It should also be remembered that in the 2010 budget the President has submitted there is a $161 million budget allocation for the NEA which amounts to a 4% increase over the 2009 budget. However to put this all into perspective, the Metroplitan Museum of Art In New York had an operating expense of $208.1 million for the 2007/2008 fiscal year. It really is a drop in the ocean but who’s to look a gift horse in the mouth, especially in these critical times!