Friday, October 30, 2015

Moving pictures

When we walked up the stairs to Peter Robinson’s studio a couple of months ago it was for the last time. Not for the first time gentrification has honed in on previously unwanted spaces rented out for artist’s studios. The Robinson moved was forced by the renovation of the building into expensive apartments. In New York the transformation of the areas artists have lived in-moved onto- and moved-on-again from have become some of the most sought after residential property in the world. August / September was obviously moving time here too. Andrew Beck had just moved from Auckland to a new space in Wellington, Dan Arps had taken Andrews old space in Henderson and Oscar Enberg had just returned to an old studio he had left the year before. As always OTNSTUDIO pics are available for use. If you’re using them for something significant let us know first so we can tell the artists and give you bigger files if you need them.
Images: materials packed up and ready to move out of Peter Robinson's studio

Thursday, October 29, 2015

The shock of the new

The artists selected for the 2016 Sydney Biennale have just been announced and it looks as though there are just two New Zealanders, Dane Mitchell and Joyce Campbell. Great news for Mitchell who will be showing in the Art Gallery of New South Wales and Campbell whose venue is still to be announced but (yes, there is a but) this is sure as hell not the six or so NZers you might reasonably expect to be in a regional exhibition like this. It used to be pretty standard that five or six NZers would be included but this is the second time New Zealand has been virtually ignored by the Sydney Biennale curator. 

This time round it's Stephanie Rosenthal who has done the lack of honours. If all the artists were listed without their originating countries you might find such a concern provincial but that's not the case so the Biennale is certainly counting. The weird part is that the Biennale has been running an active campaign in New Zealand to raise money for the event. It the blurb it even claims to 'showcase New Zealand artists in our region'. Well yes, we are certainly in the same region, but for our artists to be 'showcased' they have to be seen. The selection of one NZer in 2014 could be described as a misfortune, to have just two in 2016 feels like carelessness.  

LATER: GREG BURKE tempers the shrill cry of injustice: "In my short time at CNZ there was one biennale with just one Kiwi (Peryer) and one with a record 6 for the time (including Campbell). Prior to that the record had been 4, but was more likely to be 2."

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Trash talk

How many art works have been tossed in the trash by cleaners who thought they were just that? NZ's benchmark has got to be Billy Apple's Neon Accumulation which was once swept into a carton for disposal at the Govett-Brewster. Stick ‘cleaners throw out art’ into Google and you get at least seven different incidents without having to try. Yes, along with high prices, theft and forgery, art-as-trash is a go-to media stand-by. 

The latest in this long line does make you wonder though about art in museums and museums and art in general. This time the cleaners at the Museion museum in Bolzano did their thing with the installation We Were Going to Dance Tonight by Sara Goldschmied and Eleonora Chiari a set up of discarded post-party champagne bottles and detritus. Fortunately the museum was able to swoop in to the rescue while the installation was still in rubbish bags waiting to be taken to the tip. 

And then it gets weird (given this was an installation representing the aftermath of a wild party) as the museum announced that it will 'try to put it back as it was, using photos to help us.' [italics added] It might have made more sense, and perhaps been a touch more authentic, simply to throw a party, celebrating the recovery and show the leftovers.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Close shave

Not sure if it's official yet but it seems common knowledge, well common among a pretty large group of people anyway, that Billy Apple has a solo exhibition at the Serpentine in London lined up for 2016. So some solace there for missing out with Misal Adnan Yıldız on the Venice thing. As it is he'll be the second NZer to show at the Serpentine within a year with Simon Denny opening in November. 

You can figure (not that he’ll be complaining) that Apple would have dearly loved this exhibition to have been slated for April 2014. That would have been exactly 40 years after his last Serpentine exhibition that showed 14 years of his work. Realistically though Billy Apple’s not going to wait another eight years just to land the 50th anniversary and it's pretty damn cool to be able to do a show like this at 81. Typically Apple’s birthday is said to be the last day of each year - all very tidy as you'd expect. 

The curator of the Serpentine exhibition is Hans Ulrich Obrist who has previously included Apple into one of his Museum in Agency of Unrealized Projects and has also interviewed him as part of his Interview-everyone-in-the-entire-world project a few years back. As far as we know the only other New Zealander to have had a solo exhibition at the Serpentine was the sculptor John Panting in 1975. And all this to let us get away with a dodgy lookalike between Barry Bates (pre-Apple) Lathering, Alicante Spain, April 1960 and Philip Larkin just having a shave in 1957 (from the Independent)

Images: Left, Philip Larkin, right, Barry Bates

Friday, October 23, 2015

White noise

Anyone who knows OTN knows we're suckers for a CEO sitting in front of an artwork. OK this one is a Vice Chancellor but, as we say in the in the fact-checking hell that is blog land, same difference. Anyway, Victoria University’s VC Professor Grant Guilford unintentionally (or, more brilliantly, intentionally) showcased a fine painting from the University's collection and at the same time sent a subliminal message to viewers during a recent TV interview. Victoria students were being criticised for what neighbors living near halls of residence claim is extreme (read obnoxious) alcohol-inspired behavior. The VC thought the university authorities were doing all they could and the complainers should probably chill out. 'It’s often kids just having fun….' To reinforce his key message he sat himself down in front of Colin McCahon’s 1968 painting Landscape with waterfall  that reads in part Dona Nobis Pacem. Grant us peace.

Thursday, October 22, 2015


The selection of Lisa Reihana’s In Pursuit of Venus [infected] to represent New Zealand at the 2017 Venice Biennale will come as no surprise to its curator Auckland Art Gallery Director Rhana Devenport. The Auckland Art Gallery already had a lot invested  in the Reihana work and never has anyone put so much energy and lobbying power into an NZ Venice project. There must be a huge sense of satisfaction for Devenport who made it clear she thought the Reihana work was a slam dunk from the word go. Despite all that confidence, In Pursuit of Venus [infected] did have to climb over a few hurdles but as Creative NZ has already shown its rules and regulations when it comes to Venice are, to say the least, malleable. For all the talk of tweaking it into a new work, In Pursuit of Venus [infected] has been around for a long time in various iterations. To put it simply, it's unlikely that anyone who has seen the Reihana work in Auckland, Brisbane, Melbourne or Singapore will not recognise it in its Venice outing. So CNZ 'commissioning' an additional suite of photographs as 'new accompanying work' to try and take the heat off the 'new' issue feels kind of unnecessary.

Unusually Reihana doesn’t have dealer representation at a time when dealers are expected to front up with cash and cashed-up connections, but with Devenport bringing the resources of the Auckland Art Gallery that's well taken care of. Still, if you pop your head out of the window in Auckland you'll probably catch a dealer or two racing by to offer their services.

This is the first time the director of a major metropolitan gallery has stepped up as sponsoring curator. It's the third time we have chosen women as both curator and artist and Lisa Reihana is the third artist of Maori descent to represent us. As for the Brian Butler list being so prescient, forget we ever mentioned it.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

… and change

The groan you can hear in the air is probably the tectonic plates of the art economy starting to shift. There’s Webb’s plucky experiment with the turnover model in Parnell, the fallout from the Bambury/Jensen settlement, Bowerbank/Ninow testing a dealer auction mash-up, My art offering collectors interest-free cash to buy stuff with, a corporate taking over the Auckland Art Fair and some very sharp words dissing auctions from the world of art dealers.

'If you are wanting to start an art collection, to go to an auction to buy the art is bad practice. You won’t get the best examples and you won’t learn anything: the work is a product, which is an anathema to us.

There are all sorts of pressures that go with auctions, let alone the competition. If you are bidding against one other maniac you will overpay – it’s too dangerous.' 

Dealers Tim Melville and Emma Fox reported in NZ Herald on Saturday


Finally there’s a cash and carry online model for art and collectibles being set up by the Fairfax Group of all people. And the media barons look as though they're going straight for the jugular with the simple proposition 'Get Stuff' riffing on the name of their eponymous website. In a sample Facebook page (you can see it here) for instance you could bid for a work by Rohan Wealleans starting with an opening bid of $800 or use the 'buy now' feature and get it directly off the shelf for $1,800. It's a technique that makes most art dealers go pale but in this case at least one (Ivan Anthony) is in on the game with his artists and contact details featuring as the art part in the launch offering. So, as far as art's concerned, even though the site is presented as an auction, the chances of getting a bargain look kind of remote. 

Image: Yvonne Todd. Buy now

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

The beetles

Tenuous links have always been good to OTN so here’s another one. Martin Creed has been in town (he has a great show on at Michael Lett at the moment) and you may recall a post linking him to Miriam Elia. She was the author and publisher of the satirical book We go to the gallery mocking art appreciation in the classic Ladybird kids book style of the 1950s. Pitch perfect as far as we were concerned but the Ladybird publishers Penguin threatened legal action and stopped sales. Now that same don’t-you-dare-make-fun-of-our-imprint publisher is doing its own set of mock Ladybirds introducing Peter and Jane to hipsters and hangovers. Written by comedians Jason Hazeley and Joel Morris they're as close as you can get to the look and feel of the Elia effort. But Elia, who has changed her own imprint to Dung Beetle and can't be bothered asking Penguin to pay up for nicking her idea, has produced a new book in the style We sue an artist - just in case they miss the point

Monday, October 19, 2015

Te Papa North goes South

Looks like the sorry tale of Te Papa North has finally come to an end. Of course in PR speak this comes out as 'We are very committed to it. I would hope – as does the board – that we will be successful in a future budget bid.' But as the request rejected by Government was only a capital cost of $40 million (about as much it takes to run the Te Papa Mothership for little over nine months), it’s a fair bet that Te Papa North as an idea has slunk out of the building. 

Someone else who has left the building is the Project Director for Te Papa North. Te Papa told media she was only on a one year contract which sounds odd in itself for what was going to be a major Te Papa initiative over at least three or four years. 

And what about the pressing storage requirements and the dramatic threat of Wellington (and Te Papa's collections) being leveled by an earthquake? The CE of Te Papa told the media that 'there was no pressing need for additional storage in the next 2-3 years' and the talk of Wellington as earthquake central seems to have abated (which is nice). In fact, looking back at the sorry two year life cycle of Te Papa North, you have to ask whether it was ever a serious proposition in the first place. 

Anyway now that CE Rick Ellis has announced more of his plans to service the whole country via digital technology all this talk of bricks and mortar could hardly be more off brand. So let’s see how that plays out.

Saturday, October 17, 2015


"his horses in particular are unequalled on the international art scene"

Hamilton Warhorse Trust art adviser Paula Savage on Italian artist  Mimmo Paladino

Friday, October 16, 2015

Water world: the adventure continues

For the pedants among you (and given some of the responses we get we know you’re out there) today is the middle of the month of October. Ok. midday today will be. So given that Creative NZ announced it would announce the artist/artists to represent NZ at Venice in 2017 in mid October, we can expect that to happen today or maybe Monday. We figure that at this moment probably about 50 or so people know who's been selected (that's counting Creative NZ board members, selection panelists, best friends, staffers and maybe artists) so we're counting down on your behalf. Whatever happens the choice can’t have been easy. Simon Denny highlighted some factors that were essential to his success that Creative NZ will have noted as new must-haves.

•   A dealer/ dealers who can stump up with some serious cash (which makes group shows a problem).

•   An NZ art institution to take up some of the admin and servicing (something that has only come from institutions in Wellington and Christchurch so far).

•   An overseas curator or someone with international pull to validate and promote the NZ presence (a factor strongly favouring artists with a major career outside New Zealand)

Which artist of those we suggested have thrown in their hats could deliver all three? Kate Newby probably and Dane Mitchell, Alicia Frankovich, Ruth Buchanan, but it makes it hard for NZ-based artists. Maybe the selection panel will take a chance and break away from the successful international formula and push NZ's own agenda which would help open up the game for artists like Lisa Reihana and Fiona Pardington.

As for the suggestion of a group show, it's difficult to imagine how the sort of show that would turn heads in Venice will ever get past first base. An isn’t-NZ- art-interesting exhibition isn’t going to do it nor is an isn’t-NZ-art-interesting-seen-alongside-non-NZ-art. In 2011 Denmark presented an exhibition of 12 international artists on the theme of censorship in the context of its own major controversy over the publication of cartoons of the prophet Mohammed. It's hard to see NZ taking such a strong curatorial line, but you never know.

One thing we do know is that for everyday we have to wait for an announcement after midday today, the more likely a group show will be.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Radio with pictures

Here to get you through Thursday are five music videos directed by artists.

Blur’s In the country was directed by Damien Hirst in 1995. He was at art school with members of the band and at one stage he gives a nod, literally, to the music video Queen made for Bohemian Rhapsody.

William Wegman made New Order’s music video for Blue Monday 88 in 1983. A combo of dog stuff and hand drawn animation, the video includes Wegman’s most famous Weimaraner Fay Ray with animation by Robert Breer, an old school American avant-garde filmmaker.

Doug Aiken turned up with a moody black and white film when asked to direct Interpol’s 2003 music video for Say Hello to the Angels/'NYC.

Kanye West with a bunch of ballet dancers in black tutus is presented to you for Runaway with the art direction of Vanessa Beecroft.

Andy Warhol directs (and appears in) The Cars' video for Hello Again from 1984. You want to watch Andy Warhol sing a song by The Cars? This is the one to go for.

Image: Kanye West on the dance floor

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Art to go

The news there's a waterfall painting by William Hodges coming up at Christie's Auctions in London must be causing some discussion at Te Papa. Unlike Auckland Art Gallery (proud owners of the iconic View in Dusky Bay, New Zealand) Te Papa has only prints to represent the best-known artist of Captain Cook's second voyage to the Pacific in the 1770s. The painting at Christie's is A Maori at Cascade Cove in Dusky Bay, New Zealand. It's not huge (30 x 45.7 cm) and painted on copper, but it has all the essential elements including a watchful Maori figure, although probably with some prescience, he is looking over his shoulder. The work is estimated at between $160,000 and $230,000 that in terms of recent TeP acquisitions is kind of cheap.

But Te Papa does have other options. If it wants to go down the market, paintings by Hodges are on offer for under a thousand dollars by the hard working folk at Fineart Buy from them and you don’t have to wait for the Christie's auction on 29 October, they'll knock one up straight away. And it just keeps on getting better. They'll send you a photo of your painting by email as soon as it's ready for your approval and if you're not happy you get your money back. Fineart China offers thirteen different William Hodges paintings including the most famous Dusky Sound version from the National Maritime Museum, but if Te Papa goes down this path that's probably one to avoid. And if you want your own Hodges with a money back guarantee, go here.

Image: Fineart China

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

This way

You can see why architects get their buildings photographed before the owners move in. Once they're in, all bets are off. It's the old form v function conundrum. Anything that’s not completely fit for purpose is subjected to taped notices (this way), cordoned off areas (stay out) and weird additions (where are we going to put Harry?).  Two exceptionally beautiful buildings we have just seen illustrate the problem perfectly, and a third one solves it. 

It would be hard to beat the art museum that Shigeru Ban designed for the town of Oita in the south of Japan … until you see the art. This is a building in a city that doesn’t really know what to do with it. Despite the high flown rhetoric on the website ('a playground for the heart'), the current exhibition of a local calligraphy competition fills two of three floors. This leaves the large international works commissioned for the opening looking a wee bit out of place. At the moment one is already off for repairs so there is a lot of empty space. 

Tadao Ando’s Awaji Yumebutai Conference Centre gets an even harder time from its users. Ando created a complex series of interconnected spaces and gardens but they're subverted by pasted notices, instructions, advertisements, stanchions, chains, shop paraphernalia and Harry’s office. The monumentality of Ando’s forms just hold their own but it's a relief to look out to the horizon. 

But then, not far away, is another Ando building, the Buddhist water temple (Honpukuji, Hompuki). The deeply metaphoric forms, reflective ponds and subterranean shrine all inhabit the values of the people who use it. Beneath a bisected lily pond a place for meditation and prayer is encased in red lacquered timber. Not a handwritten notice to be seen. Everything that needs to be done in this place is taken care of by the architecture and its community. If architects had to revisit their buildings and see how they were actually being used, their profession would change forever.

You can see pictures of Ando's Water Temple here, his conference centre here and Shigeru Ban's art museum here on OTNARCHITECTURE

Images: the residents leave their mark on Ando's conference centre and bottom, 'Harry's' office

Monday, October 12, 2015

Pic of the week

Our friend here in Tokyo Ivan Vartanian has written the book on Japanese photobooks (literally). Until surprisingly recently Japanese photographers only published their work in books, rather than as prints, and collecting these books has become a big competitive business. Every small bookshop throughout Japan has long since been stripped of the valuable first editions which are the only way to own some of the rarer images by earlier photographers. We mention this because the photobook idea is getting a boost in New Zealand next year in association with Writers Week. Photobook New Zealand will be held in Wellington from 11-13 March 2016 and will feature books made in New Zealand plus talks, advice, panels and there's even an award.

One of Peter Peryer's favourite provocations is to claim all art books as photography books. And in the sense that they are all photographs of art works he is absolutely right. Now that photography has largely shed its messianic zeal for itself as a medium, the possibilities for photobooks can include a fresh look at NZ's own history in the field alongside the burst of new productions. And the first impression? They're cheap. You can still get pretty good copies of most of the prize NZ photography books if you look around and are prepared to pay somewhat more than the published price. That even includes Ans Westra's famous Washday at the pa of 1964 with the note from the publisher Caxton Press that we managed to snag a few months ago for $30. A quick look round found:

Ans Westra's  Maori with James Ritchie 1967 for $15
The Active Eye: contemporary New Zealand photography catalogue from 1975 for $16
Marti Friedlander's Moko Maori Tattooing in the 20th Century produced with Michael King in 1972 for $16
Brian Brake's New Zealand gift of the sea published with Maurice Shadbolt in1963 for $63
Robin Morison's The South Island of New Zealand from the Road at $375

You can help support Photobook New Zealand and find out more about it here.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

In Fukuoka...

...we were thinking about Paul McCarthy.

Images: left advertising Fukuoka and right Paul McCarthy Daddies

Friday, October 09, 2015

Back in your court

We’ve now had time to read through the Judgment papers issued by High Court Judge John Fogarty in the case of Bambury vs Jensen. At 145 pages it must be one of the most expensive art texts written in this country! A number of readers have suggested that our initial post was somewhat unfair to defendant Andrew Jensen claiming Stephen Bambury as a clear winner. Despite our comment that the settlement was ‘a much reduced pay out based on the initial claim of around $700,000 about the much reduced pay out on the initial claim of around $700,000’ we also wrote up that ‘the High Court has found in favour of the artist’ so it’s probably a fair enough reaction. 

Here’s a little more detail about what happened. There were 41 items disputed by the artist (mostly around payments owing on paintings) of which 26 failed to convince Judge Fogarty for various reasons. Two other items were set aside because of the Limitations Act, a couple were granted leave to apply at another time and seven required payments being made to Bambury in the total amount of $139,200 plus some interest. Given the amount of money that must have been spent taking this action to the High Court there were probably no winners on the day. We’ll try to make a copy of the Judgment easily available on OTN if we can. It’s a fascinating insight (and a rare one) into the back office world of dealers and artists. 
Image: trajectory of a ping pong ball

Thursday, October 08, 2015

A great art museum building from Shigeru Ban

The Oita prefectural art museum in southern Japan, a couple of hours by train from Fukuoka, has got to be one of the most beautiful art museums in the world. Designed by Shigeru Ban, the same architect who designed Christchurch’s cardboard cathedral, it shares some of that building’s signature elements but then expands and develops them. This is a large light box so beautifully measured and detailed that just walking around the exterior is a revelation in the use of design and materials. And then a wonderful interior with clear zones of different functions that work closely together visually. The effect is you always know exactly where you are and with a very good idea of why. Connect all this with a graceful atrium and what you get is an invitation to explore further rather than the shock and awe of so many recent museum entrances. You can see our photographs of the building inside and out here on OTN: ARCHITECTURE

Wednesday, October 07, 2015

Te Papa’s new Go Away policy

It must be pretty annoying becoming a Chief Executive in the public service if you come from the private sector. Stuff that is no business but your own is now open to public scrutiny. Your business expenses, for instance. How much you spent on taxis even. I mean, what the hell? Remember when Josie McNaught took it on herself to detail some ‘embarrassing’ everyday expenses of the previous CE of Te Papa in national art mags? 

Now there's a new sheriff in town and one that's obviously not going to put up with that sort of transparency bullshit. If he wants to wine and dine and catch a cab or even a damn helicopter if it’s called for, what has that got to do with anybody else, let alone taxpayers?  

And so the bi-annual ‘Te Papa CE and Kaihautū expenses disclosure document’ (scroll down the page) that has been in the public domain since 2010 via Te Papa's web site has been closed down for the July 2014-June 2015 period. 'Authentication required. Put in your password'. Oh, you don’t have one? Then 'Access denied'. 

Expenses documents from July 2010 to June 2013 are still available at the time of writing. No shoving please. There are plenty of expired reports available for everyone.

LATER: Te Papa have been in touch and have now made this material available

Tuesday, October 06, 2015

The name game

Charismatic painting  Jerry Saltz 2015

Zombie Formalism  Walter Robinson 2014

Art Flipping Katya Kazakina 2013

Selfie Hopey 2002

Gallery goers Vito Acconci 1972

Arthur Danto 1964

Happening Allan Kaprow 1961

Concept Art Henry Flynt 1961

Pop Art  John McHale  1954

The decisive moment Dick Simon for Henri Cartier Bresson’s book Images a la sauvette  1952

Action painting Harold Rosenberg 1952

Abstract Expressionism
Robert Coates 1946

Readymade Marcel Duchamp 1913

Post modern John Watkins Chapman 1870

Avant-garde Olinde Rodrigues 1825

Modernist Jean-Jacques Rousseau 1769

Academy Giorgio Vasari 1562

Monday, October 05, 2015

Broken records

The long legal tussle between artist Stephen Bambury and art dealer Andrew Jensen has run its course. It's been an important case. It asked the court to consider the relationship between artists and dealers that are usually (given that there are few solid contractual agreements) conducted in a pretty fluid state. The way art is bought and sold in New Zealand can be complex with closely negotiated deals on prices, time payment, part-payments, packaging of works, exchanges, etc etc. Given that throughout their professional education artists learn diddly squat about how to run even the smallest business, it's not surprising that many artists end up with incomplete records and a sketchy idea of what’s in their various dealers' stock rooms or indeed who ends up owning their work.

This is the context in which Bambury questioned missing payments on sales made by Jensen’s gallery and Jensen, in the way of these things, counter-sued. Now the High Court has found in favour of the artist, awarding him over $100,000 plus interest accumulated over the years the complaint has been in dispute. Jensen’s counter-claims were put aside. Of course all this started with Jensen and Bambury working together very closely. Jensen was a believer in Bambury and Bambury a strong supporter of Jensen’s gallery with both benefiting. Unfortunately such friendships can also lead to the business practices associated with them being looser than usual. Dealings can get muddled via undocumented oral agreements, payments being used to offset other expenses, trade-ins and so forth.

Indeed the court found the Bambury-Jensen relationship to be so closely intertwined that the judge regarded it to be more like a partnership than a business relationship between two separate companies. As a result issues of trust were seen as less critical than they might be in business to business relationships. This maybe why some of Bambury’s more complex claims were dismissed. So, a much reduced pay-out based on the initial claim of around $700,000, but still significant. It will no doubt reverberate through the dealer gallery system and should be a wake-up call to artists look carefully at their own responsibility to keep track of their work and the money it brings them.

Saturday, October 03, 2015

Art at work: Tokyo

Friday, October 02, 2015

Did we say small? We meant big

The exhibition spaces in the contemporary art museums of Tokyo are like their peers in the rest of the well-off world - grossly inflated. When was the last time you could use a simple ladder to hang something off the ceiling of an exhibition space? The result of this institutional love affair with volume is extreme pressure on artists to produce larger and larger works. Having seen a lot of art over the last few days, here's some of the strategies currently in use to make big work with smallish budgets.

1 Building large structures from cheap materials (bamboo, cardboard, plastic etc)

2  Arranging 100 or so small paintings in a grid pattern to take up a big wall

3  Presenting videos inside cheap structures like tents or cupboards

4  Installing large real world objects (the more unexpected the better) in front of paintings or videos. Start with a rowboat or a car and you'll probably get to a homemade working helicopter

5  Leaning large objects (the floor from a school room, for instance) against walls

6  Locating multiple screens in a long line (and they can be showing the same image, see repetition below) or as large scale panoramic projections

7  Isolating and spotlighting furniture (desks, tables, benches) to facilitate a visitor survey or some other bureaucratic task

8  Piling things or stacking things

9  Going for repetition. One plaster cat is dull, 1,000 not so much

Images: top to bottom, left to right. large structure - cheap material, piles, large real-world object, tv in a tent, survey and lots-a-paintings

Thursday, October 01, 2015

The race for the bottom

The auction business is at the pointy end of the art market, the arena where individuals publicly demonstrate what art is worth to them. While there’s some horse-trading in the primary market it’s mostly around commissions rather than setting prices. That means when an established auction house announces it has been conducting ‘extensive research of the market’ to work out the best categories for its sales, it’s time to pay attention. 

The auction house is Webb’s and its research has told it to go with five levels of sale. The groupings are pretty much the ones it has been using recently (Paramount, Vision, Discovery, Affordable...oh…and Photography) but the frequency is a surprise. We’re talking an extraordinary 18 art auctions a year. As we say in Counting-On-Our-Fingers-Land, that’s one every three weeks. Whew! Simply put, Webb’s reckons the future of art auctions is a volume business and it’s going to lead the commodification charge in what is usually thought of as a premium market. While the twice a year Paramount events will include ‘important paintings and contemporary art for major collectors of artworks valued over $20,000’, the other 17 auctions will be selling works on average between $10,000 and $2,000. It’s a bold move. To turn over a million on the hammer price you only have to clear around 8 works in the $125,000 range, or 200 works at $5,000 each. That’s a lot of consigning, cataloguing, freighting, marketing, transacting let alone actual auctioning. Of course Webb’s will be hoping to land some big fish for its Paramount outings but with only around 10 percent of their auctions geared to the high end you can see where the energy will be going.

The big question is supply. Will collectors release big ticket items to an auction house so focussed on the bottom end? The quality of items very new comers Bowerbank Ninow have snagged for their first auction will certainly give Webb’s pause. Maybe it’s a good time to send someone up the mast to look out for icebergs.

Image: the iceberg thought to have sunk the Titanic