Posts tagged “ART MARKET

Why do great artists allow their failed works to be published?

Some nice interiors, though.
(Of course, an Italian director who fails to show you a good interior must be mentally retarded).

The usual story is Orhan Pamuk: one reads two of his books (Red, Snow), gets excited (wow!), goes out and buys everything the man has ever written only to discover that… nothing beyond the first two (or three — White was OK, too) – books are worth reading. Marco Bellocchio recently delivered the same bait-and-switch: hooked me with Buon Giorno, Notte, and L’Ora di Religione, only to let me seriously down with Il Regista di Matrimoni. Why does this happen?

Partly, the problem is the production system: a novelist is expected to produce a novel a year; a film-maker, a film a year – because “the market expects it: if you do not, you drop out from public view, become forgotten and have to start from scratch”. This is actually not true, but this is the official industry party-line pushed heavily by agents and promoters who live on the stream of new works and artists come to believe it. But this annual procreation adds up to something like 40 works over a lifetime. And no one – not even Michelangelo – can possibly have in him enough material for 40 masterpieces, especially if his life becomes reduced to turning out novels (or films). (To write a novel, just like making a film, takes a lot of time). To make an interesting novel (or film) one has to live, experience, and reflect, i.e. get away from his desk/camera; and there is just no time for any of it if you are “successful”. Truly great film directors (e.g. Kubrick) and great novelists (e.g. di Lampedusa) know it and go slow – that is, they shuddup when they have nothing to say.

I would be prepared to pay serious money to know the truth behind works like Bellocchio’s Il Regista or Pamuk’s Black. Did they get published/released because the author has come to believe in his own infallibility (“yes, it does seem weak when I look at it, but perhaps my eyesight has gone weak, how can I possibly turn out a bad work, surely, if it is by me, it must be great, and perhaps one day I will see it”) or did they get published because the author/director decided that the public was stupid (“not a great film, I know, but they can’t tell anyway, why worry about it too much”).

Why worry about it? A Chinese proverb explains why: a tiger dies and leaves its skin, a man dies and leaves his reputation.


How success kills the goose

How success kills the goose!

Kto słucha nie błądzi was for many months my favorite program on Polish Radio (the last undumbed-down cultural radio on earth). It was also proof that it is possible to talk intelligently about quality in art – in this case, recordings of classical music.

The format was very good: three musicologists with engaging personalities and pleasant voices discussed six different recordings of a single work of music “blind” — i. e. not knowing who the performers were — and choose the best.  The program was run on a very high level — this was professionals talking to one another, talking like professionals (“talking shop”) and not minding that someone listening might not know some terms.  It’s such a wonderful rarity to hear a program which is not aimed at the 10th grade and below (such programs don’t seem to be produced anymore) — I counted the days between the programs and on occasion cancelled a date in order to hear it.

Unsurprisingly, the speakers’ choices usually coincided with mine. The revelation of the performers at the end of the program also rarely surprised: some performers really are predictably head-and-shoulders above the rest (Gould, Richter, Abbado, Bernstein); but it was pleasant to discover surprising facts, such as that Dudamel actually can conduct (when he’s not conducting a youth orchestra), that Shostakovich played his 2nd Piano Concerto wrong – but better than the score, etc.); and above all it was a lesson in listening: I have been listening to classical music almost “professionally” for forty years now, so it’s no surprise I can hear most of what the musicologists can; but not all – and to learn what they heard and I did not was fascinating.

For an aesthetictist, the program was also a goldmine of observations in the matter of taste: it illustrated that the opinions of those in the business (all participants are musicians and musicologists) are far less divergent than those of the clueless general population (whose preferences being random mean nothing), but that they too face the barrier of personal taste. Yet, at that level of sophistication, the barrier is not a barrier: one cannot help but respects an educated divergent taste.

Like me, the public probably liked to hear what kinds of small details, undetectable to their untrained ears, the musicologists heard in the recordings and why they liked them (or not) — and it grew and grew by the week. But the public liking was the program’s undoing: the organizers – classical radio stations are so happy to have a runaway hit – decided to make it a program with live audience in the studio — and thereby… killed it. The participants began to play to the galleries — unnecessarily showing off their erudition, making pointless jokes and, when they had nothing to say, making things up — lying, to call a spade a spade — as if debates of art and music needed any more lies and fabrication.

(The aestheticist’s lesson here is that taste and perception can be discussed on a very high level but probably not in groups larger than three).

This — the perversion of the author/performer (in this case, the musicologists) is one way in which success kills a good program; the uncalled-for broadening of the audience is another.  A Japanese stand-up comedian whose program I once sponsored on Japanese TV told me he stopped enjoying the work the moment his ratings went over 5%. “Suddenly, he said, I discovered that my audience didn’t get my jokes”. His jokes were intelligent and required both wit and lots of erudition to get — the qualified audience size was naturally limited. But as the show became more popular, it began to struggle to reach its new audience, and after some attempts at educating the audience first and then at dumbing-down the content, the host asked us to take him off the air.

Dear Kto słucha nie błądzi : for your own good, today I won’t be tuning in this Sunday.

Why financial press is relevant

This article tells us some precious tidbits about the rich, most interesting of which we already know:  that they are buying more art than they did before:  having been chastened by the pain they had to take in the financial markets in 2008, they are diversifying into other “asset classes”.

But it also says a little about the structure of the market.

Six “passion” investments listed in the “World Wealth Report” typically account for about a third of a millionaire’s total holdings, Van der Linde said: luxury collectibles such as yachts, jets and high-end cars; art; jewelry, gems and watches; other collectibles such as wine and coins; sports investments, including teams and race horses; and a “miscellaneous” category comprising club memberships, musical instruments and other items.

Most individuals with assets ranging from $1 million to $5 million, excluding primary residences, had 30 percent in luxury collectibles in 2009, up from 27 percent in 2008.

“These are status symbols you can overtly show,” Van der Linde said. “They say, ‘I have arrived.’”

For those with more than $30 million in investments, art was the largest of the six passions, the report said.

How exactly the authors figure there are six categories, I do not know — the categories seem somewhat Borgesque to me:  how do wines and coins fit together? — but never mind that:  it is gratifying to know that art ain’t for us, chickens:  there are 10 million people with investable assets (i.e assets excluding their home) of 1 million or more; the art collectors’ proper demographic — 30 million + — has got to be a small fraction of that.

Now, yesterday, the same Bloomberg told us that as a result of the 2008/2009 crisis the ranks of millionaires got thinned out; but the richest rich — those worth over 30 mln — i.e with good staying power in times of adversity — emerged richer than they were before.  Today we learn that they happen to be the same people whose single biggest passion is art.

And this article from the day before — a report by the Divine Dylan Dy — a somewhat philosophical piece in which he asks himself of what use macro-economic analysis could possibly be to investors — says:

For a start, the traditional macro instruments such as commodities and currencies are difficult to value.

Now, consider that art is like commodities and currencies — there is no way to value them so they have to be priced off macro — off other movements in the economy, that is.  The determining factor for art prices would therefore seem to be…  the amount of disposable money in the hands of those worth over 30 million.

Wonderous doings of May 13th

While the world’s financial markets were seized in the throes of the Flash Crash, the art market delivered its own excitement — on the upside.

From the auction catalog:

A rare and fine white jade flattened baluster vase and cover

18th century
The even almost flawless stone superbly hollowed in the form of a flattened baluster vase rising from a recessed foot to broad shoulders, carved around the body in high relief with five bats in flight, the three on the principal side each suspending ribboned auspicious emblems from their mouths, the endless knot, a pair of fish, and a ruyi sceptre, the two on the reverse similarly clasping fruiting sprigs, the tall neck set to either side with lingzhi handles, the domed cover surmounted by a chilong finial. 21.3cm (8¼in) high

Art.view picks up the story:

But it was the white jade that sparked the day’s real excitement. In particular lot 21, a delicate vase carved into a flattened shape just over 21cm high, was estimated to fetch £30,000-40,000. Bidding quickly rose in increments of £5,000, but even the auctioneer, Colin Sheaf, was astonished when a representative from Christie’s, a rival house, standing at the back of the room topped a £50,000 by shouting “£100,000”. At £300,000, it was still a three-way race. When the hammer came down in favour of a dealer from Ningbo in Cixi province in the room for £580,000, everyone broke out into applause.

So, dear friends, while I was following the auction fate of Francisco Capello’s pieces at Sotheby’s, the real action was in white jade at Bonham’s.

It’s official. I am… clueless.

Miss Piggy didn’t make it!

Oh, no!  Miss Piggy did not make six figures!  Like everything else from Dom Franscico’s collection, she went above the estimate, as well she deserved, though not as much as other pieces — and — none of them performed as well as could have been expected from recent auction results of similar work.

As Miss Piggy had been originally acquired in a private sale, there is not knowing how the owner made out on her, but we do know how much he made on this beauty:

He’d bought this beautifully shaped brush-washer at Christie’s, on March 21, 2002, lot 150, for $99,500. He now sold it for GBP115,250, or $167,667. Which, if you account for buyer’s premium — the auction house charge — makes for a roughly 43% return on his investment over an eight year period, or 4.59% annually in a currency which had taken a fair bit of a drubbing during this period.

Incredibly, Dom Francisco would have done better having put his money in Portuguese treasuries!

Not exactly a stellar performance — in the midst of the hottest market for Chinese art — indeed, any art — ever.

Why should this be so?  Well, for one thing, as beautiful as this piece is, it does not come from an Imperial workshop, and it has not the illustrious provenance of Imperial ownership behind it.  While all Chinese art is zipping ahead, there is a very tight vanguard of Imperial pieces which is moving ever faster, leaving the rest of the art market in the dust, trading at ever higher multiples of the rest — seven and eight digits while everything else trades in fives and sixes.  Imperial provenance is — well, Chinese art’s equivalent of location and this brushwasher is not in the strict downtown.

Also, the Chinese stock market is now over 20% down, and it remains to be seen how future Chinese art auctions do:  the buyers may just not be as flush as they were in January.

Of course, the financial consideration is not all there is to it.  There is no accounting for the pleasure this piece has given Dom Francisco in the years he’d owned it.  I hope he washed his brushes in it!

In the May 12 Sotheby’s sale, my favorite piece was not an object from Dom Francisco’s collection, but this carved ivory dish from Qing Dynasty, 2o cm in diameter.  It barely scratched 6 thousand pounds.  Which shows you, perhaps, that when it comes to estimating the financial worth of art objects, your correspondent is without a clue.