September 2010
M T W T F S S
« Aug   Oct »
 12345
6789101112
13141516171819
20212223242526
27282930  

Day September 16, 2010

Lettre du Voyant

I say it is necessary to be a voyant, make oneself a voyant. The Poet makes himself a voyant by a long, immense and rational derangement of all the senses. All the forms of love, suffering, and madness. He searches himself. He exhausts all poisons in himself and keeps only their quintessences. He is responsible for humanity, for animals even. He will have to make his inventions smelt, touched, and heard. A language must be found. Moreover, every word [utterance] being an idea, the time of a Universal Language will come!

Arthur Rimbaud

Hands Up for Hirst

From the Economist

The Art Market: How the bad boy of Brit-Art grew rich at the expense of his investors

In 2008 just over $270m-worth of art by Damien Hirst was sold at auction, a world record for a living artist. By 2009 Mr Hirst’s annual auction sales had shrunk by 93%—to $19m—and the 2010 total is likely to be even lower. The collapse in the Hirst market can partly be ascribed to the recession. But more important are the lingering effects of a two-day auction of new work by Mr Hirst that Sotheby’s launched in London on September 15th 2008.

The sale was memorable for many reasons, not least its name, “Beautiful Inside My Head Forever”. The first session took place the very evening that Lehman Brothers went bankrupt. No one on Wall Street or in the City of London knew who might be next. Yet within the New Bond Street saleroom, collectors went on bidding, oblivious to the bloodletting without.

The sale was an innovative, daredevil affair. The art market is divided into “primary”, new work sold through galleries, and “secondary”, literally second-hand art, which is often put up for auction. This sale was full of primary material straight out of Mr Hirst’s studio, some of it not yet dry. (Usually the only new art sold at auction is donated by artists to raise money for charity.) According to Frank Dunphy, Mr Hirst’s business manager at the time, the galleries that represent him were very unhappy. Soon after breaking the news to Larry Gagosian, the world’s leading dealer, Mr Dunphy recalled their conversation: “Larry said, ‘It sounds like bad business to me. It’ll be confusing to collectors. Why do you need to do this? We could continue in the old way’.” Mr Dunphy went on: “We’ve had our shouting matches over the years. But there was no shouting that day.”

Sotheby’s was keen to build its own brand around a celebrity artist rather than the usual assortment of inanimate objects. The sale was marketed on YouTube and through the media around the world, part of a conscious effort to broaden international demand for the work. Sotheby’s filled its exhibition rooms with Hirsts. Never had so much of his art been seen in one place. Many art-world insiders saw the sale as an artistic event. Cheyenne Westphal (pictured above, right), European chairman of Sotheby’s contemporary art, says: “Damien’s auctions will become part of his oeuvre. He has done three sales: ‘Pharmacy’ (2004), the ‘RED’ charity auction (2008), and ‘Beautiful’. Fast forwarding, they will be very good provenance.”

Few people were convinced, though, that the market could absorb 223 lots from one artist in 24 hours. Yet an astonishing 97% of the works sold. “Beautiful” brought in £111m ($198m) and expanded the art market: 39% of the buyers had never bought contemporary art before and 24% of them were new to Sotheby’s. Europeans (including Russians) bought 74% of the lots, while 17.7% went to the Americas and 8.3% flew to Asia and the Middle East.

But who exactly bought what? Even Mr Hirst admits, “I’m still finding out.” Dealers acquired some works, but 81% of the buyers were private collectors purchasing directly. Miuccia Prada, an Italian designer and longstanding Hirst collector, for example, spent £6.3m acquiring a trio of Mr Hirst’s trademark animals in formaldehyde: “The Black Sheep with the Golden Horn”, “False Idol” (a calf), and “The Dream” (a foal made to look like a unicorn). “I think it was an incredible conceptual gesture, not a sale,” she says.

Several billionaires from the former Soviet Union also took part. Alexander Machkevitch, a Kazakh mining magnate with a taste for metallurgical themes, bought six lots in the evening sale: a large stainless steel cabinet filled with manufactured diamonds, a pair of gold-plated cabinets containing more lab gems, three butterfly canvasses and a spot painting with a gleaming gold background for a total of £11.7m. Other buyers from the region included Maria Baibakova, Vladislav Doronin, Victor Pinchuk and Gary Tatintsian.

Speculation abounds about who spent £10.3m (including commission) on “The Golden Calf”, a bull in formaldehyde with 18-carat gold hooves and horns. Many thought the garish top lot carried an ambitious estimate, £8m-12m, and would be hard to sell. In the event it proved a nervous moment—there were only two bidders—and whoever acquired it has not been showing it off. The persistent rumour is that the “Calf” has gone to the royal family of Qatar. (Just over a year earlier the emir’s daughter, Sheikha al-Mayassa al-Thani, bought Mr Hirst’s “Lullaby Spring”, a pill cabinet, for £9.65m, the highest price ever paid for a work by a living artist.) When asked about the Qataris, Mr Hirst replies, “I’m sure they did buy things. But it’s all hearsay. I got a call from somebody who said [the Qataris] bought ‘The Golden Calf’ but I think they’re denying it.”

Could any other artist pull off this kind of spectacular trade? Mr Hirst is often likened to Jeff Koons, an American pop artist who overtook Mr Hirst as the most expensive living artist when his “Hanging Heart” sold for $23.6m in November 2007 (see chart 1). Although Mr Koons has a larger-than-life persona and his work enjoys international appeal, he is a conservative market player who issues works in controlled editions of five and concentrates exclusively on the very high end. Nothing could be further from Mr Hirst’s risk-loving manner and his desire to offer work at a range of different prices. “Beautiful” was a success in part because it offered something for everyone.

Mr Hirst, already rich and famous, became richer and more famous. But what of his investors? Two years after the auction, the second-hand trade in Hirsts has slowed to a trickle. Even Sotheby’s, which has had a Hirst in every major contemporary sale in London since “Pharmacy” in 2004, offered none of his art in this year’s evening sale in June. The auction house admits it is avoiding Mr Hirst’s work because it can’t meet its consignors’ price expectations.

The average auction price for a Hirst work in 2008 was $831,000. So far in 2010 it is down to $136,000, a sum that does not even take into account the many lots that failed to find buyers. With prices down to 2002 levels, the artist’s work is outperforming the S&P 500, but is lagging well behind Artnet’s C50 contemporary art index, an industrial average of the 50 most traded post-war artists (see chart 2). The only Hirst pieces that are showing signs of recovery are butterfly paintings, particularly the wing-only works that evoke kaleidoscopes and stained-glass windows. Nine of the ten top trades since the “Beautiful” sale have been butterflies of some sort.

A seller’s disappointment, however, is a buyer’s opportunity. Alberto Mugrabi, a dealer and devoted supporter of most things Hirst, observed the “Beautiful” sale carefully, but bought little. By contrast, he admits to buying 40% of the Hirst paintings that have come up for sale at Sotheby’s and Christie’s in the past year. “I believe in the artist,” he says. The Mugrabi family owns some 110 Hirsts, including an installation that features 30 sheep, two doves, a shark and a splayed cow in formaldehyde. The Mugrabis offered $35m for the artist’s diamond skull, “For the Love of God”, but failed to secure the work that was marketed at $100m and has never sold. “The Mugrabis rarely buy directly from me,” says Mr Hirst. “We can never work out a deal because they want such fierce prices.”

The Mugrabis liken the tumble in Mr Hirst’s secondary prices to Andy Warhol’s in the early 1990s. “In the long term, the market will be more than fine. I couldn’t be more optimistic,” says Mr Mugrabi. Yet they have not invested in Mr Hirst’s latest line of Francis Bacon-inspired skull paintings, saying that they are “not visually continuous with the old work, which we find more beautiful and relevant.” Unlike most of the work, which is made by teams of other people, the artist actually paints these himself. Most of the reviews have been ruthless: “The Worst of Hirst” and “Hirst, Renaissance man, obviously not”.

Americans who did not make purchases at the “Beautiful” sale have recently shown more confidence, buying from Gagosian Gallery’s “End of an Era” show in New York earlier this year. The Broad Art Foundation acquired “Judgement Day”, a giant gold-plated cabinet containing lab diamonds. Millicent Wilner, a Gagosian director, affirms that all 15 new works in the exhibition sold for a total of over $30m.

At the Hong Kong art fair in May a special Hirst stand by his British dealer, White Cube Gallery, was swarming with young people having their photo taken in front of the works. Daniela Gareh, White Cube’s sales director, confirms that it sold to first-time Hirst buyers from Korea, Taiwan and mainland China. “The Chinese respond to branding and Damien is a master brander,” she says. Other Criteria, Mr Hirst’s print business, also did a solid trade at the fair. Photos of Mr Hirst’s most expensive unsold work went like hot cakes. The most popular item was a foot-high image of the artist’s diamond skull, an edition of 1,000, priced at £950.

In 2008 and 2009, Mr Hirst repeatedly made statements like “The first time you sell something is when it should cost the most” and “I’ve definitely had the goal to make the primary market more expensive.” The artist was frustrated by the speculators who were buying from his galleries then quickly reselling his work at auction. Moreover, the acquisition of a package of 12 of his own works from Charles Saatchi for £6m in 2003, far more than what Mr Saatchi had originally paid, may have led to an Oedipal determination to overthrow all the high-rolling dealers and collectors who thought they might lord it over the little artist.

The goal of making the primary works more expensive may benefit Mr Hirst’s personal income in the short-term, but it makes no sense from the perspective of his market. Part of the reason that art costs more than wallpaper is the expectation that it might appreciate in value. Flooding the market with new work is like debasing the coinage, a strategy used from Nero to the Weimar Republic with disastrous consequences. If Mr Hirst were managing a quoted company, he would be unable to enrich himself at the expense of his investors in quite the same way. But Mr Hirst is an artist and, in Western countries, artists are valued as rule-breaking rogues.

Two developments could help Mr Hirst’s secondary market. He has started compiling his catalogue raisonné, a complete list of all the works he has made, which will comfort those who suspect he has made hundreds more spot and spin paintings than he admits to. According to Francis Outred, Christie’s European head of contemporary art, “As with Warhol, this could bring reassuring clarity to the question of volume within each series.” Mr Hirst is also discussing with the Tate a retrospective show to coincide with the Olympic games in London in 2012.

Hirst sceptics point out that the only museum to hold a career survey of Mr Hirst’s work was in Naples, Italy, in 2004. From October 28th a private New York gallery, L&M Arts, will show 18 of his earliest medicine cabinets. The changing shape and contents of these pieces are the most intriguing evolutionary thread in Mr Hirst’s work. Indeed, they foreshadow the artist’s drive to assemble objects into auction spectaculars.

Where will the Hirst market go from here? The ball is still in Mr Hirst’s court. “Beautiful Inside My Head Forever” may have been an historic moment in artist empowerment, but such performances risk destroying the delicate ecology of living artists’ markets. Mr Hirst should repair his relationship with his collectors and concentrate on his retrospective. Another “Beautiful” sale could be ugly.

Woody Allen on Faith, Fortune Tellers and New York

Via NY Times, by Dave Itzkoff

Asked on Tuesday morning if it was appropriate to wish him a happy Jewish New Year, Woody Allen made it clear that such formalities were not necessary. “No, no, no,” he said with a chuckle, seated in an office suite at the Loews Regency hotel. “That’s for your people,” he told this reporter. “I don’t follow it. I wish I could get with it. It would be a big help on those dark nights.”

At 74, Mr. Allen, the prolific filmmaker and emblematic New Yorker, has hardly found religion. But the idea of faith informs his latest movie, “You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger,” which Sony Pictures Classics is to release next Wednesday. In the film, as the marriage of a London couple (Anthony Hopkins and Gemma Jones) unravels, the wife seeks comfort in the supernatural, which has unforeseen consequences on the marriage of her daughter (Naomi Watts) and her husband (Josh Brolin).

“To me,” Mr. Allen said, “there’s no real difference between a fortune teller or a fortune cookie and any of the organized religions. They’re all equally valid or invalid, really. And equally helpful.”

Mr. Allen spoke with Dave Itzkoff about his new film, how its themes resonate in his life and whether he has made his last movie in New York. These are excerpts from that conversation.

Q. The ideas of psychic powers and past lives, or at least people who believe in them, are central to your latest film. What got you interested in writing about them?

A. I was interested in the concept of faith in something. This sounds so bleak when I say it, but we need some delusions to keep us going. And the people who successfully delude themselves seem happier than the people who can’t. I’ve known people who have put their faith in religion and in fortune tellers. So it occurred to me that that was a good character for a movie: a woman who everything had failed for her, and all of a sudden, it turned out that a woman telling her fortune was helping her. The problem is, eventually, she’s in for a rude awakening.

Q. What seems more plausible to you, that we’ve existed in past lives, or that there is a God?

A. Neither seems plausible to me. I have a grim, scientific assessment of it. I just feel, what you see is what you get.

Q. How do you feel about the aging process?

A. Well, I’m against it. [laughs] I think it has nothing to recommend it. You don’t gain any wisdom as the years go by. You fall apart, is what happens. People try and put a nice varnish on it, and say, well, you mellow. You come to understand life and accept things. But you’d trade all of that for being 35 again. I’ve experienced that thing where you wake up in the middle of the night and you start to think about your own mortality and envision it, and it gives you a little shiver. That’s what happens to Anthony Hopkins at the beginning of the movie, and from then on in, he did not want to hear from his more realistic wife, “Oh, you can’t keep doing that — you’re not young anymore.” Yes, she’s right, but nobody wants to hear that.

Q. Has getting older changed your work in any way? Do you see a certain wistfulness emerging in your later films?

A. No, it’s too hit or miss. There’s no rhyme or reason to anything that I do. It’s whatever seems right at the time. I’ve never once in my life seen any film of mine after I put it out. Ever. I haven’t seen “Take the Money and Run” since 1968. I haven’t seen “Annie Hall” or “Manhattan” or any film I’ve made afterward. If I’m on the treadmill and I’m scooting through the channels, and I come across one of them, I go right past it instantly, because I feel it could only depress me. I would only feel, “Oh God, this is so awful, if I could only do that again.”

Q. You recently told the European press that shooting movies in New York had become too expensive. Do you think you’ve made your last film here?

A. My first choice would always be New York. It would be my fondest wish — to work where you live is of course the most luxurious privilege, and I’m sure I will film here again. But the few dollars I have go further in certain places. The cities I’m talking about — London, Paris, Barcelona — these are very cosmopolitan, and they’re like New York. I can afford it a little bit easier. To me it’s a privilege to shoot in New York, and I don’t mind it being extra. I just have to have it, to be able to afford it. I would always make the picture in New York for $15 million that I could make elsewhere for $12 million, if I had $15 million. But if I don’t have the money, then I can’t do it.

Q. It’s not a situation in which these European cities have rolled out the red carpet for you, whereas New York took you for granted?

A. New York has always been cooperative and helpful and a pleasure to shoot in. But the European countries do give you an enormous amount of cooperation. I still occasionally have to make cuts in my film to work there, too. I’m always working with less money than I need. It’s axiomatic.

Q. Were you prepared for the firestorm of media coverage you set off by casting Carla Bruni-Sarkozy in your next movie, “Midnight in Paris”?

A. I was very surprised at the level of journalism that occurred in relation to her. She has a small part in the movie — a real part, but it’s a small part. And I shot with her the first day, and then all the papers said she was terrible, and I did 32 takes with her. Of course I didn’t even do 10 takes with her. This was just a magical number that some guy created in a room. Then they printed that her husband came to the set and was angry with her. He came to the set once, and he was delighted. He felt she was a natural actress and couldn’t have been happier.

Q. That would make a good blurb for the movie poster.

A. For some reason, the press wanted to say bad things about her. I don’t know if they had something against the Sarkozys, or it was a better way to sell papers. But the fabrications were so wild and so completely fake, and I wondered to myself, Is this what happens with Afghanistan and the economy and matters of real significance? This is a trivial matter. That’s a longwinded answer to your question: I was not prepared for the amount of press that was attached to the picture because of Madame Sarkozy.

Q. When you’ve got down time between projects, as you do now, how do you spend it?

A. I do the usual stuff. I take my kids to school in the morning. I go for walks with my wife, play with my jazz band. Then there’s the obligation of the treadmill, and the weights, to keep in shape, so I don’t get more decrepit than I am. I generally don’t see the big Hollywood movies. I saw “Winter’s Bone” the other day and liked the movie very much, loved all the performers. And when I was in Paris, I got a chance to read a certain amount, Tolstoy and Norman Mailer. Things that had slipped through the cracks over the years.

Q. I half-expected to see you at that 12-hour performance of Dostoyevsky’s “Demons” that Lincoln Center Festival produced over the summer.

A. No, no, I’m a lowbrow. I read that material, more out of obligation than enjoyment. For enjoyment, for me, it’s a beer and the football game.

The Web’s New Walls

Via the Economist

How the threats to the internet’s openness can be averted

When George W. Bush referred to “rumours on the, uh, internets” during the 2004 presidential campaign, he was derided for his cluelessness—and “internets” became a shorthand for a lack of understanding of the online world. But what looked like ignorance then looks like prescience now. As divergent forces tug at the internet, it is in danger of losing its universality and splintering into separate digital domains.

The internet is as much a trade pact as an invention. A network of networks, it has grown at an astonishing rate over the past 15 years because the bigger it got, the more it made sense for other networks to connect to it. Its open standards made such interconnections cheap and easy, dissolving boundaries between existing academic, corporate and consumer networks (remember CompuServe and AOL?). Just as a free-trade agreement between countries increases the size of the market and boosts gains from trade, so the internet led to greater gains from the exchange of data and allowed innovation to flourish. But now the internet is so large and so widely used that countries, companies and network operators want to wall bits of it off, or make parts of it work in a different way, to promote their own political or commercial interests (see article).

Walled wide web

Three sets of walls are being built. The first is national. China’s “great firewall” already imposes tight controls on internet links with the rest of the world, monitoring traffic and making many sites or services unavailable. Other countries, including Iran, Cuba, Saudi Arabia and Vietnam, have done similar things, and other governments are tightening controls on what people can see and do on the internet.

Second, companies are exerting greater control by building “walled gardens”—an approach that appeared to have died out a decade ago. Facebook has its own closed, internal e-mail system, for example. Google has built a suite of integrated web-based services. Users of Apple’s mobile devices access many internet services through small downloadable software applications, or apps, rather than a web browser. By dictating which apps are allowed on its devices, Apple has become a gatekeeper. As apps spread to other mobile devices, and even cars and televisions, other firms will do so too.

Third, there are concerns that network operators looking for new sources of revenue will strike deals with content providers that will favour those websites prepared to pay up. Al Franken, a Democratic senator, spelled out his nightmare scenario in a speech in July: right-wing news sites loading five times faster than left-wing blogs. He and other advocates of “net neutrality” want new laws to stop networks discriminating between different types of traffic. But network operators say that could hamper innovation, and those on the right see net neutrality as a socialist plot to regulate the internet.

Thus the incentives that used to favour greater interconnection now point the other way. Suggesting that “The Web is Dead”, as Wired magazine did recently, is going a bit far. But the net is losing some of its openness and universality.

That’s not always a bad thing. The profits which Apple harvests from its walled garden have enabled it to provide services and devices that delight its customers, who may be happy to trade a little openness for greater security or ease of use; if not, they can go elsewhere. While some parents welcome Apple’s policy of blocking racy apps from its devices, for example, anyone who dislikes it can buy a Nokia or an Android phone instead. And existing antitrust laws can always be brought to bear if any company establishes and then abuses a dominant position in, say, mobile-phone operating systems or advertising platforms—something that has not happened yet.

Restrictions imposed by governments are more troubling, and harder to deal with. There is not much that outsiders can do about China’s great firewall. But Western governments can at least set a good example. Australia’s plan to build a Chinese-style firewall in an effort to block child pornography and bomb-making instructions, for instance, is daft and should be scrapped. It will be easy to evade, and traditional law-enforcement approaches are a better way to handle such problems than messing with the internet’s plumbing.

Governments inclined to censor might be swayed by arguments that focus on the economic benefits of openness. Duy Hoang, an American-based campaigner for democracy in Vietnam, has suggested that foreign critics stress the internet’s role in fostering trade, development, education and jobs. Similarly, China could be reminded how much more its scientists could achieve if they had unfettered access to information.

What about the risk that operators will fragment the internet by erecting new road-blocks or toll booths? In theory, competition between providers of internet access should prevent this from happening. Any broadband provider that tries to block particular sites or services, for example, will quickly lose customers to rival firms—provided there are plenty of them.

Why net neutrality is a distraction

But that is not the case in America. Its vitriolic net-neutrality debate is a reflection of the lack of competition in broadband access. The best solution would be to require telecoms operators to open their high-speed networks to rivals on a wholesale basis, as is the case almost everywhere in the industrialised world. America’s big network operators have long argued that being forced to share their networks would undermine their incentives to invest in new infrastructure, and thus hamper the roll-out of broadband. But that has not happened in other countries that have mandated such “open access”, and enjoy faster and cheaper broadband than America. Net neutrality is difficult to define and enforce, and efforts to do so merely address the symptom (concern about discrimination) rather than the underlying cause (lack of competition). Rivalry between access providers offers the best protection against the erection of new barriers to the flow of information online.

This newspaper has always championed free trade, open markets and vigorous competition in the physical world. The same principles should be applied on the internet as well.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 46 other followers