The Art Market Shrinks by 7%—and the 9 Other Biggest News Stories This Week

Artsy Editorial
Mar 11, 2016 11:41PM

01  The European Fine Art Foundation (TEFAF) released the 2016 edition of its annual report on the state of the art market on Wednesday, which, for the first time since 2011, saw the art market contract, with 7% less art by-value having been traded in 2015.

This should come as little surprise to anyone who has been watching headlines in recent months. In the art press, the pervading narrative has been one of a slowdown in the art market. Meanwhile, a broader macroeconomic downturn—especially in key emerging markets like China and Brazil, which began to play out in the second half of last year—has led to jitters about the overall business climate in 2016. China took the biggest hit in 2015, with a 23% decline in total art sales. But the picture painted by the 2016 TEFAF Art Market Report isn’t all bleak: the online art market expanded by an impressive 7% and the U.S. art sales also grew (by 4%) to reach its most dominant position in the global marketplace of recent years. 

02  The global decline in oil prices, combined with unexpected costs for large projects like the Hamad International Airport, has taken a toll on Qatar’s state coffers, resulting in deep cuts for cultural spending that have left more than 240 staff members at Qatar Museums jobless. 

(via The Art Newspaper)

Once described as the “most important buyers of art in the market,” some experts believe that Qatar’s high-ticket purchases may have influenced the record-breaking prices for artworks seen in recent years. Beyond the auctions, Qatar has also invested in outsized site-specific works by high-profile artists like Richard Serra and Damien Hirst. To see the national museum authority’s staff go from 1,200 to fewer than 800 in just two years may signal a slash in purchasing budget as well—and as a major player in an already cooling art market, Qatar’s financial situation could have further-reaching effects.

03  Mikhail Piotrovsky, the director of the State Hermitage Museum, wants to rebuild the ancient site of Palmyra following its destruction by ISIS.

(via The Art Newspaper)

Using artifacts and archival documents, Piotrovsky says he is working with other institutions (informally, at the moment) to craft a way to recreate Palmyra. Though he certainly isn’t the only one looking to restore the objects and history destroyed by ISIS, the Hermitage is one of the few museums in the world with a gallery dedicated to the Syrian city. In an interview with The Art Newspaper, Piotrovsky argues that the U.S. might have stopped the destruction of Palmyra had it bombed ISIS troops mobilizing to attack the city, which was under control of Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad, who the U.S. didn’t want to aid militarily. It’s rare to see a cultural museum director even tangentially criticizing the military policy of a foreign nation. His comments are another reminder of the murky geopolitics surrounding the conflict in Syria, which has seen the U.S. and Russian governments at odds over how each nation is intervening.

04  Art dealers are increasingly responsible for footing the bill of museum shows of their artists, with dealers being asked to contribute as much as $200,000 towards exhibition expenses.

(via the New York Times)

This story will not shock anyone deeply involved in the art trade—but it is nonetheless a long-overdue look at the issue of gallery-funded museum exhibitions. Especially as museums have focused increasingly on showing the works of living artists, those artists galleries have footed a portion of the bill, whether for shipping, catalogues, or other ancillary exhibition expenses. Frequent museum-goers will no doubt have noticed the gallery names featured on wall texts and work-placards, the latter of which, some would say, advertise the go-to dealer to purchase a work with baked-in museum provenance. There are essentially two camps here. In one, dealers find that the new status-quo is simply a cost of doing business (just like participating in art fairs) in which they pay to benefit from the prestige and increased sales prices associated with artists’ having museum shows. The other camp argues that this arrangement allows dealers to wield undue influence over curatorial and museum programming, leading to a small cadre of artists represented by a handful of mega-dealers stealing the limelight from what might otherwise be a more diverse group.

05  After more than 200 years in operation, Freeman’s—the United States’ oldest auction house—will change hands, as the founding family relinquishes ownership to three senior managers integral to the company’s turnaround since 1999.

(via Bloomberg)

Under the new owners, the Philadelphia-based auction house plans to renovate its headquarters, hire new staff members, and purchase additional salesrooms across the country. This comes as a marked contrast to recent decisions made by major auction houses like Sotheby’s, which late last year bought out 5% of its staff. Why an expansion in an apparently contracting art market? This may be linked to a phenomenon discussed in a Bloomberg article published last week, which examined auction data from website Invaluable (much of it from mid-sized and small companies). Although sales at the major auction houses have fallen compared to previous years, there appeared to be a 12% increase in overall sales of fine art outside those venues between 2014 and 2015. It may be only the upper tiers of the art market that are experiencing a slowdown, with money trickling down to smaller auction houses like Freeman’s instead.

06  After 26 years of increasingly controversial sponsorship, British Petroleum (BP) has announced it will cease supporting the Tate next year.

(via The Guardian)

BP is citing an “extremely challenging business environment” as the cause for ending its funding, though in recent years the Tate has seen protests mounted by artists and activists who were furious that the cultural institution was taking money from an oil giant. Among the numerous actions, protesters spent more than 24 hours plastering the floor of Tate Modern’s iconic Turbine Hall with climate change messages written in charcoal (a.k.a. carbon) last summer. Activists view this latest development as a major victory. BP’s contributions, which primarily went to maintaining the Tate’s collection, amounted to £224,000 a year on average—not much for a multi-billion-dollar oil company, but certainly nothing to sneeze at.

07  Larry Gagosian and John Berggruen are opening adjacent galleries in San Francisco, right across the street from the SFMOMA.

(via SF Gate)

Gagosian’s space—his sixteenth location—is slated to open on May 18th, four days after the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art re-opens after years of renovation. It’s an interesting move, given the city isn’t usually known for being a bustling site of art-world commerce. But, as the art dealer told SF Gate, the wealth of Silicon Valley is creating an “emerging collector base,” no doubt an attractive prospect for both gallerists. Berggruen, a longtime friend of Gagosian, told the paper that together, “the two galleries establish a small but significant critical mass.” The west coast in general has increasingly attracted the eye of art world, as galleries have begun to set up shop in Los Angeles. Following the opening of SFMOMA, Gagosian will inaugurate the new space with works by Richard Serra, Cy Twombly, Pablo Picasso and others.

08  The Institute for Artists’ Estates, which opens this month in Berlin, will be the first group in Europe to offer guidance for both living artists and their heirs in protecting their legacy.

(via The Art Newspaper)

It also intends to set up a doctorate program to fill gaps in the academic world’s understanding of artists’ estates, which have proliferated only in the last 25 years. An artist’s legacy (and, by extension, the market for their work) can be significantly affected by the management of their estate, but the people who take responsibility often tend to be family members without professional experience. Especially considering the record-breaking sales prices of recent years, it will only become more important for there to be a service offering training and advice for those working to manage an artist’s estate. With the Knoedler & Company forgery scandal still fresh on the art world’s mind, this organization may also help to combat major concerns about authenticity—the Institute’s founder Loretta Würtenberger told The Art Newspaper that a catalogue raisonné made while an artist is still alive serves as one of the strongest safeguards against forgeries.

09  The Swiss Pavilion at the 2017 Venice Biennale will be orchestrated by Los Angeles-based curator and critic Philipp Kaiser, former director of the Museum Ludwig in Cologne—a shift from the pavilion’s previous format, in which artists were nominated to present works.

(via ARTnews)

The announcement marks Kaiser’s return to the European art world, following his sudden resignation from the Museum Ludwig in December 2013. Although his work at the German institution had garnered excellent reviews, the curator stepped down from his post as director after just over a year. It was a choice he attributed solely to family matters; Kaiser soon returned to LA, where he had previously served as a senior curator at MOCA. His work on the Swiss Pavilion will follow a 2015 installation by Pamela Rosenkranz, widely hailed as a major highlight of that Biennale. For the piece, titled Our Product, Rosenkranz filled a room with liquid dyed the same shade as the average Central European skin color, prompting questions about identity and humanity.

10  Amid several departures by high-ranking staff, Sotheby’s has appointed former Bain Capital CFO Michael Goss as chief financial officer.

(via the Financial Times)

Under the guidance of activist investor Daniel Loeb, Sotheby’s has seen a changeover in both its CEO and its mindset—from art-world insider William Ruprecht to businessman Tad Smith, the former head of Madison Square Garden. Smith has since championed a client-focused approach and, with Goss’s appointment, continues to bring in people from outside the historically insular art world to aid in realizing his goal. Beyond Sotheby’s, the announcement speaks to a larger move in the art trade, noted in a panel at last week’s Armory Show, in which new art world recruits are taking a stance against the opacity and inefficiency they believe are keeping the art market from reaching its full potential.

—Abigail Cain, Alexander Forbes, and Isaac Kaplan

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Jenna Gribbon, Luncheon on the grass, a recurring dream, 2020. Jenna Gribbon, April studio, parting glance, 2021. Jenna Gribbon, Silver Tongue, 2019