The Wrap: 2009


Trends that have been building for the past several years have reached a crescendo. Taken together they create a picture that didn’t exist ten years ago. Here are ten dynamics that will continue to set direction going forward.


Just a few years ago, our primary focus on art activity was in the US and Europe. Now we are also occupied with China, India, South America and the Middle East. As wealth has spread around the globe, the art world has experienced a huge expansion. Art has become an asset class. The artists, galleries, institutions, collectors, and magazines worldwide engage with and influence each other. The explosion of information and access is unprecedented. Going forward there will be more of everything and the challenge for clarity will increase.


The elephant in the room is the Internet. The ability to present, communicate, research and purchase on the web has rapidly fueled the rise of globalization. Everyone can participate at their own speed, in their own time and in their own depth. Mobile devices, social networking and abundant websites have intensified the dialogue into a 24/7 global marathon. No one sleeps.

Art/Basel, Switzerland

Art/Basel, Switzerland


The Art Fairs have become the venue of choice for viewing and buying by the art-loving public. Sixty thousand people pass through Basel or Arco in a few days, while galleries have weeks that deliver only a few dozen viewers. Institutions can get hundreds of people for an opening, but remain desolate during a regular weekday. Art Fair participation is mandatory for galleries to build their presence, expose their artists and develop new clients. Galleries are frequently doing multiple fairs each year. But brick and mortar still count.


The biggest galleries have adopted corporate business models and now practice branding strategies. The smaller galleries follow suit within their means. Competition plays out at the Fairs and is enabled by multiple gallery locations, same-city venues as well as multi-city venues in different countries.  To site just a few examples, Hauser & Wirth now has galleries in London, Zurich and New York; Arario has major venues in Seoul, Beijing and New York and Gagosian Gallery now operates in five international cities. Gallery branding has developed concurrently with artist brands – those artists commanding big prices and ever-bigger career coups such as Koons exhibiting in Versailles, Hirst staging his own auction, or Dale Chihuly with extravagant hotel commissions around the world, simultaneous museum exhibitions and a new stand-alone store in Las Vegas.

Christie's Salesroom

Christie's Salesroom w/Andy Warhol painting


While the auction houses suffered through 2009, their ambition for market share is undiminished. As business begins to rebound, Sotheby’s and Christie’s have reinstated guarantees. They are now inviting third-party guarantors, a move that ensures high-end consignors are supported while preserving auction house capital. Their private treaty business has grown dramatically, competing head-on with the galleries. Arguably, they are already in the gallery business, witness the purchase of Noortman Master Painting by Sotheby’s in 2007 and Haunch of Venison in London by Christie’s shortly thereafter.    All of the auction catalogues are now available on line.  In addition to Sotheby’s and Christie’s, there are numerous others including Phillip’s De Pury, Bonham’s, Doyle’s and art portal, Artnet.  Christie’s provides live online bidding.  Saffronart, an auction house that specializes in contemporary and modern Indian Art, offers an application for mobile devices that allows on line bidding.


The auction houses are not the only ones blurring the lines. With the desire to create memorable programming, to draw and educate viewers, and to package diminished available inventory, galleries are increasingly mounting exhibitions with museum-like attributes. These may be historic, themed or one-person exhibitions featuring borrowed works from private and institutional collections. For example, Gagosian’s retrospective exhibition in New York for Piero Manzoni was a season highlight. Library-worthy catalogs are produced along with educational programming featuring guest lecturers. There may be only one or two works available for purchase, but the gallery succeeds in building it’s brand and bringing in the crowds.  Gagosian/Manzoni

Charles Burchfield

Charles Burchfield


While the galleries are rivaling museums, the artists are taking on roles outside the studio. Robert Gober curated the recent Charles Burchfield show at the UCLA Hammer Museum. He was present to give the walk-through to patron members of the Museum. While Burchfield seemed to be a surprising choice for Gober given his own work, his involvement added to the pleasure and intrigue of the show. John Baldessari’s gallery design for “Magritte and Contemporary Art” at Los Angeles County Museum greatly enlivened the exhibition and affected the viewer’s response to the work. Eric Fischl is one of the leading fundraisers for “America Now + Here”, a multi-media, traveling exhibition exploring American identity through art. All of these activities precipitate fresh thinking concerning the role of the artist. Hammer Museum/Birchfield,  American Now + Here

Hirst Auction

Damien Hirst at Auction


It was very big news when Damien Hirst made a record $198 million at a two-day auction of his own work at Sotheby’s in October 2008. The numbers were breath-taking as was the precedent by-passing of his gallery representatives. While he is the standout example, artists have increasingly placed their own work at auction and are being solicited directly by the auction houses. Direct solicitation was prevalent in bringing the Chinese superstars to auction, made easier by the fact that the traditional gallery structure was not securely in place at the time.  Hirst auction review


Fakes, forgeries, and murky provenance have been widely debated in the press. As prices mount, inventory shrinks, and demand increases, authenticity has become paramount. With authenticity comes the matter of clear title. These two elements have become the key components required in consummating high-end sales. Buyers want assurance regarding the history of the work and confidence that the seller has the right to transfer ownership. Hence, the advent of Aris, a company that now underwrites title insurance for fine art. It is a nascent area in the world of art insurance, but a sure sign of the times.   Aris Corporation

Canvas Magazine announcement

Canvas Magazine announcement


Magazines have traditionally reported on the news and exhibitions created by others. More and more they are developing their own content and framing the dialogue. Canvas, the premier arts and culture magazine about art in the Middle East, recently staged a three-part conversation titled “Gender, Wars and Chadors”, exploring themes in Contemporary Middle Eastern Art.  The panels were held at three different art fairs around the globe – at Art Basel, Switzerland in June, at Frieze Art Fair, London in October ;  at Art Basel, Miami Beach in December. The Miami panel was moderated by uber-curator Hans Ulrich Obrist and included internationally renown artists Ghada Amer and Kader Attia. The fact that the conversation took place internationally attests to the global nature of the times. I attended all three presentations and they were fascinating.  Canvas Magazine


Surely the business of art and the art itself are two different things. Yet they are inextricably intertwined in both subtle and complex ways. Keeping up with both means staying wired and joining the global marathon.

One Response to “The Wrap: 2009”

  1. APT Blog » A Predicate to Change Says:

    [...] And while this is happening on the institutional level of museums, what is happening in the commercial sector? It is clear there are cracks in the system. As the galleries and auction houses struggle to pull ahead of unemployment and the fragile recovery from the recession, the second tier of the current chatter is: What lies in store for the gallery model? Some see Deitch’s departure as a clever golden parachute out of a high-flying plane that is going down—that his rebooting is a harbinger of the future and a paradigm shift in how transactional business will be conducted going forward. West coast art consultant Dorothy Goldeen’s blog recently observed following Miami Basel: “The Art Fairs have become the venue of choice for viewing and buying by the art-loving public. Sixty thousand people pass through Basel or Arco in a few days, while galleries have weeks that deliver only a few dozen viewers.”—Dorothy Goldeen [...]

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