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Kobel's Art Weekly

Adrien Leho "Boomerang", free via
Adrien Leho "Boomerang", free via
Stefan Kobel

Stefan Kobel

Kobel's Art Weekly 34 2023

The reckoning comes at the end, and Ukraine is prudently keeping records, including of art owned by sanctioned Russians, Ursula Scheer reports in the FAZ: "The country's National Agency for the Prevention of Corruption (NACP) has compiled the database, which is open to further reports, under the heading 'War & Art'. It is intended not only to publicise the wealth of Putin's business elite, but also to serve as an easy-to-use tool to prevent the resale of listed works of art or to facilitate confiscations. According to NACP, it is still too easy for oligarchs to launder or hide money with art. However, the database, which focuses on sanctions enforcement, has inaccuracies: for example, it lists not only artworks in current Russian ownership, but also those that have previously passed through the hands of oligarchs."

After Sotheby's and Christie's, Phillips also delivers poor figures, reports Angelica Villa at Artnews: "Phillips said its global sales for the first half of 2023 were $453 million, a substantial 39 percent drop compared to the $746 million it reported for the first half of 2022. That year was a 37 percent increase compared to the $542.7 million in total sales reported for the first half of 2021. Auction sales accounted for $409 million of the total sum for the first half of 2023, which also includes private sales. That's a 31 percent decrease from the $590 million reported for the same period last year. This year's figure was also lower than the $452 million reported in the first half of 2021. Private sales were also down significantly, to $44 million, a 72 percent decrease from last year's result of $156 million. The drop in private sales appears even more stark considering that last year's result was a record high".

Phillips seems to see a way out of the crisis in entering the primary market, Angelica Villa has learned for Artnews: "The promise of receiving 3 percent from any resales of their art at Phillips is one draw for artists working with Dropshop. Because resale royalties are not standard among [US] auction houses, Phillips is aiming to make the model an industry first. Sales of the editioned works from other artists contracted to make work for the platform will be released monthly. The terms of the participating artists' contracts with Phillips are being kept confidential. Increasingly, artworks sold directly from artist's studios have been included in contemporary art day sales at Phillips, as well as at auctions held by competing houses such as Sotheby's and Christie's."

Olga Grimm-Weissert garnishes the positive half-yearly balance of the French auctioneers with an auction turnover of 950 million euros (without private sales) in the Handelsblatt with some piquant details: "Sotheby's auctioned the estate of the actor and writer Peter Ustinov on 6 July. There it seemed that auctioneer Pierre Mothes let an online bidder believe that there were telephone bids against him in order to raise the hammer price for an object worth about 1,200 euros. The three employees, including an auctioneer, sitting at the telephone desk doubled over with laughter. Anyone who was present in the room, like Handelsblatt, could see that. In its statement, Sotheby's firmly rejects this allegation: 'Sotheby's conducts all its business in strict accordance with its terms and conditions'. It said it was important for all bidders to know that the auctioneer could open the sale of a lot by placing a bid on behalf of the seller." However, the statement does not exactly respond to the accusation of high bidding.

Barbara Kutscher sat through the "Christie's Art + Tech Summit" event in New York for the Handelsblatt: "In twenty rounds, each lasting half an hour, they [the participants] were supposed to knock off the status of NFTs, blockchain and above all artificial intelligence (AI). To Bloomberg Technology, [host Ddevang] Thakkar had explained the auctioneer's involvement thus: 'We see ourselves as a neutral party. Every new technology has its own learning cycle and no one can solve these challenges alone.' Christie's has already invested in six start-ups, all of which aim to advance the business of art, Thakkar, who has held executive positions at Microsoft and Artsy, told the Summit. Thanks largely to the iPhone, he said, the size of the art market doubled from 2007 to 2017. He predicts a further doubling thanks to AI. Currently, Christie's is working on an AI-supported 'Art Advisor' with the support of Microsoft." It remains completely unclear to which key figure this steep thesis refers. After all, according to the relevant research, the turnover of the global art market was roughly the same in the two years mentioned.

According to a report by Angelica Villa for Artnews, Sotheby's has been added as a defendant in a group of investors' ongoing lawsuit over the house's promotion of NFTs sold by the Web3 company Yuga Labs, which is best known as the parent company of the viral collection Bored Ape Yacht Club (BAYC). Initially, the class action lawsuit focused solely on Yuga Labs. The suit centres around allegations that it misled investors in the marketing of the BAYC digital assets. In an amendment to the original legal filing dated last Friday, the investors claim that Sotheby's was an active player in 'misleadingly' promoting the BAYC NFTs in the results of its public sales. The suit alleged that the auction house attempted to 'manipulate' NFTs in the popular Bored Ape Yacht Club collection." Pity is misplaced at this point. Whoever bought BYACs at the time must clearly be described as a speculator looking for a quick profit - if one wants to exclude money laundering as a motive. It is cheap to try to get back the money sunk by means of prospectus liability or similar flimsy arguments, but one can give it a try. On the other hand, one could have known that sellers or brokers of potential financial products should have done their homework beforehand.

Meanwhile, the two NFT marketplaces Blur and OpenSea are cutting royalties for artists on resales, as Francesca Aton of Artnews knows: "In an effort to lower costs meant to uplift the buying and selling of NFTs, the two companies cut royalties for artists when their NFTs' ownership changes. [...] Between August 2021 and May 2022, Nansen data showed that cumulative monthly royalties reached $1.5 billion with a peak of $269 million in January 2022. Last month, royalties totalled a mere $4.3 million."

A new art fair during Frieze week that exclusively offers art by women is introduced by Aimee Dawson in The Art Newspaper: "The Women in Art Fair (WIAF) is 'dedicated to redressing the gender imbalance in the art industry' and will give women and those identifying as women 'an opportunity to show their work, and contribute to the developing exchange of ideas around gender, sexuality and culture', according to its website . The first edition will take place from 11 to 16 October, coinciding with Frieze London and Frieze Masters, and will be held at the Mall Galleries in Westminster."

When visiting the Bamberg Art and Antiques Weeks for the Handelsblatt, Regine Müller encounters a newcomer who will be well remembered by Berlin art scene followers of the noughties: "Thomas Eller presents exclusively contemporary art in his THEgallery. For the fair, he has put together an exhibition of works by the Ukrainian sculptor Vadim Sidur (1924 to 1985), who was considered the 'Henry Moore of the Soviet Union', and placed them in an intimate dialogue with works by his contemporary Werner Knaupp, who is over 85 years old. The Documenta 7 participant paints monochrome pictures with unbroken creative power. Thomas Eller does not feel like a foreign body in the historical environment, on the contrary: 'It's a nice feeling to travel across art history here in the smallest space.'"

In the USA at least, the move of curators to the Dark Side, i.e. the art trade, is becoming increasingly common. Maddie Klett follows the trend for Artnews: "Posts at commercial galleries are becoming increasingly coveted, even to institutional curators who have worked at the highest levels. In March, Kate Fowle, who had served as MoMA PS1's director for just under three years before unexpectedly resigning in June 2022, was hired as the inaugural senior curatorial director at mega-gallery Hauser & Wirth. [...] As with countless other galleries, curators now seem to be terming their practice as "artist-first," moving away from the curator-as-auteur persona that was glorified a decade earlier in favour of stewarding solo projects or shows driven by existing networks in which the artists can shine." In addition to better working conditions, the higher income in the free market also seems to play a role.

According to a press release, the 42nd Civil Chamber of the Munich I Regional Court, which is responsible for copyright and design law, has ruled that "Götz Valien is co-author of various versions of the painting 'Paris Bar' alongside Martin Kippenberger pursuant to Section 8 (1) UrhG and must therefore be mentioned by name as such, Section 13 UrhG. Whether further claims result from the established co-authorship was not the subject of the proceedings and consequently no decision was made on this. In response to the defendant's counterclaim, the plaintiff acknowledged the defendant's claim not to exhibit the painting 'Paris Bar Version 3' as sole author." The dispute does not seem to have been about money for the plaintiff painter, but about honour. Basically, Valien's lawyer, whose opinion Peter Richter reproduces in the Süddeutsche Zeitung of 8 August: "Ideas cannot be protected at all, preaches Peter Raue, the lawyer representing Valien in this case, again and again: unfortunately, this is obviously only better understood by lawyers than in the art business. In fact, this touches on the concept of conceptual art to a certain extent. In any case, many in the professional community had tended to favour the position of the Kippenberger side. The Munich court, to which Raue appealed and which now seems to be following him to a large extent, is also intervening in art-historical debates. For centuries, artists have always been concerned with raising the mechanical arts to the social level of the liberal arts, with emancipating themselves from the craftsmanship of their work, with emphasising the intellectual component. An entire idealistic tradition of art philosophy, culminating with Hegel, revolved around this motif of the dematerialisation of artistic practice. Debates today are still shaped by this."

The fact that the wrangling over the art magazine Art feels like an soap opera could be due to the owner. Anna Ernst reports in the Süddeutsche Zeitung of 17 August on the withdrawal of an interested party: "There was great hope, however, for the sale of the art magazine Art. Only a few days ago, at a press conference to present RTL's half-year figures, RTL manager Rabe had expressed confidence that he would soon be able to officially announce a buyer. Negotiations had been going on for months and were apparently well advanced. But now Rabe will probably have to renegotiate the sale of Art. According to SZ information, the Spiegel Group was the most promising bidder for Art [...] According to several sources, a completely new culture portal could have been created under the brand umbrella. Now, however, Spiegel is surprisingly pulling out. According to sources close to RTL, the staff corporation is said to have discussed the matter last week. It is said that the price RTL had asked for Art was too high for the Spiegel employees' holding company." Smear comedy would perhaps be a more appropriate term, and one could laugh if it weren't about livelihoods.

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