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Kobel's Art Weekly

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Are they with us? Tweet by @stevekrouse
Stefan Kobel

Stefan Kobel

Kobel's Art Weekly 6 2022

Fiac and Paris Photo will soon be led by one director. And her name is not Jennifer Flay, as Bettina Wohlfarth reports in the FAZ: "The defeated Dutch-British trade fair company RX is joining forces and making Florence Bourgeois the new director of FIAC. She succeeds Jennifer Flay, who had been head of the art fair since 2003 and is now 'taking a break,' RX announced - probably also to counter speculation that Flay might switch to the Swiss exhibition company MCH, which is behind Art Basel. Bourgeois, in turn, became head of Paris Photo, also organized by RX, in 2015, which was able to maintain its position in the Grand Palais. Now she is expected to preside over both fairs."

Art Basel has responded to Anna Brady of The Art Newspaper about last week's criticism by Art Cologne director Danile Hug: „Today [January, 31], an Art Basel spokesperson told The Art Newspaper that this rumoured price rise is untrue and the fair company has 'no intention of increasing the square metre price [for the Paris fair] in that way.' The spokesperson adds: 'We have every intention of investing equally in both fairs (Paris and Basel) and believe there is ample room for both shows to thrive.'“

The art trade industry can breathe a sigh of relief, at least in the USA. According to a report by the Treasury Department there, stricter measures to control money laundering are not urgently needed, Graham Bowley and Zachary Small summarize the results of the study in the New York Times: „But the study concluded that the industry has a low risk of terror financing, or being used for the sale of looted art from countries like Syria to support terrorist activities. It said that expensive artworks are rarely paid for in cash, likely making them an unattractive vehicle for laundering illicit money. In addition, the authors found that, as part of their efforts to protect their reputations and businesses, auction houses and major galleries already perform due diligence on customers, providing voluntary safeguards against abuse.“

On the other hand, there are the Pandora Papers, which Riah Pryor points out in The Art Newspaper: „More than 1,600 works of art created by over 400 artists are claimed to have been 'secretly traded' using shell companies and tax havens, according to the latest revelations from the Pandora Papers. The data was revealed by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), which is working with media outlets globally to sift through 11.9m financial documents which were leaked from an unidentified source in 2021.“

Can machines determine art prices? A group of researchers led by Roman Kräussl from the University of Luxembourg asked themselves this question. As reported by Informationsdienst Wissenschaft iwd, they fed a computer with historical auction data and then had it make estimates for unknown works. Human experts are more accurate because of their greater detailed knowledge of the individual objects. Nevertheless, there are applications for artificial intelligence: "For example, such an algorithm could be used to determine whether an auctioneer's pre-sale valuations are too pessimistic or too optimistic, which in turn would allow more accurate predictions of auctioneer estimation errors. Ultimately, this information could be used to correct such human-induced market inefficiencies.

NFTs are probably more for amateurs, Christiaan Hetzner for Fortune has learned from a competent source: „While it swiftly sparked a gold rush among small investors hoping to get rich overnight by speculating on the right NFT collectible, the world’s leading money manager to the über-rich says that its discerning clients won’t be jumping on the bandwagon anytime soon. 'Real institutional demand for NFTs? No, we don’t see that,' UBS chief executive Ralph Hamers told reporters in an earnings call on Tuesday.“

Yuga Labs is said to be in negotiations with Andreessen Horowitz for the venture capital firm to buy into the company that launched Bored Ape Yacht Club, a collection of ape paintings whose NFTs trade for millions. The deal is expected to value the company at $4 million to $5 million billion, according to Shanti Escalante-DeMattei at Artnews. That's where what belongs together grows together.

Their share is comparatively small, but they can do tremendous damage to the industry's image: so-called wash trades designed to drive up prices of NFTs through fictitious sales. The industry analyst Chainalysis has investigated suspicious activities: „The 110 profitable wash traders have collectively made nearly $8.9 million in profit from this activity, dwarfing the $416,984 in losses made by the 152 unprofitable wash traders. Even worse, that $8.9 million is most likely derived from sales to unsuspecting buyers who believe the NFT they’re purchasing has been growing in value, sold from one distinct collector to another. NFT wash trading exists in a murky legal area. While wash trading is prohibited in conventional securities and futures, wash trading involving NFTs has yet to be the subject of an enforcement action. However, that could change as regulators shift focus and apply existing anti-fraud authorities to new NFT markets.“

One well-known art dealer is suing another to find out the previous owner of a very expensive painting so that the work will sell better or at all, reports Daniel Cassidy in The Art Newspaper. Provenance problems are supposed to no longer exist with NFTs.

But far from it. Sotheby's and digital artist Kevin McCoy are currently facing a lawsuit that questions the legitimacy of the sale of the early NFT "Quantum”. Ledger Insights tries to make the dispute comprehensible to outsiders. At its core is the fact that the original 2014 NameCoin was verified on the Bitcoin-based blockchain, but the artist had failed to regularly renew his claim, as this coin requires. With the move seven years later to Ethereum, it is therefore a new work, claims anonymous plaintiff EarlyNFT, who registered the original address himself shortly before the Sotheby's auction that raised just under $1.5 million.

The German artist Niclas Castello (in real life Norbert Zerbs), who has so far attracted attention at best with his more or less sophisticated appropriations of well-known Pop Art, has dropped a cube of pure gold weighing almost 100 kilograms in New York's Central Park. Will Heinrich sums up the action most aptly in the New York Times: „What the 'Castello Cube' really speaks to is the self-sustaining power of capital. If you have the resources to get hold of $10 or $11 million dollars’ worth of gold from a UBS Bank in Switzerland — as Castello did — and then pay a centuries-old bell foundry there to shape it into a cube, and finally to ship this cube to the most visible park in the finance capital of the Western world, you can get people to look at it, talk about it and review it — and then, in what is shaping up to be the new gold standard, sell the whole experience as an NFT.“ Those who were now hoping that buying the NFT would also buy them shares in the real gold, however, will be disappointed. "While the Castello Coin will not be backed by the artwork or include any rights to the artwork or issuer, the artwork will act as a Brand Ambassador for the Coin" reads the White Paper for the ICO somewhat clumsily. The promotional video for the Castello Coin seems like a parody, but it is probably not. The issuing HoGA Capital AG with a share capital of 100,000 francs is based in Zug, Switzerland. According to businessmonitor, 96 other companies are registered at the same address.

In a series of interviews worth reading, Tim Ackermann takes an approach to the topic of NFT for WELTKUNST (free registration).

In Berlin, a dispute over the famous Paris Bar paintings flares up again after the lawyer Peter Raue denies Martin Kippenberger authorship of the first two works on the occasion of an exhibition at the Haus am Lützowplatz showing a new third version by the poster painter Götz Valien, who executed the work at the time. Peter Richter breaks down the affair in the Süddeutsche Zeitung of February 5: "It doesn't sound like he's asking for much in return, except for a little recognition. After all, in the end it was he who not only convincingly put half the restaurant on canvas using an eye-deceiving technique, but also copies of the works of a whole series of completely different painters. The discussion that briefly flared up at the time ultimately also touched on the question of the role of the many nameless assistants who work in the studios of successful artists, or the 'workshop,' as it is always so nicely called in the case of old masters such as Rembrandt, although in their case this is always added when art historians believe that an artist did not entirely wield the brush alone. In light of the market success that posthumously made Kippenberger one of the most expensive German artists, this simply raises the question of whether the executing painter is not also entitled to part of the authorship. Or even all of it?" Christian Herchenröder is less gracious about this in the Handelsblatt: "Two paintings worth millions are the godfather for a version known as 'Variant 3', which could be supplied to the market as a 'triplicate'. It remains a world-renowned motif chosen by Kippenberger and inseparably associated with his name nonetheless. To put it bluntly, one could say: here a notoriously undervalued artist makes use of the world fame of a blue chip artist." On February 9 16, a panel discussion will take place at the Haus am Lützowplatz with the participation of the author of the legal assessment and his counterpart.

The dispute over the supposed Berlin Kunsthalle continues. Christiane Meixner ponders in the Tagesspiegel reasons for the criticism: "When Smerling in his multiple function - not least as representative of a powerful private collection that forms the holdings of the Museum Küppersmühle - now also appears as curator of the exhibition of Venet; an artist whom the mega-gallery König in St. Agnes now has under contract, which will soon also open a solo show. When real estate developer Christoph Gröner appears as the event's main sponsor, has his company's New Year's reception held in the exhibition even before the official opening, and gives an interview to ZDF against the backdrop of the ramshackle hangars in which he speaks of 'art as a door opener' - then one gets a faint idea of the dimension in which the retrospective proves to be an instrument for all sorts of things. As a melange of private, economic, and representative interests, on which criticism is rightly ignited."

Some artists have already drawn consequences, explains Saskia Trebing at Monopol: "In the meantime, the two artists Agnieszka Polska and Martina Vacheva have withdrawn their works from the traveling exhibition 'Diversity United', which is also organized by the foundation of the cultural manager Walter Smerling and made a guest appearance last year in two hangars of the disused Berlin airport."

Niklas Maak, who got the discussion rolling, follows up in the FAZ (paywall) and accuses the Senate of subsidizing the private exhibition with taxpayers' money, contrary to earlier assurances: "It is not the case that a patron here provides private funds to a public art hall project and thus helps it to succeed without intervening in the program. Smerling receives money from the state and does what his association thinks is right - such as a Venet exhibition. The case shows the abysses that open up under the public-private partnerships that are much celebrated in times of tight budgets: sometimes they just mean that 'public' is allowed to finance the interests of 'private'." tries to take a differentiated look at the dispute: "Getting an exhibition like this up and running in just three months is probably unique, a par-force act that could also end breakneck. Smerling, the rising star, has landed in Berlin. The first retrospective of this extraordinary artist could go over the new art hall stage. Venet's work is spread out in full breadth and goodness over 60 years from 1961 to the present. But the pragmatism of the maker SmerIing reaches its limits here. Opening the Kunsthalle Berlin with a solo exhibition of an 80-year-old, world-famous major artist does not exactly fulfill the expectations of an art gallery. Retrospectives are a matter for museums. But doesn't this show a weakness of public institutions that have neither the corresponding budgets nor the corresponding willingness to take risks? Vernet may be a likeable, even understated artist from the south of France, but he remains an old white man."

The spectacular Knoedler Galleries case is now available as an eight-episode podcast, voiced by Alec Baldwin. Michael Shnayerson's story is based on his own 2012 article for Vanity Fair, according to Peter White at Deadline. The first two episodes can be listened to at iHeart.

Christoph Schütte reports the probable end of the Interessengemeinschaft Frankfurter Galerien in the FAZ: "When the last newsletter last year announced that the IG was discontinuing regular information about exhibitions and fair participations of its members, it was basically clear that the cohesion was not good. Possibly the form of the IG has outlived its usefulness after a good 35 years of joint presence. After all, the interests and profiles of galleries operating regionally, nationally or internationally, including the remaining 30 or so represented under the umbrella of the IG, are quite different. And now they are all strongly challenged by the pandemic."

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