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Kobel's Art Weekly

Stable AI's idea of an art fair in California
Stable AI's idea of an art fair in California
Stefan Kobel

Stefan Kobel

Kobel's Art Weekly 8 2023

A profound change in the art market is likely to come not in the form of real or imagined threats from techniques like NFTs and AI, but from marketing. This is supported by Daniel Cassidy's observations and thoughts on the occasion of Frieze LA for Artnews: "Some have argued that a behind-the-scenes change has also started the shift. Entertainment company Endeavor acquired a majority stake in the fair's parent company, Denmark Street Limited, in 2016, and since then many more people who are not collectors have been coming to the VIP days. A prominent art consultant, who also requested anonymity, speculated that because Endeavor is primarily an entertainment company, Frieze favors social media influencers. It was more like waiting for a sneaker drop than trying to get into an art fair," the consultant told ARTnews. One client left before he even got in. 'Don't ever take me to an art fair again,' he told me. 'I've never seen anything like it. We couldn't even find the end of the VIP line. I didn't recognize a single person in line, and there was no end in sight."

Glowing business ("gold rush") is what exhibitors are reporting from Frieze LA in Santa Monica, as Carlie Porterfield logs for The Art Newspaper "The pace of sales - some arranged in advance, of course - seemed to reflect the waning fears of a worst recession that hovered over the art market just a few months ago. Dealers at the fair also suggested that certain changes that accompanied the pandemic are having a lasting impact: Collectors are willing to spend money on art to display at home, where they still spend more time, even as the third anniversary of the Covid 19 pandemic's arrival in California approaches."

The bigger sales are at Frieze, but the hipper show is at the Roosevelt Hotel. Maximilano Durón's report for Artnews characterizes offerings and visitors, "The most talked-about presentation at this year's Felix is likely to be the hallway installation by London-based artist Jeffrey Dalessandro. [...] Presented by A Hug from the Art World, the project began when the company's founder, Adam Cohen, commissioned Dalessandro to create a figure of Larry Gagosian, whose gallery Cohen directs in New York. That led Dalessandro to design a figure of the notorious speculator Stefan Simchowitz. Over the past 18 months, the series has grown from there. The action hero-sized works, which Dalessandro makes and paints himself, come with a monochrome box. They are at once a reverence for these characters and an irreverent wink. I've recognized Jeffrey Deitch, the Rubells, Yayoi Kusama, Damien Hirst, Rashid Johnson, Beth Rudin DeWoody, David Kordansky, Ai Weiwei, Maurizio Cattelan, Kenny Schachter and many others." That sounds like art at the lowest common denominator level.

At Artnet, Eileen Kinsella celebrates the recovered Miami feel of hotel fairs, now stopping in Los Angeles: "[Dealer Charlie] James added that he made a significant sale to a famous L.A. collector he didn't know before. L.A. collectors tend not to find you on their own, no matter how well you're doing, so it's profitable to funnel them all through a small space like the Roosevelt."

Andreas Platthaus puts the million-dollar prices achieved in France for Tintin original drawings in perspective in the FAZ of February 18: "Also at Heritage a year ago, the most expensive single comic book page to date was auctioned, from a Spider-Man' comic from 1984, for 3.34 million dollars. It was drawn by Mike Zeck, who, in contrast to [Frank] Frazetta, can really be regarded as an artistically small light. That doesn't change the posterity of his page, which features the first appearance of the super-villain Venom. So three price-driving factors came together: precisely posterity (hence the popularity of covers), celebrity (not of the cartoonist, but of the subject - first appearances of well-known characters are coveted) and popularity." The last sentence also aptly describes driving forces of the current art market - at least the part that causes headlines and price capers.

Visual artist Mark Grotjahn has designed skis to draw attention to his exhibition at Gagosian in Gstaad in the U.S. ski resort of Aspen, reports Jo Lawson-Tancred at Artnet.

The news that the Chinese collector and entrepreneur Adrian Cheng (K11 Art Mall and K11 Art Foundation in Hong Kong) will become co-chairman of the Hong Kong-based Meta Media Group, which owns fashion magazines as well as ArtReview, fits in with all the above. Reporting the news is not only Zinnia Lee at Forbes, but also Denni Hu at Women's Wear Daily from Penske Media Group, which itself recently acquired Artforum.

NFTs are slowly but surely making their way into museums. The NFT collector with the pseudonym Cozomo de' Medici has donated 22 works of generative art to LACMA in Los Angeles, reports Shanti Escalante-De Mattei at Artnews: "LACMA is not the only museum acquiring NFTs at the moment. The Centre Pompidou announced late last week that it had acquired a small collection of NFTs. Last November, Yuga Labs donated a Crypto Punk to the ICA Miami. LACMA and de' Medici made a conscious decision to refer to these works as blockchain art, art minted on the blockchain, or on-chain art, as opposed to NFTs. There is a stigma attached to the term NFT, so we steered away from it," says de' Medici. The digital art world splits into two categories, I call it the great divide. And the great divide separates the first category, the PFP NFTs and the mania of speculation associated [with PFP NFTs], from the second category, digital fine art, as we've seen with generative art projects."

At the same time, the Centre Pompidou in Paris has acquired 18 NFTs by 13 artists, reports Dorian Batycka in The Art Newspaper: "The acquisition - the first of its kind by a major French public museum - was the result of a joint effort between scientific and administrative teams from the French Ministry of Culture and the director of the Pompidou, Xavier Rey. The Web3 is an innovative territory that artists are now using to create original and daring works," says Rey, "and this collection confirms our support for artists in conquering new means of expression that are the foundation of modern art. The new acquisitions span practices and cultures such as crypto art, plastic art, net art and generative art," according to the museum.

Making images through artificial intelligence comes with a host of new copyright issues, which attorney Eva Dzepina outlines for WELTKUNST (paywall). However, her prediction that "if at some point you only have to write 'Black sleeping cat on a red cushion in the style of van Gogh' to produce a work of art that sells well, things look bleak for real artists" falls short. It becomes difficult for Chinese copyist workshops and other epigones to justify and market their own "achievement." "Real artists" might also see in AI a welcome challenge to their own creativity.

Free museum admission not only ensures significantly higher visitor numbers, but also a more diverse and younger audience, according to some long-term experiments in California, the results of which Lori Finkel summarizes for The Art Newspaper.

The old and probably never-ending controversy about the artistic and art-historical value of posthumous casts is summarized by Hubertus Butin in the FAZ of February 18: "The opinions that posthumous casts are generally to be accepted or, on the contrary, fundamentally to be rejected, do not appear convincing in their exclusivity. Rather, it always depends on the respective artistic intentions and the specific circumstances of the work's creation. Whether or not an original exists can also only be decided on a case-by-case basis. For example, the legally permitted but inflationary and completely unscrupulous marketing of reproductions of sculptural works by Ernst Barlach has taken on absurd forms." Fatally, in this case, museums and the trade are pulling in the same direction: while for the latter even the umpteenth posthumous cast means sales, the museums want their holdings of less doubtless works to be protected and to be able to close gaps with works that are still affordable for them.

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