Month: January 2016

“Widespread chill” in art sales has auction houses changing their tactics

posted by – 01/31/16 @ 12:58pm

Picasso’s ‘Les Femmes d’Alger (Version O)’ (1955), which broke global auction records when it sold at Christie’s last year.

Art sales have been making headlines for a few years now due to their exorbitant totals for works from big-name and newcomer artists alike. According to one estimate by Citi Private Bank, the average annual growth rate of the global art market since 2000 lies around 13%. In just two consecutive days of auctions in May 2015, Christie’s and Sotheby’s combined reported sales topping $1 billion. At Christie’s, Picasso’s “Les Femmes d’Alger (Version O)” cost one investor a pretty penny – a record-breaking $179.9 million.

But the art market bubble does not appear to be expanding as quickly as it once was. According to the same Citi Bank report, annual growth rates are now hovering around the 9% mark. In the Wall Street Journal, writer Kelly Crow attributes slowing growth rates to “falling oil prices, volatile stock swings and China’s deepening economic woes,” among other things. When the stock market fluctuates and worries buyers, they are less likely to take risks with their investments. And like stocks, art values can vary widely and drop suddenly. Nonetheless, Kelly’s cited experts remain confident that the we will not see an art-market crash.

Auction houses, too, are paying close attention to changes in customer mindsets and purchases. For example, Sotheby’s will “focus on artists [they] know sell well,” rather than showcasing newcomers that are still foreign to buyers. More attention is being paid to guaranteed sales, making the practice of auction more “choreographed.” If that meets securing a bidder to appease the seller’s mind, many auction houses are ready to do that. While sales estimates are lower and some art values are decreasing, experts maintain a positive outlook since, historically, art has been a secure market in which investors can secure and protect their wealth.

As Edmond Francey, head of Christie’s contemporary sale this coming February, puts it: “Sometimes you need to reassure a market.” And until global markets generally stabilize, auction houses will be doing just that.

Locally-based shows introduce international talent

posted by – 01/26/16 @ 3:48pm

Made in LA 2012: Installation view at the Hammer Museum, Los Angeles. Photo: Brian Forrest.

In her article for the New York Times about Hammer Museum’s upcoming “Made in L.A.” show, Jori Minkel emphasizes the vast geographical diversity of artists that will be showcased at the biennial exhibition. While the show aims to embrace local talent, it is hard to ignore the fact that this upcoming edition of the show draws from a multitude of areas and nationalities much different than the L.A. locale or lifestyle. From Lebanon to Australia, Brazil to Germany, and everywhere in between, this show exemplifies a growing trend in the art world: the increasing globalization of exhibitions and the art market.

According to curators Aram Moshayedi and Hamza Walker, this transition from local to global is “natural,” though unprovoked. Like many other urban centers, Los Angeles is home to increasing numbers of artists from around the world. It is no wonder, then, that these expats made their way into local shows. And these curators are okay with that. Rather than excluding good artists due to birthplace, the duo opted to showcase the best work within their reach.

Nashville, too, can relate to the sensation of an increasingly diverse population and creative demographic. Not only are musicians moving to town in hordes; galleries like Tinney Contemporary are continuing to represent and show artists that hail from all corners of the world. This increasing diversity and the increasingly important global aspect of the art world adds to budding urban centers like our own, introducing locals to global perspectives and aesthetics we may otherwise miss out on.

Does the globalization of art work to the advantage of the viewer? For the eye-opening, educational effect art can have on audiences: yes. Take José Betancourt’s work that we showed in August for example. In it, the artist draws from memories of his early life in Cuba. The experiences he illustrates and alludes to cannot be found in the U.S. at all, much less within Nashville’s city limits. Without viewing his work, Nashville audiences would perhaps not even consider political issues that lie just 90 miles south of Florida. In this way, the globalization of art, its consumption, and the ease with which we can view work from around the world is to everyone’s advantage.


To learn more about the Hammer Museum’s “Made in L.A.” show, click here.

“New Photography” in the digital age

posted by – 01/19/16 @ 3:46pm


‘The Sun,’ pages 1-2 from volume one of Mishka Henner’s ‘Astronomical’ (2011). Photo: Mishka Henner/Bruce Silverstein Gallery.

Recently, the Museum of Modern Art in New York introduced the 25th edition of its show “New Photography” that offers up-and-coming photographers and their work invaluable exposure to both the art world and to general audiences. However, as art critic Richard B. Woodward points out in his article for the Wall Street Journal, this show represents a marked change taking place in the photography sphere. According to Woodward, “for today’s artists, computer skills are now more needed than camera know-how.” This statement may be a bit harsh but is not without merit.

Historically, photography has served as a truth-telling medium in that it records a specific moment in time that can be replicated and shared just by saving the film. In its early stages as a medium, photography documented reality as it happened and catalogued the history of the time and place in which it was taken. It limited the artist’s ability to edit the result; the image captured by a camera’s lens and printed through darkroom ritual exposed a true moment. Any edit would be obvious, obtrusive, and overtly false.

Now, photographers are not so limited to that one perfect exposure. Besides evolving photographic techniques and modern in-camera technology, artists today benefit from seemingly infinite amounts of computer software that can alter the original image beyond recognition. This software allows the most amateur photographers to alter the reality captured by their camera. With just a few clicks on Photoshop, photographers can erase their subject’s superficial imperfections, change a model’s hair color, or make a shot of a dawn sky look like one at dusk. No longer must “photographers” settle for the product of a darkroom’s manual process.

So what, then, qualifies as photography today? At a certain point, can we disqualify someone as a photographer? As Woodward insinuates, it seems that some of the skill previously required to capture a perfectly-lit, thought-provoking image in one take, without the crutch of digital tools, could soon become a rarity. Sure, software can be used to simply enhance a raw image in terms of contrast, color, and sharpness. When, though, do those edits produce falsities that photography alone could not produce? With digitally enhanced work, we may lose some of the honest and documentary aspects that traditional photography promised and that viewers valued.

To learn more about “Ocean of Images: New Photography 2015,” click here.