Where in the world have I been? It’s been a while since my last dispatch—I hope you enjoyed the break. My absence was largely down to the fact I avoided the recent art fairs in Madrid, Marrakech, Mexico City, and Maastricht, and those are just the events beginning with the letter M (Milan is next month). There is a lot of art being made and sold, more so than at any point in history, I’d venture. In addition to all the fairs I’ve missed, there was a smattering of the smaller contemporary-art auctions in New York at the beginning of the month, followed closely on the heels by a full slate of Impressionist, Modern, and contemporary sales in London.
My hometown for nearly the past 15 years, London is a city wounded but alive and kicking, staving off incursions from China, Brexit fallout, and a seething antipathy to foreign wealth. Despite the best efforts of UK populist political forces to quash business opportunities, the London cycle of sales hit a grand total of a cool billion dollars, a record, portending a wild ride on the upside for May. Even Phillips stepped up its game with the house’s best performance ever. Hankering to dance at the same party as Sotheby’s and Christie’s, they’re still trying to get past the door—which is more apparent in New York, the art-market ground zero (at least for now). The question is whether Phillips will be able to sustain its upward momentum and finally join the club.
Critic Jerry Saltz always (and obviously) weighs in at these junctures to inveigh against the market, and he did this time around too, but that’s like me passing judgment on quantum physics; i.e. he’s ill-equipped to judge what he knows not. Yes—as the critic groused on Instagram, before taking the post down—there are too many of same artists repeatedly up for sale, and yes they are predominantly white guys who paint(ed), but that’s because success affirms success and the market is a fickle beast. Though it’s a small and incestuous universe, it does shift (albeit like lava) from sale to sale; for every Christopher Wool, Rudolf Stingel, Peter Doig, Gerhard Richter, and Sigmar Polke up for sale, a select few become newly embraced by buyers, while others get relegated to the minors. Read more