There was a time – not so long ago – when artists gave exclusive representation to one gallery; sometimes for a geographical region, sometimes worldwide. The gallery or galleries managed the artists’ careers, placed works in the best collections and organised exhibitions and publications, and in return they could count on the artists’ loyalty.
But that system is being shattered, as some artists turn to independent agents to run their careers, and others hold shows with rival galleries. We saw this in London during Frieze art fair, with Peter Doig, for instance, exhibiting with Michael Werner, even though he has been a long-time artist with Victoria Miro.
This week the talk of Art Basel Miami Beach was the news that superstar Jeff Koons, who has worked for years with Gagosian, will be having a show with another mega-gallery, David Zwirner, in May next year. The exhibition, in Zwirner’s 19th Street space, will feature new work. Neither Gagosian nor Zwirner wanted to comment on whether this means Koons will be changing galleries. Then the Californian artist Sterling Ruby, who left Pace at the beginning of this year, has been taken on by Hauser & Wirth. Ruby is represented in Europe by Sprüth Magers in London and Xavier Hufkens in Brussels, but Hauser will hold an exhibition of Ruby’s work in its vast Savile Row space in March next year, right under the nose of Sprüth, so to speak. Sprüth and Hufkens told me that they are happily continuing to represent Ruby, but it must be irritating nevertheless. And finally, going in the other direction, Hauser’s artist Thomas Houseago – another Californian – will be having a show with Gagosian in its Rome gallery next year. Musical chairs all round.
Another hot topic at the fair was over-production. With the top galleries now boasting multiple spaces (Gagosian has 12, Zwirner five, and so on), there is immense pressure on artists to produce enough art to fill them. Sterling Ruby has just opened a 90,000 sq ft studio in California, and other artists employ hundreds of fabricators to keep pace with demand, meaning that it is impossible for their “hand” to be present in the production process. The subject was debated by art market guru Josh Baer and Marc Glimcher of Pace Gallery in a discussion dubbed “The Age of Empires”.
“It’s inevitable that art will lose value through over-production,” said Glimcher. “It’s like death, it’s unavoidable. The issue is that there is an opportunity because there is a clamour for art, and the mechanism is there to produce thousands of works. It’s easy to get sucked into the system.”
He blamed the fact that “every foyer in New York seems to want the same thing these days”.
Sotheby’s rushed out a “news flash” immediately after selling the beautiful Raphael drawing from Chatsworth, “Head of a Young Apostle”, for a record £29.7m, announcing that this was a new auction record for any work on paper. Not so fast, I thought, remembering the 2010 sale of a hand scroll at Poly Auction in Beijing for $63.8m. I asked Sotheby’s about this, and they agreed that an ink-on-paper calligraphy, by Huang Tingjian and dating from the 11th century, had been “reportedly” sold for that sum.
“We have been able to confer with our specialists in Asia [and] they point out that this work is considered to be a painting, not a drawing,” they said in response. Nevertheless, Sotheby’s has modified its stance, now claiming that the Raphael is a record for any drawing, not any work on paper.
Christmas printing deadlines meant that I did not have time to get a handle on sales at Art Basel Miami Beach last week. Now that the fair has ended, it seems that sales were good, if not spectacular. Dealers had played safe, bringing mainly “blue-chip” works; the sparkly, mirrored or bright pink artworks that were once characteristic of the Florida resort were definitely absent this year. According to a number of dealers, including Angela Westwater of Sperone Westwater, sales were “solid” throughout, mainly in the lower six figures. She was pleased to see a painting by her gallery’s newly signed artist Ali Banisadr sell immediately (around $30,000) as did a sculpture by Evan Penny (“Self Portrait”, $180,000). She also noted the international mix of visitors at the fair: “We saw collectors from Britain, Turkey and Germany, but perhaps fewer from New York this year,” she said.
Gagosian showed three early Jeff Koons pieces, with “Buster Keaton” (1988), priced at around $5m, selling on the first day; it went to the Californian collector Eli Broad, according to Bloomberg. Alex Logsdail of Lisson Gallery said sales were excellent – “but not as good as last year, which was exceptional” – citing an Ai Weiwei marble sculpture at €35,000 and an Anish Kapoor wall disc at £625,000.
The Paris auction house Artcurial is going ahead with the sale of an imperial seal dating from the Qianlong period (1736-96) on Monday; the spinach-green jade comes from a French collection and is expected to fetch €150,000-€200,000. But according to the China News Service, various heritage bodies have asked for the piece to be removed from the sale because it was looted from the Yuanmingyuan (Summer Palace) during the second opium war in 1860. According to Emmanuel Bérard of Artcurial, they have not been contacted by the Chinese authorities; he denies the piece was looted and says that this has been confirmed by Laurent Long, the world expert in seals. In November, Bonhams removed two jades, believed to have been looted during the opium wars, from a sale in London after strident objections from China.
Georgina Adam is editor-at-large of The Art Newspaper