The Back Room: Nature vs. Nurture
This week: the Almine Rech method, Marlene Dumas defies speculators, Vera Molnár’s market paradox, and much more.
Every Friday, Artnet News Pro members get exclusive access to the Back Room, our lively recap funneling only the week’s must-know intel into a nimble read you’ll actually enjoy.
This week in the Back Room: the Almine Rech method, Marlene Dumas defies speculators, Vera Molnár’s market paradox, and much more—all in a 6-minute read (1,580 words).
Top of the Market
Among artists who have rapidly morphed from virtual unknowns into auction sensations, one gallery has appeared on their CVs with stunning frequency in recent years: Almine Rech. So what accounts for the dealer’s uncanny success rate in a business where misses far outnumber hits?
Today, the roughly 60 artists represented by Rech include several of “the most sought-after new names, with an emphasis on artists of color and voguish figurative styles,” Katya wrote. The list features Genesis Tramaine, Otis Kwame Kye Quaicoe, Vaughn Spann, Chloe Wise, Ewa Juszkiewicz, and Claire Tabouret, among others.
Works by some of Rech’s upstarts now regularly buzz the $1 million threshold at auction; their gallery shows routinely sell out at prices well into the six figures. She now owns seven spaces in five countries across three continents, with a downtown Manhattan gallery on the way.
What’s the secret? While causes and effects are muddy, Rech’s approach clearly embodies four major themes that increasingly define the larger market…
1. Blending Old Pros and Fresh Faces—on the Roster and in the Boardroom.
When Rech founded her namesake gallery in Paris in 1997, she focused on conceptual and minimalist headliners, including James Turrell, Joseph Kosuth, and John McCracken. At that point, elite galleries seldom scouted emerging talent.
But in the 2010s the gallery also began working with popular up-and-comers like Joe Bradley and Alex Israel. The youth movement accelerated in 2016 when Rech opened a New York space led by her son Paul de Froment.
Rech said the gallery’s willingness to mix canonical greats with unproven youngsters confounded art-fair selection committees early on. Yet it has become the norm today.
Lisson and Pace have championed more and more rising talent as the founders’ sons became chief decision makers. Even Gagosian, now under a new leadership structure, has embraced earlier-stage artists such as Jennifer Guidi and Nathaniel Mary Quinn (both also repped by Rech).
2. Cooperation Among Dealers.
Rather than poaching artists from smaller galleries, Rech has partnered with them so they benefit as the artists level up—a sign of the growing collaborative spirit among dealers since the pandemic.
Rech has elevated three artists discovered by Richard Beavers Gallery in Brooklyn, including Genesis Tramaine. All works in Tramaine’s first two solos with Rech were consigned from Beavers. (Her third just closed in New York, with all works sold for prices from $80,000 to $165,000.)
Rech also worked with Half Gallery to transfer Genieve Figgis and Justin Adian onto its roster. Half owner Bill Powers said he gets a cut of sales from the first two shows Rech does with his artists; he has also curated five group shows at Rech’s spaces since 2018.
3. Allowing East Asia to Lead.
More than most international galleries, Rech has been quick to sign artists experiencing outsize success among East Asian buyers, even when they still mean little in the West.
Consider Spanish-based figurative painter Javier Calleja. In 2019 he debuted at auction, with 11 sales totaling $262,000. Two years later, after teaming with Rech, 153 of his works generated $14.4 million under the hammer. Nearly all of those results have been at Asian houses.
Last year the gallerist featured Calleja in a New York group show and a Shanghai solo. “Everything sold like hotcakes,” Katya wrote, including to the Long Museum and seven other Chinese institutions.
Now the action is shifting stateside; a Calleja canvas went for $1.2 million at Sotheby’s New York last month.
4. Acceptance of a Roaring Auction Market.
Rech denied that the gallery props up its artists’ prices at auction, but her team does notify its clients about upcoming lots by gallery artists they have been waiting to buy.
She largely credits her roster’s sterling performance under the hammer to historic rates of wealth creation and the globalization of taste. Basically, so many top buyers are now so rich that it makes no material difference whether they pay $200,000 or $1 million for an in-demand asset.
The Bottom Line
Rech questions whether the good times will roll forever, but for now, she’s leaning into the momentum. Next up is a New York solo show by landscape painter Scott Kahn, with prices from $290,000 to $1 million… just three years after not a single buyer bit on Kahn works that topped out at $12,000 in a small Connecticut gallery.
Whether Rech is more the cause or the effect in this equation is debatable. But the gallery is undeniably a variable—and we should expect more dealers in this follow-the-leader market to try aping its moves going forward.
The latest Wet Paint was still being applied when this newsletter closed, but here’s what else made a mark around the industry since last Friday morning…
- The Dallas Museum of Art acquired 10 works from the Dallas Art Fair, including a Sarah Awad canvas from Night Gallery, and works by Kohshin Finley and Jessie Homer French from Various Small Fires. (Press release)
- Pissarro’s The Anse des Pilotes, Le Havre (1903) could bring up to $1.8 million at Christie’s New York on May 14 thanks to a confidential restitution settlement. (New York Times)
- Sotheby’s netted a within-estimates $164.2 million across its Modern and contemporary evening sales in Hong Kong. The HK$129.2 million ($16.5 million) paid for Louise Bourgeois’s Spider IV made it the priciest sculpture ever auctioned in Asia, per the house. (Artnet News)
- Multiple Christie’s showrooms exhibited a hologram facsimile of a Degas sculpture expected to fetch $20 million to $30 million in next month’s sale of works from the Anne Bass collection. (Artnet News)
- Various Small Fires now reps painter, ceramicist, and musician Alex Becerra, whose first solo show with the gallery will open in Los Angeles in September. (Press release)
- Antwerp’s Zeno X gallery and Marlene Dumas gifted the Stedelijk a portrait by Dumas of the Moroccan-Dutch writer Hafid Bouazza, who died just days ago. (Press release)
- Gagosian placed Louise Bonnet’s Pisser Triptych (2020–21), featured in the central exhibition of the Venice Biennale, with the American Friends of the Moderna Museet in Stockholm. (ArtDaily)
- MoMA and the Neue Galerie jointly acquired a rare Käthe Kollwitz self-portrait. The lithograph appears to be the same work that sold at a Swiss auction house for CHF 730,000 ($785,000) last year. (Artnet News)
- Star curator Lauren Haynes was appointed director of curatorial affairs and programs at the Queens Museum, ending her senior curatorship at Duke University’s Nasher Museum of Art after just over one year. (ARTnews)
- Deborah Swallow is stepping down as director of the Courtauld Institute of Art in London after 18 years. She will remain in the position while an international search for her replacement is conducted. (TAN)
NFTs and More
- NFT marketplace SuperRare will open a popup gallery in SoHo (New York), with plans to stage five curated exhibitions between May 19 and August 28. (Press release)
- China banned domestic use of NFTs for securitization and ruled that cryptocurrencies cannot be used to facilitate NFT transactions, continuing the state’s crackdown on Web3. (TechCrunch)
- Alicja Kwade dropped her first NFT project with König Galerie. Priced at 0.1 ETH, each work in the series is a randomized expression of the artist’s genome that can also be printed onto A4-sized paper. (Press release)
Dollars for Dumas
Marlene Dumas‘s breathtaking exhibition at François Pinault’s Palazzo Grassi in Venice reaffirms her place in the pantheon of art history. Yet her auction data proves that, even amid the continuing market frenzy for figurative painting, few speculators have capitalized on her rise.
- Dumas’s work has only brought more than $10 million in annual auction sales three times, including an apex of $16 million in 2017.
- Her best works rarely reach auction, as her galleries—David Zwirner, Frith Street in London, and Zeno X in Antwerp—prioritize collectors known to hold on and/or resell privately.
- Gender bias and Dumas’s explicit, harrowing subject matter also likely tamp down demand; fewer lots by Dumas have topped $4 million than lots by Matthew Wong.
For details on Dumas’s primary-market prices, power-broker collector base, and robust editions market, click through below.
“Don’t do this unless you have no choice. There are easier ways to make a living.”
—Marilyn Minter’s advice to young artists considering turning their passion into their profession. (T: The New York Times Style Magazine)
Work of the Week
Vera Molnár’s 1% de désordre
Estimate: $15,000 to $20,000
Sale Price: $25,200
Sold at: Sotheby’s “Natively Digital 1.3: Generative Art”
Art-tech trailblazer Vera Molnár emerged as one of the stars of Cecelia Alemani’s central exhibition at the Venice Biennale, where a full wall of her computer-based works from the 1970s and ‘80s drew rave reviews. Included were several plotter drawings that Molnár created by programming the interface to randomly disrupt otherwise uniform grids of concentric squares.
Her 1976 drawing 1% de désordre, offered in the latest Sotheby’s “Natively Digital” sale, follows the same method. From a pattern of 250 interlocking squares, three were omitted at random because of Molnár’s programmatic intervention.
Artist Marcelo Soria-Rodriguez, who is showing in the (unaffiliated) Decentral Art Pavilion during the biennale, bought the work as a gesture of “homage,” he told us, to a pioneer of generative art.
But contrary to the typical market dynamic for work by acknowledged greats, he got a bargain by choosing history over novelty. The $25,200 he paid was less than one-fifth of the final price for the Molnár NFT that opened the auction; that work, 2% of disorder in co-operation #01, sold for an artist-record $138,600.
Thanks for joining us in the Back Room. See you next Friday.
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