The Back Room: From Publisher to Market Player
This week: Loyal gallery’s unusual path to longevity, Patrick Drahi’s unsentimental approach to art financing, Edgar Plans’s market moment, 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: Loyal gallery’s unusual path to longevity, Patrick Drahi’s unsentimental approach to art financing, Edgar Plans’s market moment, and much more—all in a 7-minute read (2,022 words).
Top of the Market
Loyal But Adaptable
Tim here. With much of the gallery sector often seeming as if it’s been built off the same standard blueprints, I think it’s worth a deeper look whenever a dealer manages to blaze an unorthodox trail to long-term success. That’s why I profiled the Stockholm gallery Loyal in this week’s Gray Market.
What sets Loyal apart isn’t just that the gallery began as, of all things, an upstart art magazine. It’s also that Loyal’s prescient eye for talent and deft touch in relationship building has led to real longevity in a market more and more hostile to its middle tier every year.
Since 2005, Loyal has organized early solo shows with an eye-popping array of international artists, from Katherine Bernhardt and Eddie Martinez in the mid-aughts, to now-rising stars Mario Ayala and Lauren Quin.
More impressively, the gallery has maintained many of its oldest (and now richest) professional connections without embarking on a typical multi-city expansion campaign.
So, how exactly did this happen? And what can we learn from it?
In 1995, a Swedish math student named Martin Lilja and his then-girlfriend, Marilyn Petridean, moved to London, where they eventually met a Swedish photographer named Kristian Bengtsson. After forming a fast friendship over their shared creative interests, the trio returned to Sweden and launched an independent art and culture magazine called Loyal in 2000.
Over the next five years, Loyal was released twice annually. Yet both the end product and the editorial personnel were in near-constant flux over its 10 issues. Most crucially, Petridean moved on from Loyal after issue two, and in 2001, Lilja met Amy Giunta, a native New Yorker who quickly became a key member of Loyal’s brain trust forevermore. (She and Lilja married in 2004.)
Notable contributors spanned a slew of artists and members of the independent music and literary scenes: David Shrigley, Graham Coxon (of Brit-pop legends Blur), Daniel Johnston, Rita Ackermann, and even the now-infamous JT LeRoy showed up in some form on Loyal’s pages.
The magazine also became “more and more ‘art’ over time,” in Lilja’s words. This was largely because of the way its network expanded amid a group of young artists with talent and ambitions but few pre-existing footholds in the art establishment.
Eddie Martinez was a prime example. Lilja recalls meeting him at a pop-up exhibition in New York circa 2003–04, when Martinez would have been no older than 27. Although he had not yet been given his first solo gallery show, Lilja and company immediately sparked to Martinez’s riotous, vocabulary-stretching imagery.
The artist soon began contributing artworks to Loyal. More importantly, the collaboration reinforced a way of working with artists that would help launch the business into its next phase as a gallery.
(For clarity, what follows is my own sense of what Loyal has done so well, not an actual program devised by Lilja and Giunta, who took full control of Loyal after Bengtsson moved on in 2009.)
- Meet artists where they are, with no pretensions. The consensus is that Lilja and Giunta have always been willing to engage early, often, and on a level playing field with artists, no matter where in their career an artist may be. Painter Daniel Heidkamp put it this way: “They were some of the few gallerists who would show up to parties and just talk to artists as if there were no hierarchies.”
- Use lower-stakes collaborations as trial runs for something bolder. While existing dealers often try out new artists by consigning works for group shows or art fairs, these auditions don’t defray the gallery’s hefty overhead costs. Launching the mag first gave Lilja and Giunta plenty of data about who they did (and didn’t) mesh with before they took the plunge on the gallery.
- Treat every artist relationship with a long-term mentality. Multiple Loyal artists said that Lilja and Giunta first met them in their studio years before inviting them to do a show. But their genuine interest in the work and in building a creative community allowed those conversations to feel organic rather than opportunistic.
The Publishing-to-Dealing Pipeline
Although the transition from specialty publisher to talent-spotting emerging gallery came with its fair share of anxiety, it was also more natural than it might have appeared from afar.
Every issue of Loyal was essentially a curated show in print. A tight budget and the rudimentary state of digital communication in the early 2000s meant that contributing artists were generally shipping physical works to Lilja and Giunta to scan and ship back. The same work of relationship building and relationship maintenance went into both enterprises.
No wonder Loyal is not the only gallery to grow out of printed matter. Brendan Dugan launched Karma in 2011 as a combination publishing house and exhibition space; Harper Levine began as a rare books dealer before the fateful acquisition of a first-rate library of photography books circa 2005 broadened his clientele to include art and photography collectors.
Today, Karma and Levine’s namesake business Harper’s count at least four permanent exhibition spaces in New York and L.A. each, as well as a dedicated bookstore apiece. Loyal didn’t just pre-date these other dealers; it also stands alone in opting out of the real-estate acquisition game.
Yet that choice has done little, if anything, to sever its ties to artists who have become market forces.
The Bottom Line
While permanent expansion is still off the agenda, Lilja and Giunta aren’t standing still. During Frieze L.A. 2023, they staged their first U.S. gallery show: a pop-up in the historic El Royale Apartments blending early discoveries (such as Michelle Blade, Heidkamp, and Martinez) with ascendant recent collaborators (such as Ross Caliendo, Emmanuel Louisnord Desir, and Hiejin Yoo).
Lilja said that he and Giunta hope to program one or two shows a year in L.A. going forward to complement their six annual shows in Sweden. Temporary exhibitions elsewhere in Europe are also a possibility.
But the only sure thing is that the magazine-turned-gallery isn’t inclined to follow expectations for what a dealer with nearly 20 years of experience should do next—and that may be the best advice of all.
The latest Wet Paint looks at Tribeca gallery LOMEX’s latest roster addition: Japanese artist Yoshitako Amano, best known as the designer behind the anime adaptation of Speed Racer and the ultra-popular video game franchise Final Fantasy.
Plus, buckle up for a raft of revelations about the high-profile art-world divorce between painters Ann Craven and Peter Halley.
Here’s what else made a mark around the industry since last Friday morning…
- Art Basel Hong Kong reported a total of 86,000 visitors to the fair which concluded last Saturday, its highest attendance since the pandemic. But attendance still fell short of 2019’s 88,000 visitors. (Press release)
- Art Basel issued a cease-and-desist order to an online platform called Digital Basel, which promoted itself as “the digital extension of Art Basel” and allegedly reproduced images of artworks without the consent of the artists and their galleries. (ARTnews)
- This year’s New York edition of 1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair will host 26 galleries in the Manhattanville Factory District’s Malt House from May 18th through 21st. More than half of the exhibitors are showing at the fair for the first time, including DADA Gallery, Spinello Projects, and kó. (Press release)
- Phillips inaugurated its new Asia headquarters in Hong Kong with a lukewarm but safe 20th century and contemporary art evening sale that totaled $45 million. (Artnet News)
- Christie’s evening sales in New York this May will include nine works from the estate of commodities trader Alan Press and his late wife Dorothy Press. The trove, led by Ed Ruscha’s Burning Standard (1968), is fully guaranteed and hopes to bring $50 million. (Financial Times)
- Sotheby’s postponed its online auction “Natively Digital: Glitch-ism” after Patrick Amadon, an artist in the sale, decried its lack of female-identifying artists. A Sotheby’s rep said the event will be rescheduled with “a more equitable and diverse” lineup of artists. (Decrypt)
- Nan Goldin left Marian Goodman to join the roster at Gagosian. She will also continue to work with San Francisco’s Fraenkel Gallery. (Artnet News)
- Shrine (New York and L.A.) announced its representation of painter Thomas Dillon; Super Dakota gallery (Brussels) added digital-first artist Tabor Robak; and Silverlens (Manila and New York) now reps photo-based artists Stephanie Syjuco, Poklong Anading, and Taloi Havini. (Press releases)
- In museum personnel news, the Guggenheim hired Noam Segal to be its first “LG electronics associate curator,” and Bernardo Rondeau is leaving his post as the senior director of film programs at the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures to take on the role of curator of film programs at the forthcoming Lucas Museum of Narrative Art. (The Art Newspaper, Variety)
- Scotland canceled its pavilion at the 2024 Venice Biennale based on a review of “the present finances and planning environment.” (BBC)
- Alexia Fabre has been tapped to curate the 17th Lyon Contemporary Art Biennale (September 2024–June 2025). She became the director of the Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts de Paris in 2022. (Press release)
Legal News and Obituaries
- An ownership dispute over a Van Gogh painting loaned to the Detroit Institute of Arts was settled out of court, but the DIA is now petitioning to invalidate the order that forced the institution to hold onto the painting until the case could be resolved. The DIA asserts that the ruling contradicted a federal statute ensuring that courts cannot impact the “custody or control” of artworks on loan to American institutions. (The Art Newspaper)
- A French judge dismissed a legal petition to remove a painting by the Swiss artist Miriam Cahn from an exhibition at the Palais de Tokyo in Paris amid a far-right faction’s assertion that the piece depicts child abuse. (Artnet News)
- Pre-eminent collector of Chinese art Myriam Ullens de Schooten was fatally shot in front of the house she shared with her husband, Baron Guy Ullens de Schooten, in Belgium on Wednesday. In 2007, the couple co-founded the UCCA Center for Contemporary Art in Beijing. (Artnet News)
“A Sotheby’s relationship manager will naturally be inclined to err on the side of grace when it comes to late payments from a borrower… The buyer of a securitized loan, however, has no interest in the value of the relationship and will insist that Sotheby’s treat the loan in a dispassionate and narrowly profit-maximizing manner. That’s exactly the unsentimental signal [Patrick] Drahi wants to send—not only to potential borrowers but even to Sotheby’s own staff.”
—Finance journalist Felix Salmon, unpacking the paradigm shift in auction-house priorities implied by reports that Sotheby’s is looking to securitize the loans made by its financial services division. (Axios)
Work of the Week
Edgar Plans’s Colors (2020)
Estimate: $73,000 to $116,000 (CNY500,000 to CNY800,000)
Sold for: $698,569 (CNY4.4 million)
Sold at: Christie’s Shanghai
Sold on: March 1, 20222
This week, we put the spotlight on Edgar Plans, a 45-year old Spanish artist who has become a market sensation thanks to the craze in Asia for kawaii art, a reference to the culture of cuteness in Japan.
Though the artist himself rejects the kawaii label, auction house executives have attributed the success to Asian collectors looking for a replacement after being priced out of the market for works by artists such as Yoshitomo Nara, and his knack for world building around his charming mouse-eared characters.
Plans’s work has appeared at auction nearly 300 times since it first crossed the auction block in 2020. In 2022, his work pulled in an eye-popping $12 million in auction sales, with works selling on average for $84,784. The record for a work to date is $698,569 paid for Colors (2020) at an evening auction at Christie’s Shanghai last March.
The froth appears to be cooling a little in 2023. Some 31 lots have been offered so far this year, with a slightly more adorable average sale price of $29,254. The most significant work to be offered this year, a group scene estimated to bring in $154,205 and $269,858 at Seoul Auction on Tuesday, failed to find a buyer. Still, while nothing offered so far has approached his record, there is clearly continued appetite for his work, with 13 lots surpassing their high estimates, and the priciest netting $213,266 at Phillips day sale in London earlier this month.
Thanks for joining us in the Back Room. See you next Friday.
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