The Back Room: Plot Twists and Fate Reversals

This week: an alternative view of Asia’s ascent, a potential Rothko resurrection, a few surprises at FIAC, and much more.

Opening day of KIAF in Seoul 2021. Photo by KIAF Seoul Operating committee. Courtesy of KIAF Seoul. Illustration by Artnet News.

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: an alternative view of Asia’s ascent, a potential Rothko resurrection, a few surprises at FIAC, and much more—all in a 7-minute read (1,914 words).


Top of the Market

Not All Money Is Created Equal

A scene from KIAF Seoul 2021. Photo by Kiaf SEOUL Operating committee. Courtesy of Kiaf SEOUL.

A simple narrative has often been used to explain the Western contemporary art market’s growing focus on Asia: it’s the region where the most wealth is cascading into the youngest hands, making it a no-brainer for international auction housesdealers, and advisors to pivot East and try to capitalize on Asian buyers’ increasingly global taste for new and recent art.

But what do we do with this narrative when actual global wealth trends don’t support it?

That’s the question I wrestled with this week while trying to reconcile some surprising economic data with the Asia-focused strategies of Art Intelligence Global (AIG)—the 360-degree advisory firm formed by Sotheby’s vets Amy CappellazzoYuki Terase, and Adam Chinn last week—and LGDR—the forthcoming consortium of dealers Dominique LévyBrett GorvyAmalia Dayan, and Jeanne Greenberg Rohatyn announced in August.

Although both AIG and LGDR aim to do it all in the global marketplace, they are prioritizing Asia in different ways. Terase will oversee an AIG headquarters with ample exhibition space in Hong Kong while Cappellazzo and Chinn man a New York counterpart. LGDR will make Asian business Gorvy’s primary mandate, and the firm has pledged to exhibit at art fairs only in Asia, where expos “remain an important gateway to a wider array of young collectors,” in the words of the New York Times’s Robin Pogrebin.

However, their respective Asia-first approaches only make sense if the firms are looking beyond sheer net worth—because Asia is still running a distant second to North America when it comes to producing new plutocrats.


What Does the Data Say?

Credit Suisse’s latest Global Wealth Report, published this June, estimated that in 2020…

  • North America added about three times as many new dollar millionaires as Asia.
  • The U.S. alone added about 70 percent more new ultra high net worth individuals (UHNWIs) than the top Asian nations.

Credit Suisse’s outlook for the future tilted in Asia’s favor to some extent, though not decisively. The bank’s quants projected that between 2021 and 2025…

  • Asia would increase its dollar-millionaire population more than North America, but only by about 15 percent.
  • Asia would only add about two-thirds as many new UHNWIs as North America.

What’s the Explanation?

Some art-market heavy-hitters think budding Asian millionaires and UHNWIs are simply more valuable on average than their North American counterparts—precisely because there are fewer of them.

A conversation I had with Brett Gorvy of LGDR helped clarify four main reasons this makes more sense than it seems at first glance…

  • International sellers have an outsized opportunity to educate Asia-based collectors because of the still-early-stage infrastructure for Western contemporary art there. And as Gorvy put it, “education very quickly turns into buying.”
  • The population of high-income Asian collectors has entered a Goldilocks zone for Western contemporary art sellers: large enough to warrant investing serious resources in the region, but still small enough that nearly every collector is within reach. (Gorvy estimated that only 30 to 40 buyers in Asia can spend above $10 million on an artwork.)
  • The modest size of Asia’s collecting network for Western contemporary works also means that each notable buyer (whether a K Pop star like T.O.P or a homegrown institution like the Long Museum) has exponential influence over the taste of their regional peers.
  • Asian museums and foundations are being built from scratch with no fealty to the traditional Western canon, meaning works by living artists are often given prominence in the collection almost immediately after acquisition.

All of the above are true to varying degrees across the region, from Hong Kong and mainland China, to nearby wealth centers like KoreaSingapore, and Taiwan. Since a base in one of these destinations provides easy access to the rest, Eastern expansion makes even more sense for Western art players with big ambitions but not necessarily big footprints.


The Bottom Line

Asian nations are still minting many fewer millionaires and UHNWIs than the U.S. However, less really is more in the high-end art market in this case. Western firms are pivoting to Asia largely to focus on acquiring new clients of the highest quality, not the highest quantity—and the wisdom of that approach means even more international sellers, advisors, and entrepreneurs will follow the leaders soon.


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Paint Drippings

A display of (real! not fake!) wave paintings at Raymond Pettibon’s retrospective at the New Museum in 2017. Photo by Johannes Schmitt-Tegge/picture alliance via Getty Images

In the latest Wet Paint, one of the Raymond Pettibon works fraudulently completed and flipped by fallen art star Christian Rosa allegedly wound its way through Pettibon’s own gallerist, Sadie Coles, as well as dealer Marc Jancou, prior to finally tripping the alarms at Sotheby’s.

Oh, and megawatt Zoomer pop star Billie Eilish has begun collecting art, with an Anna Park piece being one of her earliest known acquisitions.

Here’s what else made a mark around the industry since last Friday morning…


Art Fairs

  • The Korea International Art Fair welcomed 88,000 visitors over its five day run, during which time dealers netted a cool $55 million worth of sales. (Artnet News)
  • If you’re into keeping score, here’s our full roundup of deals reported at Frieze and Frieze Masters last week. (Artnet News Pro)
  • Volta has pulled the plug on its debut Miami fair after travel restrictions and public health requirements proved too difficult to surmount. (Artnet News)


Auction Houses

  • Phillips‘s 20th century and contemporary evening sale in London pushed past its presale high estimate, realizing £25.3 million ($34.7 million) thanks to fierce bidding for young painters including Serge Attukwei Clottey, whose Fashion icons (2020–21) set a new record for the artist at £340,200 ($465,500). (Artnet News)
  • Sotheby’s 55-lot sale from the collection of late Old Master dealer Richard Feigen performed within expectations, totaling $16.1 million with the help of a new $7.4 million auction high for the British painter Richard Parkes Bonington. (ARTnews)
  • Christie’s will sell Ed Ruscha’s 1967 painting Ripe, which could bring as much as $22 million, in its 20th century evening sale in New York on November 11. (Press release)


  • Paula Cooper Gallery has nabbed the estate of multidisciplinary artist Terry Adkins. The first show of Adkins’s work there will arrive in 2022. (Press release)
  • Starting November 8, David Zwirner will exhibit eight Hilma af Klint watercolors newly discovered by a private collector, but only institutions are eligible to buy them. (Artnet News)
  • In the latest round of gallery-director musical chairs, Alex Rojas has been tapped as a new director for Anat Ebgi after leaving Various Small Fires last month, and Nicodim’s New York director slot will be filled by Mitchell-Innes & Nash veteran Andréa Ormeño-Delph. (Wet Paint)



  • Munich’s Haus der Kunst named the Shed’s Emma Enderby its chief curator. (Artforum)
  • The patron, publishing heiress, and philanthropist Emily Rauh Pulitzer pledged 22 major works by artists including Pablo PicassoConstantin Brancusi, and Philip Guston to the Saint Louis Art Museum, which described the gift as one of the most significant in its history. (Saint Louis Post-Dispatch)
  • Sophia Lauwers was appointed general director of the Bozar Centre for Fine Arts in Brussels. She will begin a six-year tour of duty in the post November 1. (Press release)


NFTs and More

  • Sotheby’s launched its own NFT marketplace called Sotheby’s Metaverse, where buyers can pay in either select cryptocurrencies or traditional cash. Bidding for its first sale opened this Monday and continues through October 26. (Artnet News)
  • The Museum of Contemporary Art Denver is mounting a virtual exhibition series focused on NFTs, the history of blockchain technology, and the future of digital art, with (you guessed it) Sotheby’s as the program’s lead sponsor. (Artfix Daily)
  • Equity-management firm Lobus, which targets artists and collectors, welcomed Lucien Smith as its unofficial artist whisperer. His role will center on persuading his fellow artists to integrate their works with the blockchain in various ways. (ARTnews)

[Read More]


Data Dip

Mark Rothko’s Rollercoaster Ride

© 2021 Artnet Price Database and Artnet Analytics.

© 2021 Artnet Price Database and Artnet Analytics.

The Rothko market could use some love,” Katya Kazakina wrote last Friday. Back in 2014, the AbEx giant’s works brought an all-time-high $281 million at auction thanks to bidding wars between “Qatari royals, Russian oligarchs, and billionaire hedge-fund managers.”

But demand has gotten much softer in the years since, as figuration by a diverse array of young living artists has largely replaced abstraction by canonical Caucasian corpses as the molten core of the auction volcano. Case in point, Rothko lots made only $40 million under the hammer in 2020—one-seventh as much as his annual auction apex six years earlier, according to Artnet Analytics.

We’ll find out soon whether two trophy paintings can help reverse the swoon. Next month, Sotheby’s will offer Rothko’s No. 7 (1951), estimated between $70 million and $90 million, and Untitled (1960), estimated between $35 million and $50 million, as part of its sale of works from the trove of divorcing couple Linda and Harry Macklowe. If No. 7 lands at the high end of its estimate range, it could overtake Orange, Red, Yellow, made in 1961 and sold for $86.9 million in 2012, as the artist’s priciest lot ever.

So gear up for a showdown. Just don’t expect an utter flame-out. Katya hears that Sotheby’s has already finalized an irrevocable bid for No. 7.

[Read More]


“The people that we see here in FIAC are not the ones we saw at Frieze, they’re not the ones we saw in Basel, and they’re not the ones we saw at Art Paris earlier in the season.”


Galerie Templon’s general director, Anne-Claudie Coric, on whether the industry really, truly, honestly needed a third significant European fair in five weeks.


Artwork of the Week

Martin Margiela’s Torso III (pale)

Martin Margiela, <i>Torso III (pale)</i> (2018–21). Photography by Studio Shapiro. Courtesy of Zeno X Gallery, Antwerp.

Martin Margiela, Torso III (pale) (2018–21). Photography by Studio Shapiro. Courtesy of Zeno X Gallery, Antwerp.


Date:                      2018–21
Seller:                    Zeno X Gallery

Sale Price:             €50,000 ($58,000)
Sold at:                  FIAC


Now even art institutions can join rappers and pop stars in bragging about their Margiela collections. In 2009, the elusive Martin Margiela stepped away from the influential fashion house he founded in 1989 to devote himself to making artwork. This week, the Parisian foundation Lafayette Anticipations presented Margiela’s first solo exhibition, encompassing some 40 works spanning collage, film, installation, painting, and sculpture—and the interest in his next creative chapter transformed into cold hard cash at FIAC.

There, the booth of Belgium’s Zeno X Gallery included a group of Margiela sculptures that remix segments of the human body into three quasi-surreal, quasi-absurdist forms: one cast in plaster, the other two cast in differing shades of silicone. Each “torso” work was available in an edition of three (plus one A.P.), and buyers pounced on most of them during the fair’s VIP day.

My colleague Naomi Rea reported that Zeno X placed all three editions of the “pale” silicone Torso III for €50,000 ($58,000) each, one cast of the “medium”-toned silicone Torso II for €40,000 ($46,500), and two editions of the white plaster Torso I for €45,000 ($52,000) each—and “at least one museum bought all three versions.”

Asked about the magnetic quality of Margiela’s works on collectors, Nina Hendrickx of Zeno X said, “There is just a beautiful tension between the classical appearance of the white plaster sculpture and the tactility of the silicone sculptures, which feel very contemporary.”

No word yet on the identity of the acquiring museum(s). Nevertheless, Lafayette Anticipations may not be the only institution exhibiting the long-gestating fruits of Margiela’s studio practice soon.


Additional reporting and writing by Naomi Rea. 


Thanks for joining us in the Back Room. See you next Friday.

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