Carol Vogel Looks Back on 24 Years of Art World Reporting

Jeff Koons, Balloon Dog (Orange), 1994–2000, mirror-polished stainless steel with transparent color coating, sold at Christie's New York
Jeff Koons, Ilona on Top (Rosa Background), 1990, oil inks on canvas

Jeff Koons, Ilona on Top (Rosa Background), 1990, oil inks on canvas from the “Made In Heaven” series first shown in SoHo in 1991.

In her final column for the New York Times, veteran art world reporter Carol Vogel, who pens the Thursday “Inside Art” column, looks back on two dozen years of reporting about the art world. She provides a detailed account of what the market looked like back in the early 1990s, runs down some of the more bizarre highlights she was witness to, makes comparisons between bygone times and today’s art world, and offers some predictions about where the museum world and art market are headed.

In 1991, the year she started covering art, Jeff Koons’ “Made in Heaven” series was one of the “most buzzed-about gallery shows,” she writes, recalling that curious art lovers were lining up in front of SoHo’s Sonnabend Gallery to see the show. In a similar fashion, this past year, crowds showed up to “ogle the perfectly made sculptures of panting puppies and sexually suggestive flowers” at the Whitney Museum’s hotly anticipated Koons retrospective. (See 36 Straight Hours of Koons Will Mark Whitney Closing.)

Vogel also recalls that in 1991 the market was “reeling from a worldwide recession. Gone were the Japanese who had been snapping up Impressionist and post-Impressionist paintings at a frenzied pace.” Now, not only is the market “many times stronger but the overall canvas is also considerably larger,” she writes, “with higher prices, bigger galleries, more acquisitive museums.”

Some of the more surreal moments she touches on are “the time the heads of Sotheby’s and Christie’s secretly met in the back seat of a limousine in a parking lot at Kennedy International Airport to fix prices,” and having to wear a full hazmat suit while standing in the English countryside watching one of Damien Hirst’s dead sharks get injected with formaldehyde to create “a replacement for a rotting one that Steven A. Cohen, the hedge fund billionaire, had purchased for $8 million in 2006.” (See The Top 10 Uber-Rich Collectors).

Some of her predictions seem to deal with phenomena that have already happened (“there is fear,” she writes, that super-galleries like Gagosian and Zwirner “may start squeezing out the midsize gallery unable to compete with the growing giants”). But those with fair fatigue might take note when she said that “some dealers say that they have noticed that attendance has begun to slip at events like Art Basel in Switzerland and Miami, and Frieze in London and New York.”

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