The Back Room: Rocky Mountain High

This week in the Back Room: Aspen’s ascent, Phillips’s private sales peak, a museum board’s reckoning, and much more

The facade of Christie's Aspen outpost. Courtesy of Christie’s. Illustration by Artnet News.
The facade of Christie's Aspen outpost. Courtesy of Christie’s. 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: Aspen’s ascent, Phillips’s private sales peak, a museum board’s reckoning, and much more—all in a 7-minute read (1,966 words).


Top of the Market

Thin Air, Thick Wallets

Aspen Art Museum’s luncheon at the Pine Creek Cookhouse.

After ending July with a star-studded sojourn to Los Angeles, the art market wagon train wheeled its way up to Aspen this week for a little Rocky Mountain majesty. For those who couldn’t make the trip (and those in town too busy to look up from their own schedules), Katya Kazakina put together a snowglobe full of intel on the industry haven at a fascinating inflection point.



“Aspen’s appeal isn’t new,” Katya writes. The city has been a “popular destination for the mega-wealthy” from ChicagoDallasHouston, Los Angeles, and Miami for decades. The arts ecosystem has steadily grown alongside the seasonal population—a fact unmissable at this particular point in the summer.

The week’s centerpiece is the Aspen Art Museum’s annual Art Crush summer gala, this time honoring artist Mary Weatherford. (Sotheby’s is sponsoring the soiree this year and waiving its fees for the associated benefit auction.) The gala reliably brings in a blizzard of billionaires, artists, curators, and dealers, and this August is no different. A sampling of the movers and shakers seen around town includes…

  • Fashion executive and former Sotheby’s chairman Domenico de Sole
  • Collectors Janna Bullock and Jamie Tisch, Jorge and Darlene Pérez (of Pérez Art Museum Miami fame)and Debra and Dennis Scholl
  • Prospect 5 New Orleans curator and LACMA exec Naima Keith
  • Acclaimed Colombian artist Doris Salcedo
  • Auction house power players Lisa Dennison of Sotheby’s and Capera Ryan of Christie’s

Aside from the Aspen Art Museum and its gala, the Anderson Ranch Arts Center has long drawn major artists, patrons, and other professionals to the city. Beloved local galleries like Baldwin and Casterline Goodman have been tending to the empty walls of collectors’ homes and offices for years too. Only now these staples of the scene are just one part of a different kind of art crush.



Similar to what we’ve seen in the Hamptons and Palm Beach, COVID motivated many more high earners to retreat to Aspen hideaways that have become seasonal homes. Dealers and auction houses followed, and a year later Marianne Boesky Gallery senior director Kelly Woods calls this week in the city “without a doubt the busiest it’s ever been.”

Sellers’ main Aspen strategy has been to mint seasonal pop-up spaces. Along with Boesky (who set up shop here in 2017), last evening’s Aspen gallery night counted 20 participants, including recent arrivals Almine RechHonor FraserLehmann MaupinMitchell-Innes & Nash, and White CubeChristie’s has joined in too, previewing Impressionist gems from the $200 million collection of Texas oilman Edwin L. Cox slated to hit the block in November.

The Aspen lifestyle also influences the type of business pop-ups are doing:

  • Almine Rech is rotating exhibitions every 2.5 weeks until mid-September to spur repeat visits. A June show of Nathaniel Mary Quinn sold out at prices from $30,000 to $145,000; a July show of Genesis Tramaine did the same at prices from $15,000 to $80,000
  • Local collectors also tend to want big works for their even bigger homes, according to David Maupin of Lehmann Maupin, who placed a five-by-five foot Nari Ward piece with a Texas-based trustee for $185,000.

Even the Intersect Aspen art fair (full sales roundup here) had an extra pop-up dimension. This year’s edition was mountain-topped by a $25 million Clyfford Still canvas available at the booth of New York’s Di Donna Galleries—or more accurately, at Selavy by Di Donna, the dealer’s pandemic-year seasonal offshoot.


The Bottom Line

While Aspen pop-ups “started as a necessity,” according to Carpenters Workshop Gallery director of the Americas D. Ashlee Harrison, many dealers increasingly see them as a bonus too valuable to retire in the vaccine era.

The city’s more leisurely pace fits neatly with a seasonal gallery’s longer runway to build client relationships. The price of pop-ups is right, too; Josephine Nash of Mitchell-Innes and Nash noted the gallery’s costs for a 2.5 month Aspen outpost will roughly equal its costs for a few days at Art Basel Miami Beach.

But dealers also agree that pop-ups still can’t match the urgency and concentrated, high-level audience of a grade-A art fair. So while Aspen’s long-term appeal is real, its fate as an industry power center will depend on how sellers balance the value of a seasonal space’s semi-permanence against the irreplaceable value of elite fairs’ bull rushes.


[Read More]


Paint Drippings

Gustave Caillebotte, Jeune homme àsa fenêtre (1876). Image courtesy Christie's.

Gustave Caillebotte, Jeune homme àsa fenêtre (1876). Image courtesy Christie’s.

Wet Paint will arrive later on Friday, but here’s what made a mark across the industry in the meantime…


Art Fairs

  • The Viennacontemporary fair tapped Thyssen-Bornemisza Art Contemporary curator Boris Ondreička as its next director. The event will go live September 2–5.


Auction Houses

  • As mentioned earlier, Christie’s will auction the Impressionist collection of late Texas oilman Edwin L. Cox in November, with expectations that eight-figure works by CaillebotteCézanne, and van Gogh will push the trove above $200 million.



  • Pace Gallery now represents every living contemporary artist. Kidding! But the shop announced painter Jules de Balincourt has joined the gang. (Pace reps him in collaboration with Victoria Miro and Thaddaeus Ropac).

  • White Cube filled out its roster with post-colonial landscape painter Tunji Adeniyi-Jones (who will also continue to be repped in New York by Nicelle Beauchene and in Los Angeles by Morán Morán)His inaugural solo exhibition with the gallery will debut in London in November.
  • Stephen Friedman Gallery added self-taught multidisciplinary artist Tau Lewis.
  • Anton Kern now represents figurative painter Marcus Jahmal (in collaboration with Almine Rech). Jahmal’s first one-person show with Kern will open in December.
  • James Cohan Gallery will expand with a second Tribeca space next door to its current home at 48 Walker Street. The addition will premiere on October 7 with a solo show by Gauri Gill.



  • Timothy Rub will end his (lately, controversial) run as C.E.O. and director of the Philadelphia Museum of Art in January 2022. The search for his replacement is underway.
  • The Baltimore Museum of Art added five new trustees: artist and filmmaker John WatersMichael EalyNupur Parekh FlynnLori N. Johnson, and Anne L. Stone.
  • The Anish Kapoor Foundation is transforming a palazzo in Venice into its new headquarters, which will include a studio, space for a program of temporary exhibitions, two floors permanently housing major works from its collection, and more. It will debut in 2023 or later.
  • The Whitney Museum became the latest institution to see its staff vote to unionize.
  • … and in an open letter, workers at the Art Institute of Chicago announced their intention to do the same.


N.F.T.s and More

  • Makersplace, which partnered with Christie’s on the auction of Beeple’s $69 million Everydays: The First 5,000 Days N.F.T., closed a $30 million Series A funding round partly thanks to art-world angel investors including Acquavella Galleries, Pace director Sabrina Hahn, and former Sotheby’s C.E.O. William Ruprecht.

  • The U.K. struck a deal allowing British creatives to travel without visas or work permits on short professional trips to 19 E.U. countries, including AustriaBelgiumDenmarkGermanyIreland, and Italy.
  • The Spring/Break Art Show will team with the River Hill Art Residency to hold a sculpture exhibition curated by Zahra Sherzad during Upstate Art Weekend (August 28–29).


Data Dip

Phillips’s Private Sales Power-Up

© 2021 Artnet Price Database and Artnet Analytics.

© 2021 Artnet Price Database and Artnet Analytics.

Phillips reported select results for the first half of 2021 this week, and they represent the latest milestone of the auction sector’s push into private dealing.

The house’s combined public and private sales escalated to $542.7 million from January through July, a 25 percent increase over the same period in 2019. (Phillips decided to nix 2020 as a point of comparison, just as rival Christie’s often did in its own midyear reporting.) But more impressively, private sales alone reached $90.7 million, an increase of 107 percent against the first half of 2019.

Granted, that’s still less of a proportional gain than the one reported a few weeks ago by Christie’s, whose private sales jumped to $850 million in the first half of this year—an almost 240 percent leap over 2019. But it’s an impressive ascent for Phillips nonetheless, and further proof that the business of auction houses is less in actual auctions than ever.


[Read More]


“Ann Freedman was a risk because we had to prove that she was a dealer, not an expert. Dealers are not experts, they’re salespeople.” 

—102-year-old art appraiser Alex Rosenberg trolling gallerists while explaining his role in the yearslong forgery trial of Freedman, the president of Knoedler Gallery, in a wide-ranging interview in the Art Newspaper.


Express Checkout

A Big Bet on Board-Driven Equity + Three More Market Morsels


After multiple scandals involving accusations of racism, the board of the Museum of Contemporary Art Cleveland unanimously elected six new members and elevated three existing trustees to the newly established office of co-president. (

  • A statement from M.O.C.A. said the restructuring allows the museum “to move forward with a unique and bolder lens centered fully on artists, audiences, and equity.”
  • The co-presidents are Joanne Cohen, the former leader and founder of the Cleveland Clinic Art ProgramAudra T. Jones, a Cleveland-based communications entrepreneur; and Stephen G. Sokany, a consultant specializing in the nonprofit sphere. (M.O.C.A. noted that Jones is its first Black co-president, and Sokany is its first co-president to identify as L.G.B.T.Q.)
  • Current board president Larry Oscar will continue as a trustee after transferring leadership to the co-presidents, who will serve a two-year term.


Is the ethical position that U.S. museums need more latitude to deaccession for the direct care of their collections, not less? Mark S. Gold, who counseled the Berkshire Museum and Everson Museum of Art during their walks across the coals, makes the case. (The Art Newspaper)


William Poundstone surveyed the Museum of Contemporary Art Los Angeles’s recent acquisitions, which provide “evidence that M.O.C.A. is rebuilding a network of astute donors.” (Los Angeles County Museum on Fire | Full illustrated list via M.O.C.A.)


The upstate New York hamlet of Hudson is in the midst of a COVID-amplified economic and cultural renaissance, and artists from Brice Marden to Dustin Yellin have been leading the way. (Financial Times)


Work of the Week

Catherine Opie’s Commissioned Portrait

© 2021 Catherine Opie, Commissioned Portrait. Courtesy of the artist; Regen Projects, Los Angeles;  and Lehmann Maupin, New York, Hong Kong, and Seoul.

© 2021 Catherine Opie, Commissioned Portrait. Courtesy of the artist; Regen Projects, Los Angeles;
and Lehmann Maupin, New York, Hong Kong, and Seoul.


Date:                      T.B.D.

Seller:                    The Aspen Art Museum

Estimate:               $40,000 to $60,000

Selling at:              Art Crush Benefit Sale via Sotheby’s

Sale Date:              Friday, August 6


It’s not often you can publicly bid on the right to have one of the acknowledged masters of contemporary photography shoot a portrait of your choice, but tonight’s Art Crush sale benefiting the Aspen Art Museum serves up that opportunity on a silver auction block. Catherine Opie is offering a 45-minute portrait sitting for one person at her downtown Los Angeles studio; the end product will be a single 20 x 15 inch signed pigment print selected by the artist from the exposures captured during the session.

The live portion of the auction kicks off tonight at 10 p.m. ET/8 p.m. MT/7 p.m. PT. (A weeklong online sale is already live, ending today; works for both the live and remote segments can be viewed here.) Since every artwork deserves someone more reputable than me as its pitchman, here’s Rebecca SiegelFrieze’s soon-to-depart director of Americas and content, on why the commission is her favorite lot in the benefit sale: “Opie sees faces, not façades; she sees people who have lived whole lives, with families, lovers, homes, and histories. I cannot imagine a better photographer for someone who wants to be captured with integrity and honesty.”


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

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