The Back Room
The Back Room: Double Trouble?
This week: BOGO or go home, a viral mayor visits NYC’s art world, an auction glimpse at Philip Guston, 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: BOGO or go home, a viral mayor visits NYC’s art world, an auction glimpse at Philip Guston, and much more—all in a 6-minute read (1,735 words).
Top of the Market
It Takes Two
Want to skip to the front of the line to acquire new work by today’s hottest artists? Then get familiar with the shortcut known as “buy one, give one” (or simply BOGO), in which collectors purchase one piece for a museum for the privilege of buying a second for themselves.
“The phenomenon has been gaining traction over the past decade,” Katya noted in her latest column, with the mega-galleries as the pioneers. At one point, Hauser & Wirth made BOGO arrangements mandatory for private clients hoping to nab a multimillion-dollar Mark Bradford painting.
Since the pandemic, however, the trend has expanded to galleries lower down the financial pyramid and artists earlier in their career arc. Talents known to have attracted BOGO deals include Jadé Fadojutimi, Derek Fordjour, and Titus Kaphar—each of whose works sell for a few hundred thousand dollars apiece on the primary market but can soar into the millions at auction.
“When done right,” Katya wrote, advocates say “BOGO creates a virtuous cycle, benefiting all the parties involved.” But critics contend the practice threatens public museums’ independence and supercharges art-market speculation. Today, we summarize the arguments for and against it.
Boosters identify four main benefits enjoyed by the players in BOGO deals…
- Added Prestige: Acquisitions by renowned museums bolster galleries’ and artists’ standing in the industry, allowing them to lift their primary-market prices and thus profit more in the medium and long term.
- Fast Payment: Since museums require a drawn-out approval process to add works to their collection, BOGO ensures that a dealer and artist are paid quickly for at least the work that will stay with the private client.
- Nonprofit Assistance: Now that prices for in-demand contemporary art have surpassed most museums’ acquisition budgets, BOGO keeps them in the game for works they could not otherwise afford.
- Tax Savings: Collectors can immediately deduct the cost of artworks bought as gifts for nonprofit institutions. If they wait a year to donate, they can even deduct the fair market value—a potentially lucrative loophole given the chasm between hot artists’ primary and auction prices.
Detractors argue that BOGO risks creating a cascading series of downsides…
- Greater Scarcity: Every BOGO deal means in-demand works sell twice as fast to half as many buyers, further tilting the scales in favor of only the wealthiest, best-connected patrons.
- More Speculation: Every additional buyer locked out of the primary market likely intensifies competition in the resale market. The greater demand could send young artists’ auction prices even higher, even faster than the unsettling bidding wars we’ve seen lately.
- Overpromising: Since an institutional gift is the toll for a personal acquisition, buyers who promise to BOGO have flooded some museums with offers of works they never asked for and don’t want. This disconnect may push desperate collectors to cram pieces into any willing institution, minimizing the value to artists’ and galleries’ reputations.
- Minimal Accountability: Even big-name collectors have reneged on pledges to donate to museums, especially when buying from smaller dealers. A paper trail is useless to a gallery without the cash to fight a long court battle—or the will to risk being labeled “difficult” among major buyers.
The Bottom Line
Whether you believe BOGO is a mainly positive or mainly negative force, the overarching point is that it has already had powerful effects on the nonprofit and for-profit sides of the trade alike.
For example, Katya relayed that “a good chunk of ICA Miami’s permanent collection has entered the museum through BOGO arrangements” in recent years, according to artistic director Alexander Gartenfeld.
Collector and Hammer Museum trustee Mihail Lari also argued that gifting one work to a museum “gives the buyers a license to do whatever they want with the second work.” In other words, how much more flipping are we seeing because collectors who BOGO’d feel blacklist-proof after getting artists into MoMA or the Met?
It’s yet another maze for dealers, artists, collectors, and institutions to journey through. But all parties should keep their ethical compasses and game-theory guides handy, because a BOGO proposal could be waiting for any of them around the next bend.
The latest Wet Paint tracks NYC mayor Eric Adams’s many brushes with the art indstry in the days leading up to his COVID diagnosis, including the Brooklyn Artists Ball (alongside Hank Willis Thomas, Judy Chicago, and Kasseem “Swizz Beatz” Dean) and artist Roy Nachum’s new show at A Hug From The Art World.
Here’s what else made a mark around the industry since last Friday morning…
- Expo Chicago returned after a pandemic hiatus to a largely local audience eager to buy. Deals included a $200,000 Jeffrey Gibson painting at Kavi Gupta and an $85,000 Claude Viallat work at Document. (Artnet News)
- Last week’s Art Paris featured major galleries including Perrotin, Massimo De Carlo, and Galleria Continua. Fair leadership also saw an influx of new applicants for next year’s edition after news that Art Basel’s Paris+ had displaced FIAC. (Artnet News Pro)
- We identified six promising artists at 1-54 Paris whose work was available for under $10,000. (Artnet News Pro)
- Sources say that mega-collector Steve Cohen is the anonymous seller of Pablo Picasso’s Femme nue couchée (1932), which may fetch $60 million at Sotheby’s New York on May 17. (Artnet News Pro)
- Christie’s named Anthea Peers as president of Christie’s Europe, Middle East and Africa, and Dirk Boll as the region’s deputy chairman of 20th and 21st century art. (Press release)
- Sotheby’s hopes to make $20 million on a rare Louise Bourgeois wall-mounted sculpture in its modern and contemporary sale in Hong Kong later this month. If it reaches its upper estimate, it will be the priciest sculpture ever sold in Asia. (Artnet News)
- David Zwirner added sculptor of sublime grotesquerie Huma Bhabha, with a New York solo planned for 2024. (She will keep working with David Kordansky in L.A. and Xavier Hufkens in Brussels, and with Salon 94/LGDR’s Jeanne Greenberg Rohatyn on special projects.) (Press release)
- Simon Lee Gallery now co-reps Ghanaian artist Serge Attukwei Clottey (alongside Simchowitz Gallery in the U.S.). The artist’s first show with Lee is scheduled for spring 2023 in London. (Press release)
- David Kordansky hired Junjun Cai as a director stationed in mainland China alongside Mi Jeong Kim. The gallery also now co-represents Beijing-based multimedia artist Guan Xiao with Antenna Space in Asia and Kraupa-Tuskany Zeidler in Germany. (ARTnews)
- We compiled a buyer’s guide to five of the Whitney Biennial’s buzziest artists, from Turner Prize nominee Veronica Ryan to research-heavy camera wizard Buck Ellison. (Artnet News Pro)
- Greek mega-collector Dimitris Daskalopoulos gifted more than 350 works to four museums: the Guggenheim in New York, the MCA Chicago, Tate, and the Greek National Museum of Contemporary Art. (Artnet News)
- The E.U. issued a reprieve on “cultural goods” loaned from Russia, and Finland released $46 million worth of seized Russian-owned artwork. But France will hold onto a portrait in the Morozov Collection owned by sanctioned billionaire Petr Aven. (Artnet News)
NFTs and More
- Damien Hirst said he will torch the rejected pictures from his project “The Currency”—which required buyers to choose between a physical object or an NFT—as part of a public event at his Newport Street Gallery “in October/November.” (Discord)
- The British Museum’s partnership with NFT platform LaCollection already has the same carbon footprint as 57 years’ worth of power use in an average U.S. home, per public documents. (The Art Newspaper)
- The E.U. may have entered a new era of lawful artistic appropriation thanks to a landmark copyright-infringement suit won by artist Martin Eder. (Artnet News)
A Record-Bustin’ Guston?
To coincide with the opening of Philip Guston’s contentious retrospective at the MFA Boston, Sotheby’s is offering an abstract painting by the artist in next month’s Modern evening sale in New York that could reset his auction record. We took the prompt to dip into his market in The Appraisal.
- Guston’s current auction high came in 2013, when Fellini (1958)—an abstract work once owned by Nelson Rockefeller—sold for $25.8 million. That’s less than half the top price for Guston’s Ab-Ex contemporary Jackson Pollock ($61.2 million).
- Most of Guston’s top prices have been achieved for later figurative paintings auctioned after Hauser and Wirth began representing his estate in 2015. His works accumulated $148.4 million in the six full years since the changeover.
- Not surprisingly, the artist’s three most lucrative years at auction all arrived during this span, led by the $48.5 million brought in 2017.
“I call them our Everymonths.”
—Mega-curator Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev on her monthly tête-à-tête sessions with Everydays: The First 5,000 Days creator Beeple, whom she has invited to show in an exhibition at the prestigious Castello di Rivoli. (WSJ)
Work of the Week
Remedios Varo’s Niño y mariposa (Niño triste)
View this post on Instagram
Price: $2.5 million
Selling at: Gallery Wendi Norris, San Francisco
Surrealism and the uncanny will be major threads in “The Milk of Dreams,” curatorial superstar Cecelia Alemani’s exhibition in the soon-to-open Venice Biennale. Among the artists setting the show’s tone from beyond the grave is Spanish-born expat Remedios Varo, whose eerie, symbolically loaded portraits and dreamscapes have been on a tear through the industry of late.
Niño y mariposa (Niño triste)—in English, Boy and butterfly (Sad boy)—is a “symbolic portrait” of Xabier Lizarraga, the son of Varo’s first husband by a previous partner, according to art historian Tere Arcq. Varo mentored and worried over the artistically inclined child; Arcq posits that the painting may have been her attempt at casting “a magical spell to protect her dear boy from any evil influences.”
Her oeuvre is now casting a different kind of spell over bidders, partly due to their rarity. Of the five Varo paintings offered at auction since 2019, three have brought at least $2.7 million, including a record $6.2 million for Armonía (Autorretrato Sugerente) at Sotheby’s in June 2020.
Museums are enchanted, too. Varo’s work features in the acclaimed exhibition “Surrealism Beyond Borders,” which recently traveled from the Met to the Tate Modern. The Museum of Fine Arts Boston and the Toledo Museum of Art in Ohio each acquired a Varo painting this year, as well.
It’s anyone’s guess if a private buyer or an institution is more likely to snap up Niño y mariposa from Gallery Wendi Norris’s back room. But based on Varo’s trajectory, the odds are good that it will sufficiently ensorcel one or the other soon.
Thanks for joining us in the Back Room. See you next Friday.
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