The Back Room
The Back Room: Unite and Conquer
This week: four blue-chip dealers join forces, live art fairs step up to the starting blocks, NFTs go Hollywood, 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: Four blue-chip dealers join forces, live art fairs step up to the starting blocks, NFTs go Hollywood, and much more—all in an 8-minute read (2,139 words).
Top of the Market
You Can’t Spell ‘Dealer Merger’ Without ‘LGDR’
I never imagined that the next installment of the “disrupting the traditional gallery model” narrative would involve an official portrait of Brett Gorvy in white jeans, but here we are.
On Tuesday, the New York Times broke the story that Dominique Lévy, Amalia Dayan, Jeanne Greenberg Rohatyn, and Gorvy are merging into a new venture called LGDR (a mashup of their last initials, if that’s not obvious). The move will see the principals wind down their existing dealerships and start fresh together next year. (Dayan already exited Luxembourg & Dayan, her partnership with Diana Luxembourg, in 2020.)
What is LGDR, exactly? Depends on who you ask. With all due respect, I’m dubious of the revolutionary rhetoric the Times leaned into. Aside from deploying references to “upending” and “disrupting” the infamous “traditional model,” the Paper of Record described the venture as “a consortium that will represent artists, organize exhibitions, advise collectors and broker auction sales.” To which my immediate reaction was, “So… a gallery?”
But my snap take glossed over a deeper relevance teased out in a follow-up story by my colleague Katya Kazakina (who was told by two LGDR principals that rumblings about the merger were “bullshit” and “crazy rumors” four days before the Times published the story with the quartet’s cooperation). Here’s the key excerpt from her piece:
“With the rise of mega-galleries and corporatization in the art world, access to capital is key to success. It looks like the four dealers, already independently wealthy, are pooling their resources for greater impact and as a counter force to behemoths like Gagosian, Zwirner, Pace, and Hauser & Wirth… Unlike mega galleries that are opening splashy spaces on far-flung islands and publishing sumptuous catalogues, however, LGDR seems designed to minimize overhead and maximize profit.”
I think this is a more useful framework to understand most of the known traits defining LGDR, including its decisions to…
- Consolidate U.S. operations in the renovated townhouse at 3 East 89th Street that now houses Rohatyn’s Salon 94 (pending public approval of an 8,500 square-foot expansion) instead of opting for a newer, larger space.
- Maintain only offices, not full-fledged galleries, in London, Hong Kong, and Paris.
- Exhibit at fairs only in Asia, where the marginal value of acquiring new clients is highest.
- Slim down its roster of living artists and estates, from the dozens repped by the individual galleries to a narrower post-merger number still T.B.D.
- Show (generally higher-priced) historical works alongside contemporary ones.
- Offer a full portfolio of strategic services across several market sectors, including advising auction houses on setting prices.
Notably, Rohatyn will be the only LGDR principal focused on contemporary art, according to the Times. The other three—who have long been more active in the blue-chip secondary market anyway—will instead focus on geographical regions: Lévy on Europe, Gorvy on Asia, and Dayan on the Middle East (as well as management of the overall partnership).
Dayan Rohatyn Art Services L.L.C., the advisory business formed by Dayan and Rohatyn last year, will also be folded into LGDR, further strengthening its resale biceps.
The Bottom Line
Although the principals took great pains to frame it differently, LGDR’s business model looks to me like a case of four knowledgeable, experienced dealers simply saying the quiet part about galleries today out loud. It’s less a matter of disrupting the traditional model than of taking the already-expanded contours of the high end and carving away everything but the highest-upside, lowest-downside segments.
It’s as smart as it is surgical. But a central question about the venture’s success will be how long the four “strong personalities with large egos,” in the words of the Times, can rely on their 20-year friendship to keep them united in the face of any and all strategic disagreements to come. Start your office pools now…
Wet Paint will be up later today, but here’s what made a mark around the industry in the meantime.
- All of next week’s New York fairs were on track to proceed with no further Delta-variant-related changes as of Thursday evening.
- Admission to Art Basel, however, got complicated (see ‘Express Checkout’ below).
- Sotheby’s London will hold a sale of 29 artworks from the Company School, a group of 18th and 19th century Indian artists commissioned by the British East India Company, on October 27.
- Phillips’s Gallery One platform will offer 44 artworks, photos, and sketches from the collection of fashion designer Halston (A.K.A. Roy Halston Frowick) from September 9–16; proceeds will benefit a fashion scholarship fund from the Halston Archive.
- Gladstone Gallery will christen a permanent space in Seoul’s vibrant Gangnam district, to be led by Kukje Gallery veteran HeeJin Park. (The opening date is still T.B.D.)
Paula Cooper now reps the estate of Luciano Fabro, the Italian sculptor who called himself “the heretic of the Arte Povera church,” in collaboration with the Archivio Luciano e Carla Fabro. The gallery will feature Fabro’s supersized work L’Infinito (1989) at Art Basel Unlimited this month.
- Canadian painter Steven Shearer, who is best known for shaking up classical reference points from art history, joined David Zwirner’s roster. (He will also continue to be repped by Galerie Eva Presenhuber.) The artist’s first solo show with D.Z. will land in New York in 2023.
Multimedia artist Brook Hsu became the newest talent to join Berlin’s Kraupa-Tuskany Zeidler. (She will also keep working with Hong Kong’s Edouard Malingue Gallery.)
The New Orleans Museum of Art, the Contemporary Art Center New Orleans, and other art institutions in the Big Easy cancelled select events but escaped Hurricane Ida with no damage to their collections or buildings. The status of Prospect New Orleans, set to open at 20 locations across the city late next month, remains T.B.D.
New York collectors Elizabeth and Jean-Marie Eveillard gifted 26 works to the Frick Collection, including a sketch for John Singer Sargent’s Madame X and notable works by Goya, Degas, and Caillebotte.
The UCCA Center for Contemporary Art will open its fourth location, this time in Chengdu, in 2024.
The Julia Stoschek Foundation formed a five-person advisory board consisting of artists Meriem Bennani and Arthur Jafa, Whitney Museum curator Chrissie Iles, Haus der Kunst director Andrea Lissoni, and Museum Frieder Burda director Udo Kittelmann.
South Korea’s 2022 budget allots ₩5.8 billion ($5 million) to display and care for late Samsung chairman Lee Kun-hee’s 23,000-work collection; its long-term site in Seoul has yet to be finalized.
The estate of storied filmmaker Barbara Hammer tapped Louky Keijsers Koning, who founded and ran LMAKgallery for 15 years, to be its inaugural executive director.
NFTs and More
- United Talent Agency (U.T.A.) now reps three Larva Labs crypto projects—CryptoPunks, Meebits, and Autoglyphs—“across film, T.V., video games, publishing, and licensing,” per the Hollywood Reporter.
- Misa, the multipurpose online venture from Johann König, reported selling $210,000 in NFTs since its August 22 launch, including a $150,000 work by Refik Anadol and a $15,000 work by Jon Burgerman. Two museums, the Z.K.M. in Karlsruhe, Germany, and the Francisco Carolinum in Linz, Austria, acquired an NFT edition by Erwin Wurm.
From September 2–9, Sotheby’s will hold a single-lot online sale of 101 Bored Ape Yacht Club NFTs plus the means to create a new “Mutant Ape” token. The estimate for the package is $12 million to $18 million.
- Simon Denny will auction an NFT to benefit the Kunsthalle Basel and the city of Basel’s environmental agency during Art Basel this month.
- Italy agreed to welcome vaccinated U.K. residents inside its borders again.
The Fair Share
Every art fair on the schedule between now and 2022 had to face the murky question of how much to scale down its offerings for buyers and paying visitors’ peace of mind in a not-quite-post-COVID world. The chart above captures the decisions reached by the four dealer-driven New York fairs that will open their doors next week: the Armory Show, Art on Paper, Independent, and the inaugural Future Fair.
Together the trio will host 301 exhibitors in the flesh. The Armory contributes the vast majority of the total with 157 sellers, or about 52 percent of all booth-renters in the city. (Another 55 exhibitors, mostly from abroad, opted to defer their live participation to 2022 and show exclusively online this fall.) Art on Paper comes in a distant second with 67 exhibitors (22 percent), while Independent and Future Fair roughly split the remainder (with 14 percent and 11 percent, respectively).
For a complete overview of next week’s miles of aisles (including the curator-led Spring/Break Art Show and artist-led Clio Art Fair), click here.
“I’m really going to do my darndest to fight [going to so many fairs]—and then you can make fun of me when I’m right back in the same circuit.”
—Art advisor Lisa Schiff, voicing the tension many more market players are struggling with in a largely vaccinated art world.
Art Basel’s 11th-Hour Health Hurdles + Three More Market Morsels
New government guidance placed late-unfurling red tape in front of many would-be international participants in Art Basel’s flagship fair later this month. (The Art Newspaper)
- The U.S. slapped a “do not travel” advisory on Switzerland Monday.
- To bypass COVID testing, Art Basel exhibitors and attendees lacking an E.U. vaccine certification (meaning, those vaccinated in non-E.U./EFTA nations) must email proof of vaccination to [email protected] no later than Monday, September 13—then pick up a paper copy of their Swiss jab certification at the fair starting Friday, September 17. (Bring your original vax docs, I.D., and a mask too!)
- If you can’t do the above (including if you received an AstraZeneca vaccine outside the E.U.), entry to the fair requires a negative P.C.R. test within 72 hours, a negative antigen test within 48 hours, or proof of sufficient antibodies due to recent recovery.
- Anyone testing positive will be entered into hotel quarantine for 10 days. More info available on Art Basel’s health regulations page.
Along with surveying the once-again-blooming art-fair landscape, Melanie Gerlis relayed that London gallery the Sunday Painter is launching Gertrude, a side business offering subscribers a chance to rent artworks worth up to £12,000 ($16,545) for up to three months for a £50 ($69) monthly fee. (FT)
What does Facebook’s immersive remote-office software teach us about the viability of virtual-reality art fairs? (Artnet News Pro)
While collaborative online marketplace Gallery Platform Los Angeles has generated more industry attention, its Bay Area cousin 8-bridges is working to make a similar impact on northern California’s art scene. (ARTnews)
Artwork of the Week
Robert Colescott’s Tea for Two
Seller: Private Collection
Estimate: $20,000 to $30,000
Selling at: Bonhams “Postwar & Contemporary Art x Made in California”
Sale Date: Wednesday, September 15
It seems like ages ago that Robert Colescott’s George Washington Carver Crossing the Delaware (1975) blasted through the artist’s past auction record (and its own high estimate) to reach a premium-inclusive $15.3 million at Sotheby’s New York. And yet, we’re not even four months past the date of that headline-grabbing result—further proof the pandemic has liquefied time into a substance impossible for many of us (or at least me) to keep hold of.
Tea for Two will be the fourth Colescott work to reach the auction block after the late artist achieved his current price apex, according to the Artnet Price Database. The public market for his work appears to have remained healthy but not frothy in the time since. All three subsequent lots sold, with the 1984 painting Gift of the Sea edging above its half-million-dollar top expectation to land at $504,000, and two drawings sized similarly to this one selling in the upper reaches of their respective estimate ranges.
However, those two prior works on paper also featured significantly sketchier, less polished compositions than Tea for Two, which more fully embraces what Bonhams senior specialist and head of sale Sonja Moro calls the “pointed commentary on race and the art market” Colescott is known for. The piece depicts a Black collector surrounded by the works of canonical white male market darlings like Roy Lichtenstein and Frank Stella (as well as a white femme fatale smoking in his armchair). Moro defines the piece as “a stellar example of the artist’s ability to deliver sharp critiques on topics of identity and social power in his inviting, colorful signature style”—one that is as relevant today as it was when Colescott completed it more than 40 years ago.
Thanks for joining us in the Back Room. See you next Friday.
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