Sunday, March 27, 2011

2010 Art Market Report

During TEFAF I attended the 2010 Art Market Report given by Dr. Clare McAndrew of Arts Economics. Copies of the full report (170 pages with graphs and illustrations) can be acquired directly from TEFAF under Shop at 20 Euros plus postage.

Dr. McAndrew, who is a Cultural Economist, has chosen a most difficult area since figures can be less than precise and she tries to keep her theories of what is going on to a minimum. Most of the hard figures come from auction records and Clare is always looking for the ones she finds to be most reliable, especially when looking at the figures from China and checking that there is no Chinese government interference there. In spite of this she figures that 51% of the market comes from dealers with 49% from auction.

I was quite surprised when I walked into the lecture room that last year seemed less than half full but this year was Standing Room Only. There were lots of interested people and I believe mainly from the press. So you can be sure the international press will be referring to this report over the next year.

Clare explained that the past decade has been extremely volatile, going from extreme highs culminating in 2007 to a big big dip in 2009. From the data she has accumulated she believes that in 2010 it all began to level out with a few interesting changes in the total picture. China, which began the decade at virtually zero, ended quite high on the charts for art sales. The contemporary market is the largest segment of the art market, -- not a surprise - with global auction sales having reached 3.5 billion Euros last year. Of that total the largest segment was sold in the United States with 42%, the United Kingdom next with 21% and China - here was the surprise - third with 12%. France found itself in 4th place with 8% of the market leaving Germany further behind. This in spite of the fact that the order by country of high net worth individuals is the U.S., Germany, Japan and China. Adding another factoid into the mix, is that in the Chinese auction market the buy in rate is 43-45%.

Clare did a collector’s survey last year and learned that those considering themselves art collectors on average spent 7% of their annual income on art and antiques. When asked if it had been a good investment 75% replied it had. Whether the collectors were being totally honest or not, it is extremely interesting that this is the way the collector perceives his collecting and collection. It is a very positive and optimistic result that is music to the ears of an art dealer!

Another point that I found most interesting was that there was a major upsurge in the market but that volume of sales, i.e. pieces sold, went down. Dr. McAndrew explained that this showed, not that prices had gone up so much, but rather that the buyer had become more discriminating and that he or she was collecting only the best available, which always costs more. We must always beware of bargains, because as you know, if something is too good to be true…

Depending on which side of the pond you live on the following can be good or bad news. In an effort to level the playing field in Europe the EU (European Union) has insisted that all EU countries pay the same taxes on art, making it worth the cost of transport for any work of art valued at over $40,000 to be sent to New York.

Summed up it seems to all bode well for the art market in the United States over the coming year.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

The European Fine Arts Fair aka TEFAF

I have been in Holland many times and my first day I am always surprised by the bikes. That is bicycles not motor bikes, though they may as well be. Everyone in Holland owns a bike and they ride them as if they were on motorcycles.
They have their own paths everywhere and if they don’t have the right of way they act like they do, or as my cab driver said as a bicycle was heading directly at us, “they ride in both directions and sometimes not the good one”! Wish I had one to go back and forth between TEFAF and my hotel. It would be far better than waiting and paying for a shuttle.

Now, to the main event; I spent 7 hours at TEFAF on preview day, I will probably spend a total of 16 hours there. I rarely spend even 2 hours at a fair. As mentioned, I had the advantage of coming in on a press pass. The Press Preview involved getting my press credentials consisting of a badge allowing me to walk in and out of the fair at will, a catalog, and most importantly a flash drive with all the press information from TEFAF’s press office. The flash drive is about 2 ½ inch
es long and weighs an ounce or two while the catalog is 3 inches thick and I estimate weighs 3-4 lbs. Guess which is going home with me, carry on? Of course many come in their cars or even private jets so they can enjoy the catalog at home if they have their book shelves reinforced after collecting a few years worth of catalogues! The biggest ad
vantage of the press badge is being able to get into the fair for 2 hours in advance of the throngs.
It used to be that you could get into the opening by paying a premium at the door but it got so crowded that it is today by invitation only. Invitations are sent out by the TEFAF administration and mostly by the exhibitors. Pre-registered Museum groups are also welcome.

Several people teased, ‘I can’t wait to read which your 5 favorite works of art are”. I did think of writing such a piece but during the quiet morning and after my third or 4th booth I listened to myself saying, “wow!” beautiful!” “I would like that” and realized this idea was not going to work. I had just begun and there are 261 dealers from 16 countries here, in I don’t know how many fields.
I have never seen such a crowd as those waiting to get in (over 10,000 opening day and an estimated 73,000 by the time it closes in 10 days). As the main TV and Radio press wound up, at noon sharp the huge fair began to fill up with the anxious collectors and visitors, all looking as if they would starve unless they got immediate entry for food and drink, which the first day are free and served around the fair by waiters. On the following days there are restaurants ranging from cafeteria style to fine eateries. Rest rooms abound if you know where to look or ask. There is no reason to leave the Mecc (fair grounds) all day. It reminds me a little of a casino in the sense that you do not know the time of day. You really get into the art and the dealers minds who are there most of the time with their assistants to entertain your questions. If you are serious and sincere about what you ask you will usually get good answers.
By the closing hours of the first evening there were a number of red dots, and in the cases where the dealer did not use dots, sometimes they told me about one or another sale. In one case a proud curator who had come with his director and trustees to TEFAF told me what they had bought and where. It was a good choice indeed. On the second day there were more dots and I heard few complaints from the dealers (most unusual ).

Many museums come with their groups and by doing so can buy on the spot without waiting for consultations and meetings, another rare occurrence these days. TEFAF is one of the few fairs that I know of where the same pressure to buy exists as at an auction. Buyers must act or risk losing the piece they desire. They act knowing the pieces presented at TEFAF are often the best of the best. They realize that the one big mistake would be not to buy, because paying too much is not the issue when buying the best… but that is worth a whole other blog!
A good example is a piece of sculpture that a museum curator told me preview day that he wished he could buy for his institution but feared he could not raise the funds. The next day, a private collector proudly showed me a photo of the same piece just acquired.
In two days I saw maybe a third of the fair thoroughly. For my last day I will go through the exhibitor map and list the exhibits that I feel I must not leave without seeing. I know there is much I will have missed.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

On the Move Again

I hear over and over again, “Oh, what a glamorous life you lead”. Well, while this may be true, the comment is always connected to a trip I am taking. Unfortunately, travel is not glamorous. As most of you know air travel today is no fun at all and when one is going to the same places over and over again, it can be tiresome… yes, even Paris!

Now, if I were going to Paris as a tourist and could stay at a quaint little hotel on the left bank where I did not have to worry about telephone service and internet connections and could visit all the tourist places that people come to Paris to see…

I knew an elderly dealer years ago who seemed to spend his life flying from one city to another buying wherever he could and participating in art fairs. I asked him once where he found the energy and how did he adapt to the time changes. I was quite surprised when he told me that he hated it and had great trouble with the physical drain of travel!

So why do we do it. One could simply answer to make a living but happily there are compensations. We get to see friends, some of whom may even live in New York but somehow we only find each other when we are in other countries. We get to visit collections, on a one to one basis with the collectors and every once in a while we see a real art treasure. Whether it is for sale or just for viewing it can be most exhilarating.

By the time you read this I will have left Santa Fe and be in New York and tomorrow I head for TEFAF, the great Art Fair in Maastricht, the Netherlands. I must say I am looking forward to that. There are so many great dealers in so many fields that there is no problem spending several days there and not being bored. It is divided into many sections, the two largest being the decorative arts and the old master paintings. A new large section for works on paper including photographs was started a few years ago. Then there is a fairly good cross-section for modern and contemporary art and smaller ones for fields such as primitive and Oriental art. There is a great deal of older jewelry but for those who like the big contemporary names there are dealers such as Graff and Buccellati.

Thanks to these Missives I can now go in as a member of the Press allowing me for the first time to take my camera into the fair itself. While TEFAF puts a wonderful selection of images of the Fair online I am hoping for some more spontaneous shots. We shall see.

If all goes well, my next Missive will be from Maastrict and from there my plans are in flux. Will I be heading back to New York right away because we are planning to move the gallery in the near future or will I take a train trip hitting several of the German towns that I have not previously visited. As of this writing, I think that there is a good chance that I will take the train to Frankfurt stay a few days and then go to Basel and see an exhibition that is of interest to me.

In any case, at the end of March I will be in Paris for the opening of the Salon du Dessin with about two dozen of the best dealers in works on paper from all over.

From Sonheim’s, "A Little Night Music’’:

Unpack the luggage, la la la,
Pack up the luggage, la la la,
Unpack the luggage, la la la,
Hi-ho, the glamorous life!

Sunday, March 6, 2011

The Kids of New Mexico

Every Friday the Santa Fe newspaper, The New Mexican, publishes a culture magazine called Pasa Tiempo. It is to Santa Fe and the surrounding area what New York Magazine was when it was started by the Herald Tribune in the 1960’s.

In the Magazine is a listing of all the cultural events that will be happening throughout the coming week. Friday’s is the big arts night and there is always a plethora of events to choose from. Though there were three different events that interested us for one Friday evening we had already committed to a performance at the National Dance Institute, that is near and dear to our hearts. NDI as it is known is a project started by the New York City Ballet principal dancer Jacques D’Amboise in New York some 35 years ago. Later on, another New York City Ballet dancer, Catherine Oppenheimer, became an NDI teacher and when she decided to move out to Santa Fe, Jacques asked her whether she would be interested in doing for New Mexico what he had started in New York.

Catherine took it a step further and did not just start the project for one city but for the entire state. Of course, population-wise there is no comparison. Yet, 16 years after she started she has 6,000 students across the state. This is a program that takes student mostly from public schools and teaches them dance in school time slots. The effort this requires is incredible and some day I may write just about what is technically involved.

Dance is not just an art, it is a discipline. What the kids learn will be an asset if they stay in the arts or become scientists. NDI has shown statistically that reading and math scores for the kids improve enormously once they have participated in the program. It starts with just being on time because, as Jacques D’Amboise himself has said to the kids, the curtain is not going to wait on them.

Getting back to the main event, we saw the most promising students of the NDI School for Performing Arts, founded by Catherine to allow the most promising NDI students to move further into the disciplines of dance with an after-school program. Actually we went to a rehearsal first. We watched Jacques with a group of teenagers. He was setting on them a piece of choreography that he had created just for them. They were going to dance his premier performance. It was based on Igor Stravinsky’s “Apollo”, a ballet by Balanchine in which he had starred for many years. The kids had been prepped by Jacque’s assistant, Mary Kennedy who teaches at NDI, New York, so they knew the basic steps but Jacques and Mary had been in town for only two days at the time of the rehearsal that we watched and the kids knew their basic steps and positions. It was incredible to watch how quickly they learned. The kids spent the next week refining the raw beginnings that we saw then.

We saw the first of the run of three performances where the , the star of Jacque’s piece, 12 year old Isela Flores, flew through the air guided by her male handlers. It was truly lyrical. My wife, the former dancer, was so excited she went out after the performance to congratulate Isela and her mother, who told her in tears how much this meant to her as a single mother and her struggle to give her daughter whatever help she could with her artistic ambitions. (According to the NDI website. 74% of their students come from families that live below the poverty level.)

Though over the last 50 years I have seen a great deal of ballet and learned to enjoy it, I think that Broadway is still my first love. That night other students from the school performed a sizable chunk of “A Chorus Line” one of my favorite musicals. All the kids were wonderful and obviously they had been well cast as to their strengths. These young people caught the spirit perfectly. In fact, when we returned home later that evening I got out my old vinyl of the original Broadway cast, which we had seen some 35 years ago. I must say I retained the memory and enjoyment of what I had seen that evening and the record seemed something of a let down after seeing the dynamic live performance.

When the curtain came up on the piece one hears Zack (the director choreographer) calling together those auditioning for the chorus line. I thought that they had used a recording or an adult had done the first lines but no, it was15 year old Stewart Ottersberg who kept that voice and held the character perfectly for the entire 45 minute performance. In fact, I was somewhat taken aback when I spoke with him after the show and his normal voice was actually an octave higher!

For me, however, his sister who played Cassie, Gabby Ottersberg, who is only 14 years old was magical. When I had heard her in rehearsal we were seated practically on the stage and I saw her sing from behind. The number she was doing was “The Music and the Mirror” she is meant to sing directly to Zack, but when I was watching her first Zack was getting notes from the director so he was not paying attention, still Cassie brought me to tears. Needless to say, when I saw and heard the number from the audience it was even better and I again I began to cry.

Now, I will admit that I have a certain emotional attachment to the show but you know how a lousy performance can ruin something you love. Well this was quite the opposite.

That Jacques D’Amboise and the staff of NDI can bring these teenagers the discipline and art to totally entertain and grip an audience is quite a testament to the success of the program.