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Post #541 • May 18, 2005, 3:56 PM • 40 Comments

Via Jack, Jerry Saltz hacks Damien Hirst into bits and counters our feelings around here that Modern Painters is going soft:

The Virgin Mother [Damien Hirst's 35-foot bronze of a pregnant woman with a cutaway view of her womb] should be removed straight away and those responsible for placing it there should be fired or whatever is done with reckless, imbecilic billionaires.

Great fun, that, but more interestingly, Saltz has joined the harbingers of doom:

In the end, Hirst is just another symptom of the hype, the hubris and the money that have swamped the art scene lately. I love that weirdoes and gypsies are rewarded in the artworld, but Hirst and the many others who are currently riding the whirlwind aren't weird at all; they're official pitchmen and -women. Hirst's show merely brings us a step closer to the end of this profligate period. At his glitzy afterparty in an enormous tent on the roof of Lever House - amidst dancing models, reveling stockbrokers and the same successful artists and artworld showboaters you see at every one of these events - I thought I heard the Drums of Desstiny on the horizon. The last time an artworld party felt this noxious to me was an equally decadent dinner given for Anselm Kiefer on 1 May 1993. Hysteria and flagrancy filled the air then too. Now, it's worse.

Two days ago in the Telegraph, Colin Gleadell wrote:

There was action galore at the select evening sales of contemporary art in New York last week, but signs also that the rate of expansion in this market has slowed down. Since May 2003, combined sales at Sotheby's, Christie's and Phillips doubled from $109 million (about 60 million) to $220 million last November. But last week they rose to just $225 million. Like a giant pot-bellied pig, the market is lying on its back, enjoying its excesses, but with little room left to expand.

This would seem to throw some numbers behind what Todd Gibson was saying earlier this month. My own ancedotal evidence at the same link seems to agree.




May 18, 2005, 11:11 PM

The Saltz review, entitled "The Emperor's New Paintings," refers specifically to Hirst's show at Gagosian, which has been discussed here recently. The piece is in the latest (May) issue of Modern Painters, and, for what it's worth, it couldn't sound more like me if it tried.



May 18, 2005, 11:37 PM

No doubt the upward momentum in the art market has peaked.
I looked at the auction results on ArtNet last week and most of the pieces went off in the lower half of the estimated range. Note the prices quoted include the 10% (whatever) fee but I don't think this was included in the original estimates. Looks like a case of "put some lipstick on this pig" to me.

However, I would not go so far as predicting an implosion in the art market just yet. Part of what is driving the current market is the fact that the dollar is worthless and there is no alternative venue for speculation. It could continue for a few more years or not.



May 18, 2005, 11:58 PM

George, am I reading those results wrong? It seems like most of them broke the high estimate. Also, what does "bought in" mean?



May 19, 2005, 12:08 AM

Franklin, I looked at all (literally) the items in all the NY auctions.
Christies 5/11 evening session went off well but these were the best pieces offered that week. Look at the other auctions and farther down the lists..

Estimate 40,000 - 60,000 US$
Sold For 48,000 US$ PREMIUM (mid range but they tack on the fee)

Bought In: means it didn't make the low estimate.



May 19, 2005, 12:21 AM

Following up on my previous remark.
When markets start to get tired, the prices don't necessarily fall, more frequently they plateau for awhile before declining. Also, in this market one needs to pay attention to the works themselves. The big money will go after the prime pieces (the evening sessions) and push the prices over the estimate. The froth where we saw bidding up anything with a "name" seems to have softened.

Finally, I think that the "pricing" in the art market may be playing catching up with other "real" (tangible) assets. If one looked at a graph of M3 The aggregate money supply it has made a substantial rise in the last 20 years. Along with this there were a lot of new millionaires, well billionaires (over 600) since Forbes doesn't even count millionaires any more. This implies that wealth expansion has been in the neighborhood of 1000x in the last 20 years and it's now chasing art.
For this reason I don't think the art market will collapse but I think the speculative frenzy has peaked.



May 19, 2005, 12:32 AM

FWIW, Modern Painters is reprinting previous material.
Village Voice, April 5, 2005, April 6, 2005

The only reason I continued read to Modern Painters after their recent format change was to read Matthew Collings, who seems enviably clear-headed to me, but even he couldn't convince me to stick around.



May 19, 2005, 12:40 AM

I didn't know artnet had such a nice free auction reporting service, and for that I am grateful.

I looked at all the auctions because prices fascinate me. My impression, like Franklin's, was that prices were high, but they were also all over the place, especially in the middle-priced areas, which is not unusual.

Of course what always gets me is hitting an artist I have never heard of (they come in waves these days) getting 10, 20, 50K for horribly drawn and painted pix that would hardly get them into a good graduate program - a million dollar Marlene Dumas, for example - and trying to figure out what the hell is making it happen.



May 19, 2005, 12:55 AM

Sorry, George, once again for the slow ones. When you say "for this reason I don't think the art market will collapse but I think the speculative frenzy has peaked," are you correlating the peak of the frenzy to the expansion of wealth or to the lessening of the froth you mentioned above? Also, where can I see that M3 graph?



May 19, 2005, 12:58 AM

Also, why on earth would anyone buy art with weak dollars? That just seems suicidal. Wouldn't you want to sit on them or put them into the exploding real estate market or something?


that guy

May 19, 2005, 1:12 AM

Artist Roni Horn
Title Untitled: Kitty cat (diptych)
for $9,600! okay. The market might be a wee bit inflated.

scroll down a bit



May 19, 2005, 1:21 AM

And those are far from the worst, Guy. At least it is a cute kitty cat.


that guy

May 19, 2005, 1:25 AM

I found another puddy cat a few pages latter, but I won't post any more links. I'm glad artnet is posting public auction results so I can have a good laugh now and again. fascinating.



May 19, 2005, 1:52 AM

Thanks, Hovig (#6) for the Artnet link to the Saltz review, which also has various images, including one of Virgin Mother (I wonder what team of skilled "assistants" made that particular piece).

I highly recommend the review, but, unfortunately, it does not negate the fact that Modern Painters is indeed quite soft.



May 19, 2005, 3:03 AM

Saint Louis Fed-M3

My chart of M3 and the Dow Jones Industrials This is a logarithmic graph so a constant growth in the economy would appear as a straight line.
Example, in 1974, 3 = 10^3 = $1000 and in 2005 the green line is at 4 where 10^4=$10,000. Although this is simplistic it illustrates how an artwork can increase in value due to inflation and/or the increase in wealth. Technically speaking the increase in the money supply is not necessarily caused by inflation but it can be as was the case in 70's due to the oil crisis. At other times it just represents the growth in the economy (specifically aided by the post war baby boom)

When I referred to the speculative frenzy I was alluding to an emotional state where the buyer is afraid they will "miss out" if they don't pay up. This is the current situation in real estate on the coasts, England, Australia etc. The buying frenzy represents undiscriminate buying and signals that a temporary peak may have been reached. However, demand for quality work (as defined by someone) will remain, supporting prices in the "evening auctions" Lesser works, cat pictures and the like, by otherwise good artists (Ms Horn is a wonderful sculptor, IMO) tend to settle back pricewise as the feeling "I have to have one of "mookie's" works at any price" subsides.

I looked at the auction catalogues before the events and at the auction results afterwords (thank you ArtNet, this is hard to do on the websites). Over the years I have studied the psychological nature of auction (stock) price movements and I feel I have a good intuitive grasp of the situation which leads me to believe the market has seen its momentum peak but not its price peak. The momentum peak is the high price zone which is reached with maximum acceleration. The price peak generally occurs later but is characterized by a more gradual rise to the top. The big money is made in the momentum stage by the insiders (gee, who are they?)

As an artist, the only good thing that comes of this is that the baseline prices should have some upward flexibility. In otherwords, if you were able to sell an artwork (right out of grad school) for $1000 five years ago you should be able to ask more for it today. In otherwords, the rich get richer and we're underpaid.



May 19, 2005, 3:08 AM

Franklin, adressing the idea of weak dollars.
When the dollar is weak, or when there is inflation, an investor will try to own something besides dollars. He may buy real estate, stocks, art or another currency with the hopes that the purchase will increase in value. For example if you converted $100 into euros a year or so ago, you could convert the euros back to $130 of todays dollars. You make a profit of 30%. If you bought a Dumas for $10,000 and sold it at auction you might realize $50,000 or a 500% profit. These guys aren't dopes.



May 19, 2005, 3:19 AM

This is off topic, but for those who might be interested in how flim-flam worked on wall street there is an excellent online PDF of the book Reminisciences of a Stock Operator by Jessie Livermore Livermore was one of the greatest market operators of all time and although the original was written in the twenties the psychology is as just as apt today as it was then. It is a fascinating story.



May 19, 2005, 3:40 AM

George, thank you for all of that.

Has anyone else gotten the sense that the children have left the room?



May 19, 2005, 4:02 AM

bought in means that the work did not meet the reserve price set by the seller. this may or not be as high as the low estimate but is never higher than the low estimate.. in most cases the reserve price is 80% of the low estimate.. i just wanted to clarify the previous comment re bought in...



May 19, 2005, 4:09 AM

ds has it correctly



May 19, 2005, 4:20 AM

The Virgin Mother . . . should be removed straight away and those responsible for placing it there should be fired or whatever is done with reckless, imbecilic billionaires.

To me, this sounds like some 45 year old guy in 1965 complaining about that infernal racket those dliniquents, The Beatles, are making. An amazing picture of the sculpture here. For my own personal cash money, anyone who doesn't see this as great art is not right in the head.

George is operating on a mental gear that's not in my particular model, so i feel odd questioning him. But, "No doubt the upward momentum in the art market has peaked." No doubt? There may be some evidence for this statement, but I think there may be some remaining doubt.



May 19, 2005, 4:27 AM

Funny you should make that analogy, Alesh. Quoth Saltz: "Seeing Hirst rehash his old subjects in such pale ways is like listening to Paul McCartney sing Beatles songs in Wings."

I don't see this as great art. As for the rightness of my head, I'll take care of that, thanks.



May 19, 2005, 4:52 AM

Oldpro, regarding your closing question in #7, the answer seems simple enough. If rich ignoramuses for whom money is no object somehow get "into" art, for whatever reason(s), all they need to know is that a Saatchi, a Rubell, etc. bought a particular artist, and/or that the art mags are touting said artist, and/or that some (supposedly) reputable museum or big-shot gallery is featuring that artist. It's a collect-by-numbers approach, but there are plenty of people (dealers, certainly) who will stroke and pet such a client till s/he feels like a major authority, which will stimulate even greater spending, private-museum arrangements, etc. Museum people, necessarily looking for deep-pocket donors, may also contribute to delusions of grandeur. Every time I read about someone like the hedge fund wiz who bought Hirst's pickled shark, there are always glowing testimonials, especially from dealers, to what a "good eye" the client has, or something to that effect. My eye has a rather jaundiced view of Mr. Hedge Fund and cohorts, but I'm not part of that picture, and stroking-for-profit can always be had, given a fat enough art budget.



May 19, 2005, 6:07 AM

I have also noticed the "good eye" bestowal. If Mr. Hedge Fund likes Hirst, more power to him, but on a practical level, even if he couldn't distinguish a work of art from a block of cheese, his dealers would say the same thing about his eye.



May 19, 2005, 6:36 AM

And the other side of the "good eye" coin is the laughable "we only buy what we love".



May 19, 2005, 6:48 AM

Somebody, quick, tell me something new.



May 19, 2005, 7:35 AM

No, Hovig, I will not click your stupid links.

Franklin~ Hirst's Hymn was a brilliant piece, which basically applied the pop-art treatment to an oversized brass rendering of a children's toy. To expand on that idea by rendering a pregnant black woman the same way strikes me as the exact inverse of "rehashing old subjects." Plus, the effect is stunning, even in craptacular web-photograph. I'm going to NYC to check this thing out before your minions get it taken down!!



May 19, 2005, 7:37 AM

Please do not take the word "brass," above, too seriously. I might have meant "bronze," or something else, entirely. But i am pretty sure it was made of metal.

somebody put me to bed.



May 19, 2005, 1:42 PM

Alesh, if only I had some minions. I have a crapload of work to get done this week...

I won't talk you out of liking Hirst, but if you're going to challenge George's "no doubt," I'm going to challenge your "brilliant." Saltz astutely pointed out that "Here, Hirst is doing what he's always done: trying to imitate Jeff Koons." Koons had already "applied the pop-art treatment to an oversized brass [you're right, you meant bronze] rendering of a children's toy," and as someone familiar with anatomical imaging I can tell you that you can easily find these models in many permutations, and using one after another doesn't qualify as expansion. BTW, I'm looking at the features in the photo you link to and I feel pretty certain that this is not a black person.



May 19, 2005, 2:06 PM

Thanks for the Jane's Addiction reference... I might have to put that album on to wake me up this morning as I am Standing in the shower...



May 19, 2005, 2:11 PM

Comparing Hirst to Koons is interesting. I care for neither's work as art, but Koons's work usually has a quality of calculated over-refinement which has some interest in itself (for example, the pair of dogs in one of the auctions on we just discussed) and once in a while he makes something like that shiny steel balloon dog (rabbit?) which seems to have something as sculpture, though I have only seen it in reproduction.

Hirst , however, always seems gross and cack-handed. That anatomical thing is an unredeemable monstrosity. The pickled animals, the flies, the justifiably panned recent paintings, the circle art - it is all just awful. A person's character comes across in art; Hirst's is simply unpleasant.

But neither is as much fun the anatomical imodel site above, with its ARTHRITIS MONTH SALE! BASIC HIP MODEL (RIGID)! and the rest.



May 19, 2005, 2:28 PM

You didn't even get to the stuff they made crazy on purpose - like their googly-eyed plush Ebola virus toy. Now that I'll call transgressive.



May 19, 2005, 2:58 PM

Franklin, you deserve some minions. In fact, what you need is a real-world empire at your command. To match your empire of url's.

Anywho . . . yah, the features don't look black. Huh. I'm not sure what's going on with the color of that thar bronze. But until someone gives me some indication that there's an anatomical model in that lovely pose, with the skin folding back that way, I'm going to go on considering the Virgin Mother an original idea, because of the extent to which it reworks and refines the ideas of the original (Hymn), which, BTW, was based on a children's toy, not an anatomical model.

But yeah, that site does have some cool stuff.



May 19, 2005, 4:01 PM

Alesh, (20) I was using the phrase "no doubt" conversationally, when making judgements of auction markets there always is some doubt. On the other hand, the one not holding the doubt,-) auction markets tend to evolve in psychologically predictable ways. Basic economics one might learn in school suggests that pricing is a function of supply and demand. In general this will be true but there are many situations where it is not. One of these situations is found in auction markets where buyer psychology often ignores the underlying fundamental value of the bid item. Ebay.

In an initial phase, prices for an object will be stable and/or gradually rise over time as bidders seek to acquire the object but do not chase after the price. In the art world, this period occurs initially as an artists works first begin coming to auction. Generally there will not be a large audience and the prices will just reflect a changing of ownership. Without direct knowledge or proof of the following, I also believe that prices are manipulated in this early stage, with buying and selling between parties in collusion with one another, in order to raise the visible (auction) price.

In the second stage, the cat is let out of the bag, and the auction results along with the artist, the artists work and other artists which can be grouped together receive an increasing amount of attention This alerts the sideline buyers and the following auctions often see "record prices". It is this excitement, accompanied by a rapid rise in price, which is an indication of what I describe as the "momentum peak"

Why? When prices increase rapidly the general public assumes it will continue tomorrow. If you look at the facts it is unlikely. For example, suppose a painting by Boop sells for $10,000. At the next auction it sells for $20,000 or double the price. But by the third auction the Boop publicity machine is really running and the work sells for $200,000. Note this is a 10x increase over the previous price and if prices were to continue rising in a straight line the next plateau would be $2 million. $2 million, well maybe and maybe not but somewhere along this path price growth cools off. The most rapid price acceleration was the tenfold jump and the momentum peak.

All this requires a degree of irrational behavior by the auction participants. While we may disagree on the particular artist or artwork, everyone here seems to agree that there is irrational behavior. None of my observations necessarily predict a decline in prices, more likely we will see a stabilization with the number of "record prices" slowly declining. This seems to be the current case.



May 19, 2005, 4:37 PM

The Hirst "Virgin" could be a Soviet Social Realist version of "advanced" surrealist art (many years late). Of course it's not an exact copy of an actual anatomical model (he's not stupid), but it's clearly derived from one. The only thing that may impress about it is mere scale, which is a rather cheap trick (but if one can't deliver the real goods, one has to try to compensate somehow). Mr. Hedge Fund should love it.



May 19, 2005, 6:15 PM

Alesh - Sorry you didn't want to click on my links to biographies of Joseph Duveen. I think they're relevant to this topic.

Jack - I don't give Hirst that much credit. (And this is coming from someone who likes both his black fly canvases and some of his vitrine works [but not the pickled shark].)

I know you're not defending Hirst, I'm just saying I think it's a 100% blatant copy of something he saw when he was in his late teens and early 20s, when he used to spend much of his time in a morgue.

It also fits the pattern of his work Hymn, which is "no doubt" an exact replica of an anatomical figure [also here].

His scultpure "Charity" is also based on what BBC News calls "the old Spastic Society collection boxes." [May 27 2004]. (The Spastic Society was a UK charity for cerebral palsy, now named Scope.)

Why would he produce paintings [for his current show at Gagosian] that were nothing but reproductions of existing photos, yet then devise an "original" idea for a realistic sculpture? That doesn't make sense.

(In fact one of his source photos, for Suicide Bomb Aftermath (Baghdad), the one with the injured old man being carried away by a crowd of younger men, was coincidentally appropriated by another photorealistic artist as well).

Again, I know you're not defending Hirst. I'm just telling you my questions so you can add them to your own.



May 19, 2005, 6:28 PM

Hovig, I didn't mean that my idea was what Hirst was actually thinking about, but rather that the work reminded me of something like that. In other words, the last thing involved in "Virgin" is originality. Hirst is savvy and has been extremely lucky, but I have essentially no respect for him. I know he coudn't care less, but that's part of his problem.



May 19, 2005, 8:39 PM

Hovig - I was just kidding. Your links are great. keep doing that href=



May 19, 2005, 9:32 PM

I'm a moron. Color me totally embarrassed. Sorry about that.



May 20, 2005, 9:35 PM

I hope quoting janes addiction is one of those double jokes. Cause if your ok with janes addiction, then you must be ok with anything that Damien hirst does, this is not personal, i just dont understand this logic


that guy

May 21, 2005, 11:14 PM

George: Thanks so much for the link to "Jessie Livermore". I couldn't put it down all week and just finished it today. Great story with just the right tone and flow for the material at hand. Most investment writing reads like a banker wrote it, because bankers tend to write them, but this text is really engaging. Makes learning the basics of the market accessible.



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