On the Block
Post #1088 • November 15, 2007, 10:37 AM • 28 Comments
Last week the Dow Jones corporation circulated a press release about a new art auction blog at the Wall Street Journal, On the Block.
For the next two weeks it will provide continuously updated news, images and analysis of the art auctions in New York. WSJ's Kelly Crow and Lauren Schuker are reporting from the auction floors, providing updates on the scene, the players and the numbers.
Like Artforum Diary drops names, OTB drops numbers.
A friend sitting next to Valentino [Garavani] - who was possibly bidding for the designer - unsuccessfully tried to buy another Warhol. The haunting 1986 work, "Self Portrait (Green Camouflage)," eventually sold to a telephone bidder for $12.3 million, just over its $9 million to $12 million estimate. Records were broken for 13 artists, including Koons, Sol LeWitt, John Chamberlain, Anish Kapoor, Ad Reinhardt and Ellsworth Kelly.
But fabulosity turns AFD writers into unreflective thralls. Action on the auction floor does the opposite for Crow and Schuker. They could forego ascriptions like "haunting" because incidental criticism comes out of the reportage.
For the first time, Sotheby's wove Chinese contemporary art into its New York evening sale. All those works fared well: Fang Lijun's partly cloudy portrait of several men dressed in angelic (or perhaps mournful) white sold to a phone bidder for $4 million, nearly four times its high estimate. After breaking the record for Yue Minjun in London last month, Sotheby’s sold the artist's "Bayonetting" for $1.1 million, near its $1.2 million high estimate. (It may have helped that Mr. Yue's grinning self portraits are on exhibit at the Queens Museum of Art in New York.)
Critics, who as art people tend toward innumeracy, lament the frenzy of the art market and worry that it will enervate artistic progress. (Examples abound. Here's one.) OTB takes the opposite approach, viewing the sums as a fact of life. This robs them of power. They could plummet as well as rocket, and only the fall of the gavel stays the uncertainty. Nothing proves the arbitrariness of the whole exercise quite like the data themselves. $1.1 million for a one-trick pony like Yue Minjun? $700K as the low estimate for a tossed-off Warhol Mao? This probably strikes someone as good news or bad news. I instead recall a few lines from the Hua Hu Ching:
If you do not see the patterns in these movements, you are lost. But if you consult the I Ching with an open mind, you will begin to see the patterns underlying all things. Knowing that daybreak will come, you can sleep peacefully at night.