@chrissandoval disappointed. thought you were referring to a dude named "art".
By Christian Viveros-Fauné
By Miriam Felton-Dansky
By Tom Sellar
By Tom Sellar
By Jessica Dawson
By Tom Sellar
By R. C. Baker
By Tom Sellar
The year 2013 ends very much as it began: with money at the center of an art world that is increasingly rotten. It was, after all, only late February when this newspaper received the following email from a prominent public relations company.
"Hi, I hope you are doing well! I wanted to see if you were interested in profiling my client Peter Hort, son of Susan and Michael Hort, in anticipation of the spring's upcoming art fairs, including the Armory Show, of which the Hort Family hosts the annual Welcoming Brunch. Peter and his wife Jamie are two of New York's most notable young art collectors, each born into dynastic art collecting families.
"Peter, along with his mother, father, and siblings, has developed a renowned reputation for collecting works from early to mid-career artists, who later become giants in the contemporary art world. Peter, along with his family, also provide grants to emerging artists without representation through the Rema Hort [Mann] Foundation and have a proven track record of helping develop lesser-known artists into superstars.
"In the last three years artists [Rashid Johnson], Jon Pestoni, Alex [Olson] and Keltie Ferris have all seen their prices more than double. Over the last decade, artists Kehinde Wiley, Elizabeth Peyton, and Richard Prince have seen the value of his[sic] work appreciate by more than 100%. The Hort Family Collection, of which Peter Hort is a part, invested early in each of these artists. The Hort Family has a reputation for creating more value for works they collect.
"In regular finance, if you have insider information about a stock, it is illegal to invest in that stock. In the art world, it is not only legal, it is done regularly. Peter Hort, along with his wife and family, are the people who create the insider information."
Agog at the idea that a noted New York philanthropic family was willing to pump their press profile by admitting their role in a rigged art market, I instantly thought to reproduce the email in a column. A few days later, I had misgivings. After all, I rationalized, I knew some of the players, and I could certainly find far more egregious — not to mention outright criminal — examples of shadiness in the art world. But looking back at a year of unprecedented graft, I find that this email constitutes an important kernel of proof. Proof that, in New York especially, art is no longer just art — it's crooked finance. The kind of crooked finance that today is not merely accepted among otherwise reputable folks, but encouraged.
A year-end wrap-up of art in Gotham would be meaningless without mentioning the single greatest transformation to have struck the visual arts globally: namely, that the art market has turned into one big corrupt casino, a place where price fixing, market manipulation, bribery, forgery, theft, and money laundering have become as popular as risky mortgages were in 2007. The evidence of this transformation is everywhere, if one cares to look. There are scandals, court cases, indictments, and suspiciously skyrocketing auction records. In China, the world's largest market for art and antiquities, it's now widely acknowledged that most auction sales are routinely defaulted on. (According to Forbes, the "vast bulk" of that country's $13 billion art market activity goes "unpaid," yet is still widely used for the purposes of "money laundering or the bribing of government officials.") Today, everyone knows about the importance of China's economy to the world's stability; but has anyone thought about the impact that that country's fraudulent art business may soon have in the U.S. and Europe?
In 2013, the headlines of the world's major news outlets — which paid only token attention to the art trade until it officially became a plaything of plutocrats — provided a perfect play by play of the toxic effects of funny money in the art world. There were the $80 million Pollock, Rothko, and de Kooning forgeries, as reported in The New York Times, that sank the mighty Knoedler & Co. (one of the nation's oldest art businesses). That story was subsequently followed by Mexico's Proceso's reporting on the New York shopping sprees of Elba Esther Gordillo, president of that country's teacher's union, who was brought low by charges of embezzling and laundering $200 million. During the investigation, Mexico's Attorney General uncovered a significant New York art connection. Records show Gordillo spent at least $2.75 million at two uptown New York galleries: Leon Tovar and Marian Goodman.
More recently, The New York Times chronicled the November conviction of Vilma Bautista, ex-personal secretary to Imelda Marcos, who it seems has more lives than a movie zombie. Bautista, prosecutors demonstrated, sold a stolen Monet to an English hedge-fund manager for $43 million. But not before implicating a worldwide web of respectable agents, lawyers, bankers, and art dealers who became willing middlemen for a hot masterpiece. Their connivance — and that of many art worlders afflicted with Enron-grade avarice — was summed up by one government lawyer with experienced aplomb: "Everyone held their noses and closed their eyes because it was in their shared financial interest to do so."
But don't just take my word for it. Believe the Basel Institute on Governance, a nonprofit research organization in Switzerland, which recently raised the alarm about what it calls "the high volume of illegal and suspicious transactions involving art." Along with U.S. officials, this organization has rightly identified a perfect storm of chicanery trading as mere financial speculation. The math is bookie simple: Add a virtually unregulated market to the recent emergence of art as an alternative to cash, and you have a business capable of secretly transferring untraced billions in assets anywhere in the world. Consider the recent case against the infamously pomaded Helly Nahmad in this light. The scion of New York's most powerful art family admitted last month to running a $100 million gambling ring out of his Madison Avenue gallery. Because he copped a plea in exchange for lesser federal charges, what we might have known about the role art played in those transactions is now lost forever to speculation.
As one British constable put it in a BBC article detailing how "criminal gangs are increasingly targeting high-value works of art" in Britain and Europe: "Where there's money to be made, organised criminals will move in if we don't stop them." But the issue the art world faces today is not just about Russian mobsters or auction-house sharks in pinstripes. It's about emails sent by normally stand-up guys offering access to "insider information" regarding artists whose careers are treated not even like pork bellies, but like fixed football games.
When I met Peter Hort for lunch and asked him about the email I'd received, he seemed positively nonplussed. The art world was like "the Wild West," he offered jauntily, and "driven by inside knowledge" that was "fully legal," if certainly less than fair or ethical. But what doesn't bother him and other players is news to many inside the art world, and fundamentally shocking to most people outside its cliquish confines. The big secret in the art world is that today nearly everyone agrees that art is a dirty business, though few speak out for fear of banishment from the ultimate insiders' club. It's high time the art market was cleaned up: by the government, by self-regulation, but above all by a resolve among club members to straighten out a trade that, when measured against any other legal industry, is downright criminal.
@chrissandoval disappointed. thought you were referring to a dude named "art".
@AlfredoNarvaez hasta la Gordillo desfiló en ese artículo. Muy interesante (y triste). ¡Muchas gracias!
@MilesJHarrison The auction market is particularly corrupt with dealers bidding on & even buying their own work in order to drive up prices.
What are some solutions or alternatives for younger emerging artists who do not have a foot in this rickety corrupt door?
Yes, the art world is tough. What I especially don't like is that they are shaping "taste" when a lot of great talent goes unnoticed. http://goo.gl/HJskW1
I thought that was a picture of Rachael Ray; I was going to ask what the hell she had to do with art, lol.
@silvinaX0 Yes it's a fact, anyone with money can be an"artist".They are crooks and pay to have their names circulating in the inner circle.
@nealunger I loved that story
@ZakSmithSabbath that's only true if you care about ART. If you just find things you like, that speak to you, you'll avoid that issue.
@vmingoa tell more
To be honest, the art world is not dominated by the one percent although these high flying financial cruise boats displace the choicest spots in the marina. Most of the $13 billion in art world money is undoubtedly changing hands at garage sales, small galleries, print shops, etsy, ebay and museum gift shops (postcards!) without much fanfare. It's true, though, a $143 million painting does garner attention, as does some young ruler of the universe talking shit and money in the same breath.
Perhaps there's enough greed to go around here. What role do some of these artists have in all this? How high do they need to see their prices climb? Perhaps, what we need to demand as artists are sales contracts that stipulate no secondary sales- that will dry up the crazy speculation, auction fever and back room deals, and the ridiculous notion that collectors"create" anything, including careers. I know- I'm an idealist. So glad to be thousands of miles away.
A friend pointed out to me " I wish people would stop referring to the "art world" when they complain about the blue chip art scene. The art world is a broader and more diverse animal."
It's sad that a "collector" needs a publicist to create any interest in the collector-client. This says to me that the collector does not have enough merit or credibility on his/her own to generate interest. Pathetic. And to focus on the "price making" aspect of collecting is even sadder.
To characterize the Hort's (very public) and Cohen's (very private) as dynasties is a gross misrepresentation. According to Merriam-Webster: a dynasty is:
: a family of rulers who rule over a country for a long period of time; also : the period of time when a particular dynasty is in power
: a family, team, etc., that is very powerful or successful for a long period of time.
Neither the Hort's not Cohen's are dynastic. They have been collecting for about 20 years.
Neither have institutional relationships on record. And the Rema Hort Foundation made grants of about $120,000 in 2011/2012 to cancer patients and artists combined. (The foundation's 990 is on line, and is insightful. They paid their fund raising consultant more money than they gave to artists.)
No altruism here.
"Where there's money to be made, organised criminals will move in if we don't stop them."
How quaint to believe in a difference in criminals based on their address.
.@emilycolucci Financial corruption will only vacate the art world after spiritual value replaces financial value of specific art works.
@sarahkendzior dismaying that people will spend millions on a single Picasso when that much money could support countless living artists
@billharrison4 that's a much more interesting article
@mocrocwork hard then work some more. recognition by this kind of money world doesn't mean anything. sell cheap to get into collections; work at a dumb day job, be frustrated and angry but take it out in your art.
@irene90do you really think the sacchi dumb-1970's art collection event, say, had any actual art-consciousness effect on what we do now? it's only about what and how we can do our own art, not what's in a penthouse in manhatten or remaindered to a museum in buffalo.
@NataliSBravo@silvinaX0 all this moaning about money, when the real enemy is trendy and chic for people whose art is food and sex... and, they're the ones telling people what art to like and where to go to see it. it's always been like this, and paris and new york have always been controlled by this actual dynamic being told what's safe to like and not like.
the only thing we can do is just make an art that fucks them in the brain enough that they want to start making art too. maybe they'll even tell people to come see our studio.
that's right. we're the only industry which has also to create its own market need at the time of production.
@bombaywallah also, fakes proliferate.
@bombaywallah ...much of “the canon” is fraudulent, and the marketplace is an idiot. (actual line in essay I just wrote!)
.@bombaywallah most Indian art scholarship isn’t worth the paper its printed on, almost all existing “experts” are charlatans...
@mistahrosethe problem is in calling what you've embraced 'art'. as artists, we invent art and visual art is a function of your visual I.Q.: experience and ability to see more than just the name of a thing and show that thing's ability to be more than its habitual role in everyday conversation reality.
getting into your mindset, what happens is that machine made objects become 'art' -- included in your public trading of art things is 'avon bottle' collecting, and then, "the art of collecting is an art too", realities. intellectually, people come out of dumb to start understanding concept. most seem to stop there, saying, "art is subjective," by which they mean not much at all except they had to say something to save face.
separate the "industry" -- museum post-cards are part of the publishing industry, not the art industry... if they were, they wouldn't be such crappy repros of what they're attempting to depict -- from the actual making of an art piece and placing it, or not, in the market. that act itself is what art is about.
anyway, i doubt that most of your 13 billion is traded as you say... it's more likely that most of it goes out in several and many over 1m sales of paintings and sculpture to speculators and social climbers.
@aviroberts@sarahkendziorwe're unreliable and a bad investment. better to have the picasso somewhere in public where we can see it and learn something about how to paint from it: i'm not picasso... he had a lot of talent and experience, a lot of tricks which are very useful to a painter when seen up close and personal.
Thats more or less what ive been doin. It is always difficult hearing information like this even though you hear it everyday. Ive also been been contemplating moving to nyc but I hear more stories of financial/studio struggle than that of success or content. For someone living outside peering in, it is incredibly daunting and cant help but wonder if this success can happen outside the NY bubble..
@vmingoa who will expose it all? My guess, no one
@zeitbauer@mistahrose No, it's not "likely" that most of it goes out in quantities you describe. If you want to talk about the 1 percent all the time because you as an artist desire their attention, go ahead. But I was not "embracing" anything, Zeity. I have long been a practicing artist and writer about art and the business of art. If you don't want to include catalogs, fine art posters, prints and everything connected to what people believe art is across the country wherever they are, go ahead. If for you it's 100 players and everything else is subjective, you might want to catch upon the 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s and 00s. A lot happened.
Do you not call someone making and selling paintings and prints and earning $15,000 - $20,000 an artist?
And by your reckoning sirloin steak is part of the agriculture sector, not the restaurant service industry.
But maybe I misunderstand you.
i want to say, 'define success', but i never really understood what that meant until i turned 60 or so. for me, it meant that i survived anyway and never gave up.
@zeitbauer @irene90 The government in this province spends money on the arts, more so than in other provinces. It makes a difference. The belief that we are all creative and worthily so, seems much more ingrained here, although maybe I just fell in love with the French and am seeing what I want to see!
Nah. It's good here.
@irene90@zeitbauer yes, i think you're correct about R's money, and i'm corrected. i did only want to say that there was competition and that luck and talent were involved. and, maybe i visited the van gogh museum more than R's house... i don't know why i didn't get there, but only to rijksmuseum...
i do want to say that we're the creators of art, and that the critic finds us, just as philosophers find poets, and invent us as artists, even though we invent the art in the first place.
i think Quebec must be nice.
@zeitbauer @irene90 He was relatively rich until the very end of his life, when he lost his fortune due to bad management and, it's suspected, some bad habits. I visited the house he lived in for most of his adult life. It was opulent for its time and he used a front room as a gallery, showing not only his own work, but the work of others. I'm just saying that critics can have too much influence and I wish they didn't. It's a corrupting force in art and I don't like it. The language of art history is a language all of its own, which is a manifestation of this corruption (IMHO) and in some ways makes art less accessible, which I think is wrong too. I live in Quebec where art has a more accessible place among all citizens. It's not a perfect fit all the time, but at least there is a general recognition of the importance of art and the importance of our definitions of art having a broad scope.
@irene90@zeitbauerpeople can sell, but selling out isn't an option if you're not an artist -- you're just going to making craft-commodities. inventing art -- that is, teaching the critics what art is -- is your job. making money has always been a problem for me too, but it just means i've understood, after 67 years, what i actually need in life.
to be an artist you need talent and luck, not an income. income happens: in rembrandt's time in amsterdam, there were about 17,000 other painters competing with him for bourgeois wall space. he was often poor.
@bombaywallah too many suckers in marketplace, too many stakeholders in large-scale fraudulence, inc auction houses. you're right, no one.
@mistahrose@zeitbaueri only call myself an artist when i'm actually making a piece. the rest of the time, i'm as much a tourist looking at my work as any joe. but, inventing an art is different from making something which looks like art in a museum or on a calendar or something, and that's the point. if you're not hungry to define yourself through your art, and only through your art, then you're not going to be making art, just crafts and artifacts. i've never made more than 600 dollars on my art, even though i've got 12 images in the j. paul getty in L.A.... which were sold to the getty by sam wagstaff, who probably got a lot more than the 300 dollars he paid me for the 12 images. and, you know what? i'm very happy they're safe there in the getty -- free from fire and cockroaches... and, i made it fine working at shit jobs all my life... i survived while keeping my consciousness open to the art moment. and, the financial reality for me goes hand in hand with my identity as an artist: i'd sell my stuff to joe plutocrat's museuem for 300 dollars, but not for that price to joe schmoe at some saturday art fair. joe schmoe's price would be 20k, since i'm in the getty...