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Despite being one of the most famous and well-recognized photographers of our time, Annie Leibovitz continues to struggle as a financially viable artist, according to a huge feature in the Financial Times. The paper uses Leibovitz as a microcosm of the divide between “specialist photography and contemporary art,” specifically in the marketplace, where Leibovitz’s forebears and even contemporaries are fetching multiple times what she is from collectors. Unfortunately, Leibovitz is the one millions of dollars in debt. Put bluntly, according to the Times, Leibovitz “lacks earning power as an artist.” But why?
In short, she refused to play the game:
The problem is that, as Jeffrey Boloten, a managing director of the ArtInsight consultancy in London, puts it: “You do have to play by the art market rules.” That means working closely with auction houses and galleries and doing what they tell you, from making small limited editions of your prints to signing and marketing them adeptly.
Leibovitz has failed this test, at least until she got into her current straits, and her credibility among the movers, shakers and brokers of the art world is low. “She had very little interest in the art world for most of her career,” says Edwynn Houk, a gallery owner in New York who used to represent her. “She suffered from not caring about it, not paying enough attention.”
In all, it’s a fascinating portrait of the space between art and journalism and celebrity and commerce, illustrating why a photographer who was able to garner an audience with the Queen of England may still be useless to collectors. Though she would not participate in the article, Leibovitz provided a statement, backing up the writer’s thesis:
“I’ve always cared more about taking pictures than about the art market. But for some time now we have closely controlled the editioned prints and we are building a network of relationships with dealers and galleries.”
In other words, financial problems have resulted in making more concessions to rules she has not traditionally followed. And for those around her, especially on the business side, it’s somewhat personal:
Although most people in the art world express both admiration and affection for Leibovitz, there is an undercurrent of schadenfreude at the fact that a celebrity who defied the system has been brought low. “She is such a difficult person to work with and it’s always been her way or the highway,” says one photography specialist.
For those without an in-depth knowledge of the art world, but who remain curious about the marketplace as it operates around one of its biggest living stars, the examination of Leibovitz is a must-read.