Is It A Pollock?

The New York Times has an interesting piece about a work that was supposedly given to Ruth Kligman by Jackson Pollock in the summer of 1956. The work has been subject to dispute for quite some time. As Kligman tells it, she brought him materials and he produced the work out on the lawn that summer.  “Here’s your painting,” he said, “your very own Pollock.” Lee Krasner, on the other hand, contests the story. Ruth was having sex with her husband….

[NY Times: A Real Pollock?]

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Detroit Should Sell Its Art

postmanCount me among those who think Detroit should sell its art to help settle its debt obligations.

I love art but at the end of the day, the Postman Joseph Roulin is just canvas with some dried colored oil. That canvas could fetch over 100 million dollars at auction. The proceeds from that sale and others like it could help the city settle its pension obligations and maintain its essential services.

If a city is forced to choose between maintaining its art collection and fulfilling its promises to retirees, the proper course should be obvious. Art is a luxury for those who can afford it. The masterpieces currently housed in the DIA will not be lost. They’ll be transferred to those who can afford to manage them and the city will generate revenue it desperately needs. The general welfare is more important than the public’s art.

It’s true that many works will find their way into private hands and won’t be accessible to the public. That will be an unfortunate event but one that won’t last very long. Among those who have the capacity to purchase Detroit’s finest works of art, few have more than forty years left on this planet. The best works will find their way back into the finest museums. Detroit’s masterpieces will all be available to the public at some point after their sale. They shouldn’t be managed now by a municipality that can’t afford to pay its pensioners and pull people from burning buildings.

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Sunrise At Home Again

1913 Sonnenaufgang (Sunrise)A reader alerts me to an interesting sale. Sunrise (122.002) recently sold in Berlin for roughly 800,000 EUR.

Dix painted Sunrise in the late winter of 1913. The work was completed soon after a major Van Gogh exhibition in Dresden. As you can tell from just a cursory glance, it owes much to the influence of the Dutch master.

In 1920 as his star was rising, Dix donated Sunrise to the Dresden city museum. There it would have remained if not for a historic turn of events. In 1933, the NSDAP rose to power. Shortly thereafter, Dix was branded a degenerate and his work was removed from government museums. In 1937, Sunrise was included in the Degenerate Art exhibition in Munich.

And here’s where the story gets interesting.

Continue reading »

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Detroit Rubble City

detroit rubble cityAs you may have heard, Detroit is not doing so well. The city has $15 billion dollars in long term financial liability and an ever shrinking revenue stream. Its population continues to decline while its 139 square miles does not. Detroit cannot maintain its infrastructure, transport its people or meet its pension obligations. Hiroshima was flattened in 1945 and its doing better than the Motor City. If only Detroit could raise the money it needs to pay its bills.

Hey, whoa! — check it out. They’ve got an entire art museum full of expensive paintings just hanging on walls and stuff:

Detroit emergency manager Kevyn Orr is considering whether the multibillion-dollar collection at the Detroit Institute of Arts should be considered city assets that potentially could be sold to cover about $15 billion in debt.

So how much is its art worth?

Museums are not required by federal accounting rules to list their collections as assets. However, at the request of the Free Press, art dealers in New York and metro Detroit reviewed a list of 38 of the greatest masterpieces owned by the museum and estimated a market value of at least $2.5 billion with pieces such as Bruegel’s “The Wedding Dance,” van Gogh’s “Self-Portrait” and Matisse’s “The Window” all carrying estimates of between $100 million and $150 million each.

Believe it or not, Michigan residents aren’t thrilled with the idea. Museum quality art is widely regarded as a legacy for future generations. Should today’s sperm be denied tomorrow’s pleasures because the current generation can’t pay its bills?

Randy Richardville, a Michigan state senator and a (WTF?) Republican, doesn’t think so. He is introducing legislature that will protect Detroit’s art from sale. Let’s hope the bill includes funding for climate control and museum lighting.

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Keith Haring on Tumblr

Keith Haring's polaroid selfieTumblr is a short form blog that allows users to post multimedia content. It made a splash this month when it was acquired by Yahoo! for 1.1 billion dollars.

Keith Haring died before the commercial internet captured the popular attention yet it’s not hard to imagine the artist embracing it. Haring kept a journal that documented his life and his work. One could imagine these details on a Haring blog.

That concept is now reality.

The Keith Haring Foundation has started to publish the artist’s journals on Tumblr. The Foundation plans to post the complete series from 1971-1989. Some of the pages already online were featured in the Brooklyn Museum’s retrospective, Keith Haring: 1978-1982. The popularity of that exhibition prompted the Foundation to publish them.

Haring is no longer with us but you can still follow his thoughts as they pop into his head and appear on the contemporary internet.

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One Billyun Dollars!

picassoThose with access to physical paper encountered quite a splash on the cover of this morning’s New York Times. Leonard Lauder, the eldest son of Joseph and Estée Lauder, donated cubist art appraised at approximately $1 billion dollars to the Metropolitan. The collection was donated with no strings attached. The Met may curate the pieces in any manner that suits their sensibilities. A public exhibition is scheduled for Fall 2014.

Art lovers are probably familiar with Leonard’s younger brother, Ronald. He is the owner of the Neue Gallerie on the Upper East Side. That museum sits a few blocks from the future home of Leonard’s cubist masterpieces. Both men started to collect early in life. Ronald bought his first Egon Schiele with bar mitzvah money.

I will say this about the Lauders: they know what they’re doing. A specialized collection is much more interesting than an assortment of art. Ronald specialized in German art in general and German expressionism in particular. This narrow focus produced one of the finest collections of that sort in the world. And while his wealthy peers made big splashes as Christie’s gavels dropped, Leonard quietly built what could possibly be the finest collection of cubism in the world.

While me may take issue with the rules in this game, it’s hard to say they don’t work to the public’s benefit. A private collection is about to go public in one of the finest museums in the country. We’re all slightly richer for it.

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Haring Miami, Now With Free Admission

Free as a bird, now

Haring Miami dropped its admission price this weekend. The exhibition opened Wednesday and featured 175 works by the Pennsylvania artist. Tickets were originally $25.00 through online sales or $30.00 at the door. By Saturday, prices had plunged. Admission fell from $30.00 to free.

To what do we owe this act of benevolence?

There were major authenticity concerns from the Keith Haring Foundation. The group filed an injunction in Miami district court to remove 165 works it feels were improperly attributed to the artist. The suit contained a deadline for action by Friday at 7:00pm. But the deadline passed without a court order and the exhibition continued as planned.

Things changed on Saturday. Judge Marcia G. Cooke ruled in favor of the Haring Foundation. She ordered the removal of 165 questionable works. She also ordered the destruction of all catalogs and brochures for the show. With only ten pieces remaining on its walls, the Design District dropped its prices from $30.00 to free.

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An Art Forger Tells All

Ken Perenyi appears on CBS Sunday Morning.



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The Artist Known As 43

Portrait of the Artist As A Naked PresidentBack in the Naughts, I documented my outrage with the Iraq War on Blog Day Afternoon. For five straight years I threw snarky spitballs at the Bush Administration from the back of the proverbial room. So when the former President’s secret paintings were revealed this week, several BDA readers wanted to know what I thought of them. My response was probably disappointing: I don’t hate them.

There’s rumors on the Internets that an intruder known as Guccifer infiltrated an online email account that belonged to W.’s sister. Basically he guessed her password. Once inside he found a trove of pictures and personal correspondence. Guccifer was nice enough to share three of particular interest to this blog: Paintings by George W. Bush.

Given that Dubya destroyed three businesses, launched an unprovoked invasion and fiddled while New Orleans drowned, these might be his finest accomplishments. They’re a little touching if somewhat naive.

By his own description, the former leader was a “War President” who famously touched down on a aircraft carrier and paraded the deck in a military flight suit. He was The Decider, a heroic description somewhat at odds with his fumbling grasp of language and his penchant for accidents. As the spotlight receded into the Dallas suburbs, the former Commander-in-Chief appears to have taken another attempt to reshapen his image. This time he is depicted in a much more vulnerable position: Alone and naked in the shower.

So, no, I don’t hate these paintings by George W. Bush. Perhaps if he was raised by parents with less aspiration for power, he could have pursued the arts rather than the wars that defined his ill-fated presidency. But it’s hard to imagine Poppy with tolerance for that sort of thing. For him art is a hedge against inflation. It’s unfortunate. The country would have been better served by this somewhat surprising twist in its narrative.


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How Much Is A Work Of Art Worth?

The ScreamThe New York Times published an interesting article about the contemporary art market. Although buyers increasingly treat art as an investment, the market is characterized by opaque transactions with little outside oversight. The industry is designed to separare customers from their money.

The article highlights several notions which make the market an inefficient investment vehicle. Collectors face pricing opacity and deliberate attempts to obfuscate value. At the same time, the art market faces little regulatory enforcement.

1. First bids are generally fictional numbers pulled from the auctioneer’s ass.

2. Collectors often bid against collaborators who’ve agreed to pay a minimum price in exchange for profits from a final bid that exceeds it.

3. Galleries — in New York anyway — stone-cold ignore a 42-year-old law that requires them to post prices.

The Times, being the Times, focused its attention on wealthy collectors while its final point applies to most buyers. The majority of art is sold in galleries without posted pricing. Without this tool, it’s very difficult to assess the value of a artist in the gallery market.

Art prices are driven by public taste, not intrinsic value. Since tastes shift with time, value is a moving target. This makes it difficult to gain returns on investments. Market opacity makes it nearly impossible.

Art is a bad investment. It’s nearly impossible to assess the risk of a particular piece but even those who collect for pleasure want some assurance of price integrity. The only way to provide that is with greater transparency. Unfotunately, the Times article doesn’t paint a rosy picture.

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