Felix Salmon

The art of Griftopia

December 2, 2011

I’m in Miami right now, for the annual bacchanal of conspicuous consumption that is Art Basel Miami Beach. There are two equally important things going on here (and by “important” I mean “not important at all”) — a tiny group of people spending huge sums of money on art; and a small group of people in extremely expensive shoes gossiping about who’s buying what.

Why you can’t always trust auction results

November 21, 2011

Back in May, Sarah Thornton started worrying about the system of third-party guarantees and irrevocable bids at high-profile auction houses. I struggled to see what the fuss was about:

The art market: just as absurd as the banking crisis

October 5, 2011

You work hard, have a long and storied career, rise to the top of your profession, and become a multi-millionaire by doing so. How many people, in that situation, will say that the amount of money they’re being paid is “absurd”, “impossible to understand”, and “daft”? Well, Gerhard Richter, for one:

Who owns Spiral Jetty?

July 8, 2011

Greg Allen is a true polymath: he’s a filmmaker, curator, art collector, web entrepreneur and a philanthropist. He’s an artist in his own right: he likes to play with conceptual art-about-art-about-art works. He even has an MBA in finance from Wharton. And now he’s set up the Jetty Foundation, which has made a bid to lease from the state of Utah the site of Robert Smithson’s most iconic work. (And, according to Tyler Green, the Greatest Post-War Artwork in the world.)

Chart of the day, auction-house market share edition

June 22, 2011

Randy Kennedy has a bullish article on Artnet’s nascent art-auction business, which is doing better the second time round than it did the first time round, but which is still tiny. I’m skeptical: value in the art world is very much reliant upon the institutional authority of auction houses and galleries, and Artnet’s auction system is designed to strip out all of that information. It can work for fungible editioned works of relatively modest value, but I do think that most collectors are always going to want a bit more hand-holding before buying art, not to mention the opportunity to actually see the art object before buying it.

Canine umbrella stand datapoint of the day

June 6, 2011

The right-hand column of page A3 of the NYT — the first thing you see when you turn the front page — has historically been home to slightly silly luxury-goods ads from high-end New York retailers. Today is no exception, with Tiffany at the top and Brooks Brothers in the middle. But there’s clearly money in e-retailing again, because the bottom slot has been bought by 1stdibs, which uses the space to advertise this “rare umbrella stand in the form of a collie dog by Piero Fornasetti”, yours for $4,600.

Are Warhol auctions being gamed?

May 24, 2011

I’ve been puzzling over Sarah Thornton’s post on the Warhol market, especially as I recently had drinks with someone expressing a very similar view. There’s something here, but I’m having difficulty putting my finger on exactly what it is:

Adventures with Warhol, 1986 self-portrait edition

May 5, 2011

If you want a great example of how the entire business of the art world is built on opacity and information asymmetry, the Christie’s auction of a big Andy Warhol self-portrait next week is a good place to start.

Adam Lindemann and the game of art

April 29, 2011

Adam Lindemann has replied to my post on art as a game. He makes a number of points worth responding to: