Reviewing 2011

It Was a Very Good Year… Sort Of

2011 saw a thrilling Clock, a lot of crying and questions about guarantees; and what on earth will next year bring?
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A still from Christian Marclay's "The Clock" (2010). (Courtesy the artist and Paula Cooper Gallery)

There Was a Website Launch, and an Artistic Float

As 2011 draws to a close and myriad writers vie to pinpoint the year’s trends and noteworthy developments, whether those be pernicious or salubrious, let it not escape attention that it was the fall of this year that marked the auspicious launch of The Observer’s new website GalleristNY and its accompanying column in the paper, which you are reading this very minute. We promised to describe to you, with verve, the latest news of the art world in New York and, when relevant, beyond. If our visitor numbers are accurate, we believe we have delivered, and we hope to do even more in the New Year.

And now, per tradition, a highlight of 2011: in early October we found ourselves at the Pulaski Day Parade, the annual Polish-American pride event on Fifth Avenue. We were there to see a float by Polish-American artist Piotr Uklanski, whose artworks are more often found within the posh, sterile confines of places like Gagosian Gallery, which later this month opens an exhibition of Mr. Uklanski’s work on the island of St. Barts, the 1 Percent’s vacation destination of choice. But here was his float—Stanislav Szukalski’s Eagle Monument of 1929, made entirely of white balloons, resting atop a festive red conveyance decorated with spray painted words. On the back: “Boltanski Polanski Uklanski.” On one side: “Amerykanski Uklanski.” On the other side: “Polski Western 2011.” The thing lumbered down Fifth Avenue alongside floats for the Polish Scouting Organization, Laborers Local 78, St. Matthias Roman Catholic Church of Ridgewood and Glendale, a Brooklyn bread shop with a huge, naïve painting of Polish boxer Mariusz Wach. There were women in traditional costume, high school marching bands. It was a crisp fall day. Mayor Bloomberg gave a speech that was translated into Polish. Nothing was for sale except street food, T-shirts, miniature flags. There was no admission fee. —Sarah Douglas

There Were Big (And Small) Screen Thrills

To view three particular video works exhibited in New York this year was to witness what could be a turning point of the medium, and a glimpse at what might come next: Christian Marclay’s The Clock at Paula Cooper Gallery, Laurel Nakadate’s “Only the Lonely” retrospective at MoMA PS1 and Ryan Trecartin’s “Any Ever,” also at PS1. These shows were as poignant for their crossover into popular culture as they were for the quality of the work.

The line outside Paula Cooper Gallery last February was almost as unexpected an endurance test as watching Mr. Marclay’s 24-hour montage of cinematic images edited together in real-time so that they count down the hours, minutes and (sometimes) seconds of a full day. Walking down West 21st Street in February, one doesn’t often find a line out the door late into a Friday night of people waiting for several hours to get inside a gallery. The Clock was one of those rare instances of a work that is both esoteric and universal. It spanned all kinds of cinema, from obscure art house films to golden age Hollywood to popular fodder (pretty much every James Bond film, with some John Cusack and Matthew Broderick thrown in). It was a high concept that was, at its heart, for everybody: we’re all, in the end, living on the same clock.

There’s been some backlash lately about Ms. Nakadate, whose videos often involve nonactors—old male loners—the artist discovered by chance (in the parking lot of a Home Depot; in the elevator of her apartment building). In an interview with New York magazine in December the interviewer mentioned, “You’re also attractive and that bothers people,” to which Ms. Nakadate shot back: “Anybody who attacks me for that is antifeminist.” But the fact that Ms. Nakadate is young and pretty and her subjects are mostly overweight bald men is hardly interesting in and of itself. What Ms. Nakadate does best is blur the line between life and performance (the centerpiece of the show was 365 photographs of the artist crying, or pretending to, on each day of 2010). She calls attention to the inherent exploitation of having a camera lens focused on you, regardless of gender or beauty. For that, the show was more a shattering of what people believe is expected of them when they are being watched. People expected these strange men to take advantage of Ms. Nakadate and not the other way around; or they didn’t expect to hear Ms. Nakadate’s voice kindly ask an adolescent girl to strip to her underwear, as she does in one video. She never does what is expected of her.

Mr. Trecartin’s “Any Ever” was a stressful—and thrilling—bombardment of images, objects, noises and people. His movies are fast-moving, nonlinear and full of lightning-quick edits, as well as references to consumerism and contemporary superficiality that are both funny and unsettling. The range of reactions viewers had to the films—laughter, cringing, horror—was as interesting to watch as the films themselves. There were seven films in the show, but The Re’Search (Re’Search Waits) is likely Mr. Trecartin’s masterpiece (so far). While most of his work stars the artist and his friends in freak-show circus makeup, this 40-minute chef d’oeuvre focuses on a group of young girls, each plotting the other’s demise, between text messages and band practice. They talk endlessly in texting-speak and are unpleasantly sexualized (“You need a new girlfriend?” one particularly young character asks as she is spread out on a bed). Above all, they are violent, and that aggression is a direct function of the consumerism and superficiality that makes up a bulk of the symbolism in Mr. Trecartin’s career (at one point, a character shatters a mirror with a BlackBerry; she, along with everyone else in the film, announces her desire to “murder some fucking father figures”). All of this starts out as vaguely funny in a grotesque way, but as the film continues jumping from frame to frame, Mr. Trecartin’s very style seems to raise the stakes of the patricide into a realm of Greek tragedy—like Oedipus Rex with Twitter. —Michael H. Miller

Auction Houses Thrived, With Guarantees And Private Sales

This year, auction houses continued to deviate from that model of consignment-and-pure-bidding with an ongoing embrace of third-party guarantees and a notable emphasis on private sales.

A successor to what might now be called first-party guarantees, in which the auction house promises a consigner that it will purchase a work for a minimum price if it fails to sell at auction, third-party guarantees are not new, but came into vogue following a dismal fall 2008 auction season in which houses had to buy many works that failed to sell, and for that reason were essentially damaged goods. Art+Auction magazine’s Judd Tully reported this year that Sotheby’s, a public company, lost $52 million in guarantees in the fall of 2008 and that its total guarantees dropped from $626 million in that year to $7 million in 2009.

“These sales are no longer auctions,” an art adviser told The Economist’s Sarah Thornton in the spring of 2011, describing the extent to which work is now presold. The year in New York sales saw high-profile lots like Jeff Koons’s Pink Panther, which sold for $16.8 million at Sotheby’s in May, Andy Warhol’s Nine Gold Marilyns (Reversal Series), which went for $7.9 millionat Phillips de Pury this fall, and Clyfford Still’s 1949-A-No.1, which brought $61.7 million at Sotheby’s in November (those last two on their catalogue covers)—all had guarantees that essentially felt requisite and couldn’t be ignored. The guarantees represented a certain amount of added opacity in auctions, the most transparent part of the art market, relatively speaking, and an area that was already clouded by representative bidders and phone bidding. Since third-party guarantees seem here to stay, many journalists this year asked how the auction game has changed because of them—among them Mr. Tully, Ms. Thornton, Marion Maneker and Felix Salmon.

One of the major questions asked was whether or not we can trust the amount buyers supposedly pay for guaranteed lots, since third-party guarantees may entail a bonus for the bidder if the price goes over the agreed upon sum—say, a 50-50 split of the amount over the initial guaranteed bid. And trusting the numbers is important, because collectors and dealers alike use auction results, posted on databases like’s, to gauge artists’ markets. To use an example from the Economist piece, if former Christie’s Impressionist and Modern co-head Guy Bennett bought this fall’s Roy Lichtenstein at Christie’s for a client who was also its guarantor, he may have received a significant, secret discount for bidding up the price.

To add to the confusion, auction houses this year embraced their other, even less public aspects, the private sales division. Christie’s promoted one of its star honchos, Amy Cappellazzo, to chairman of post-war and contemporary development, a role that focuses her attention on private transactions and an appointment that Mr. Maneker announced with a headline saying that she’d “take on Gagosian” in her new role.

No small part of this strategy is the expansion of operations that resemble, or simply are, galleries. Christie’s has owned Haunch of Venison since 2007, but this year made its earnest bid at breaking into the New York gallery world by breaking away the business from the Christie’s headquarters in Rockefeller Center and moving it into a proper Chelsea gallery space. Private sales exhibitions even emulated the glamour of the blue-chip galleries with which they now compete. S2, Sotheby’s new gallery dedicated exclusively to private sale works, opened this fall with a modest Sam Francis exhibit and then transported all of hip downtown to the auction house for a star-studded show curated by Vito Schnabel that recreated the Schnabels’ Palazzo Chupi, and featured among others the Bruce High Quality Foundation, Dan Colen and a room of Terence Koh. And who could forget Vladimir Restoin Roitfeld and Andy Valmorbida’s Richard Hambleton show at Phillips de Pury, with its glitzy after-party at Indochine?

The auction houses did well for themselves this year, so whatever strategies they’ve embraced seem to be working. Their future value as the bellwether of the art market may be in flux, though, if the trends seen in 2011 continue. —Dan Duray

… And On The Horizon

Some things are safe bets: the money is going to keep flowing in 2012, at least at the upper tier, and barring calamity in Europe, it is going to make 2011 look low key. The Art Newspaper recently pointed out that, according to Forbes, 200 more billionaires were minted in 2010—there are 1,210 now—during which time their net worth increased some 25 percent.

Larry Gagosian, we suspect, will open a 12th gallery, probably in Tel Aviv, São Paulo or Istanbul in order of likelihood. Covering the opening of Gagosian’s Paris gallery last year, Bloomberg quoted a fellow dealer noting that Louis Vuitton opens stores in countries with three or more billionaires. France has 12 and Hong Kong, where Gogo opened earlier this year, has 36. Israel, Brazil and Turkey have, respectively, 16, 30 and 38.

In January and February, all 11 of Gagosian’s branches will feature Damien Hirst’s “spot” paintings in a show of force that will provoke all of the expected discussions and grumbling about power and influence while changing nothing about the way the industry actually operates.

What may change things is the ongoing work of the W.A.G.E. group, which aims to have artists paid fees for exhibiting at nonprofits. Next month, the group will collaborate with Artists Space, which looks like an early favorite to win the alternative-space trophy this year. It’s opening a bookstore and lecture venue in Tribeca, and director Stefan Kalmár is riding high after parlaying the fascinatingly awkward Occupy Artists Space debacle into a PR victory.

With Luhring Augustine set to open a new Bushwick gallery with a Charles Atlas show in February, a few of the neighborhood’s more ambitious dealers will win some spillover business. Given the area’s bounty of relatively affordable space, we predict that at least one more Chelsea gallery will follow suit. Dia or another expansion-ready institution would have to be crazy not to be considering a location out there.

On the actual art front: as a friend pointed out to us recently, everyone basically agrees that Ryan Trecartin and the Dis magazine gang are just about the most interesting game in town. Mr. Trecartin is a free agent at the moment, having left Elizabeth Dee, and while everyone is waiting, breathlessly, to see where he goes, a theory we’re toying with is that he’ll grow to like operating independently and stay that way, lining up financing and negotiating international gallery shows as he goes.

And finally, Julian Schnabel is going to enjoy a strong comeback. Jeffrey Deitch has a retrospective set at the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art, and young artists are actually discussing Mr. Schnabel’s work with admiration. His energetic children—dealer Vito and painter Lola Montes—are keeping his brand young, and after having his latest movie flop and breaking with his girlfriend (setting aside that weird outburst at NBC where he supposedly berated her about her hair), even we almost feel badly for him. If he could just engineer a few good auction results, he’d be a made man.

So there you have it: money will flow even more dramatically, Gagosian will expand, a new art neighborhood will continue to rise as some young dealers go under (the closure of Taxter & Spengemann is a reminder of how tricky life is for emerging-artist gallerists) and Julian Schnabel will dominate. Basically 2012 will be 1985. —Andrew Russeth


  1. [...] Sarah Douglas, Michael Miller, Dan Duray and Andrew Russeth, Gallerist NY The folks at this brand new Web site (an off-shoot of the new York Observer) have created a year-ender that is long, texty and all over the place. among various other demerits (talk about auction houses and Damien Hirst’s spot paintings), it lists Laurel Nakadate’s “Only the Lonely” exhibit from PS1 as a “thrill.” I gotta be honest: this is a show only a male critic could find ‘thrilling.’ as in: 365 shots of a highly attractive female artist crying cinematically in her barely-there underwear — an MFA version of a Victoria’s Secret catalogue. all I gotta say to that is: Occupy! [...]