Talk About Art Basel
By Heidi Lee | May 27, 2010
(image: András Szántós, Klaus Biesenback, Lynne Cooke, and Ann Goldstein)
Co-director of ArtBasel, Marc Spiegler said, ArtBasel is like a “create your own adventure” game where you can go for any variety of reasons whether to meet fellow art lovers, observe experimental performances, listen to intellectual conversations, seek new artists, or cull out priceless objects to add to a collection. My game was a combination of all of the above and I was happy to discover many new works by young artists like Swedish artist Cecilia Edefalk, British sculptor Anthony James, American painter Matthew Day Jackson, and American mixed-media sculptor Oscar Tuazon.
One of the main attractions was ArtSalon, a dense program of talks, panels and other presentations by international art world figures. Famed mega dealers Irving Blum and (now museum director) Jeffrey Deitch held a captive audience talking about the early days of modernism in Los Angeles and New York back in the 1960s and shared their incredible personal experiences with legendary artists, dealers, and collectors including Ed Ruscha, Billy Al Bengston, Ivan Karp, and Riko Mizuno. Peter Plagens statement about it being “Irving’s history, we just live in it,” rang true as the audience sat in awe.
The art world back then used to be a quaint community with only four or five main collectors and dealers interacted with a small artist cooperative. Everyone knew each other and artists discussed the meaning of art and life into the wee hours of the night, some nights under many influences. Today, that distinctive feeling of community still exists though it is rare. For the most part, artists don’t seem to take themselves as seriously and the dealers are no longer at the epicenter. Many disgruntled dealers are feeling the affects of that, including Blum who said the biggest mistake museums make is dismiss dealers in favor of art collectors. He said, “dealers are sidelined and not referred to at all. Museums don’t call and [this] happens to ALL dealers. It’s monstrous!”
Providing further proof that collectors hold the power, art collector/author Adam Lindeman and journalist Josh Baer discussed how collectors actually harness and use their power. According to Lindeman, there are two types of collectors: market makers and trophy collectors. The market markers are those who have the ability to influence the market and build artists’ markets and therefore are the ones with the power. If a “market maker” collector like the Eli Broad, François Pinault or Charles Saatchi buys a certain artist, we are likely to see a museum show in the near future with that artist, followed by major gallery representation. So we see why museums are referring to collectors than dealers. The power play is predictable and the art world of the 1950s is a bygone era.
Eli Broad is arguably the living embodiment of collector power and influence. He owns one of world’s most important art collections of Contemporary art, serves on the board of the LA MOCA and has plans to open his own museum soon. Museums and galleries closely watch the artists he buys. He represents the hybrid breed of collector/patron and fellow board members call him a “venture philanthropist.” In 2009, Broad saved the LA MOCA by making a $30m donation with a matching grant but with specific claims of his own. Some people at the museum level viewed it as a pact with the devil but deaccessing their $80m Rothko was not an option.
Speaking of museums behaving in unconventional ways, Hungarian arts journalist András Szántó’s found out that European museums are becoming more “American” in their funding policies and adopting private funding strategies to survive economic hardship. Internationally renowned museum curators Lynne Cooke from the Reina Sofía and Ann Goldstein from the upcoming Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam both agreed that their institutions are less reliant on public funding now and more open to receiving private donations. Lynne Cooke said “museums everywhere must obey multiple masters”. Maybe Eli Broad has started a trend…