Sunday, June 22, 2008



LONDON (Reuters) - Sotheby's will auction a series of new works by artist Damien Hirst, including a trademark animal preserved in formaldehyde that is expected to fetch up to 12 million pounds.
Hirst, one of contemporary art's most bankable stars, said he chose to sell his latest work in the auction room rather than the gallery because "the world's changing".
The big auction houses have never made any secret about their ambitions to move into the primary market: As Christie’s deputy head Amy Cappellazzo told Art Review not too long ago, "We’re the big box retailer putting the mom-and-pops out of business." Christie’s acquisition of the private dealer Haunch of Venison was widely seen as a move in that direction -- but now Sotheby’s has once-again leapfrogged its rival by securing a high-profile auction of completely new works by Damien Hirst. The sale is dubbed "Beautiful Inside My Head Forever," and is set for Sept. 15-16, 2008, in London (a preview show opens to the public Sept. 5-15).
Sotheby’s is making the most out of the coup, billing the event as "an historic sale." The centerpiece of the auction is The Golden Calf, a bull preserved in a tank of formaldehyde -- a classic Hirst trope, this time with the twist that the animal is fitted with a solid gold halo and hooves and horns cast in 18-carat gold. The work is estimated at £8-12 million. As for the rest of the sale, Sotheby’s promises it will "document the full breadth of the artist’s creative output," including new works incorporating his popular butterfly, pill and cancer motifs, as well as a suite of preparatory drawings, all created in the last two years.
Acknowledging his dealers, Hirst said in a statement, "I never want to stop working with my galleries," then added, "This is different. The world’s changing, ultimately I need to see where this road leads." As for those scrappy mom-and-pop operators, Hirst dealers Larry Gagosian and Jay Jopling, the Sotheby’s press release quotes them both as being OK with the arrangement. "As Damien’s long-term gallery, we’ve come to expect the unexpected," Gagosian said.
The 43-year-old also based his decision on the success of a 2004 auction, also hosted by Sotheby's, which raised 11.1 million pounds from the sale of objects he designed for the defunct Pharmacy restaurant in London.
"After the success of the Pharmacy auction, I always felt I would like to do another auction," Hirst said in a statement on Thursday. "It's a very democratic way to sell art and it feels like a natural evolution for contemporary art.
"Although there is risk involved, I embrace the challenge of selling my work in this way," he added. "I never want to stop working with my galleries. This is different. The world's changing, ultimately I need to see where this road leads."
The main lot in the auction, to be held in London on September 15 and 16, is "The Golden Calf", a bull in a glass tank of formaldehyde with its head crowned by a solid gold disc and its hooves and horns cast in 18-carat gold.
The work, which Sotheby's said united the artist's preoccupation with "science, religion, beauty and death", is estimated to realise eight to 12 million pounds.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

German Memorial by Elmgreen & Dragset Unveiled

On May 27th, Germany unveiled a memorial to the Nazis' long-ignored gay victims, a monument that also aims to address ongoing discrimination by confronting visitors with an image of a same-sex couple kissing.
The memorial, a sloping gray concrete slab on the edge of Berlin's Tiergarten Park, echoes the vast field of smaller slabs that make up Germany's memorial to Jewish victims of the Holocaust, which opened three years ago just across the road. The pavilion-sized slab includes a small window where visitors can view a video clip of two men kissing. Berlin's openly gay mayor, Klaus Wowereit, said the monument was a reminder of the ongoing struggles that still confront gays.
"This memorial is important from two points of view - to commemorate the victims, but also to make clear that even today, after we have achieved so much in terms of equal treatment, discrimination still exists daily," Wowereit said as he inaugurated the memorial alongside Culture Minister Bernd Neumann.
Nazi Germany declared homosexuality a threat to the German race and convicted some 50,000 homosexuals as criminals. An estimated 10,000 to 15,000 gay men were deported to concentration camps, where few survived.
"This is a story that many people don't know about, and I think it's fantastic . . . that the German state finally decided to make a memorial to honor these victims as well," said Ingar Dragset, a Berlin-based Norwegian who designed the memorial with Danish-born Michael Elmgreen. Even in the hubbub of Berlin’s political life, such a queer mixture is seldom to be seen: Last Tuesday, the conservative minister of cultural affairs, Bernd Neumann, stood amid hundreds of gay men of all stripes. There were guys in bomber jackets and skinny jeans, in suits and kippahs, in brogues and a bow tie—even one with a neon-red Mohawk. A few lesbians were among the crowd. A special occasion, to be sure, for the culture minister that day had the honor and duty to inaugurate Germany’s national memorial for homosexual victims of National Socialism—a monument, it should be noted, that his party had frequently opposed, as it also does gay marriage. But other high-profile politicians, among them Berlin’s lively mayor (and gay icon), Klaus Wowereit, were on hand.
The memorial sits on the edge of Berlin’s biggest park, Tiergarten, within view of the Brandenburg Gate, Peter Eisenman’s Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, and the new, terror-proof American Embassy. It consists of a concrete stele, thirteen feet high, with a small window through which viewer’s can watch a looped video, shot by Robby Müller (Wim Wenders’s cinematographer) and directed by Dogme 95 cofounder Thomas Vinterberg, of two men kissing. The memorial was designed by Elmgreen and Dragset, who submitted their proposal to two consecutive competitions (the first open, the second invite only) and beat out fellow artists like Wolfgang Tillmans for the commission.
The unveiling was not without its tensions. The ministry of culture’s invitations to the unveiling did not depict the kiss, which angered the artists, who voiced their frustration a week earlier in an interview (which, full disclosure, I published in Zitty). “The kiss is central to the memorial,” Michael Elmgreen said. “We would have liked to show it on the invitation. But the minister made clear that this was not desirable.” His partner, Ingar Dragset, added, “So the memorial is more relevant than ever, when the kiss poses a problem even for the minister. Not to show the kiss was his personal decision.” At Tuesday’s ceremony, however, Neumann praised the work, saying, “This memorial is a sign against intolerance. It has sparked important debates and marks Germany’s mature culture of remembrance.” He even praised the video itself, which “directly links the memory of victims with the situation of gays and lesbians today.” But when Neumann approached the stele to be the first person to see the kiss, the artists did not accompany him. Neither did they pose for pictures with the politicians. “Politicians come and go. We stay,” Elmgreen joked from the sidelines.
So why all the fuss? Elmgreen elaborated: “You can grant us homosexuals all rights: marriage, adoption, inheritance. But as long as people are grossed out when they see us kiss, something is missing.” In his frustration, Elmgreen overlooked that it was Neumann who made the memorial possible: A year ago, the minister negotiated an agreement after the artists’ initial proposal had met with criticism. With Neumann’s help and blessing, the artists decided to change the video every two years, with an open call for submissions for other depictions of homosexual love.

Carnegie Museum Guard Defaces a Celmins

A guard at the Carnegie Museum of Art is accused of using a key to deface a $1.2 million painting, reports Jerome L. Sherman and Timothy McNulty in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. The piece—from Vija Celmins's "Night Sky" series—was on display as part of the 2008 Carnegie International exhibition, according to a police affidavit. It was damaged beyond repair on May 16; a "large vertical gouge" runs down its middle. A surveillance tape caught Timur Serebrykov in the act of defacing the work, the affidavit said. "I didn't like the painting," Serebrykov told police when they arrested him at the museum on May 20. He added, "I'm sorry." Serebrykov was charged with one count of institutional vandalism. He has waived his right to a preliminary hearing. James Sheets, whose law firm represents Serebrykov, said he may use a mental-health defense.
Ellen Baxter, the museum's chief conservator, told police that the art piece was a "total loss." The painting was one of at least eight “Night Sky” paintings on display in the museum's Gallery Fifteen, part of "Life on Mars," the latest version of the Carnegie International.


"People come to Basel in June to buy art, sell art and see art, not necessarily in that order. Of late doubts have been raised about the health of the art market, which can now be laid to rest. The market is strong. It is strong not only at the top, where it is very strong, but also in the middle, where it has been said to be soft."
Walter Robinson