The Money Pit

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In November 1973, Walter De Maria wrote to his former dealer, Virginia Dwan, seeking funds to create a second, larger version of 35-Pole Lightning Field, a work of Land art that he had erected near Flagstaff, Arizona, earlier that year with Dwan’s financing but later dismantled. During her keynote lecture at “Collecting the ‘Uncollectible’: Earth and Site-Specific Sculpture,” a half-day symposium held at the Frick Collection, New York, on May 23, art historian Suzaan Boettger quoted from the letter: “I have come to realize that the land or earth movement as a whole is best advanced through fewer major statements rather than a profusion of smaller ones.”

Landscape Surveyors

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A panel on “The Changing Landscape of Museums Today” coincided with the release of the Asia Society Museum’s anthology of essays, Making a Museum in the 21st Century. Responding to a question asked by Josette Sheeran, president and chief executive officer of the Asia Society—“What does a successful museum look like in the twenty-first century?”—the museum directors Richard Armstrong and Melissa Chiu talked about collections, buildings, and exhibitions, while the bureaucrat Tom Finkelpearl zeroed in on diversity and audience.

Art Market Booming, Dealers Say

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Not only is art alive, it is thriving, was the assessment given by some of the nation’s foremost museum officials, art dealers, and artists to some four hundred persons at the first World Art Market Conference over the weekend. “Far from being less pertinent, the fine arts and the art museum will become more important,” declared Thomas P. F. Hoving, director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Speculate in Art? Not Us!

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Billed as “The First World Art Market Conference,” the show was, as John Everett, president of the New School, said in his opening remarks, about the “business of art.” It appeared to be mostly a media event. The press was given the three front rows, fussed over with TLC. Some four hundred others, dealers, and collectors from around the country, and a few artists hoping to learn about “business,” paid $200 each to see and hear the superstars of the art market. Those expecting a clear view of the crystal ball—specific investment advice—were disappointed. But they got lots of encouragement and word that the art market is very good these days.

The Art Talk That Ate New York

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Titled “What Price Art,” and provocatively subtitled “The Economics of Art: An Agenda for the Future,” the conference promised to explore the economics of the visual arts market, with practical details on costs and price structure provided by “national experts in economics, finance, law, public policy, art and journalism.”

Hitting Rock Bottom

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“Welcome to the Armory Show TED Talks,” joked Christian Viveros-Fauné, a New York–based art critic who was the moderator of today’s panel. He said that everyone onstage for “From the Bottom Up: Rethinking Art Galleries in a Commodity and Event Dominated Ecosystem” is or was involved in exhibiting in a gallery situation or with an art fair, except for Georgina Adam, a columnist for the Financial Times and and an editor-at-large for the Art Newspaper. If only the panel had been, like a TED Talk, uplifting and inspirational. When the dust settled, the speakers neither established a historical assessment of the art fair’s ascendance over the past twenty years, nor did they interrogate—and I choose this word purposefully because of Viveros-Fauné recent cynical, under researched rants—the perceived state of the art market and art world. While I recognize the panelists witnessed the rise of the art fair firsthand, their recollections of the recent past were grounded in anecdote, hearsay, and received wisdom.

A Chicken in Every Pot

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The art market prospered in the Dutch Golden Age, as Rembrandt van Rijn, Johannes Vermeer, and Gerard Dou, among many others, began to meet a growing demand for portraits, still lifes, genre scenes, and landscapes. “Most pictures were bought by private, middle-class citizens, known as burghers, from modest artisans to wealthy regents,” writes Mariët Westermann in A Worldly Art: The Dutch Republic, 1585–1718 (1996). Even laborers and peasants, she notes, likely owned “a few mediocre prints.”