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The author of "Dark Matter Art and Politics in the Age of Enterprise Culture" Gregory Sholette, joins us in Athens for a discussion of his new book "Delirium and Resistance: Activist Art and the Crisis of Capitalism", and a talk on his concept of cultural resistance in a "bare art world." , in the context of TO THE FUTURE PUBLIC series of actions, talks and workshops.

The event will take place at the Free Self-Organized Theater EMPROS, Riga Palamidi 2, Psirri, Athens.

Thursday, June 8
6.00PM - 9.00PM
Doors open: 6.00PM sharp. Free Admission.

Followed by panel talk with Gregory Sholette, Iliana Fokianaki (curator, Extra City Kunsthal Antwerp / director, State of Concept), James Simbouras (curator, C.A.S.A. / co-founder, To The Future Public).


TO THE FUTURE PUBLIC in collaboration with:


Void Network: 

Avtonomi Akadimia:

The Institute of Experimental Arts:

Free Self-Organized Theater EMPROS:


In the aftermath of the 2016 US election, Brexit, and a global upsurge of nationalist populism, it is evident that the delirium and the crisis of neoliberal capitalism is now the delirium and crisis of liberal democracy and its culture. And though capitalist crisis does not begin within art, art can reflect and amplify its effects to positive and negative ends.

In this follow-up to his influential 2010 book, "Dark Matter: Art and Politics in the Age of Enterprise Culture", Sholette engages in critical dialogue with artists’ collectives, counter-institutions, and activist groups to offer an insightful firsthand account of the relationship between politics and art in neoliberal society. Sholette lays out clear examples of art’s deep involvement in capitalism: the dizzying prices achieved by artists who pander to the financial elite, the proliferation of museums that contribute to global competition between cities in order to attract capital, and the strange relationship between art and rampant gentrification that restructures the urban landscape.

With a preface by noted author Lucy R. Lippard and an introduction by theorist Kim Charnley, Delirium and Resistance draws on over thirty years of critical debates and practices both in and beyond the art world to historicize and advocate for the art activist tradition that radically—and, at times, deliriously—entangles the visual arts with political struggles.


In his wide-ranging art, activist, teaching and writing practice, Gregory Sholette has developed a self-described “viable, democratic, counter-narrative that, bit-by-bit, gains descriptive power within the larger public discourse.” Sholette is a founding member of Political Art Documentation/Distribution, which issued publications on politically engaged art in the 1980s; of REPOhistory, which repossessed suppressed histories in New York in the 1990s; and more recently, of Gulf Labor, a group of artists advocating for migrant workers constructing museums in Abu Dhabi. In dozens of essays, three edited volumes, and his own books including "Delirium & Resistance: Art Activism & the Crisis of Capitalism (2017)" and "Dark Matter: Art and Politics in an Age of Enterprise Culture (2011, both Pluto Press)", and "It's The Political Economy, Stupid" with Oliver Ressler on view at the Contemporary Art Center, Thessaloniki, Greece in 2010. Sholette documents and reflects upon decades of activist art that, for its ephemerality, politics, and market resistance, might otherwise remain invisible. A co-director of Social Practice Queens at Queens College CUNY, he holds a PhD from the University of Amsterdam, The Netherlands, is a graduate of The Cooper Union, the University of California San Diego, and The Whitney Independent Study Program in Critical Theory. 



From the point of view of Athens, TO THE FUTURE PUBLIC attempts to formulate a meeting point between local communities, artists, researchers, activists and initiatives with a focus on self-organization and cooperative economy, connecting various locations in an open, decentralized and evolving testing laboratory for the exploration of future curatorial and artistic practices, bringing together different voices from various fields, with different perspectives and backgrounds.

The program focuses on providing a collaborative framework for in-situ responses to specific sites or contexts in the public sphere of Athens, while thinking collectively about ways to act when "thinking beyond a frozen future is inconceivable, an institutional limit impossible to cross". Through interventions, performances, ephemeral installations, research-based projects, workshops and cartographies, the areas of the city center are responded to as field that is experienced and performed - an intricate web of inter-dependencies, conflicts, and radical syntheses.

We resist the abstracted narratives of Athens as being ”unique” and "creative" due to crisis as constructed and traded in a market of symbolic capital conforming to the prerogatives of an international art market, institutional and urban development interests. This comes at a moment when basic human rights are considered a state security risk, when sweeping economic restructuring converts the global majority into a segregated precarious surplus, and when a widespread hostility to the very notion of society has become commonplace rhetoric, at a time when the public sphere, as both concept and reality, is under threat. 

As agents working locally and engaged in global discourse, we stand in support of ground-up participation and art as a catalyst for organizing, reviving, rethinking, and remaking the everyday experience. Seeking counter-narratives to the increasing in commercialization of the cultural field, we trace the radical points of intersection with the practices of others from around the world, who are also working from within and outside existing institutional framings, and whose locally focused work constitute de-facto deflections from accepted paradigms within the globally established art economy. 

Resisting cultural and artistic monopolies, we support, by all means possible, the creation of new temporary spaces in the overlapping zones of art, political activism, and theory - spaces where the boundaries between artists and public are blurred, where the concept of "expertise" is fluid and radical relations become possible. We envision a shift away from models based on the exporting of cultural capital, towards a new hierarchy of priorities based upon actual needs and sustainable practices. In doing so, we strive for the development of participatory, inclusive models and strategies, and attempt to carry out the urgent task of cultivating horizontal communication and exchanges between movements across social, geographical and institutional divides.



Ο Gregory Sholette θα παρουσιάσει και θα συζητήσει το νέο του βιβλίο "Delirium and Resistance : Art Activism & the Crisis of Capitalism" (Παραλήρημα και Αντίσταση: Ακτιβιστική Τέχνη και η Κρίση του Καπιταλισμού) και την έννοια της πολιτισμικής αντίστασης σεν μέσω ενός "γυμνού εικαστικού κόσμου", ,στο πλαίσιο δράσεων, ομιλιών και εργαστηρίων του προγράμματος TO THE FUTURE PUBLIC, στο Ελέυθερο Αυτοδιαχειριζόμενο Θέατρο ΕΜΠΡΟΣ, Ρήγα Παλαμήδη 2, Ψυρρή. 

Πέμπτη, 8 Ιουνίου
6.00μμ - 9.00μμ
Η εκδήλωση ξεκινάει: 6.00μμ ακριβώς.

Ακολουθεί ανοιχτή συζήτηση με τον Gregory Sholette, την Ηλιάνα Φωκιανάκη (επιμελητής, Extra City Kunsthal Antwerp / διευθυντής, State of Concept) και τον James Simbouras (επιμελητής, C.A.S.A. / συν-ιδρυτής, To The Future Public).

TO THE FUTURE PUBLIC σε συνεργασία με:
Void Network: 
Το Ιδρυμα Πειραματικών Τεχνών:
Ελεύθερο Αυτοδιαχειριζόμενο Θέατρο ΕΜΠΡΟΣ:


Στον απόηχο των εκλογών του 2016 στις ΗΠΑ, του Brexit και της παγκόσμιας κλιμάκωσης του εθνικιστικού λαϊκισμου, είναι εμφανές ότι το παραλήρημα και η κρίση του νεοφιλελεύθερου καπιταλισμού εμφανίζεται ταυτόσημη με το παραλήρημα και την κρίση της ελευθεριακής δημοκρατίας και της κουλτούρας της. Και ενώ η καπιταλιστική κρίση δεν ξεκινά από την τέχνη, η τέχνη έχει την ικανότητα να αντανακλά και να ενισχύει τις επιδράσεις της θετικά και αρνητικά.

Σε συνέχεια του επιδραστικού βιβλίο του, του 2010, "Dark Matter: Art and Politics in the Age of Enterprise Culture ( Σκοτεινή Ύλη: Τέχνη και Πολιτική στην Εποχή της Κουλτούρας της Επιχειρηματικότητας)", ο Sholette επιχειρεί έναν κριτικό διάλογο με συλλογικότητες καλλιτεχνών, αντι-ιδρύματα, και ακτιβιστικές ομάδες, ώστε να προσφέρει μια διορατική και σε πρώτο πλάνο περιγραφή των σχέσεων μεταξύ της πολιτικής και της τέχνης εντός της νεοφιλελεύθερης κοινωνίας. Ο Sholette προσφέρει ξεκάθαρα παραδείγματα της βαθειάς εμπλοκής της τέχνης με τον καπιταλισμό: τις υπέρογκες τιμές που επιτυγχάνουν εικαστικοί που υποθάλπου πιστά τις οικονομικές ελίτ, την πλύθυνση των μουσείων που συμβάλλουν στον παγκόσμιο ανταγωνισμό για την προσέλκυση κεφαλαίου ανάμεσα σε πόλεις, και την παράξενη σχέση ανάμεσα στην τέχνη και την ανεξέλεγκτη ανάπτυξη που επαναχαράζει το αστικό τοπίο.

Με πρόλογο της καταξιωμένης συγγραφέα Lucy R.Lippard και εισαγωγή από τον θεωρητικό Kim Charnley, το νέο βιβλίο του Gregory Sholette "Delirium and Resistance (Παραλήρημα και Αντίσταση)" αντλεί υλικό από πάνω από τριάντα έτη κριτικών δημόσιων συζητήσεων και πρακτικών από τον εικαστικό χώρο και πέρα, ώστε να ιστορικοποιήσει και να υποστιρήξει την παράδοση του ακτιβισμού στην τέχνη, η οποία εμπλέκει ριζοσπαστικά, και συχνά παράληρηματικά, τις τέχνες με τους πολιτικούς αγώνες.


Μέσα από ένα ευρύ φάσμα τέχνης, ακτιβισμού, και συγγραφής, ο Gregory Sholette έχει αναπτύξει ένα “βιώσιμο, δημοκρατικό αντι-αφήγημα το οποίο, λίγο-λίγο, αποκτά περιγραφική ισχύ στο πλαίσιο της ευρύτερης δημόσιας διαλεκτικής”. Ο Sholette είναι ιδρυτικό μέλος του Political Art Documentation/Distribution, το οποίο εξέδωσε εκδόσεις για την πολιτικά εμπλεκόμενη τέχνη στην δεκαετία του 1980. Είναι επίσης ιδρυτικό μέλος του REPOhistory, το οποίο επανοικειοποιήθηκε καταπιεσμένες ιστορικές αφηγήσεις της Νέας Υόρκης το 1990, και πιό πρόσφατα του Gulf Labor, μιας ομάδας εικαστικών που μάχονται υπέρ των δικαιωμάτων των μεταναστών εργατών που εργάζονται στην κατασκευή μουσείων στο Abu Dhabi. Σε δεκάδες δοκίμια, και μέσα από τα βιβλία του που συμπεριλαμβάνουν το "Delirium and Resistance : Art Activism & the Crisis of Capitalism (Παραλήρημα και Αντίσταση: Ακτιβιστική Τέχνη και η Κρίση του Καπιταλισμού) (2017)", "Dark Matter: Art and Politics in an Age of Enterprise Culture (Σκοτεινή Υλή: Τέχνη και Πολιτική στην Εποχή της Κουλτούρας της Επιχειρηματικότητας)" (2011, και τα δύο σε έκδοση της Pluto Press) και "It's Political Economy, Stupid (Είναι Πολιτική Οικονομία, Ηλήθιε)" με τον Oliver Ressler, που παρουσιάστηκε στο Contemporary Art Center στην Θεσσαλονίκη, το 2010. Ο Sholette καταγράφει και διερευνά δεκαετίες ακτιβιστικής τέχνης η οποία, λόγω της εφήμερης φύσης της, και των αντιστάσεων της πολιτικής και της αγοράς, θα παρέμενε πιθανώς αόρατη. Συν-διευθυντής του τμήματως Social Practice Queens στο Πανεπιστήμιο Queens CUNU, κατέχει διδακτορικό από το Πανεπιστήμιο του Amsterdam, είναι απόφοιτος του Cooper Union, του Πανεπιστημίου San Diego της California, και του Ανεξάρτητου Προγράμματος Κριτικής Θεωρίας του Πανεπιστημίου Whitney.



Πώς μπορούμε να οραματιστούμε ένα διαφορετικό μέλλον εν μέσω συνθηκών επισφάλειας από την σκοπιά της Αθήνας και άλλων τόπων? Με ποιούς τρόπους μπορούν στο μέλλον να συσχετιστούν οι εικαστικές πρακτικές και μορφές οργάνωσης με τις εμπειρίες και τις συλλογικές διεκδικήσεις αυτών που επικαλούνται πως αντιπροσωπεύουν? Πώς μπορούμε να αναπτύξουμε από κοινού νέες συνδέσεις, τακτικές και πεδία δράσης, μέσα από την ανάγνωση των τοπικών συνθηκών, εν μέσω παγκόσμιων γκετοποιήσεων? Από αυτήν την οπτική, ποιά πιθανά μέλλοντα οραματιζόμαστε και ποιές είναι οι απαραίτητες συνθήκες και τα επόμενα βήματα ώστε να φτάσουμε σε αυτές? Ποίο είναι, εν τέλει το μελλοντικό κοινό στο οποίο απευθυνόμαστε?

Το TO THE FUTURE PUBLIC αποτελει ένα ανοιχτό, αποκεντρωμένο και εξελισσόμενο εργαστήριο δοκιμών για την διερεύνηση επιμελητικών και εικαστικών πρακτικών, που συνδέει θεωρία και πράξη.

Το πρόγραμμα στοχεύει στην ενίσχυση της συνεργασίας, του διαλόγου και στην ανταλλαγής εμπειριών ανάμεσα σε εικαστικούς, ακτιβιστές και πρωτοβουλίες με τοπικές κοινότητες. Μέσα από παρεμβάσεις, performance, εφήμερες εγκαταστάσεις, ερευνητικά projects, εργαστήρια και χαρτογραφήσεις, η περιοχή του κέντρου της Αθήνας αντιμετωπίζεται ως ένα πεδίο που βιώνεται και επιτελείται - ένα πλέγμα συγκρούσεων, αμφισβητήσεων και καινοτομικών συνθέσεων. .

Αντιστεκόμαστε στην ‘εξωτικοποιημένη’ και αφηρημένη θέαση της Αθήνας ως ένα σημείο "κρίσης", ως προίόν στην παγκόσμια αγορα πολιτιστικού κεφαλαίου. Στεκόμαστε δίπλα σε ακτιβιστικές πρακτικές που λειτουργούν ως οργανωτικοί και αναβιωτικοί παράγοντες της εμπειρίας της καθημερινότητας, στις πραγματικές σχέσεις που καθορίζουν και ενημερώνουν τις δράσεις μας, και στην επανοικειοποίηση του δημόσιου χώρου από τις ίδιες τις τοπικές κοινότητες της πόλης χωρίς διακρίσεις φύλλου, καταγωγής, εισοδήματος.

Στηρίζουμε υβριδικές μορφές καλλιτεχνικής και κοινωνικής δράσης αντιλαμβανόμενοι την τέχνη του δημόσιου χώρου ως μια συμμετοχική, αντί-ηγεμονική, και κατά βάση πολιτική πράξη. Υπερασπιζόμαστε με κάθε μέσο την δημιουργία νέων εφήμερων πεδίων μεταξύ τέχνης, ακτιβισμού και θεωρίας –πεδίων όπου τα όρια μεταξύ καλλιτεχνών και κοινού είναι διάχυτα, όπου η έννοια της εξειδίκευσης είναι ρευστή. Από τρανταχτές δηλώσεις,μέχρι λεπτεπίλεπτη εξερεύνηση, οι εικαστικές παρεμβάσεις στον δημόσο χώρο αποτελούν ένα κάλεσμα για συμμετοχικότητα, κάτω από το οικονομικό, ιδρυματικό και πολιτικό ραντάρ.


What are the economics of art? Podcast

The Economist asks Podcast: What are the economics of art?

Are the new players in the art world opening it up or destroying it? Economist Richard Davies profiles one dealer accused of creating turmoil in the market. Also on the show: Artist Schandra Singh ponders the intricate relationship between art and money. And senior director at the auction house Sotheby's, Philip Hook, on the dealers who made art history. Anne McElvoy hosts.

Art Market VS. Predator

Sooon after finishing art school in 2011 Lucien Smith, an American artist, started to get rave reviews. By February 2014 there was such a buzz that when “Feet in the Water” came up for sale Phillips, an auction house, thought it would sell for £40,000-60,000 ($63,000-95,000). Instead it went for £194,500. Two days later another painting with a £60,000 upper estimate sold at Sotheby’s for £224,500. By March Christie’s had re-evaluated Smith’s prices: “Love Story, a Woman Under the Influence”, now had a top-end estimate of $150,000. The painting sold for $233,000. Smith was on fire.

Two years on things are different. On June 28th, “TBT”, a work from a series of “rain paintings” – abstracts gesturing towards precipitation – that were selling for close to $90,000 (then around £56,000) in New York in 2014, went for a little over £30,000 in London, a drop of almost 45%. But this was a good result. Smith’s paintings now tend to be estimated at £10,000-15,000 ($12,350-18,500), and go at the lower end.

Smith is not the only young artist whose work has been subject to this sort of volatility. In 2012 the prices of work by a group of painters, mostly men under the age of 35, started to rocket. By 2014, they were superstars: paintings by David Ostrowski, Parker Ito, Dan Rees, Jacob Kassay and Hugh Scott-Douglas reached prices of between $100,000 and $245,000. In 2016 none hit six figures, with most pieces selling for under $30,000.

Many in the art world are worried about bubbles. The market, they say, is becoming too fast, and too short term. They have reason to fret. The price swings for these artists – rises and falls of 500% or more in less than two years – make this market more volatile than even the most turbulent financial ones. Mini-crashes are becoming more common. They risk doing both financial and creative damage to the art world – financial, because it could put off serious, long-term investors; creative, because artists burn out before they really get started.

The blame for this is directed at a new breed of art dealer, known as “flippers”. In contrast to a traditional dealer, who may stay with an artist for a lifetime and keeps tight control over who buys his work, flippers buy low and sell high to anybody who will buy. They treat art as though it were a financial instrument.

The man accused of leading the charge is Stefan Simchowitz. He was the first buyer of a Lucien Smith rain painting, snapped up early works by Parker Ito for less than $750 and was an early champion of Oscar Murillo, a current superstar.

If Simchowitz’s nose for success is impressive, so is the hatred he inspires. He has been likened to Michael Milken, an inventor of junk bonds and convicted fraudster; he has been called a Sith Lord and Satan. The complaint is that he is a short-termist, prioritising quick profits over sustainable sales. He is accused of buying too greedily: cornering the market early by snapping up much of a young artist’s catalogue (he bought lots of work by Murillo early and cheap) before flipping the work to collectors who are themselves seeking profit rather than good art.

Simchowitz has been a Hollywood producer (his films include “Requiem for a Dream”) and has started and sold a tech company (MediaVast, a photography site, was bought by Getty Images for around $200m in 2007). He studied economics at Stanford, lives in Los Angeles and his partner is an ex-model. His clients include the young and famous, such as Orlando Bloom and Sean Parker. A South African by origin – he was born in Johannesburg and moved to America as a boy – Simchowitz is as Californian as they come.

He does not try to fit in. The standard art-world look is three parts Mayfair financier, one part literary agent: close-cut blue suit, crisp white shirt, brogues or moccasins, horn-rimmed spectacles for a hint of bookishness. When Simchowitz wears a suit it has a French-smock-style jacket; his camera is always around his neck, a lopsided beanie hat on his head. At a Christie’s evening auction where I saw him in action, he wore a long grey cardigan, half-mast harem pants, and far-from-fresh running shoes that started life orange. He wants to stand out, and he does.

The criticisms of him, he maintains, are “bullshit – not an exaggeration of what I do but a complete misunderstanding of what I do”. As he talks – quickly on the phone, and even faster in person – his world view pours out. It is clear, clever and controversial. To understand both the failings of the art market and how he wants to change it, he says it is helpful to look at the writings of his two favourite economists.

The first problem, he says, is elucidated in “Four Quadrants of Stupidity”, an essay by Carlo Cipolla. “Stupidity”, for Cipolla, has nothing to do with education: it is about the effect you have on yourself and others. People who make both themselves and others better off Cipolla calls “intelligent”. Those who enrich them­selves by impoverishing others are “bandits”; people who endure losses to help others profit are “helpless”. There is logic to all of these forms of behaviour, Cipolla argues. But the final group is the biggest, and makes no sense: most people make both themselves and others worse off. They are plain “stupid”.

Portrait of the artist as the coming man Lucien Smith at his home in Claverack, New York, in 2012

Portrait of the artist as the coming man

Lucien Smith at his home in Claverack, New York, in 2012

The essay is obscure and wacky. But the basic idea, and a problem Simchowitz often returns to, is one that does have strong currency. Economies can end up in lose-lose situations when people take decisions that are bad for themselves and for the group as a whole. Herd behaviour – mimicking others’ actions – is a good example. In the “paradox of saving”, collective thrift means that shops are starved of spending and a recession ensues, which hurts everyone. Simchowitz thinks the art world is like this: filled with bandit insiders who gain at others’ expense, or stupid copycats who believe that price and value are the same thing.

Simchowitz says he wants to make the art world more “intelligent”. His plan is based on his second big influence, the notion of “creative destruction” set out in Joseph Schumpeter’s book “Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy”. The idea is that true capitalist competition is much more radical than charging lower prices or providing a better service. It is about completely changing the way things are done – setting up new types of firm that revolutionise the way industries operate. Simchowitz dislikes the art-world hierarchy, which he thinks excludes people from buying art; he would like to dislodge it and make art easier to see and buy. In doing this he positions himself as the art market’s version of Travis Kalanick, the founder of Uber – the disruptor of a staid, closed and uncompetitive industry.

Over the past 30 years art has become an important asset class, outpacing other so-called “alternative” investments like fine wine or classic cars. Total sales were worth $64bn in 2015 according to a recent report by Clare McAndrew, an art economist. This makes the art economy bigger than Luxembourg’s. While China has emerged as an important player, two-thirds of all sales take place in Britain and America.

In the past, the art market has tended to shift slowly. In the 1980s impressionist and post-impressionist painting dominated, with sales of work by Cézanne, Monet and Van Gogh leading the way. Modern art, roughly defined as work by those born between 1875 and 1910 (Pablo Picasso and Alberto Giacometti, for example) started to become more popular, but it wasn’t until after the turn of the century that it took the top slot.

Things changed after the 2008 crash. At first, all types of art bounced back strongly. But in 2011 the markets for old masters, impressionist and modern art all stagnated, while contemporary work – by artists born after 1910 – shot past its pre-crisis peak. In 2015 sales of work by the three artists – Francis Bacon, Andy Warhol and Cy Twombly – who top the contemporary list were worth around $1bn at auction alone. By 2015 the contemporary-art market was 340% its 2009 size, accounting for close to 50% of industry revenues.

The rise of contemporary art has created new opportunities. A collector will rarely get a Warhol or Bacon for a bargain: the long-term value of these pieces is known, and is already priced in. But according to McAndrew, 90% of contemporary-art auction sales are for artwork under $50,000, with 45% under $5,000. It is here that tomorrow’s stars are to be found – and “flippers” can make a killing.

The flippers’ technique is what economists call “arbitrage” – spotting and exploiting large price discrepancies between markets. These arise because art is bought and sold in three distinct ways.

New work is sold by the main gallery that represents an artist. This is the “primary” market. Some sales happen at the gallery; around a third happen at art fairs like Frieze or Art Basel. Prices are rarely displayed, but you can ask for a list. These agents do more than display and sell work: they store and conserve paintings and manage loans to public galleries and museums. They research the market, publish books and handle journalists. They also try to control who buys – a museum (very good), a long-term collector (good) or a flipper (bad). For these services a gallerist takes a big slice of an artist’s primary-market sales, 50% being the norm. Gallerists deal too, but their main function is as long-term supporters of their artist’s career.

After its first sale an artwork can be traded on the “secondary” or private market. This is a murky and opaque place. Buyers and sellers rarely trade directly, but via a web of intermediaries. For a significant piece of work there can be three or four links in the chain, says Heather Flow, a New York-based art adviser. This is because information is scarce. There is no public register of who owns each piece of art, and where sales are driven by death, debt or divorce, discretion is valued, so finding a painting for a client can be hard. Gallerists deal in this market too, buying, selling and acting as middle-men. Here the commissions are lower, at around 5-10%, with each person in the chain taking a slice.

The final option – buying and selling at auction – is the polar opposite of the private market. Auctions are public and transparent. Everything that is up for sale is put on display, and heavily advertised ahead of time. Detailed lists of results are published soon after each auction, and put on the internet where anyone can access them. All this free information means auctions are the art economy’s focal point. Dealers call them the industry’s thermometer, benchmark and beacon.

Auctions used to be dull affairs, mostly attended by dealers. Now they can be high drama. The room is packed with oligarchs, their bejewelled wives, hangers-on, photo­graphers and journalists. Conversation bubbles, prices rise fast, bidders – often going for just one piece – have little time to think. A sudden surge in a price will elicit cheers from the crowd.

The big names of the art world mostly operate in two or all of these markets. The business’s most respected figure is probably Iwan Wirth. He and his wife Manuela Hauser were jointly ranked 1st in ArtReview’s list of art-world power and influence in 2015. He is primarily a gallerist, who is also an active dealer in the secondary market, buying and selling works of artists he represents, and those he does not. The profits he makes as an intermediary allow him to fund challenging and risky work. The two roles he plays are symbiotic: the dealer is cross-subsidising the gallerist.

Art-world influence

Iwan Wirth in the frame

Wirth, who has galleries in Zurich, London and New York but is based in Somerset in the west of England, has a reputation for supporting ambitious and (initially) un­commercial artists, such as Martin Creed, who won the Turner prize in 2001. He is credited with raising interest in Louise Bourgeois, whose eight-legged spider-like structure filled the Tate Modern’s turbine hall when it opened in 2000.

Simchowitz occupies the opposite end of the respectability scale. He does not own a gallery and represents just one artist in the primary market. The vast majority of his activity takes place, and profits are made, in the secondary and auction markets. He is not just the most talked-about player in the art market these days, but also one of the most active. At a recent London auction he was upfront alongside the powerful Nahmad family, outbidding them in a £2.6m purchase of Jean Du­buffet’s “The Rural Life” – just one of a large number of pictures he bought.

He also scours small galleries and degree shows for new talent. He was an early investor in Oscar Murillo, buying more than 60 paintings – half for himself, half for clients – often for less than $5,000, since 2011. Today, Murillo is an art-world darling. Represented by David Zwirner, one of the most powerful gallerists, his paintings sell for $200,000 or more. Simchowitz’s early investments in art by Sterling Ruby and Tauba Auerbach (both now sell for $500,000 or more) will have done even better.

Simchowitz holds on to some of what he buys. His personal collection runs to over 1,000 artworks and he tends to display as much as possible. A dealer describes being astonished by the quantity of art on the walls in a New York townhouse he had been renting. But his mission is to sell, and his method is novel.

Gallerists tend to talk about “placing” rather than selling pieces. Customers are selected according to their behaviour and their status. The collectors with a reputation for holding on to art are favoured. Those that sit on boards of museums are the most cherished. The idea is to put the work in the hands of someone whose ownership increases the value of the art. These are not Simchowitz’s target customers. “They don’t care about art. They care more about what table they get at the museum, whether they get Table 1 or Table 2, since this defines their importance in the social structure in which they envelop themselves.”

Once Simchowitz owns an artist’s work, he promotes it hard on Facebook and Instagram. For interested buyers, he is easy to get hold of (his website lists his personal email and phone number). A recent operation at ICM Partners, a Los Angeles talent agency, illustrates his determination to open up the market. He was initially commissioned to buy a few works of art for Ted Chervin, one of the senior partners. Instead, he persuaded Chervin to let him take over the walls of the whole company, installing 400 paintings by 90 artists. This makeshift gallery, which he called Museum 2.0, led to sales not just to senior partners, but to junior ones too. Some of the youngest assistants got great art on their walls, and have asked Simchowitz about collecting. All this should “expand the gene pool” and broaden access to culture, he says.

Simchowitz’s boast is that he is bringing new people and money into the market. He has no truck with the way galleries discriminate between customers. “Someone that buys and holds art is seen as a good collector, and influential. Look at the lists of influential collectors: they are just billionaires who will never need to sell. Meanwhile the collector who stretches to buy art and later needs to sell to fund his kids’ education is seen as a bad collector. It is extremely alienating to anyone that is outside the system.”

His critics complain that he is attracting not long-term investors but flippers like himself – short-termists who are prepared to dump art at bargain prices, often using the losses thus incurred to reduce their tax bill on other profit-making investments. The rise of online auction sites such as Paddle8, where the world can watch unwanted art being offloaded, sharpens critics’ concerns about what the likes of Simchowitz are doing to the market – and to art.

Rising star

Oscar Murillo shows off his work

David Ostrowski, like Lucien Smith, was a star in 2014. Vice called him the “golden boy” of abstract painting. He was hanging out with Heidi Klum. Everybody wanted him at their parties. His auction prices were, on average, more than twice his primary-market prices, according to ArtTactic, a consultancy. The same happened to other young painters’ work.

The upside of this price gap is that it provides evidence that a gallerist knows what he is doing. Trusted clients are pleased to see that the work they bought in the primary market has appreciated in value. The downside is that a gallery’s grip starts to slip: whereas galleries control the primary market and can influence the secondary one, auctions are a free-for-all.

When the opportunity arises to buy a work, sell it immediately at auction and make a profit, trust evaporates. So gallerists, who know the risks of fast-rising prices, conduct background checks worthy of the security services, digging into a client’s history, network and record for buying and selling. Anyone suspected of flipping is put on a blacklist. In response, dealers like Simchowitz use intermediaries to buy art. It is so hard to tell what is going on that some London galleries are wary of selling to anyone based in Los Angeles.

A sudden price surge may affect not just the market but also the goods. It is hard to look through Lucien Smith’s catalogue and conclude that early financial success has not influenced his work. He has produced 600 pieces since 2010 – more than two a week. There are hundreds of the once-popular rain paintings.

Higher prices tend to raise an artist’s output; at the same time, gallerists sitting on a pile of paintings may be tempted to cash in too. As all parties – collectors, flippers, artists and gallerists – move in the same direction, more art comes to market.

Rocketing prices bring greater scrutiny. Art-world coverage of Smith, Ostrowski, Rees and Kassay started to sour. At first, it was gentle jibes: calling their technique “MFA Abstraction” (a reference to the Master in Fine Art degree, and a dig at their age) or “Crapstraction”. But the high prices of early 2014 turned up the heat. In April, Walter Robinson, an artist and art critic, described the work as “Zombie Formalism”. The name stuck.

Once the movement had a name, critical bile poured out. Some accused the Zombie Formalists of mimicry: one critic took photographs of rows of paintings to show how similar they were. Others claimed they used processes in place of ideas: Smith sprays pigment with a fire extinguisher; Kassay silver-plates canvases; Rees uses Artex (decorators’ material) in place of paint. Worst of all was the accusation that the work was made to be smartphone-friendly – that the Zombie Formalists were pumping out large (but not too large) portrait-shaped paintings that looked good on Instagram to please interior designers and their hedge-fund clients.

And so the crash came. According to Artnet, an art-market website, of five paintings by Kassay recently consigned to auction, one sold for $25,000 and four failed to sell. In November 2013, one of his pieces went for $317,000. Ostrowski’s high-water mark was in July 2014, when a work sold for $293,000. In October 2016, a work estimated at $20,000-30,000 sold at auction for $18,750. His primary market prices are about twice that. The reversal of the gap between gallery and auction prices means that many collectors will be sitting on a loss – something which can damage an artist’s reputation irreparably.

Busts always hurt, but they are particularly bad for young artists. The case to fear is that of Anselm Reyle, now in his mid-40s. Ten years ago he seemed unstop­pable. He was selling for over $500,000 and getting rave reviews. He was backed by Larry Gagosian, the biggest dealer. But his collectors were burned in the 2008 crash, and he has not bounced back.

A quick turnover 

Stefan Simchowitz holding test prints of works by Petra Cortright

The art market, says Wirth, is like salmon fishing. A good fisherman knows the technique for catching a salmon – the right line and fly for the conditions on the river on that day. Yet since salmon do not actually feed in rivers, but in the sea, no one really knows why they bite at the fly. Similarly, says Wirth, people don’t need art in the way they need food. But sometimes – inexplicably, unpre­dictably – they want it.

For gallerists like Wirth, patience is key to success. Even exceptional fishermen can have days without a bite. The market often gets things wrong: it sets young artists on fire and watches them burn out while ignoring other, better work. That’s in­creasingly true as volatility rises. All the more important, then, that gallerists hold their nerve, stick with artists they believe in and cultivate long-term relationships with collectors.

For Simchowitz, this way of operating is elite, unhealthy – and in retreat. In part thanks to his efforts, he believes, the market is opening up. More players and more trading mean prices are increasingly fluid. Volatility is helping create a “healthy ecosystem” and undermining the pernicious notion that “things are relevant only when they are expensive”.

In this sense, the vagaries of today’s art market contain a lesson that everybody, including economists, should learn – that price and value are different things. Bad art can make a pile; good art can fail to sell. Volatile prices can reward people richly in the short term, and destroy them in the long run. For Iwan Wirth volatility is something to manage. For Stefan Simchowitz it is something to embrace.

Richard Davies is currently working at the London School of Economics. He was formerly economics editor of The Economist and chair of the Treasury’s Council of Economic Advisors



This article was originally published by 1843 Magazine in their  FEBRUARY/MARCH 2017 issue


Davies, Richard. "ART MARKET VS. PREDATOR." 1843 Magazine. N.p., n.d. Web. 23 Mar. 2017.

Nine Things We Know So Far About documenta 14

The quinquennial event kicks off next month in Athens.

Artistic Director Adam Szymczyk with first team members of documenta 14. Photo ©Nils Klinger, courtesy of Documenta.

With less than a month to go, the documenta 14 is still shrouded in mystery. Notoriously secretive about participating artists, there’s much speculation around the upcoming show, which takes place from April 8 to July 16 in Athens, and June 10 to September 17 in Kassel.

The documenta exhibition has taken place for 100 days every five years in Kassel, Germany since 1955. Founded by Arnold Bode, the “museum of 100 days” began as an exhibition of contemporary art that could bring postwar Germany up to speed on international contemporary art, following years of it being deemed “degenerate” by the Nazis, and shunned, sold, or destroyed in war.

It has historically always taken place at the Fridericianum—the first museum in mainland Europe, established in 1779—later adding other locations around the city of Kassel, which was heavily bombed in World War II.

But this year, curator Adam Szymczyk is shaking things up and splitting the exhibition between Kassel and Athens, Greece, with an exhibition titled “Learning from Athens.”

Despite the secrecy, some details have been confirmed, so here’s everything we know so far about documenta 14:

1. There are over 150 participating artists

Around 150 living artists were sent written invitations to have current work featured at documenta 14. Generally, most create new works, and there will also be a selection of historic pieces. Artists were first invited to Athens, then to Kassel, and some will show in both cities. None have yet been revealed—Szymczyk told the Deutsche Presse Agentur he was “not a friend” of artists lists released in advance, since they build expectations before the show even opens.

“In my opinion, an exhibition should be an experience. An experience without great programmed expectations,” he said.

Documenta’s traditional home, the Kunsthalle Fridericianum in Kassel. Photo: Carroy via Wikimedia Commons

2. It will span multiple venues in both cities

Historically, the exhibition has taken place at the Fridericanium and, since DOCUMENTA IX in 1992, the nearby documenta-Halle. This year, it will also make use of “nearly all the public museums in Kassel,” Szymczyk told DPA, including the Grimmwelt museum, historic Ballhaus, and a former post office that is now a fitness studio. Friedrichsplatz, the public square around the Fridericianum, will also “play a big role.”

In Athens, the exhibition will occupy the National Museum of Contemporary Art in Athens (EMST), as well as an exhibition hall, the modern extension of the Benaki Museum, and other smaller venues. EMST will be the largest venue.

3. There will be an exchange between museums in Athens and Kassel

According to a press release, a curated selection of Greek and international art from EMST’s collection will be shown at the Fridericianum, in order to make space for the Szymczyk-curated exhibition and to, presumably, allow Germans and international visitors to “Learn from Athens.”

4. Szymczyk wanted to bring the Gurlitt Collection to Athens, but couldn’t secure it

The curator wanted to show the collection of Cornelius Gurlitt, a trove of more than 500 artworks said to have been wrongfully taken from their owners during World War II, including canvasses by Matisse, Courbet, and Chagall. When news of that broke, it was controversial, but it’s all irrelevant now, since “legal and political restrictions” stood in the way. Nonetheless, it continued to serve as inspiration for Szymczyk and his team, specifically in the design of the exhibit in Kassel’s Neue Galerie.

5. There will be an obelisk

One work is out of the bag so far (It’s hard to keep an obelisk a secret). It will be installed at Königsplatz, in the neighborhood of Fridericianum. A spokesperson for documenta told DPA that work has already begun on the construction, but wouldn’t give any word on the artist behind the monument.

6. The exhibition costs €34 million

Around half of that expense is paid for with public funds by the city of Kassel, the state of Hessen, the German Federal Cultural Foundation, and the Federal Foreign Office. documenta raises the other half itself, and has sponsors including the Sparkasse Finance Foundation and Volkswagen, besides private sponsors in the form of both individuals and foundations. Artists are paid for production costs and retain the rights to their works after the exhibition.

7. It will be participatory

Visitors to documenta 14 are expected to be “active participants” in the show, rather than just passive viewers.

“There is a large untapped potential when visitors come together for an exhibition—a political potential,” Szymczyk said.

8. Tickets in Kassel will cost €22

For a single day pass, at least. A two-day pass costs €38, and a long-term ticket valid for the duration of the show will run you €100. In Athens, many of the venues will be accessible free of charge, but some partner institutions will still charge their regular entrance fees.

9. Visitors can fly directly from Kassel to Athens

Aegean Airlines became the first airline partner in documenta’s history, announcing last year that a new direct line connecting Kassel and Athens would be launched especially for documenta 14. There are two flights per week operating between the two locations, and a quick search on the airline’s website yielded plenty of available seats at reasonable rates.

This article was originally published by ArtNet News on March 21, 2017


Buffenstein, Alyssa. "Everything We Know So Far About Documenta 14." Artnet News. Artnet News, 21 Mar. 2017. Web. 21 Mar. 2017.