This week in the Back Room: lasting impressions from London Gallery Weekend, Mike Bloomberg’s philanthropic flex, a doggone surprise in the Old Master market, and more—all in an 7-minute read (2,064 words).
Top of the Market
London’s Loudest Splashes
A few years ago, London Gallery Weekend was created out of a shared acknowledgment that Frieze Week in October was no longer enough to sustain the city’s scene. The stakes have risen even higher since the inaugural edition.
The continuing logistical chaos of Brexit exacerbates the difficulties caused by rising inflation and lofty interest rates. Paris has become a sexier, business-friendlier option in the region. The sheer sprawl of the city means that even the savviest, most committed British patrons must be surgical about their itineraries.
So the irony of London Gallery Weekend is that its challenges typify why the city’s dealers need such an unwieldy event to succeed. But on some level, the sensory overload is the point—especially if you’re hunting for who or what has the momentum to rise above the global din in the months ahead.
With that in mind, the intrepid Naomi Rea went on a cannonball run through the latest edition. She came away convinced that art pros should take heed of three questions that were driving much of the energy at London Gallery Weekend 2032, as well as a handful of artists harnessing that energy uncommonly well…
What Is “Contemporary” Abstraction, Anyway?
Look, it would be wrong to say that figuration is . But to paraphrase Gary Garrels, the latest ex-museum bigwig to pursue a career reboot in the for-profit sector, the pendulum is most definitely swinging back toward nonfigurative work.
For London Gallery Weekend, Gagosian activated its Davies Street location with “To Bend the Ear of the Outer World,” a Garrels-curated exhibition of 40 living artists trafficking in what we’re now apparently terming “contemporary” abstraction.
Garrels asserts that contemporary abstraction knows no singular school or movement. Instead, it’s an array of individuals charting their own nonrepresentational vision and the courage of their convictions.
Sure, the flag flies over canonical elders such as Frank Bowling, Brice Marden, and Gerhard Richter, as well as middle-aged blue chippers such as Mark Bradford, Cecily Brown, and Julie Mehretu.
It was no surprise that the mix included the unstoppable Jadé Fadojutimi or even Zombie Formalist survivors Tauba Auerbach and Oscar Murillo.
But the most exciting contributions came from an artist who has only attracted major attention very recently: 63-year-old Jacqueline Humphries, whose canvases add digitally native gestures meditations on the history of abstraction (and have been gathering strength ever since their inclusion in Cecelia Alemani’s Venice Biennale).
Humphries wasn’t just a standout in the Gagosian show; her solo outing across both locations of British gallery Modern Art drove home that she is a force to be reckoned with (and competed for) in a new era of interest in the nonfigurative.
How Do We Relate in a Post-Brexit, Post-Covid World?
Even if we set aside the screaming headlines around cancel culture, Naomi writes, the fact is that “many of us have continued to feel the knock-on effects of being physically isolated for several years, and events and openings still don’t totally feel ‘back to normal.’”
So it makes sense that another area to watch in the months ahead is artwork that engages with intimacy and moralism (or anti-moralism).
The gravitational center of this theme last weekend was “Hardcore,” a group show on sexuality and kink at Sadie Coles HQ. Although some of the 18 featured artists “felt tame,” others pushed boundaries in ways that have helped seriously boost their art world presence of late, including…
- Darja Bajagić, whose “Ex Axes” reclaim images from women-with-weapons fetish sites by emblazoning them onto hatchets buried directly into the walls. (The series was also featured this May in Tara Downsgallery’s booth at Independent.)
- King Cobra (aka Doreen Lynette Garner), who uses everything from silicone and crystals to hair weave and tattoo ink to create captivating body horror sculptures. (The artist was also the subject of a memorable solo show at JTT in New York this spring.)
- Miriam Cahn, whose bracing figurative paintings dance on the knife’s edge of social acceptability in 2023. The recent debacle over her work at the Palais de Tokyo elevated her profile in an art market that often responds to perceived political bullying by spending.
How Should Art Engage With A.I. and Other Disruptive Tech?
As sick as you may be of hearing about artificial intelligence, get used to it being a part of the art industry. But London Gallery Weekend reinforced that the technology is becoming just as consequential to art-making as to business or the law.
One of the most interesting explorations came from Maisie Cousins, whose thought-provoking, algorithm-enabled work at T.J. Boulting continues the artist’s quest to relive lost childhood memories.
“Nestled among real family photos are 19 glossy prints of A.I.-generated images based on memories of lost home videos of trips to an amusement park with her late grandfather,” Naomi writes. The machine-dreamed images “recall Martin Parr’s saturated images of British seaside life, if they were on acid.”
For a newer-school approach, look to Jake Elwes’s at Gazelli Art House. Here, the artist short-circuits standardized facial recognition technology by feeding the algorithm thousands of images of drag performers, forcing its binary gender conclusions to cope with the possibility of gender fluidity.
The Bottom Line
To Naomi, what these standout artists share—the contemporary abstractionists, the sexual and moral provocateurs, the technological experimenters—is that they are all grappling with the “existential nausea” of living in the 2020s: the isolating and scary present, mass uncertainty about the future, and the inadequacy of the systems, forms, languages, rules, and social mores available to address these ruptures.
That might not sound like the domain of market darlings. But it certainly sounds like the domain of biennials—and, more importantly, the tensions that define the everyday experiences of people in high-income countries.
If these issues and artists could lodge in such a keen observer’s mind despite the manic competition of London Gallery Weekend, then it’s reasonable to suppose they could do the same for tastemakers and market-makers despite the manic competition of the global art circuit.
So keep your eyes peeled and your ears open for what kind of presence they have in Basel next week and the next wave of events to come.
The latest Wet Paint delves into the poker tournaments energizing the increasingly buzzy Bowery space Amanita, plus investigates the closure rumors circulating around Tribeca gallery Queer Thoughts.
Here’s what else made a mark around the industry since last Friday morning…
- Tokyo Gendai became the first Japanese art fair to wrangle “bonded” status, meaning that visiting exhibitors will be exempt from the 10 percent sales tax that would otherwise have to be pre-paid on all artworks brought into the country—regardless of whether or not they actually sell during the event. (Artnet News)
- The IFPDA Print Fair, the world’s largest expo for print dealers, announced that more than 90 exhibitors are taking part in its 30th anniversary edition at the Javits Center (October 26–29). Participants range from mega-galleries Hauser & Wirth and David Zwirner to invitational exhibitors Black Women of Print and Parkett. ()
- Christie’s and Sotheby’s achieved solid results at their contemporary evening sales in Paris this week, totaling €13.9 million ($15 million) and €16.5 million ($17.7 million) respectively, with both landing within their overall presale estimates. (Artnet News)
- Phillips senior advisor (and former Brooklyn Museum director) Arnold Lehman’s final act before retiring from the auction house will be a selling exhibition of works by 35 artists featured in major nonprofit invitation shows from 1970–75. Prices range from $25,000 to $900,000. ()
- Pablo Picasso‘s (1971) sold for a hammer price of €3.4 million ($3.6 million) at German auction house Van Ham. It was thehighest price before fees in the auction house’s history, as well as the highest hammer price of the German auction season this year. (Artnet News)
- After two years of representation, Sonia Boyce left Simon Lee Gallery. Though the reason for the split remain unclear, the news follows the reported resolution of a tax dispute that prompted Companies House to issue the gallery a notice to be dissolved. ()
- In gallery expansion news, White Cube will christen a new location in Seoul’s Gangnam district this fall; Thaddaeus Ropac is supersizing its presence in Seoul’s Hannam-dong just in time for Frieze Seoul; Pace is opening a new office in Berlin under former König partner Laura Attanasio; and Tiwani Contemporary will move its London gallery into a dual-story, 1,400 square-foot space on Cork Street, alongside Allison Jacques and Stephen Friedman, this autumn. (, Artnet News)
- Stephen Friedman also joined Jessica Silverman and Karma in representing Woody De Othello; Gagosian has wrested the estate of Francesca Woodman away from Marian Goodman and Victoria Miro; and Nikita Gale is now on Petzel‘s roster. (, , Wet Paint).
- The British Museum is reportedly ending its 27-year partnership with BP at the end of 2023, in an apparent capitulation to climate change activists. However, the museum has declined to confirm the termination of the relationship. (Artnet News, )
- The Reina Sofia has named curator Manuel Segade its new director. He was previously director of the Dos de Mayo Art Center Museum, also in Madrid. He takes over the role from Manuel Borja-Villel, who resigned suddenly in January. Meanwhile, over in Manchester, Sook-Kyung Lee, who was serving as senior curator of international art at Tate Modern, has been named new director of the Whitworth Gallery. ()
- The Roy Lichtenstein Foundation gave 180 artworks and reference materials to international museums including the Albertina in Vienna, the Nasher Museum of Art, LACMA, and the Whitney; and the Arp Foundation has gifted 200 plaster sculptures to ten museums around the world, including the Albertina, the Nasher Sculpture Center, the Hepworth Wakefield and the National Gallery of Victoria. ()
Tech and Legal News
- The Met has agreed to return a donation of $550,000 it received from the crypto-currency exchange FTX. The gifts were made just months before the company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection last November, following massive losses and alleged fraud by founder Sam Bankman-Fried. (Artnet News)
- The U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals in New York has approved a new deal in the Purdue Pharma settlement, ordering the Sackler family to pay $6 billion—about half of their estimated wealth—to combat the opioid crisis. (Artnet News)
“I can afford it. And they need the money.”
—Michael Bloomberg, on his newly revealed $130 million donation to PAC NYC, the forthcoming performing arts center slated to (finally) be constructed on the World Trade Center site. Bizarrely, Bloomberg’s gift dwarfs the $75 million donation made by Ronald Perelman, for whom the institution is still technically named—and matches the amount Bloomberg has given to the Shed to date. ()
Work of the Week
Jacques Barthélémy Delamarre’s
Date: Late 18th / early 19th c.
Seller: Private collection, Connecticut
Estimate: $3,000 to $5,000
Sold For: $279,400
Sale Date: May 26, 2023
This unassuming portrait of an adorable little canine, possibly one with a royal pedigree, smashed its high $5,000 estimate by more than 50X to sell for $279,400at Sotheby’s Master Paintings Part II auction in New York on May 26.
According to Sotheby’s catalogue, very little is known of Jacques Barthélémy Delamarre, though he was admitted to the Paris Académie Saint Luc in 1777. He seems to have had a particular specialty in capturing the likeness of this dog, known as “Pompon,” supposedly a beloved pet of Marie Antoinette. The artist created several different versions with variations in the dog’s size, grooming and the objects surrounding him.
“Depending on one’s point of view, the painting represents either the epitome or a parody of eighteenth-century French art,” said Old Master expert and dealer Robert Simon, who was following the sale. “Or maybe a bit of both. And it is that over-the-top quality which makes it easy to love.”
There are several versions of the painting, both contemporary and later, and this is one of the finest, if not the finest, according to Simon. The auction room action for this particular painting was also evidence that ‘no reserve’ auctions are more competitive and perhaps more fun. “I watched this live as it played out slowly like an interminable tennis match,” Simon said. “Clearly two deep-pocketed people loved the little guy!”