Collectors are paying top dollar to be painted by famous artists—even if it means looking silly or grotesque. How an unflattering image became an art-world status symbol. Via WSJ.
Greek businessman Dakis Joannou was posing for a portrait by artist George Condo when he noticed a tuft of hair sprouting from the side of his head on the canvas. He interrupted the painter.
“I’m not worried about the teeth sticking out of my cheek, but I am worried about the hair sticking out of my face,” Mr. Joannou told him.
With a few brush strokes, the artist, who is known for painting surreal faces with screwball features, limited the hair to traditional spots just over the ears of the 71-year-old collector. The work by Mr. Condo, whose canvases typically command $450,000, now hangs in a privileged spot by a fireplace in the living room of Mr. Joannou’s Athens home. It’s one of three portraits Mr. Condo painted of the collector, who appears alternately with lime-green ears, a bulbous blue clown nose and an endless chin. Mr. Joannou owns them all.
The portrait has long been a symbol of the relationship between an artist and a patron. Throughout most of art history, commissioned portraits ennobled their subjects—showing them surrounded by symbols of wealth and virtue, perched regally on a steed or even transported into a New Testament scene. The artist, who depended on the patron for money and support, was typically happy to oblige any demands.
Today, portraits may be deliberately ugly, filled with palpable angst or defiantly abstract. The works are more about scouring the psychological depths or playing with the concept of portraiture than about illustrating a patron’s smooth likeness.
These portraits reflect a shift in the power dynamic between collectors and artists. Contemporary art stars are wealthy and famous in their own right. Many of them view commissions as favors, not a necessary part of business. And collectors are willing to play by portraitists’ rules for a canvas they think will reveal something profound about them—or demonstrate their special relationship with a sought-after artist.
Here are some sample portraits from our collection. Do the Ugallery pieces reflect this trend?:
The WSJ ran a great article this morning about the growing practice of artists employing an army of assistants to create their works. It’s a controversial topic, one I’m not much of a fan of. Would love to hear your comments:
It’s a phenomenon that’s rarely discussed in the art world: The new work on a gallery wall wasn’t necessarily painted by the artist who signed it. Some well-known artists, such as Damien Hirst and Jeff Koons, openly employ small armies of assistants to do their paintings and sculptures. Others hire help more quietly.
Art-market insiders say soaring prices and demand for contemporary art is spurring the use of apprentices by more artists. The art world is divided on the practice: While some collectors and dealers put a premium on paintings and sculptures executed by an artist’s own hand, others say that assistants are a necessity in the contemporary market.
“An artist has a choice to make,” says Mark Moore, owner of Mark Moore Gallery in Santa Monica, Calif. “They either hire assistants or they risk not being able to meet their obligations to their dealers. Then the art market, which is fickle and sensitive, gets the impression that the artist has disappeared from the art world.”
Mr. Koons says he has 150 people on his payroll and that he himself never wields a paintbrush. “If I had to be doing this myself, I wouldn’t even be able to finish one painting a year,” he says. Every year his studio averages 10 paintings and 10 sculptures. In the last four years, six of his works offered at auction have sold for prices between $11 million and $25 million each.
Check out this amazing article from the Wall Street Journal on England’s prolific street artist Banksy and the turf war going on in London. It’s a great read, I promise!
A Game of Tag Breaks Out Between London’s Graffiti Elite
Slight Brings Robbo Out of Retirement; Cobbler Won’t Let Rival Tread on Him
By Gabriele Steinhauser
LONDON—In the predawn hours of Christmas morning, a 40-year-old shoe repairman who goes by the name Robbo squeezed his 6-foot-8-inch frame into a wet suit, tossed some spray cans into a plastic bag, and crossed Regent’s Canal on a red-and-blue air mattress.
Robbo, one of the lost pioneers of London’s 1980s graffiti scene, was emerging from a long retirement. He had a mission: to settle a score with the world-famous street artist Banksy, who, Robbo believes, had attacked his legacy.
The battle centers on a wall under a bridge on the canal in London’s Camden district. In the fall of 1985 - just 15 years old but already a major player in London’s graffiti scene—Robbo announced his presence on that wall with eight tall block letters: ROBBO INC.
The work, written in orange, red and black on a yellow background, had been in good shape for nearly 25 years and was considered a local icon, surviving long after Robbo himself vanished from the scene 16 years ago.
But recently, Robbo’s work was dramatically altered by an unlikely rival: Banksy, the stealthy Bristol-born artist who has made a lucrative art of graffiti. The work of Banksy - who, like Robbo, doesn’t disclose his name - sells for big money and is widely merchandised. His first film, “Exit Through the Gift Shop,” had its premiere at the Sundance Film Festival in January and is due out in U.K. theaters this month.
In early December, Banksy did a series of four pieces along the Regent’s Canal’s walls. Inexplicably, one of them incorporated Robbo’s piece into Banksy’s own work, painting over half the Robbo original in the process. The resulting work, in Banksy’s typical stencil technique, shows a black-and-white workman applying colorful wallpaper that is, in essence, the remnants of Robbo’s piece.
By erasing Banksy’s tag from the end of the boy’s fishing rod and replacing it with the words “Street Cred,” Robbo made clear what he thinks Banksy is missing.
Some saw Banksy’s act as self-promotion, some as a tribute, but most interpreted it as plain disrespect for a local hero. Offers of retribution reached Robbo, who has remained friendly with many graffiti writers even as he slipped into a life of obscurity as a North London father of two children, with a third on the way.
“They was all offering to do it for me,” says Robbo in an interview. But he decided: “I’ve got to do it myself.”
So on Christmas morning - praying he wouldn’t wind up in jail even as his children were opening their presents - Robbo slipped back onto the canal and reclaimed his turf. Instead of applying wallpaper, Banksy’s workman now is seen painting two words: KING ROBBO.
The game didn’t end there. Robbo in recent weeks has modified all four Banksys along Regent’s Canal, signing them “Team Robbo.” Other graffiti writers have shown their support by adopting the “Team Robbo” tag for their own works.
“Graffiti writers are Team Robbo, street artists are Team Banksy,” says Robbo, his heavy cockney accent and shaved head reminders of graffiti’s past when skinheads and punks battled to mark their territory with names and slogans.
Banksy declined to be interviewed but provided a statement through a spokeswoman.
“I didn’t paint over a ‘Robbo’ piece. I painted over a piece that said “mrphfgdfrhdgf,” he said. “I find it surreal when graffiti writers get possessive over certain locations. I thought that having a casual attitude towards property ownership was an essential part of being a vandal.”
The battle between lost legend and acclaimed artist highlights a larger rift in the art world. On one side are old-school graffiti writers who “tag” or “bomb” their names in as many places as possible and seldom, if ever, seek compensation for their work.
On the other are street artists, who aim for a political or cultural resonance and also create portable pieces they can exhibit and sell. Their prototype is Banksy, who exists in the art world as both renegade and establishment darling.
The tension between the camps is about more than money and fame. With the exception of a few designated places, painting graffiti on private or public property is illegal. Graffiti writers, whose freehand, spray-painted work can take hours to produce, are more likely to be caught than street artists who often use stencils and posters to get in and out more quickly.
“It’s so easy for them to do some of their stuff,” says David Samuel, a London graffiti artist who, through his agency, RareKind, promotes fellow writers by putting on shows and linking them up with paid work.
Robbo emerged from London’s working - class districts, a teenage skinhead and football hooligan who had more than a few run-ins with the law.
“It started out with spray paint, a black marker and no style,” he says. “It was just statements: Skinheads! Arsenal! Robbo!”
It took until the early ’80s and films like “Beat Street” and “Style Wars” for Robbo and his crew to find out about the nascent graffiti movement in places like New York. Soon the American style began to influence their own works and they started hitting trains and buildings across London.
“He was the first real all-city writer,” Mr. Samuel says of Robbo.
In the early ’90s, however, painting in London’s underground system became more dangerous as police were on high alert for terrorist activity. Robbo, by then a young father, was ready to get out.
“I had achieved what could be achieved,” he says. “I was quite happy to take the back seat and live another life.”
A few years later, Robbo says he encountered Banksy, who was just surfacing, in an East London bar. After a fellow graffiti writer introduced them, Robbo says that Banksy replied, “I’ve never heard of you.” Robbo says he cuffed Banksy in the face, sending his glasses flying.
“You may not have heard of me, but you will never forget me,” Robbo says he told Banksy. The two haven’t spoken since. Banksy declined to comment on the incident.
In the years since, Banksy has become a sensation. He has published five books, painted all over the world, and in February 2008, his 2007 work “Keep it Spotless” sold for $1.87 million at a Sotheby’s charity event in New York.
Robbo has never sold a single piece of art. But as he’s drawn back into the limelight, he’s getting curious. On a recent Friday evening, he and a friend attended a contemporary-art auction at London’s sleek Phillips de Pury & Co., where a Banksy was on the block alongside two Basquiats and a Warhol.
Banksy’s “Vandalised oil #001,” which was exhibited in London’s Cargo nightclub in 2001, sold for £121,250.
Arriving late - his shoe-repair store doesn’t close until 7 p.m. - Robbo made his way through the gallery, wearing a gray hoodie and sweat pants, black shoe polish still staining his hands. A security guard was quickly on his tail.
“It’s all right, mate, we’re artists,” he said, towering over the guard.
As he watched the auction, he mused about his own past and future. “I’d love to have seen my own stuff in something like this,” he said.
Mr. Samuel has asked Robbo to do his own show later this year, and, with a family to support and the thrill of his recent outings still fresh, Robbo is tempted.
“I’ve done everything, everything for nothing,” says Robbo. “I don’t think anyone would knock me for making money out of it. But it’s never been my goal to make money out of something I love.”
Several months ago I read a fairly scathing review of the book “1001 Paintings You Must See Before You Die” in the Wall Street Journal. Then, recently, I was given a copy of the book. After first paging through it, I thought the review had been a little severe. I attempted to find the article on wsj.com, but it seems that it has been too long since it was printed to view it without a subscription. The main critiques that I remember are: the book’s contributors do not have impressive titles, the book is dominated by western art, and the images are too small. I believe there were more complaints but I don’t remember all of them.
After looking through the book more, my overall impression is that the reviewer may have mistaken a lighthearted coffee table book for an art history textbook. In the introduction, the editor Stephen Farthing writes that the concept for the book came about from playing the game, “if you could own any five works of art, which would you choose?” I think the WSJ writer instead looked at the book as an incomplete and poorly researched comprehensive collection of what is considered to be the world’s best artwork. In the end, it seems that Farthing is just saying, “these are my favorite paintings, and I believe you will enjoy them too.” I really like the concept.
However, there is one glaring flaw in all of this; Farthing, who is also a painter, has included two of his own works in the book. Even if you are just sharing your opinion of your favorite art, I think it is a little self-important to list two of your own works next to the likes of Michelangelo, Monet, and Picasso.
That said, overall, I like the book. It encourages people who aren’t art experts to seek out some wonderful paintings and to learn a little more about art history. And unlike art history texts which all seem to focus on the same star artists, Farthing does venture off of the beaten path a bit to show people artists that they may have overlooked, like for example, Stephen Farthing.
Here’s a little shameless self-promotion; Ugallery.com was mentioned today in the Wall Street Journal in the article A Work in Progress: Buying Art on the Web. We really appreciate the press. And over all, I have been very pleased with the amount of attention that the online art industry has received in the news lately. It’s awesome!
There was an article in the Wall Street Journal last Friday about children who collect art, and I’m not talking about comic books. According to the story, a number of wealthy art lovers are teaching their children about art by letting them purchase it, including pieces by Rembrandt, Pissarro, and Johns. One girl “bought” her first piece at the age of four, and now at nine she owns 40 works, including a Warhol that hangs above her bed. Another child, an 11-year-old boy, successfully bid on a $352,000 Jeff Koons sculpture last fall at a Sotheby’s auction.
Question: Why do wealthy children often end up spoiled, unadjusted, and in therapy for life? Answer: Because their idiot parents let them buy artwork worth more than most people’s homes before they can even read. I’m not sure I understand how letting a nine-year-old pick out a Warhol constitutes an art lesson. How can the child even comprehend what the work is about? Adults have trouble with that. I think this just boils down to two things. One, the parents are too busy or too distracted to sit down and draw with their kid or read a colorful book about Van Gogh. And two, these children are being used for their parents’ social agenda, as in, “little Jane has the most wonderful taste in art. Look at what she picked out at the gallery this weekend.” This second point is reaffirmed in the article.
Parents also admit there’s a cocktail-party cachet to raising a child who can advise guests on buying a Basquiat. “Vanity does come into it,” says New York real-estate developer Aby Rosen, whose sons are collectors. “People never used to show off their boats and cars and houses and art, but now we can, and that’s great. It’s nice to show off that my son likes art.”
That’s pretty disturbing. If you want your child to love art, you’ve got to put in the time: make art with them, take them to museums, and have it in your home. Teach them to love and respect it. By letting them just walk into a gallery at the age of five and point at a painting and say, “mine”, you are taking the true value and fun out of it. Not to mention, if you own your first Rembrandt in grade school, what will you have to look forward to?
Although I may be a little biased in reporting on the story Art for Less in this past Saturday’s Wall Street Journal (Ugallery.com is mentioned as a spot to find student art), the article as a whole offers collectors some excellent tips for finding potentially valuable work without breaking the bank.
The current art market needs no introduction. I imagine even those who pay very little attention to the art world have heard about the huge auction and fair results and booming art hedge funds and the price for a diamond encrusted skull and the like. But unless you are Eli Broad or Steven Cohen, these stories might as well be myth. For most people, the challenge is to find nice looking art for the home or office that doesn’t cost a fortune and that may increase in value. As the Art for Less story points out, one of the best ways to achieve this is with emerging art, and specifically student work. The article gives good advice on finding art students and approaching them, as well as on shopping art fairs, fundraisers, and the web (Ugallery.com).
Beyond finding a good deal or an investment, emerging art can be some of the most exciting work out there. I am constantly amazed by the quality of work and new ideas that I see from student artists. And by collecting their art, you are giving them the opportunity to make more. Thanks to Lauren Schuker for writing this piece.
In this past Saturday’s Wall Street Journal, in anticipation of the 4th of July, David McCullough writes about John Trumbull’s revered history painting The Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1776. McCullough’s article, An Icon’s Secrets, looks at the mixture of fact and fiction in the work.
So, according to McCullough how historically accurate is Trumbull’s The Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1776?
The common understanding, of course, is that the painting portrays the birth of the nation at the Pennsylvania State House (Independence Hall) in Philadelphia, on July 4, 1776. And certainly the official title would seem to confirm that. But the common understanding is wrong. The signing of the document (which was indeed dated July 4) did not begin until August 2, and even then not all delegates to the Continental Congress were present. Those who were absent did not sign until weeks, even months later. One man did not add his signature until 1777.
What the scene appears to depict is the moment on June 28 when a committee of five named to draw up a declaration of American independence-John Adams, Roger Sherman, Robert Livingston, Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin-presented Jefferson’s unedited first draft. But again no such ceremonial moment with all present took place. And besides, nearly everything about the setting is quite inaccurate.
The idea for the painting was hatched by Jefferson and Trumbull in Paris 10 years after the fact, in 1786, while Trumbull was a guest at Jefferson’s mansion on the Champs. In the course of a conversation in Jefferson’s library, Jefferson drew a floor plan of the Assembly Room of the Pennsylvania State House as he remembered it, and on the opposite side of the same sheet of paper Trumbull made a tiny rough sketch remarkably close to what would turn out to be the final composition.
As it turns out, with the exception of the faces of the delegates, which Trumbull painstakingly recreated, almost everything else pictured is fictional. McCullough writes, “Whether it was from Jefferson’s faulty recollections or Trumbull’s artistic liberties, or both, the resulting scene bears little resemblance to how it really was.”
By taking the historical inaccuracies at face value, McCullough really misses the boat on this one. I challenge you to name one significant history painting that accurately portrays a historical event. History paintings have nothing to do with recording the facts. Instead, they serve as cultural icons (as McCullough accidentally stumbles upon in his title) and even social and political propaganda. They are intended to inspire and persuade. The nearly three million people who march past The Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1776each year in the nation’s capitol building don’t scrutinize why Trumbull only included 48 of the 56 delegates who signed the Declaration; they marvel at the greatness of the men depicted and the wonderful nation that they built.