S[edition]. The verdict? Count me amongst the s[educed].

26 11 2012

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Tracey Emin, ‘I Promise to Love You’, s[edition].

What do you get the artist who has everything?

A website upon which he (Damien Hirst), she (Tracey Emin) or they (the Chapman Brothers) can blaze a new frontier, and flog inexpensive digital art to eager but financially challenged collectors.

Meet s[edition]. And despite the somewhat snarky tone of my introduction, I actually find the whole idea very exciting. Window into the future stuff. Just like when I was introduced to the street art movement by the first stencils I saw on the Balaclava railway bridge in East St Kilda many moons ago, this feels like it might just go somewhere. Feel free to get back to me in ten years to say “what, in the name of all that is holy, were you thinking?” But for now, this smells big. Or perhaps it’s teen spirit (apologies to Nirvana).

The premise is deliciously simple, and comes to us thanks to the cranium of Harry Blain, formerly of Haunch of Venison, now of Blain Southern, and probably the art world’s most effective innovator. He’s an artrepreneur. Is that a word? If not, it should be.

So how does it work? Some of the biggest names in contemporary art issue large edition (up to 10,000) digital artworks. They are offered for sale on a sliding scale – if you buy an early edition, the price is low – as little as $8 for some artworks. As the edition proves more popular, the price rises.

Once you have made your purchase, it is stored in your own digital ‘vault’, and you can view it on suitable computery-smart-iThings and devices. You’re issued with a digital certificate of authenticity, complete with scanned signature and the edition number. Although there is no mention of it on the site now, when s[edition] was launched, there was talk of setting up a forum on the site through which collectors could buy and sell their digital artworks.

So, I’ve put together a small collection of my own – initially as a means to demonstrate cutting-edge art marketing to my postgraduate students.

But I think I may be hooked.

What’s most interesting, and not at all surprising, is that some marquee artists (I’m looking at you, Damien Hirst) tend to phone it in. I bought a Hirst spot picture as one of my first purchases – I wanted to do the “names, darling, names” thing in the demonstration to my students. And it is… well… a stationary digital picture of spots. Also not surprisingly, Hirst is responsible for the most expensive artwork on the site – a rotating view of his diamond encrusted baby-skull, For Heaven’s Sake that’s priced at A$800.  Well, it does sparkle. And spin. Yawn.

But as more artists have hitched their wagon to the Blain digital train, there have been some very interesting things turn up. Some people get the digital medium. Others? Not so much.

Matt Collishaw has made some exquisite pieces, as has Bill Viola, and recently Jacco Oliver added two texturally sumptuous artworks to the site.  I’m transfixed by my copy of Collishaw’s Burning Flower. Can’t look away. The best digital art really does take us beyond the physical restrictions of two-, or even three-, dimensional art. With the technology available to make and view digital images moving apace, who knows where this will all end up?

From a market perspective, it’s groundbreaking. What does it mean for the concept of the ‘original’ when an artwork exists as a string of code, and can potentially be reproduced simultaneously, and an infinite number of times, anywhere in the world? Is this the true democratisation of art? You can take your Damien Hirst or Tracey Emin onto the train with you.

And what does this mean for value in the art world? It’s fascinating, and might well be the start of something big. Watch this space.

(Image of Tracey Emin’s ‘I Promise to Love You’ via www.culture24.org.uk)

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Oh, Deer. Haunch of Venison to close Berlin branch; Blain and Southern on the up and up

3 11 2010

Well, don’t say I didn’t warn you, but it appears that Christie’s grand venture into the wonderful world of retail contemporary art via its 2007 acquisition of Haunch of Venison has gone a wee bit sour. According to The Art Newspaper, the gallery is closing its Berlin branch which opened with much fanfare in 2007. Director Matt Carey-Williams attempts to turn the frown upside down, and constructs a marvellous example of art-world spin, saying “Berlin is one of the most energetic and exciting art cities, but it doesn’t have that community of collecting.” For that, read: “it’s not me, it’s you”; or: “Ich bin Berliner”, if by that you mean: “I like to look. Buy? Not so much”.

I attribute less credit for the contraction to Berlin’s reluctance to acquire Haunch’s pricey offerings than I do to Christie’s sudden and, in the light of the GFC, ill-timed proliferation of Haunches across the globe. But the principal cause is sure to be the defection of founding directors, Harry Blain and Graham Southern, who established the gallery and then sold it to Christie’s and remained in the business until June this year. It was almost inevitable that their move would gut the business, and that many of the gallery’s artists would leave with them. Following in their wake would be the moneyed collectors who form interdependent relationships with their favoured dealers. Sure enough, according to The Evening Standard, up to eleven of Haunch’s superstars have hitched their wagons to Blain and Southern’s gravy train, including Bill Viola, Rachel Howard and Anton Henning. Haunch has been working to fill the void with new recruits, amongst them Patricia Piccinini, who currently has a show running at the New York campus.

As for Blain and Southern, it appears that all is rosy in their particular corner of the art world. The dealers launched an eponymous gallery, Blain Southern, in London in October with an exhibition featuring new work by yBa alumni, Mat Collishaw, who also followed the dealers from Haunch when they jumped ship. The dealers also don’t appear to share Carey-Williams’ opinion about German art collectors’ frugality – they’ve announced plans to open a branch in Berlin in the near future. Blain is also keeping himself busy on the other side of the Atlantic, forming a partnership with former Sotheby’s vice chairman, Emmanuel Di Donna. Their gallery, Blain Di Donna, is going to begin trading in uptown New York in mid-November… Blains popping up all over. The Manhattan gallery will concentrate on selling Impressionist, Modern and second-hand contemporary works sourced in the secondary market. Blain Southern will focus on representing living artists. Interesting that the very savvy Blain has chosen to base his secondary market dealership in New York. Could that have anything to do with the fact that London charges sellers of second-hand artworks a resale royalty, whereas New York has yet to bring in this charge, making New York up to 4% more attractive as a place to sell secondary-market works of art?






Haunch of Venison Sautéed and Stuffed? Founding Directors of Christie’s Commercial Gallery Venture Head for Greener Pastures.

4 06 2010

Much to the annoyance of contemporary art dealers everywhere, in 2007 auction leviathan Christie’s acquired the suitably obscurely-named London gallery, Haunch of Venison (in answer to the inevitable question, it was so named because the building in which it first took up residence is located in the wonderfully named, ‘Haunch of Venison Yard’). The gallery was launched in 2002 under the tender ministrations of  Harry Blain and Graham Southern, who was head of Christie’s contemporary art department in London until 2001, and established in the premises formerly occupied by retired über-dealer, Anthony d’Offay. Its sale to Christie’s caused no end of consternation amongst dealers, because in the then-buoyant marketplace of the mid-ish ‘naughties, there seemed to be a considerable potential for conflict of interest in a circumstance where an auction house that was aggressively promoting its contemporary art auctions also owned a large commercial contemporary art business. How would Christie’s manage to maintain a disinterested outlook if, for example, it was selling a major work by one of the artists represented by its commercial gallery?

So Haunch of Venison flourished and expanded. It now has premises in Manhattan, Zürich and Berlin, in addition to the London gallery, and represents a stable of commercially stable artists including Dan Flavin, Bill Viola and James Rosenquist, and the requisite headline-grabbing enfant-terribles, including yBa alumni Mat Collishaw, and Rafael Lozano-Hemmer (who, quite coincidentally, featured in my last post about his latest installation in Melbourne’s Fed Square). The current exhibition at Haunch of Venison’s Berlin campus is a collaboration between Michael Joo and Damien Hirst, featuring a couple of Hirst’s emblematic sectioned and formaldehyde-sodden beasties, a pill cabinet, a fly painting, and one of his super-sized human anatomical models.

But could Christie’s great pipe-dream be coming to an end? The Wall Street Journal has reported that, as of 31 August this year, Blain and Southern will be leaving Haunch of Venison to “pursue new projects”. Although there is much brave talk of future directions and evolution, in the world of commercial art dealers, cachet and power resides in the hands of individuals rather than institutions. Personal relationships with artists and collectors are paramount, and the simultaneous departure of Blain and Southern is sure to carve quite a chunk out of the Haunch’s client base.

(image: http://www.aubreyallen.co.uk)