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For thousands of years, in an unbroken but accelerating trend, humans have migrated from rural areas into urban ones. It’s not hard to come up with reasons why, but in conventional parlance we say that people can find more opportunities in a city than on a piece of farm real estate. Still, that’s only part of the story.

In ancient days, cities weren’t worth much unless they were built near water because it could be used for irrigation and trade. These same economic advantages still hold, but moreso for the latter reason. With more trade comes more goods and services to sate human desires — of which you can be sure there are an infinite number. The more these desires are fulfilled, the happier (so the theory goes) humans are. In general, this should be rather obvious. Looking at the extremes, places where there are no choices (North Korea, various indigenous communities), humans almost always prefer lifestyles with more choices. I do not mean to say that indigenous communities do not have intrinsic value, merely that humans do not prefer them, just as I wouldn’t say a 1992 Ford Taurus isn’t worthless– but almost everyone (Conan O’Brien excepted) would prefer a 2009 Nissan Maxima if all things were equal.

New York City is arguably the greatest city on earth, a place where interesting, growing culture and life can be found in even the darkest and smallest nook and cranny, which in my mind cannot be said of Los Angeles, Barcelona, (my beloved) Hong Kong or Vienna… and Paris is in no way as dynamic a place as NYC. Speaking of French food, you can get it 24 hours a day at fine dining establishments all over NYC — good luck finding delicious cuisine in Paris at 4 am. ( I’ve tried. And failed. ) In New York, there’s more than job opportunities: there’s family, transplanted and reformed nationalities, linguistic hot zones, and, oh yeah… art.

To look at a list and read out loud every gallery and museum in New York City would take you hours. ( I recently enjoyed this post by Joanne Mattera on a beautiful, tasteful private home-cum-gallery. ) The diversity and wealth of aesthetic experience, perhaps only possible in New York City, is a direct function of trade. Trade opens up people to new possibilities, and enables different parties to, based on the principle of comparative advantage, share what they are good at. The more people you have in a place like New York City, in a country that prides liberty and trade like America, the more possibilities.

So when I read this article in the New York Times (h/t Russ) on the New York Philharmonic performing for free in Central Park, consider how many improbable but beautiful elements of this there are: a first-rate world-class orchestra that has served as America’s ambassadors to North Korea and soon possibly Cuba (an effort I support, unlike many of my GOP colleagues), people of all income levels enjoying its artistic excellence, and a green space where time slows a bit (just a bit) from the world’s greatest city that surrounds it. The space, incidentally, enjoyed as much for its moments of artistic resonance as its jogging paths.

And so I wonder how cognizant the New Yorkers are of just how anomalous their experience that night on the lawn was: the people in that orchestra can play in many other orchestras, but they chose New York (let us blessedly avoid discussion of the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra for the time being). The painters and photographers whose work draws millions at Sotheby’s and Christie’s auctions but make their home in New York could live in Paris, London, Milan, Berlin, Tokyo, Beijing, Sydney, or any number of other cities. But they chose New York. Why? In part because the pay is better. In part because there’s more creative possibility — and these parts are related, neither being possible without the freedom of expression and number of people. I suppose what I am trying to get at, but am not expressing very well, is that urban aesthetic experiences like this are built on the backs of business people (and their families), those like the traders of ancient times who founded and built cities on rivers — who, today, are the daring entrepreneurs, empire-building capitalists, and, yes, the heroes of any given Ayn Rand novel.

The more regulations a city passes, the higher taxes a state imposes, the higher the barriers to entry for artists. ( How many low-income artists are going to be able to hire a lawyer or consult with the VLA? ) Sooner or later, the people gathered in Central Park to enjoy a perfect evening with the New York Philharmonic will have to confront a startling reality: it’s not as easy, as obvious, or as likely, that these kinds of aesthetic experiences come as a result of charity and luck. Although such experiences may indeed be ends in themselves, make no mistake, the artists can afford it — and they can afford it because they’re already satisfied in so many other ways (financially, temporally, etc.). This seemingly simple and eminently enjoyable experience is inextricably linked to the thriving, dynamic commercial nature of the city.

( Picture credit: New York Times (2008) )

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I know the many random readers of this blog have been anxiously awaiting my return from New Orleans. As that legendary five star General of a bygone age once said on the shores of the Leyte Gulf, “I have returned.”

A few days ago, I wandered around the French Quarter, greatly enjoying the art galleries that were there. I intend on featuring some of the artists who I encountered, as well as the galleries, but first I wanted to talk a bit about an Indonesian art store I found! Ever since my stay in Indonesia during the Summer of 2006, at the behest of the very generous United States – Indonesia Society, I have thought that a terrific idea for a store would be an Indonesian art and furniture store, but it looks like someone has beat me to it at least for part of that idea. Frangipani, located at 631 Royal Street, NOLA (website forthcoming), featured many of the wares that I had thought only available on Jalan Malioboro in Yogyakarta, by various vendors in Jakarta, and in small shops by Kuta beach.

A cursory survey on the internet reveals that such things are available, though when shipping and handling are considered, Frangipani comes out on top for cost on many goods. The store specializes in Indonesian wood carvings of many sorts, from those that seem like sculpture of the human form, to wall adornments that could form the centerpiece for an entire design scheme. The co-owner/partner who I met there was very cordial and a pleasure to speak with. She said her partner travels to Indonesia for two months every year immersing in the art world there, from Sumatra to Java and Bali. They interact with the artists and survey the art as it is done. Although I doubt it is fully true, from my own experience with Batik, I know it is possible. The owner said that their works were higher quality than the works a tourist could buy off the streets in Yogya or Jakarta. I am not sure this is true, either, but I also don’t think it matters. The works are beautiful, and in the southern United States, extremely rare. Moreover, purchases from this shop would support a local art store of some character that specializes in yet another emerging art market. I highly recommend you visit them. Indonesia is a country with between 200 and 250 million people, so you might be hearing from them more and more as its democracy solidifies and its artisans become more marketable abroad.

Interestingly, I just came across an article that suggests you may be hearing more about these artists sooner than you think. Aminudin TH Siregar writes in “Bandung artists attract market enthusiasm” in today’s The Jakarta Post that:

In the past three years, there has been more activity in the Bandung art scene. Young artists have emerged and new names adorn the established configuration. They are the generation born in the 1980s: Some graduated from an art school last year or two years ago, others are still students. Not only do they use various kinds of media, content wise, but they also take on new issues. Unlike five or six years ago when Bandung’s art scene was too laid back, today it is vibrant. […]

The market’s interest in absorbing the works of Bandung artists recently has been a hot issue and even became the topic of discussion the night the exhibition was opened. Obviously, it was difficult for [Bandung New Emergence exhibition] to release itself from the market trap. Since BNE-V.1 the market has shown its teeth. And that also happens in this BNE-V.2 and it is likely that the market will become a variable in the next BNE.

If this happens, I am afraid the BNE will only be seen as an arena to “fry” artworks, an arena of speculators within the high temperature of today’s Indonesian art market. The future Bandung New Emergence should not become the Bandung New Market. From what I heard during the exhibition opening, I have every reason to be concerned. Instead of considering historical aspects — about the use of Bandung label, for instance — the Bandung art scene, I am sure, later will only be considered as the new playground of art market players, after other cities experience saturation.

I don’t want to be misunderstood here. It is good to have an art market in Bandung. But a proportional market would be much better: a market that does not buy an artwork without observing the values presented by the exhibition and the work itself. The problem is, will the market be patient and is it willing to learn?

I would like to assure the author that the market is very patient, and in fact reflexively learns. Desiring a “proportional market” is akin to telling artists not to keep producing, or not to sell their wares that a profit-maximizing price, or to close off the demand for the market by keeping buyers out. Any of these options is ludicrous. Ask the market to change all you want, but consider the livelihoods at stake. There will always be niches and if the market demands more specialized crafts, then we will get that too. One needn’t shake her or his fists at the cloud because it is raining and it prevents one from hunting effectively. One need only move or start farming so that the rain helps irrigate one’s food source. Anything else is a waste of breath or resources.

In any event, this article suggests that with a little luck, we could be exposed to yet more diverse tastes in art very soon. I, for one, am pleased. But remember this will be less likely if we support fair trade, or any kind of trade barriers that raise the cost of doing business overseas — a point which the co-owner of Frangipani was quite reluctant to agree with, but may nevertheless find out the hard way very soon.

Amidst the flurry of no good, very bad news regarding the once-mighty Salander-O’Reilly Galleries, I have something good to report. Shortly before the storm came ashore, Salander did return one of my non-exclusive license proposals. And they approved it! They forwarded my request on to the Gaston Lachaise Foundation and we now possess a general non-exclusive license to Lachaise’s Head of a Woman (The Egyptian Head), created in 1923. Whether we needed to get the license is perhaps debatable, but we nontheless possess it. The Harn has this information on Lachaise:

Lachaise’s figurative sculptures are characterized by their simplification of form and his unique ability to integrate physical description with an idealized approach to the human body. He is most renowned for his sculptures of women-standing, walking, seated or reclining-who are rendered as etherealized goddesses and images of exalted womanhood.

So the least I can do at this point is say thanks to Salander. From what I am reading, I don’t really view the episode as fraud borne of malicious intent or will. Salander, by most accounts, really did care about the art and his friends in the art community. It seems like his gamble just didn’t pay off, as many don’t for entrepreneurs. Alas, handling so much money requires great caution in today’s world. It looks like Salander found out the hard way. For better coverage of the whole ordeal, please check out the Art Law Blog.

Also, for a post challenging the assumption that government regulation would a) solve this problem or b) improve the art world, see this post by me on Awkward Utopia.

( image credit: artnet.de )

Salander-O’Reilly has been a well-known name in the fine arts community for a while now. But the news isn’t getting any better for the gallery. On the surface, they have a first rate operation going on over there. (Not that they respond to my rights requests….) And yet, the gallery is the target of a crippling fusillade of lawsuits at the moment, as Bloomberg reports:

Lennox seeks to recover at least $4.6 million and $10 million in punitive damages. John McEnroe says in a May suit that Salander didn’t make good on a promise to double the tennis star’s $162,500 investment in five months. Former New York Observer Publisher Arthur Carter filed an August suit seeking more than $1.2 million for funds he says he’s owed.

Anthony Doniger, a Salander lawyer, said in an April court appearance regarding one suit that the dealer “has a liquidity crisis, there’s no question about it.” At least 15 lawsuits have been filed against the 31-year- old gallery in the past year, many of them naming Salander himself as a defendant

It’s kind of sad because the rest of the article goes on to highlight how a lot of these people either were or are his friends, and some really like Salander, calling him “well-intentioned,” but “addicted to buying.” I don’t know. The controversy is well-chronicled, here, by the Maine Antique Digest. Sounds like the guy needs a little “self-correction,” meaning the paying of debts, downsizing of operations, and rebuilding of Salander-O’Reilly.

As with so much in commerce, a gallery’s name and reputation may form a sizable part of the firm’s assets. How much will this harm the goodwill value of the name? Does tarnished goodwill value hurt galleries harder than firms in other industries?

(h/t Art Law Blog)