Go to the Globe and Mail homepage

Jump to main navigationJump to main content

Sotheby’s employees move Jean-Michel Basquiat’s Orange Sports Figure. Three of the artist’s works set successive auction records this year. The artist’s work has been fetching such high prices, past Takashi Murakami's "open Your Hands Wide, Embrace Happiness!" (L) and Cindy Sherman's "Unititled #421" at Sotheby's auction house in London February 1, 2012. The Basquiat is estimated to sell for up to 4 million GBP ($6.3 million) when auctioned on February 15. REUTERS/Luke MacGregor (BRITAIN - Tags: ENTERTAINMENT BUSINESS) (Luke MacGregor/Reuters)
Sotheby’s employees move Jean-Michel Basquiat’s Orange Sports Figure. Three of the artist’s works set successive auction records this year. The artist’s work has been fetching such high prices, past Takashi Murakami's "open Your Hands Wide, Embrace Happiness!" (L) and Cindy Sherman's "Unititled #421" at Sotheby's auction house in London February 1, 2012. The Basquiat is estimated to sell for up to 4 million GBP ($6.3 million) when auctioned on February 15. REUTERS/Luke MacGregor (BRITAIN - Tags: ENTERTAINMENT BUSINESS) (Luke MacGregor/Reuters)

YEAR IN REVIEW

The year in review: Tracking the tricky art bubble Add to ...

Some correctionists, in the meantime, take solace from such talk in history and connoisseurship. Blake Gopnik, former art critic for The Globe and Mail and now an art writer with thedailybeast.com, claims in a recent essay he wasn’t too exercised when the last version of Edvard Munch’s The Scream in private hands sold at auction this year for $120-million. Munch belongs to the ages like Michelangelo and Manet. It’s “when prices go nuts for artists whose reputations are still in play [that] trouble is sure to be looming.” Gopnik notes how 50 years ago artists like Mary Frank and David Slivka were big sellers and much written-about but today are forgotten. Fellow New York critic Jerry Saltz casts his eye back even farther: yes, 85 per cent of shows of contemporary art are bad, he opined recently – “but 85 per cent of all art made in the Renaissance was bad,” and aren’t you happy we don’t have to live through that?

Canadians, meanwhile, can only look with shock and awe, mixed perhaps with envy, relief or disgust, at the mania in the secondary art market occurring outside their borders.While our secondary market in the last decade or so has witnessed big expenditures on work by mostly dead, mostly white males like Lawren Harris, Tom Thomson, William Kurelek and Jean Paul Lemieux, the dollars fetched have been nowhere as big (or

delusional?) as those wooed by U.S. and British auctioneers.

Our recently concluded fall season sales of “important Canadian art” were, in fact, decidedly sober, even chastening: two of the three major auction houses failed, in each case, to sell more than 35 per cent of their lots. It’s the sort of “correction” some wouldn’t mind seeing south of the border, especially in the contemporary art realm where Christie’s this fall, for example, had an astonishing 92 per cent sell-through.

The economist Herbert Stein once observed: “If something cannot go on forever, it won’t.” Soap bubbles clearly demonstrate the truth of that gnomic “law.” So does the tulip mania that dazed the Netherlands for about a year in the middle of the 17th century. If the art bubble is truly a bubble, it won’t go on – but just when it won’t is anyone’s guess.

10 NOTABLE ART-WORLD MOMENTS IN 2012

Horrors! A pastel-on-board of Edvard Munch’s The Scream sells at auction in May for $120-million to Manhattan financier Leon Black. Munch (1863-1944) did four versions of his most famous work; this was the only one still in private hands.

Let it sprawl: The Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art presents the largest-ever survey of contemporary Canadian art in the U.S. The 10-month show – it ends in April next year – features work in every possible medium by 62 invited artists. “Challenging and quirky,” opines The New York Times.

Time-share: Ottawa’s National Gallery of Canada and the Power Plant in Toronto host much-anticipated, well-attended Canadian premiere screenings of The Clock, Christian Marclay’s astonishing 24-hour video installation/meditation on time and cinema. Only six editions were available for sale and, with an assist from four Toronto art mavens, the NGC buys a half-interest in one, with the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston as co-owner.

Shuttered: Photoconceptualist Arnaud Maggs dies at 86 in Toronto but not before winning the $50,000 Scotiabank Photography Award and helping organize an acclaimed survey show at the National Gallery.

Art World Scavenger Hunt! Britain’s Damien Hirst divides 331 of his signature dot paintings among 11 galleries worldwide, all owned by uber-dealer Larry Gagosian, and rewards those who travel to all locations with “a signed, personally dedicated spot print.” 128 persons complete the challenge.

Past is present: Emily Carr, who died in 1945, becomes the first Canadian artist to get a posthumous solo show at the hugely influential dOCUMENTA in Kassel. It’s the biggest dOCUMENTA since the event’s inception in 1955, drawing more than 850,000 visitors over three months.

Money swears:Dead Troops Talk, a very tough 1992 war photograph by Vancouver’s Jeff Wall, fetches almost $3.7-million at Christie’s New York in May. It’s the third-highest amount ever paid at auction for a photo, vaulting Wall past Stieglitz, Atget, Steichen and Weston.

Over(ture): Toronto art maven Ydessa Hendeles closes her esteemed gallery space in the city’s downtown, ending a 25-year run during which the internationally recognized collector/curator/connoisseur presented a ravishingly eccentric series of provocative exhibitions.

West Coast Blues: There’s widespread agreement that after 30 years in its current location, the Vancouver Art Gallery needs expanded digs. But where and how? The debate engages (and divides) all sectors of the city’s arts community but no consensus emerges.

Life and art: After a hiatus of several years, Sobey Art Award-winner Annie Pootoogook resumes drawing; unfortunately, it’s to cadge dollars from passersby on the streets of Ottawa where a homeless, pregnant Pootoogook and her boyfriend are living through the spring and summer.

Single page

Follow on Twitter: @Jglobeadams

 

In the know

Most popular video »

Highlights

More from The Globe and Mail

Most Popular Stories