Friday, January 30, 2009

Campana Brothers

I saw the Campana Brothers for the first time at Design Miami and I’ve since seen there EVERYWHERE I look. 

The elder brother, Humberto, was born in 1953 and graduated from the University of Sao Paulo with a degree in Law while the younger brother, Fernando was born in 1961 and graduated from the University of Sao Paulo with a degree in architecture. I think this surely says something about the role of education in future life choices – it may instruct future choices but by no means should a student be restricted is his or her chosen profession by his or her education.

The brothers started working together in 1983, sharing a joint studio in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Since that time they have become known as Brazil’s most famous and most innovative designers. They occupy an interesting space between art, design and architecture. When I first saw their work, I was particularly intrigued by a bench woven from the fibers of an invasive Brazilian jungle weed. The woven material was seen “growing” over other organic materials like quartz rock. This isn't the exact piece but it is a bit similar.

The brothers did an extended interview with Design Boom – a design and art magazine – here is my favorite response from the interview:

when you were a child, did you want to become a designer?

Fernando: me? an astronaut.

Humberto: I wanted to be a native indian...

I always wanted to be an Indian, too!

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Art v. Design

While I was in Miami, I attended a panel on Mid-Century Modern Design. While I don’t know quite as much about design as I do art, the subject is nonetheless very interesting to me. I have a good friend who has her own design firm and it is always interesting to see the sort of things you can do with a good design background (and how something as simple as a couch or a chair can transform the way someone lives in their home). On this panel were several prominent figures of New York City’s design world including the design director of the Noguchi Museum, head of the Eames Office, owner of a design gallery, and the specialist of Sotheby’s Modern Design department. These men (and yes, they were ALL men) talked at length about what design means to the world around us, how there has been a recent convergence of art and design (mainly due to the fact that so many designers are now issuing design editions – like print editions – wherein they issue only a limited number of the design in question), how the term “mid-century modern” is sort of a conundrum in itself, and other interesting tidbits. This talk reinvigorated me to learn more about design (beyond the countless Crate and Barrel, Pottery Barn and West Elm catalogs I read every month). So in addition to writing about art in this blog, I hope to bring in some information about design as I set out to learn more about it every day.


To begin my education in Miami, I attended the design fair. It was MUCH smaller than the main Art Basel fair and even much smaller than the other satellite fairs like Pulse or Scope. There were maybe twenty booths with an array of furniture, mirrors, carpets, lamps, tables, chairs, etc. Sometimes the gallery or designer created a cohesive “room” while other times it seemed more like a whole bunch of stuff just crammed into a single space. It is a whole lot more expensive to transport and display furniture than it is art, but I think the general public and the design industry could do with more exposure of the artsy high end stuff. I hope in the future we’ll see more influence of these innovative designers (like the Campana Brothers who I hope to write about in one of my next blogs) on everyday mass produced markets. 

Monday, January 26, 2009

Art Basel Miami Beach

So I have completely forgotten to fill you all in on one of my latest and best adventures. I had the opportunity to go to Miami Art Basel last month in Miami, FL. Art Basel in Switzerland is probably the largest and most well respected art fair in the entire world. People get on these crazy waiting lists to even be up for the chance to participate in the fair and pay some crazy fee to have a tiny booth there. Miami Art Basel is the offshoot of this original art fair. It is a little more party-centric (it is Miami after all) but the quality of art is usually on par. This was the first time I’ve ever been to Miami so I didn’t have much to compare it to. From what I’ve heard this year was much more low key than years past – fewer collectors showed up, gallerists were a bit kinder, and the parties were less extravagant. It’s a bit funny and peculiar that when the economy goes sour, that all those rich folks out there feel like they can’t keeps spending money in the same way they are used to for fear of making the poor people feel bad about themselves.


I got the feeling that people were pretty well prepared for poor sales and so when fewer people came to the fair and even fewer people bought at the fair, no one was particularly disappointed. I still got the feeling that people couldn’t quite figure out who I was – is she an art consultant? Is she important enough that we ought to talk to her? Will she buy anything? – and that made it interesting. I saw quite a bit of art that I was unfamiliar with and quite a bit that I liked a lot. There was also an over saturation of Damien Hirst pieces with skulls and butterflies and whatever other else limited pieces he makes. And from what I could tell (and what other, non gallerists told me), prices were pretty steeply discounted and gallerists were offering BIG (20% big) discounts to just about anyone walking in off the street. I think they were really trying to make a sale, whatever it took. It is very expensive, after all, to get all the works down to Miami and they needed to make up their costs somehow.


I can’t wait to go to my next art fair and I would always love to go back to Miami next year. 

Friday, January 23, 2009

Is the Art Market Dead?

Everyone has been talking about the demise of the art market since the stock market collapse in October. My opinion of the whole situation probably doesn’t vary too much from other things that you’ve read recently, but I’ll lay it out all the same.

The art market is a market like any other Adam Smith, Invisible Hand-wielding capital structure. It is lodged firmly in the structure of basic free-market economics, governed by the principles of supply and demand. That is, an optimal price is reached when the forces of supply (how many people want a product) and the forces of demand (how many are available for people) collide. People may think that the art market differs from say the market for canned soup because it is not an easily commodifiable good – not every piece of art is exactly the same and so the process of valuation differs per product. Or by the value we derive from art is not just an easier understood Utilitarian value (the more we have of something the better) but is consistent with value as it pertains to ineffable values of cultural capital. While this does make the art market far more complex than other markets it doesn’t make it any different.


In any market there have been booms and busts. Booms come about when consumer confidence is especially high and people are willing to wage more money on the fact that the product is going to increase in value. Often times these are built up artificially high by speculators – or those who are not really involved on a personal level in a product but are merely trying to “flip” the good and reap the benefits of the spread. It is a bit like arbitrage in the general market. Once consumer confidence falls apart (it could be anything from a 9/11-like attack, withdrawal of “free-money” in the form of credit, etc.) all these speculators pull out of the market and thus the prices tumble very rapidly. This leads to a bust. We’ve seen it most recently in the credit market and the house market (indirectly) in the US, but also during the dot com era, and in any number of other consumer goods. 


I will go into more detail on this later, but essentially, I believe that the art market was highly inflated. And the art market is particularly susceptible to inflation because the means of valuation rests solely on the shoulders of public opinion and consumer confidence – it is little to no intrinsic value. People had been so confident in their artworks as to push the prices waaay high up until they could no longer sustain themselves. I see a major reorganization of the whole market in the coming future and a return to 1990s level. 

Monday, January 19, 2009

New York, New York

Being back in the city that never sleeps never fails to elate me. I am going to be starting up with school again, new classes, new reading, new year, new president, new everything! So I thought I should go with the spirit of the new year and get out there and see some new art and galleries. I've been to Chelsea several times before but it doesn't fail to intimidate me. The "gallerinas" are as intimidating as ever with their designer clothes and scowls (do they hire them because they have such nasty looks on their faces?). I wondered if things would get a bit more friendly as the economic downturn pulls into its third, fourth...fifth (when will this even be over?) month. 

Art sales are noticeably down but either these girls can't seem to understand what it means to welcome someone into a space or their faces really are just stuck like that. Last month at Art Basel, dozens (if not hundreds) of galleries felt the sting of diminished pocketbooks and shocked stock portfolios. Fortunately, few people's hopes were high enough to warrant any real shock at the result. 

What will happen, I think, is that the galleries that have gotten lackluster results even in high times will be whittled away until only the strongest and most innovative survive. They don't call it Survival of the Fittest for nothing.  We are going to see some major changes in the coming months and years. The question stands as to what sort of changes and innovation will save the gallery (and what form it will take in the coming future). 

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Finally Home

After a long and much needed break from school, I am finally back in the city that never sleeps - New York! I must say, this is quite some weather to be returning to. Right now there is about an inch of snow on the ground and it's FREEZING! 

I had such a good time in California. We did Christmas in Los Angeles and my brother-in-law took me around to all the Santa Monica galleries. They're all located in a place called Bergamot Station. It's an old warehouse-like place which used to be a train depot in the 19th century. There weren't too many people there on the day we went, I guess between the holidays the galleries all slow down a bit. My absolute favorite one was called the Frank Lloyd Gallery. They were showing an artist called Ralph Baccera. If you haven't heard of this man you HAVE to look him up. He's absolutely brilliant. He creates these wild and whimsical ceramics pieces. I found this quote by a NY Times Art Critic that describes my feelings perfectly, "To look at Ralph Bacerra's gorgeous ceramic vessels is to wallow in visual hedonism."

Then we went down to San Diego for a little fun in the sun. There is this great little art museum in Oceanside (which is in Northern San Diego) called the Oceanside Museum of Art. It's right in the middle of town and just a short walk from the beach (basically it was perfect for my purposes). There was this interesting show on while we were there called Quilt Visions. It was a juried show of fabric arts from around Southern California, mostly. I've never really seen textile arts displayed in this way, so that was quite interesting.

We also went downtown to Balboa Park to see this great Kimono exhibit. It was absolutely amazing. The man responsible for the work, Itchiku Kubota, is a Japanese master. He revived an ancient technique of Kimono dying/painting (which, to be perfectly honest I don't understand in the least) and made these intricate pictorial designs. The show we saw was called the Four Seasons and depicted a single continuous seasonal scene across maybe 40 separate Kimonos. The exhibit has since moved to Canton, Ohio so if you are in the area, I would highly suggest you scope it out. 

All in all, a great trip with some seriously great art. But I am glad to be back and excited to catch up on the NYC art scene.