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How the Venice Biennale Impacts Artists’ Markets

The Venice Biennale (June 10- Nov. 21) traditionally has been considered the least commerce-driven of the many art fairs and biennales that take place around the world each year.

NEW YORK—The Venice Biennale (June 10- Nov. 21) traditionally has been considered the least commerce-driven of the many art fairs and biennales that take place around the world each year.

Technically the Venice Biennale is not a selling exhibition. But despite this, or perhaps because of it, dealers suggest, the event has a tremendous impact on the careers of artists invited to exhibit their works. Inclusion is typically followed by a noticeable surge in demand for a given artist’s work and, consequently, a jump in prices.

Among works on display, a video installation in an edition of three by Willie Doherty (b. 1959), representing Northern Ireland, fell early on to three museums (one in the United States, two in Europe). “There has been a lot of curatorial interest in Doherty’s work,” says Carolyn Alexander, director of the Alexander and Bonin gallery, Manhattan, which represents the artist.

Often a Delayed Market Boost

Alexander suggests that the market effect of the Venice Biennale isn’t always immediately evident. “A lot of people don’t go to Venice until September,” she told ARTnewsletter. “We expect more sales then.”

Alexander adds that the gallery has no plans to alter prices of the Doherty works—$50,000/130,000 for videos in editions of three, and $10,000/14,000 for photographs also in editions of three—but expects to “reassess [prices] later in the year.”

For works by Isa Genzken (b. 1948), whose sculptures are in the German pavilion, Katharina Forero, director of Galerie Daniel Buchholz, Cologne, notes a dramatic increase in interest— “from collectors who want to be sent information about the artist to the press that wants photographs of her work and museums, too.”

Forero told ARTnewsletter there has been no uptick in sales; but she points out that might not have been possible anyway, since the artist’s previous show at the gallery had sold out and presently there is a waiting list for her works.

Costs of Genzken’s new pieces range from $85,000/90,000 for paintings; $12,500, drawings; $25,000, collages on paper; $150,000, sculpture; and $350,000, installations. “Prices have increased since she was selected to exhibit at the Venice Biennale,” Forero reports.

Genzken’s display in the German pavilion, titled Oil, consists of a series of free-standing sculptural pieces and wall-hung painted assemblages. It “is not for sale at the moment,” says Forero. “The artist wants to keep it all together for now.”

Altmejd Installations Both Sell

Over at the Canadian pavilion the two mixed-media sculptural installations of David Altmejd (b. 1974) both were sold to European entities during the first week of the Biennale, reports Altmejd’s principal dealer in New York, Andrea Rosen of the Andrea Rosen Gallery.

The larger piece, The Index—an installation made of stuffed birds, fragmented body parts, quartz crystals, tree sections and mirror shards—was sold to a museum.

The smaller work, The Giant 2—a huge foam sculpture of a man riddled with cavernous holes and gashes, made of such materials as wood, glass, stuffed squirrels, chicken feathers and horsehair—went to a private foundation. The gallerist declined to reveal prices.

Rosen also handles the estate of Felix Gonzalez-Torres (1957-1996), the artist chosen to represent the U.S. this year. She told ARTnewsletter that along with interest, prices and sales of the artist’s works are up. These, she points out, all have been “growing and evolving for a while.”

She notes the paucity of works by Gonzalez-Torres that haven’t already been sold (“the estate owns a very small number”), with prices for unsold and secondary-market sculptures and installations ranging from $25,000 up to “the millions.”

Among those available for purchase are three uncreated pieces for which the artist left detailed instructions regarding their assemblage.

Gonzalez-Torres’ largest piece in the Venice Biennale—an untitled work comprised of two shallow reflecting pools made of eight tons of marble—had never been completed by the artist. It was assembled for the Biennale under the supervision of Nancy Spector, curator of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York. Neither the reflecting pools nor the other works by the artist in the American pavilion—all borrowed for the exhibition—are for sale.

Melbourne sculptor Callum Morton (b. 1965), one of three artists featured in the Australian pavilion, is represented in Melbourne by the Anna Schwartz Gallery, and in Sydney by the Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery. Museums in Tokyo and Amsterdam have contacted Roslyn Oxley about including Morton’s pieces in exhibitions, she says.

Morton has experienced considerable success within Australia. A show of his sculpture shortly before the start of the Biennale at Oxley’s gallery resulted in 11 of the 12 works on display (priced from $15,000/100,000) finding buyers, all of them Australian private collectors or museums. His work in the Biennale, titled Valhalla, is priced at $750,000.

Work by Milan-based video installation artist Francesco Vezzoli (b. 1971) was part of a group show in the Biennale’s Italian pavilion in 2005. Shortly afterward both Galerie Neu, Berlin, and Gagosian Gallery, New York, began representing the artist; and the 2006 Whitney Biennial at Manhattan’s Whitney Museum of American Art also included his pieces. At this year’s Biennale he is representing Italy.

The Gagosian gallery’s most recent exhibition of 12 embroidered tapestries (priced at $45,000 apiece), in spring 2006, were sold out. For the current Biennale, Vezzoli created two short mock political advertisements apropos of the 2008 U.S. presidential campaign (one starring Hollywood actress Sharon Stone, the other featuring French philosopher Bernard-Henri Levy, both as candidates); these have achieved positive attention and one sale, to a private buyer, arranged by the artist’s Parisian gallery Yvon Lambert.

The video is in an edition of three, each priced at $300,000. One was donated to Rome’s National Museum for Contemporary Art.

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