Look Ma, a New Auction Record!: The Art World in 2015



Well, this has to be a first. A publicist at a boutique New York PR agency just emailed to note that a relatively young artist they work with—the artist’s age is included in the note—was a “high hitter” in a sale at Sotheby’s London today. It’s “definitely worth mentioning,” the publicist said.

That emerging artists are now employing PRs is in itself remarkable, but let’s set that aside for the moment. Not long ago, it was considered pretty déclassé to go around discussing—much less bragging about—auction results, particularly in the case of young artists, whose markets can be fragile. A soaring, far-beyond-estimate result can, after all, cause all sorts of problems for artists and dealers. Can the artist’s market handle a rise in primary market prices? Will other collectors try to sell? What happens if the price drops at the next auction? At one time you could almost imagine a scenario in which a dealer might hire a PR to downplay auction results.

Today we are clearly in a very different climate, one in which prices are accepted by many to be indicative of quality, and are in themselves a powerful form of endorsement. (Some would say this tracks with a crisis in criticism, but that’s another story, and one I don’t believe.) You may recall that it was around 10 years ago that publicists began sending out press releases during art fairs touting dealer sales—this seems to be the next logical step in that process.

Naming names doesn’t seem necessary here. There are plenty of people one could imagine thinking this is a good idea. And who knows? Considering the way so many collectors by today—eyes fixed on the numbers—maybe it is.

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