In 2014 the artist Jennifer Guidi debuted new work at two concurrent exhibitions, one her first solo show ever in New York and the other her first solo show in Los Angeles since 2006. In the intervening years, her practice had shifted radically. Her previous show in L.A., at the now defunct ACME gallery, had presented realist landscapes of homes in the city, but when she reemerged nearly a decade later, the two venues—L.A.’s LAXART and New York’s Nathalie Karg Gallery—featured work inspired by a recent trip to Morocco. In the paintings, waves of sand created a scalloped pattern that whooshed over the layered canvases. People seemed to like them.
“Everyone who really responds to the work talks about playing with sand at the beach,” Guidi told W at the time. “Everyone understands what that feels like.”
It may have been only her first New York solo show and the first time showing a new body of work, but the market for these sand paintings exploded immediately—and kept getting hotter. Within just three years, work by Guidi has become among the most coveted by some of the world’s most powerful collectors. Sources say works that Guidi has made in the last three years have been acquired by Christie’s owner François Pinault and hedge-fund titan Steven A. Cohen, as well as Eli Broad and Maurice Marciano, two mega collectors who have in recent years opened their own private museums in Los Angeles. Guidi’s March show at Almine Rech gallery in New York is said to have sold to collectors such as the Mugrabi family and taste-making Paris dealer Patrick Seguin—though Almine Rech, through a representative, denied that these collectors were among the buyers. Work currently up at a solo show at David Kordansky Gallery in Los Angeles is so highly desired that in order to acquire one, a collector had to first purchase a work that would be a gift to an institution. The artist herself is intimately involved with placing the pictures.
If this sounds familiar, that’s because artists like Mark Grotjahn and Alex Israel have in recent years worked to regulate their markets in very similar ways, tweaking the traditional dealer model with the aim of placing works with top collectors. As it happens, Guidi is married to Grotjahn; they live together with their nine-year-old twins in Los Angeles.
“Mark and Jen control where every piece is placed, so collectors think it’s a safe bet because they control the market,” said one art adviser, who, like many who agreed to speak with me, insisted on anonymity to stay in the good graces of the two artists and their dealers.
“Everyone wants one,” said another adviser. “All my European clients want one. My biggest Scandinavian client wants one.”
”We have a ton of interest from clients about getting them that we’re batting away,” said another. “It’s just too difficult.”
But the protean rise of a new market darling, who climbed to the mountaintop in a fraction of the time it has taken many of her peers, has also prompted some to say the situation is overblown. On Monday, the collector, dealer, and art-world impresario Stefan Simchowitz ignited a firestorm by posting a rant on his Facebook page calling out some who have gotten into the Guidi market with such ferocity.
“This is nothing against Jen Guidi, she is a friend of mine as is her husband Mark, but if another person asks me to get them a Jen Guidi I think I might just vomit in my bed,” Simchowitz wrote. “This is a message to all you mediocre overly enriched white folks whose lives are an expensive and overpriced crate and barrel commercial, whose love for buying something they can attempt to sell next week for double whilst living the pretense of being a collector on the board of some museum or another whilst further enriching yourselves on the most bland form of art commerce currently known to man, EFF OFF. Just EFF the hell OFF. I am sick of you and I am sure Jen is as well.”
(This despite the fact that Simchowitz first became known as “the art world’s patron satan” by buying the work of young artists cheap and selling them for much higher prices. And despite the fact that, one week prior, Simchowitz assured readers of his newsletter that “my rants on Facebook have been reduced to a trickle.”)
When Simchowitz agreed to elaborate in a phone interview, he told me, “In the last ten days I literally had a dozen people—mid-level art consultants, people who sell the normal hedge-fund menu of food, the Burger King art menu—asking about Jen Guidi.”
“Can you get me a Jen Guidi, can you get me a Jen Guidi, can you get me a Jen Guidi?,” he said in a mock-impression of the supplicants.
He added that consultants had told him recently that a very prominent collector—“a high-grade-sushi-level collector,” in Simco-speak—had flipped a Guidi just three weeks after acquiring it, because the demand on the secondary market is so intense.
But while realizing that the work has now achieved trophy-level status—“You walk into every collector’s house and there’s the Kusama little thing and the Richard Prince joke painting and the George Condo and the Guidi sand painting,” Simchowitz said—he’s not sure the work is quite on that level.
“It’s not bad—Jen Guidi’s a very promising and interesting artist,” Simchowitz said. “The work’s decorative, it’s attractive, but the external forces are so profoundly lined up behind this work being expensive.”
Other advisers conceded as much, and questioned whether the artist is receiving enough support from museums, which can ensure the long-term reputation of an artist. (The artist’s website notes that her work is the collections of the Hammer Museum, the Rubell Family Collection, and the Marciano Art Foundation.)
Some dealers and advisers just said they’ve stayed out of the game because the work and hoopla around it doesn’t interest them at all. “I get it because of Mark, and the intrigue of it, but not at that level,” one adviser said. “I don’t understand the crazy amount of interest.”
“They look like money on the wall,” another said. “They might not be good art, but they look like money on the wall.”
Still, prices have steadily increased. Sources said the works were on offer for an already high $50,000 each in 2014 at the gallery of Nathalie Karg, who did not respond to phone messages and did not reply to an email. By last year, it was $80,000 to $100,000 on the secondary market, and now they are selling for as much as $160,000.
(There is no way to judge this against auction results because no sand painting has ever gone up for auction, apart from at charity galas for LAXART, Two by Two for AIDS and Art, and the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation.)
The artist, to be sure, does have her supporters. Lauri Firstenberg, the founder of LAXART, who organized the Guidi show there in 2014, called the show “stunning” and said that since then, “the work has evolved in scale and scope.”
“The demand has peaked and I imagine the artist and galleries are strategic about placing the work in a balanced fashion between institutions, those who supported her from the outset, building an international base of collectors, and looking beyond the support she has here at home,” said Firstenberg, who now runs an art production firm in Los Angeles with the artist Anthony James and, previously, the adviser Lisa Schiff.
In a recent WSJ magazine profile of Guidi—a story that focused on her practice and did not mention the collectors who own her work or its coveted status on the secondary market—Kordansky said, “She’s building on Agnes Pelton, Georgia O’Keeffe, and Agnes Martin, on a history of abstraction, mark making, and landscapes.” She recently had her first solo museum show, at the Museo d’Arte Contemporanea Villa Croce in Genoa, Italy.
(Kordansky could not be reached for comment. Guidi’s European gallery, Massimo de Carlo, at whose London location she had a show last November, did not respond to an email. When asked about the level of control Guidi had in placing the works from her show in collections, a representative for Almine Rech said the gallery does not comment on the market aspect of artists in its program and that, regarding the artist’s solo show at its New York outpost in March, “the gallery carefully placed each work by the artist with first-rate collections.”)
For many artists whose markets have gone through such meteoritic rises in recent years, demand has dropped off and prices have burst. The question now is whether Guidi’s position will endure.
“Mark and Jen are very powerful in L.A.,” Simchowitz said. “If Jen Guidi was not in this orbit it would not be a thing—normal people would have access to it, it wouldn’t be ‘museum only,’ it wouldn’t be ‘artist comes out and it’s immediately placed within this collector class.’ ”
“Jennifer Guidi is perfectly positioned to be the Kusama brand, but without the 50 years of creation, and a mental hospital,” he added. “It’s presented in a box with a bow on it.”