With Monday’s record-breaking $195 million sale of Andy Warhol’s “Shot Sage Blue Marilyn” by Larry Gagosian, the renowned art dealer and collector has sparked global media attention.
Although Gagosian isn’t speaking publicly about plans for the 1964 silkscreen of Marilyn Monroe’s face, Gagosian’s chief operating officer Andrew Fabricant addressed the current fiery art market, the influence of the market in Asia and how art and fashion are continually merging.
Despite dozens of mainland China cities including Shanghai dealing once again with lockdowns due to China’s zero COVID-19 policy, there is still a huge appetite for art in Asia, especially for low- and middle-income pieces, according to Fabricant. He said, “People with means there are just keeping their heads down. They don’t want any publicity noise about buying superexpensive pictures at this time. It was interesting, because the Warhol had no Asian bidders whatsoever. And yet some of the material in the early part of the Ammann sale, there was considerable Asian bidding but at a lower price point.”
While the appetite remains, it has been dampened by political winds and buffeted by “what is happening in the equities market to a degree,” Fabricant said. That said, the absence of the upper-end of the spectrum is “definitely noticeable.” Uncertainty about what regime changes might be coming isn’t the only factor for the low-profile spending. “It’s also difficult to get money out of China,” he said.
However, Thursday’s sale at Christie’s, which includes three Claude Monet paintings from the Anne H. Bass collection, will present an interesting test, Fabricant said. “It’s an instant masterpiece collection for someone of particular means to buy three true Impressionist masterpieces,” Fabricant said. “That has traditionally been the domain of Asian clients even going back to the ’80s, when the Japanese were buying Impressionists.”
As for the art market’s overall strength, Fabricant noted how “art has always been a very good hedge against inflation and right now we’re running at an 8 percent inflation rate in this country. Most art, particularly blue-chip art, doesn’t have the wild vicissitudes that you’re seeing with the Nasdaq, for instance,” he said.
If someone bought a Mark Rothko painting for $40 million, it may now be worth between $30 million and $35 million, but that wouldn’t be the same delta, if someone bought Netflix last year and had to sell it this year, Fabricant said. “I don’t see the vicissitudes in the high-end, quality material, I see the vicissitudes in a lot of the speculative, young stuff that comes and goes with alarming frequency.”
As for the attention that the Gagosian gallery is receiving due to the Marilyn sale, Fabricant shrugged that off as just part of the job, mentioning how Gagosian had initially sold the “Marilyn” painting, one of five in a series by Warhol. While Gagosian personally has had a long history with the painting, his gallery has had a long history with Warhol and the Andy Warhol Foundation. Gagosian’s second show in New York was Warhol’s “Most Wanted Men” exhibition.
Kim Kardashian’s Met Gala choice of the vintage dress that Marilyn Monroe famously wore to sing “Happy Birthday” to President John F. Kennedy caused international headlines. Did that do anything to affect this week’s Warhol sale? “Not to the art world,” Fabricant said.
Even before Monday’s Warhol sale shattered the former American record — a canvas of an untitled skull by Jean-Michel Basquiat that sold for $110.5 million five years ago — the two late artists have proven to be lasting powers on the art scene. The “Basquiat l King Pleasure NYC” exhibition has been reeling in visitors to see 200 works that are being shown publicly for the first time. Fabricant said Warhol’s longevity “is already assured. There is no other artist whose influence on young artists and painters is so pervasive. Young people in art school aren’t looking at Roy Lichtenstein and Claes Oldenburg. They’re looking at Warhol. Every single taboo, every single medium — Warhol blew up and exploded, whether it’s film, silkscreen, repetition of images, social commentary, the idea of that distancing with images of destruction, race riots and all of that. There’s no one like Warhol.”
As for Basquiat, Fabricant said, “As they said of Lincoln, ‘Lincoln knew when you die. He could not have lived through Reconstruction.’ Basquiat died at the age of 27, when his career was in decline. After his death, works of his would sell for nothing. The last show that he did at Vrej Bagoomian Gallery [‘Riding with Death’ in 1988] on Broadway was very poorly received. It didn’t sell well. His verification has been burnished after his death.”
Asked why Basquiat is resonating now, Fabricant said, “He was young, Black, just so damned good-looking, so charismatic and he had a gift. But whether the gift could have survived, [after] his demise at 27, is a mystery that no one will know. How would that language have developed?”
Warhol was constantly changing and although a lot of people used to not be fond of his late work, now it has taken on a resonance of its own, according to Fabricant. That was spurred particularly by the Whitney Museum of American Art’s “Andy Warhol: From A to B and Back Again” exhibition that curator Donna De Salvo did a few years ago, he added.
“Warhol is always morphing, changing, developing. Whether Basquiat could have, would have? That’s a big mystery. It will never be answered.”
Fashion, unlike top-shelf art, has had its fits and starts over the past two years. Fashion is expected to align closer with the art world in the years ahead, and that “is mutually beneficial,” Fabricant said. “But art is not fashion. Art is not utilitarian. It can be co-opt. It’s like the difference between art and architecture. One’s utilitarian, one’s not. And if art serves a purpose other than being art, it’s usually in a very diminished form.”
Referring to the inevitable union of art and fashion, he described that as “natural selection. You have [Bernard] Arnault buying Tiffany’s and then buying a Basquiat painting and then producing a Patek Philippe limited [edition] watch that is first seen on Jay-Z’s wrist. The interaction of art and commerce and fashion is inevitable. It’s just being accelerated by the consolidation of all these issues, whether it’s Kardashian, Arnault or the Gagosian Gallery having 19 galleries. It’s just more, more, more. It’s also mutually beneficial.”
The alignment can also be seen in mainstream brands like Uniqlo, which has collaborated with the Louvre, the Museum of Modern Art, and artists like Takashi Murakami, Jeff Koons, Kaws and Daniel Arsham. “Absolutely. And that’s a good thing. If some 12-year-old gets a Warhol, Basquiat or [Keith] Haring T-shirt and begins to explore beyond the sheer graphic qualities of wearing a shirt, that leads to greater investigation and enthusiasm on the part of everybody. That democratization of art is great,” Fabricant said. “Warhol always wanted that. He was the first guy to want that: where everybody has a moment of fame and everybody can understand it. It’s almost like Warhol was the first painter since the Renaissance, where if you walked into a church in 15th-century Florence and saw a Nativity scene, you knew every person in that Nativity scene because Catholicism was universal in Italy. With Warhol, it’s the same thing of having all these images that everyone can respond to and would understand without the baggage of art world explication and art history. That was his main gift. He was universally understood — [snapping his fingers for effect] boom. Soup can — boom. It’s like the Madonna. Boom — you understood what it was.”