Museum architecture – on form and content

Tel-Aviv Museum of Art new wing

Nowhere is the connection between art and design more prominent than in the architecture of art museums. The idea of the museum as a secular shrine that attracts art pilgrims is the ethos that justifies the investment of huge sums of money and the creative talent of the top architects in the world. 

This week Tel-Aviv joins New, York, London, Rome, Paris, Bilbao and other major western cities with the opening of the new wing of the Tel-Aviv Museum of art. This impressive building, designed by Preston Scott Cohen, wishes to claim its position alongside a growing list of iconic art museums.

Guggenheim museum New York

What a journey since Guggenheim (and Dizengoff – the first mayor of Tel-Aviv) exhibited their art collections in their living rooms…. Guggenheim approached Frank Lloyd Wright in the forties and asked him to design a home for his expanding collection and thus, the first iconic art shrine was created. Since then, the relationship between high architecture and high art has strengthened to the point where it is unclear if people come to the museum for the building or for the art.

Guggenhim Bilbao

Bilbao, a once sleepy Spanish town has become a major tourist attraction since the opening of the Guggenheim museum designed by Frank Gehry. Tate modern, once a power station is Britains’ second popular attraction, now expanding with a new wing by Herzog & de Meuron. Rome’s MAXXI by Zaha Hadid, New York’s New Museum by award winners Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa are just a few examples of iconic museum architecture.


The tension between form and content in the case of the Tel-Aviv museum causes much public debate regarding the justification of such a grand building. Artists demonstrated outside the museum on the grand opening night, protesting against the gap between the cutbacks in art education and lack of rights for artists on the one hand and the conspicuous building that Tel-Aviv is about to use as a leverage to the city as an international culture center but impressive architecture is not enough. On the occasion of the MAXXI opening in Rome, Zaha Hadid was quoted to say that good art cannot be exhibited in a mediocre building. I would say that mediocre art should not be shown in an exceptional building. Therefore, the new Tel-Aviv secular shrine should now invest its utmost in making the best shows possible to create harmony between form and content. 

Summarizing the art market in the first decade of the 21st century

What an amazing decade this has been for the art market!
If I were asked to give it a title – without hesitation I would name it “The contemporary art revolution”.
In this decade all records were broken and it seems that all the fundamental parameters that determined the prices of the art market were disrupted. Art by living artists – who may not yet be at their peak – reached the top of the art market pyramid annulling the element of rarity as a factor of value creation.

It is amazingly hard to go back in our minds to the year 2000. Remember when the world was all excited about entering the 21st century? At that time the art market was trying to overcome the previous bubble burst of 1990. It was quite stable at a rather low mark , slowly but steadily rising.

An article in 2003 announced the new elite in the contemporary art market starring Bruce Nauman as the most expensive artist at the start of the 21st century. (Among artists born after 1940). His record sale at 9 million USD. Second, at 5 million was Jeff Koons with Basquiat close behind at third place. Anselm Keifer barely scraped a million at 9th place and Damien Hirst, with a record price of 680,000 USD at the time came in at 16th place.

The change occurred in 2004, when an interest in contemporary art ( by artists born after 1940) began to escalate. Prices approached the 1990 mark although impressionist art was still 36% lower than before the 1990 crisis. Even though, this was the year that the all time record for a work of art was broken with the sale of Picasso’s “Garcon a la pipe” for 104 million USD. Picasso was and remained the king of the art market until 2007. Also in 2004, another landmark was the crossing of the million dollar mark by 4 living artists– Koons, Basquiat, Cattelan and Hirst. The record went to Koons – 4.9 million dollars.

2005 saw the swell continue with growing interest in contemporary art and photography. Prices reached the 1990 peak and continued to rise.

In 2006 a new generation of collectors was acknowledged. At least 800 works of art sold for over million. Enter China and India.

In 2007 people were sure that the market had peaked. Jeff Koons broke the record for art by a living artist – 21 million USD went o Adam Lindeman for his hanging heart. Picasso was dethroned by Andy Warhol.
The dramatic breakthrough of the year went to Damien Hirst. His record jumped to 17 million in 2007 from a mere 3 million in 2006.

In 2008 Hirst went from 17th rank in the auction ratings to the prestigious fourth place after his amazing “Beautiful inside my head forever” sale, in which 200 new works were auctioned by Sotheby’s for 200 million USD on the day Lehman brothers announced bankruptcy.
The Damien Hirst phenomenon will no doubt be a subject for academic research. He perfected what Andy Warhol began in creating a celebrity artist – Hirst as a marketing genius, provocative Koons with his porno queen wife. If it works for Madonna – why not for the fine arts?

In this decade art dealers also became celebrities – Larry Gagosian, Jay Jopling and Jeffrey Deitch can be seen in the tabloids .
In this decade a new concept was born – the “Mega-collector” – a new generation of extremely rich people that see art as an investment with social capital. The element of show as in auction rooms, the applause, the press and of course, entry to the prestigious club of collectors that can bid for raises of $250,000 without a blink, spending millions on one piece of art just because they can – all these are the epitome of their idea of collecting.

And then came the fall…. The last quarter of 2008 reduced the market to its 2006 level.
“Correction” was the term used to describe what had happened and I, personally, felt that it was a good word to use. The analogue that came to my mind was the biblical flood, which was a kind of reset for the world. My feeling regarding the art market in the last few years was of a certain madness and loss of control – as everyone got caught up in this frenzy. Artists couldn’t turn out the work quick enough to supply the demand and consequently this affected their work. Much has been said and written on the downside of this situation – artists are too occupied with business and marketing when their job is to create good art.

Amazing but true – no more than a year has passed and we are already seeing a recovery! Auctions are selling well (although estimates have been corrected) and it seems that the jockeys are back in the saddle. Will the horse regain its speed? Has anything been learnt in this experience? Time will tell and judge the quality of art that has staying power, the artists who we will remember ten and twenty years from now and those that will be forgotten.
I’ll leave you with this thought: In 1990 Jeff Koons was not yet on the market. This may mean that the Jeff Koons of 2020 is a name we have not yet heard of.

The statistics mentioned in this post are all taken from Artprice.
Information regarding record sales do not refer to private sales as in the sale of Klimt’s portrait of Adel Bloch to the Ron Lauder’s Neue museum in 2006 for 135 million USD.

Private goes public

This is the last post I wrote on my previous blog before relocating to WordPress.

Are private collection shows indeed an insult to scholarship and curators as  states the subtitle in <a href=”″>Artnewspaper</a&gt;?
All this uproar over the New Museum’s planned series of private collection shows,  titled “Imaginary Museum”  – first  showing Greek mega  collector Dakis Joannou’s collection.
The anti – capitalist view that  “these kinds of shows do nothing but exhibit and pseudo-validate the spending habits and taste of influential collectors” misses an important point.
The escalation of the market in the past 10 years has deprived the public access to many important works of art, that have been acquired by private collectors, who could afford to pay prices that were way over museum budgets. In the life of an artwork there are only very brief periods in which it becomes a commodity – after a primary purchase it may never appear on the market again and the only a few people will enjoy it.
The public exhibit of private collections has two exciting aspects:
1. Public access to private owned works.
2. A chance to learn about the building of a collection and to see the sum of all parts.
This, to me, being a scholar doing research on collecting is a great gift because I know that the reason for collecting -unlike the opinions of the nasty  commenters of the Artnewspaper – is not the monetary value. If you don’t understand the motivations for collecting you cannot see this in the correct perspective.  I’m not saying that monetary benefits do not motivate many art acquirers but we are talking about mega – collectors. These people could be viewed as treading new paths in the realm of art, as they juxtapose artworks in a unique way – making choices based on their taste and whatever other criteria they apply to their collection.(Each collector has their own taxonomy).  It should fascinate art lovers to peep into the guts of a collection of passion.
The choice of Jeff Koons as the curator is absolutely brilliant – an artist curator always has a unique perspective and one surely cannot suspect that this can push up Koons prices higher than they already are…. Curating a show from a private collection could be seen as creating another path within the collection and could be an exciting challenge for any museum curator. Choosing works from an important collection is a privilege that shouldn’t be  dismissed and certainly shouldn’t be seen as degrading.
OK, there is much ego involved. Like the story of the collectors trip that Joanonou arranged in 2004 – inviting a group of collectors visiting Art Basel in his private jet to Athens to see his collection. After the viewing, in the bus on the way to dinner, one of the collectors asked: What are we doing here? What is this all about? The answer was – this is about him buying it and not you.  ( I copied this story from an art magazine some years ago and unfortunately didn’t note the source).
So we see that an important part of having a collection is showing it to others. Some collectors make theirs public – like the Rubells but there are more that don’t and have the prerogative not to. Therefore, these collection shows should be seen as a gift to the public – even if there is some vanity here – look at the bright side and run to see the trophies – This may be your only chance..

I just noticed the <a href=”″>New Museum’s response</a> – They probably said it better then me…