This month, we are updating and rereleasing one of our most popular episodes, Art of the Chase: Inside Art Auctions. In this episode, we take a close look at art auctions – how they work, their place in the art market and the rules and regulations that confine/define them. Auctions at Sotheby’s and Christie’s now regularly net tens and sometimes hundreds of millions of dollars for a single work. Christie’s sold Leonardo da Vinci’s Salvator Mundi painting for $450 million in 2017, still, by far, the highest price ever garnered by a piece of art at auction. At the same time, much about the auction process remains secret. The identity of the buyer and seller is often known only to the auction house, and the reserve price (below which an artwork will not be sold) is known by the auctioneer but not the bidders. While the auctioneer may not sell a work of art below its reserve price, it can bid on the work below the reserve to get the auction going. Steve and Katie discuss these issues and others having to do with regulation, transparency and potential conflicts, and welcome famous Sotheby’s auctioneer Oliver Barker to take us behind the scenes of a big auction.
Steve and Katie discuss two recent art world controversies involving small, local nonprofits seeking to raise money through asset divestment. The di Rosa Center for Contemporary Art in Napa Valley is attempting to deaccession most of its permanent collection of Bay Area art works in the face of vocal art world opposition. In Philadelphia, the proposed sale of the Painted Bride Art Center building by the organization’s board, including its one of a kind mosaic mural façade, has raised public protest and legal challenge. Both entities claim they need funds to continue their mission, while critics say the act of selling off the assets at issue in each case directly undercuts such mission.
Steve and Katie have a wide ranging conversation with art historian and former lawyer, Joan Kee, about the topic of her new book, Models of Integrity: Art and Law in Post-Sixties America. Their conversation probes artists’ embrace and rejection of legal structures in contemporary America, as well as artistic indifference about and dependence on the law.
CORRECTION: After the recording of this podcast, the San Francisco School Board, in the face of community protest, reconsidered its decision to remove the George Washington murals from George Washington High School and will instead cover them.
Against the backdrop of global museums distancing themselves from the Sackler name, two highly controversial Whitney Biennials involving activist calls for the destruction and removal of an artwork and, more recently, calls for the resignation of a Board member who made a fortune building a network of defense equipment companies, and numerous other controversies in the United States about the identity of board members, museum donors and artists, Steve and Katie speak with Max Anderson about controversial board members, donors and works of art. Max is currently the President of the Souls Grown Deep Foundation and was previously the Director of the Whitney Museum of Art and the Dallas Museum, among other leading museum director roles.
Steve and Katie talk about and compare two recent Holocaust-era art cases decided in New York, one in state court on summary judgment and one in federal court on a motion to dismiss grounds. Both cases involve the claims of heirs to recover artwork that left the hands of Jewish owners persecuted by the Nazis, but they otherwise greatly differ.