Sarah Thornton

  • diary November 04, 2015

    The Man Show

    ANDREA FRASER is the artist “On Our Mind” at the CCA Wattis Institute of Contemporary Art in San Francisco. Last year, Joan Jonas was on their mind, and next year they’ll be mulling over David Hammons. “It’s not retrospective. It’s not hagiography. It’s a unique opportunity to consider an artist’s work in depth with your peers,” explained Jacqueline Francis, an art historian at the California College of the Arts, as a waiter topped up her pink champagne last Friday. We were gathered for cocktails ahead of the Bay Area premiere of Fraser’s Men on the Line: Men Committed to Feminism, KPFK, 1972.

  • diary June 22, 2012

    Divine Intervention

    JEFF KOONS IS FROWNING with his fingers on his forehead. The lighting on Metallic Venus, a glossy stainless steel beauty who lifts her dress to reveal her childbearing hips, is distressing him. Weary worry pervades the faces of the staff of Frankfurt’s Liebieghaus, a gem of a museum containing a concise history of sculpture from ancient Egypt to the rococo period. It’s the last day of a two-and-a-half-week install. Vinzenz Brinkmann, the classical scholar who has curated this retrospective, explains to me that Koons has an astonishing appetite for precise modifications. “He is very kind to us

  • diary February 28, 2012

    Stalking Distinction

    AT THE LOS ANGELES CONVENTION CENTER, amid an ocean of gray walls and gray suits, Sheryl Oring sat in an understated beehive and little black dress working on a crimson 1950s typewriter. Behind her, a Mondrianesque banner asked one of my favorite questions: What is the role of the artist? Oring’s research was part of a performance done at the invitation of the College Art Association (CAA), whose one hundredth annual conference needed some color. Last Wednesday and Thursday (the first two days of the four-day event), a hundred people dictated their diverse answers. “An artist is to existence

  • diary February 14, 2011

    Search Party

    “MAYBE WE SHOULD DROP the word history from art history, ” declared Patricia Mainardi, a professor from CUNY’s Graduate Center. She was regaling a standing-room-only crowd last Thursday during her opening remarks for “The Crisis in Art History,” a panel she had convened for the annual College Art Association conference, which took place over four days at the Hilton in midtown Manhattan. Mainardi, an art historian recognized for her work on nineteenth-century Europe, deplored the fact that eight out of ten art history grad students are now studying contemporary. Why do they? The global economy,

  • diary November 13, 2009

    Bucking the Trend

    New York

    OUT ON THE STREET before Sotheby’s contemporary art evening sale on Wednesday, collector Alberto Mugrabi told me that Warhol’s 200 One Dollar Bills, a rare, hand-drawn silk-screen painting from 1962, would sell for $40 million. I assumed it was strategic presale hype or wishful thinking on the part of a man whose family owns some eight hundred Warhol works. The expression “sell the rumor” came to mind.

    Inside the cavernous salesroom, 200 One Dollar Bills was hung on the left, above the heads of Sotheby’s senior European specialists. Mounted behind Tobias Meyer, the house’s chief auctioneer, was

  • diary November 11, 2009

    Doig Days

    New York

    AS WOMEN IN FIVE-INCH HEELS and men in made-to-measure suits headed to their assigned seats at Christie’s on Tuesday night, a man dressed for dog walking slipped unnoticed into a middle row toward the back. Peter Doig had never been to an auction before. He is not a Warholian “business artist,” so you wouldn’t expect him to relish the spectacle of art’s liquidation. Stranger still, the painter was sitting with the seller of the evening’s top lot, a Puerto Rican psychiatrist named César Reyes, who has been a keen supporter of dealer Gavin Brown’s artists. Reyes had consigned Doig’s Reflection (

  • diary May 14, 2009

    Real Housewife of Beverly Hills

    New York

    ON WEDNESDAY NIGHT, the market for postwar and contemporary art took the form of several dozen huddles on the sidewalk of Forty-ninth Street just west of Fifth Avenue. Although the women had blinged down and the men flaunted somber ties, the talk outside Christie’s was about a “disconnect in the market”; some people, after all, are still very rich. Moreover, in a hellish economic climate where it is hard to persuade collectors to put work up for public sale, Christie’s had “bagged an estate.” So a refined little buzz enlivened the mob, which rejoiced in the “old-school estimates.” Many buyers

  • diary May 13, 2009

    No Ifs, Ands, or Butts

    New York

    LOOMING BEHIND THE HEAD of chief auctioneer Tobias Meyer at Sotheby’s on Tuesday evening, in large black capital letters, was the word COMEDIAN. The 1989 Christopher Wool painting captured the gallows humor of an uptown crowd that had none of its usual horse-at-the-gate nervous energy. As one collector, ambling to his aisle seat, commented, “The art market is like Disneyland without Mickey Mouse, or maybe it’s just Gilligan’s Island without Ginger.”

    Both the Wool, Lot 3, and a Martin Kippenberger self-portrait, Lot 7, were consigned by the discerning Dakis Joannou, who observed the proceedings

  • diary November 14, 2008

    No Guarantees

    New York

    WHAT DOES A COLLECTOR SAY when he has no money to spend? “This art is terrible.” But Christie’s Post-War and Contemporary Art Evening Sale on Wednesday was one of the auction house’s best in terms of artistic content. After Sotheby’s had averted an art-market free fall the night before, dealers and collectors entered Rockefeller Center with a shot glass of hope. As art adviser Sandy Heller found his aisle seat, he said, “All asset classes are being repriced. Art is no different, but I think the great things will sell.”

    Salma Hayek stood statuesquely in François Pinault’s skybox, while John McEnroe

  • diary November 12, 2008

    Bare Market

    New York

    WHEN TOBIAS MEYER asked the crowd to take their seats at Sotheby’s on Tuesday night, the room quickly fell into uncommon silence. A thousand people in the room and you could hear a diamond cuff link drop. The art-market elite that attends the ticketed contemporary evening sales had been waiting, worrying, and imagining the worst. As one collector told me before the auction, “This is the downturn of the upper class. The second-home market is completely paralyzed. Even if people have money, will they want to be seen spending it on art?”

    One didn’t have to hang around for long to discover that demand

  • diary June 28, 2008

    Fresh Prince

    London

    I KNEW A GUY WHO WAS SO RICH HE COULD SKI UPHILL . . . announced the enormous joke painting in the central room of Richard Prince’s first solo show in a British public space, which opened at the Serpentine Gallery on Wednesday night. At a time when the art market continues to defy the laws of gravity and the latest cliché is that “art is the new gold!” the monster canvas was a fitting altarpiece. Hans-Ulrich Obrist and Julia Peyton-Jones, directors of the Serpentine, told me that Prince had conceived of the gallery’s various rooms as “chapels.” Indeed, the show offered spiritual uplift in the

  • diary June 06, 2008

    Roman à Clef

    Basel

    “Roman Abramovich is a blessing for the art world,” said one high roller over drinks in the lobby of the Swissôtel in Basel after a long day at the fair. Whether or not the Russian oligarch bought a handful of Giacomettis off the Krugier stand didn’t seem to matter. The billionaire brought buzz. According to the Grand Cru grapevine, Abramovich, who is known to have an appetite for Lucian Freud, missed the opportunity to purify twelve million dollars on the artist’s Girl in Attic Doorway as, by the time the newcomer got back to Bill Acquavella with a decision, the classy uptown dealer had already