Sarah Thornton

  • Left: Brad Pitt. (Photo: James Harris) Right: The Approach's Emma Robertson with Art Basel codirector Marc Spiegler and the Approach's Jake Miller. (Except where noted, all photos: Sarah Thornton)
    diary June 06, 2008

    Roman à Clef


    “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

  • Left: Artist Takashi Murkami. Right: Dealers David Nash and Robert Mnuchin. (All photos: David Velasco)
    diary May 15, 2008

    Bringing Home the Bacon

    New York

    A few decades ago, people spoke of the shock of the new. On Wednesday night, Sotheby’s Contemporary Art Evening Sale was all about the incredible wealth of the few. The auction, which totaled $362 million, was the biggest in the company’s history. Tobias Meyer, Sotheby’s chief auctioneer, said the sale was the result of “global hunger” on the part of “global individuals” who “live everywhere.”

    Facing eighty-three lots, Meyer began by speed-reading the rules. The first few works flew off the block with remarkable efficiency, but it wasn’t until Lot 9, Takashi Murakami’s naked and fully erect My

  • Left: Collector François Pinault. Center: Giancarlo Giammetti with designer Valentino. Right: Dealer Larry Gagosian. (All photos: David Velasco)
    diary May 14, 2008

    Freudian Analysis

    New York

    What happens to the art market when other financial markets are suffering a grim credit crunch and liquidity crisis? It experiences an unexpectedly high volume of rich and varied gossip. Whisper campaigns about who is guaranteeing what for more than the high estimate, apprehensive speculation about foreigners’ taste in art, and fractious squabbles about the quality of competing “masterworks” by the same artist punctuated the days leading up to Christie’s Post-War and Contemporary Art Evening Sale on Tuesday night. Against this background, the Christie’s team was methodically peddling forty-three

  • Paul McCarthy, Untitled (Dirty Dotty), 1992/2001, cibachrome photograph, 72 x 48 inches.  From the series “Propo.”


    IN THE FINAL SCENE of Paul McCarthy’s video Painter, 1995, the artist climbs onto a coffee table and bends over. Under the watchful eye of a buffoonish dealer, a collector pulls down McCarthy’s underwear and zealously sniffs his ass. “Yeah, very nice!” says the collector with gusto. “I thought you’d like that!” replies the dealer with tender pride. The derisive scene suggests that artworks are akin to precious waste, and it gives us a whiff of McCarthy’s attitude toward sales. Where Piero Manzoni famously canned his shit and sold it for the price of its weight in gold, McCarthy likes to play


    “ANSELM REYLE’S WORKS are about their surroundings. When you look at a foil painting, you’re looking at everything reflected in it,” said Sotheby’s senior director of contemporary art, Francis Outred, about lot 1 of his evening sale in London this past February. Untitled, 2006, a purple-PVC-foil-on-canvas in an acrylic box, had been placed in a prime marketing position—on a wall between the bidder-registration counter and the stairs leading to the salesroom. Ten minutes before the work was to sell for £311,700 ($625,150), one could see a parade of collectors and dealers streaming across its

  • Left: Sotheby's Tobias Meyer and Anthony Grant. (Photo: Sarah Thornton) Right: Sotheby's Helyn Goldenberg. (Photo: David Velasco)
    diary November 16, 2007

    I ♡ Sotheby's

    New York

    Larry Gagosian was sucking a red lollipop as he walked to his seat at Sotheby’s on Wednesday evening. Others tossed their silver spoons and settled in by biting their nails. Sotheby’s stock had plummeted 37 percent after last week’s disastrous Impressionist and Modern Art sale, so the pressure on the postwar and contemporary department had rarely been higher.

    After the usual “Ladies and Gentlemen” introduction and a reading of the rules, auctioneer Tobias Meyer announced Lot 1, an untitled work by Robert Ryman from circa 1960–62. It was the first of a dozen pieces scattered through the evening

  • Left: Christie's Christopher Burge at the left-hand podium. Right: Dealer Barbara Gladstone with Marc Jacobs. (Photos: David Velasco)
    diary November 14, 2007

    Off-Loading Zone

    New York

    A blue-haired Marc Jacobs waved a cigarette outside Christie’s on Tuesday night. He didn’t have any predictions about the evening sale, but he did admit to loving Liz Taylor. “She’s one of my favorite Warhols,” he enthused. “I love her more than the other gals, but I won’t be bidding—unless I get a huge raise in the next half hour.” This turquoise Liz, one of thirteen made in 1963, was estimated to fetch between $25 and $35 million—a sum that many thought was hazardously high. “She’s a dog with heavy lips and thin hair,” said one dealer. “She isn’t fresh to the market,” said another, referring

  • Left: Artist Nick Relph with dealer Gavin Brown. Right: Artist Phil Collins. (All photos: Sarah Thornton)
    diary October 12, 2007

    Flea Circus


    “The Frieze Art Fair is a good thing. It’s like having a poker stuck up your ass or electrodes somewhere. It makes everyone put their best foot forward,” said The Guardian’s Adrian Searle over a glass of red last weekend. The earthy remark was a change from the unhinged cheerleading of other members of the British press, who see the fair as an “impossibly hip”—no, make that a “fantastical”—big-top experience. Without a hint of irony, the Sunday Times declared: “On the surface, it’s an art fair, but beneath that it’s an art-world conspiracy to subvert the system.”

    Indeed, the Frieze fair is more

  • Left: Art Basel's new directors, Marc Spiegler, Annette Schönholzer, and Cay Sophie Rabinowitz. Right: Art Basel director Sam Keller with NetJets Europe chief executive officer Mark Booth. (Photos: David Velasco)
    diary June 14, 2007

    Supermarket Sweep


    “How many people have had their picture taken with Paul McCarthy’s Santa with Butt Plug?” asked artist Dave Muller as we looked at the giant bronze sculpture outside Art Basel on Monday evening. The art-market boom is such that works previously considered “difficult” are now perceived as family fun. It was 7 PM, and we’d been ejected from Art Unlimited, a cavernous showroom of the kind of large-scale artworks that were once called “museum pieces,” back when public institutions could afford such things. For Muller, who was exhibiting in Art Unlimited, the most exciting works—Stephen Prina’s

  • Left: Venice Biennale curator Robert Storr. (Photo: Sarah Thornton) Right: Artist David Altmejd with dealer Andrea Rosen. (Photo: Ryan McNamara)
    diary June 09, 2007

    Merchants in Venice


    When does the Venice Biennale experience begin? On a plane full of familiar art-world faces? As one views a Whistler-esque nocturne from the rooftop terrace of the Peggy Guggenheim Collection or walks up the Giardini’s historic, tree-lined Viale Harald Szeemann? Perhaps it’s when one forgets the crowd and finally feels the joy of being overwhelmed by a work of art? There are at least seven circles to the oldest, most anxiety-ridden biennale. The trick is not to worry about whether you’re in or out of any of them.

    This year, for the first time, two “pavilions,” both curated by the Guggenheim’s

  • Left: Tobey Maguire. Right: Christie's Brett Gorvy with Christopher Burge. (Except where noted, all photos: David Velasco)
    diary May 17, 2007

    High Times

    New York

    Tobey Maguire was wearing a gray baseball cap. As he took his seat in the tenth row next to LA collector Stavros Merjos, John McEnroe peered out from the box of dealer William Acquavella. François Pinault, Christie’s owner, stood omnisciently behind the glass in his own lofty lodge. Slinky Stephanie Seymour attracted appreciative looks as she entered the salesroom with collector Peter Brant. Larry Gagosian dropped down into his usual seat on the center aisle. At five past seven, the auction still hadn’t started. Perhaps the rain had delayed someone expected to bid during the first few rounds?

  • Left: Dealer Irving Blum with Jacqueline Blum. Right: Sotheby's worldwide head of contemporary art Tobias Meyer. (Photos: David Velasco)
    diary May 16, 2007

    Rockefeller Record

    New York

    Just before 7 PM yesterday, Tobias Meyer, Sotheby’s leading man, rose before the six hundred people gathered for the latest installment of his Contemporary Art Evening variety show. He wore a tuxedo and a black bow tie. In his German accent, he mumbled the usual legal disclaimers and then plunged into his dry-as-dust stand-up routine. With a gesture to the left and a straight arm to the right, he sold the first fourteen lots without a hitch. Many works edged over their previous records by a bid or two. Richard Prince’s mainstream hit Dude Ranch Nurse #2, 2002–2003, for example, a “midsize” red