The ‘cultural entrepreneur’ Stefan Simchowitz cuts a controversial figure in the art world. The Hollywood producer and co-founder of photo-licensing group MediaVast (acquired by Getty Images) is famous for ‘flipping’ young artists’ work at auction and deliberately bypassing the usual art market channels.
In a recent interview with ArtSpace′s Andrew M. Goldstein he defended his practice, saying that he believed ‘in inexpensive channels for art that allow it to get redistributed and redistributed and redistributed with great virality.’ He went on to challenge the whole system of validations and slow-filtering that constitutes the traditional art market, detouring along the way to take a pop at Jerry Saltz, art criticism, and those greedy readers who, without necessarily having money to spend on an Oscar Murillo, are interested nonetheless in the market:
…instead of looking at Oscar Murillo’s art they are so consumed by the price points and the auction records that they never discuss the work. Why does Jerry Saltz and every other critic want to write about money? Because their readership likes reading about fucking money, because people are greedy.
Saltz was having none of it. Yesterday he issued his riposte on Vulture:
There’s a saying in the poker world that, if you don’t know who the sucker is at the table, it’s you. Any gallerist or editor who thinks that Simchowitz puts art first — or is anything more than an opportunistic speculator — is handing him money.
The question of flipping at auction has been at the heated centre of debates about art market ethics for months, and opinions are polarised. It was, perhaps, only a matter of time before it resulted in a high-profile spat.
Henry Little gave a broader overview of the issue on this website back in February, explaining the process of flipping and the reasons why some commentators have voiced concern:
Market commentators have been quick to voice alarm about the rapid rise of artists who have rarely been exhibited in public institutions; the slow, careful validation of which is historically associated with an increase in price. It likewise raises the spectre of subsequent crashes in monetary value. Anselm Reyle (b.1970) is a high profile victim of this process. His works frequently traded for more than $250,000 in 2007, and his market since appears to have bottomed out, with works publicly selling for significantly less than they were previously acquired.
Whatever people think about it, ‘flipping’ isn’t going away, and neither will this debate. Is it opportunistic, even exploitative, to bypass traditional channels, and whisk a few young artists to dizzy financial heights before they’ve had a chance to find their creative feet? Or are the naysayers simply part of the old guard who, realising that the market has caught up and outpaced them, are trying to stop the race?
Flip Charts: Flipping art in contemporary auctions (Henry Little)