Oh my, said the barman. This is quite the surprise.

He was smiling at me. It was a big hearty smile, the kind of smile you smile when you run into someone you haven’t seen in a long time, like an old friend from primary school, a forgotten colleague, the checkout lady you never spoke to.

He was behind the bar, wiping the inside of a tumbler clean. He rested it on the bar. I walked over and sat down in front of him and in front of the glass. The crystal pattern around it seemed to pop like diamond popcorn.

He motioned silently as to whether I wanted a drink. I nodded and smiled thank you.

I rested my hat on the bar. It was Russian. A porkpie trilby. Red.

Where have you been Mr Writer? It’s been a very long time. Why don’t you no write anymore?

It was late … early morning late, and there was a couple sat smoking lucky stripes and drinking the blackest of black coffee.

It’s a long story, I said.

You have that writer’s block thing, no?

I don’t know, I said.

It was true, what I told the barman. I didn’t know.  There were lines and lines of words, but … what did any of them even mean?

Well, maybe this drink … maybe this drink will help you write.

I smiled.

Maybe, I said.

I picked up the tumbler, raised it to my mouth and poured it into my mouth, holding it there for a good few seconds, enjoying the warmth and the sting of its beauty.

It started to rain, kamikaze raindrops smashing into the window.

Again, I nodded. One for my baby, one for the road.

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We danced on the moon to music from the eighties, drinking beer and wine we picked up at at a liquor store near Tannhäuser Gate. And we stayed up all night as disco ball stars sparkled all around us until our legs ached and we could dance no more.

Do you remember, me pulling together two deck chairs? I wore a shirt from India, you a dress from Europe. We watched as the earth rose from a sea of black and I thought, wow … that big, round blue ball really is at the centre of the universe. It was wonderful. I’d never seen you happier. After you’d fallen asleep I sat there, reading from a book of love poems by Pablo Neruda, and I wondered whether I would ever experience this moment again.

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Heard but never known

Midnight hour,

The freezer hums,

I hate being cold.


The clock on the wall,

Not to be forgotten,

Ticks and tocks,

Always slower than he hopes to be.

From afar,

The car alarm wails.

Hey, he screams, look at me.

Everyone ignores him. Shut the fuck up.

The leaky tap,



Dedicated to his pointless pursuit.

Plop, plop. plop.

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Keep calm, she said. It’s okay.

He looked at her, his eyes wide, his mind delirious. He felt like tearing up the world.

I’m thirsty, he said. Can I have some water?

She smiled and held his hands. Of course; bear with me one moment.

He smiled back.

Close your eyes and count to ten, she said. And breathe slowly.

As she left, he could see that everywhere around him was a blur, as if he had forgotten to put on his glasses.

It felt quiet and while he was certainly in a state of shock, unable yet to form any real thoughts, the more time passed – even in its infinitesimal state – the more he was sure he was safe.

He closed his eyes and took a deep breath, the air around him nourishing. He counted to ten.

When he opened his eyes, he saw around him nature at its most resplendent. He was in an opening of land, beyond a forest, in front of him which, in the not so distant horizon, lay a waterfall.

She arrived with a drink. How are you, she asked.

Thank you, he said, and he took a sip, then another. His thirst was diminishing. Coming around, he said.

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Everyone knows Tracey Emin

Unlike most other famous contemporary artists, both British and otherwise, Tracey Emin is a household name and that is quite an achievement given the fact that art’s reach is exceptionally limited these days.

The fame and notoriety of others is largely industry specific and historic, to be remembered in books yet to be written. Emin however, she is known by average Joe,who, when asked why, says she’s that artist who appeared on TV drunk and got rich off a messy bed.

Every other contemporary artist, unknown or known, well, they’re just faceless names, no more significant than all the strangers you pass on a regular basis – largely forgettable, transient and inconsequential to one’s own personal experience of the world.

And while Emin may just be a ‘fact’ one possesses – as opposed to something/someone of interest – it does go to show how far she has come as an artist and as a public figure, for want of a better word. We all know who she is and for someone like Emin, that’s important.

Her art is, after all, almost exclusively autobiographical, a distinction that marks her apart from Damien Hirst, who likewise is a fairly well-known force. Think Hirst and we see spots, a shark in formaldehyde. Grayson Perry maybe figures as a close third, although more so for his curious alter-ego Claire.

Emin is a star, vindicated by the passing of time, and somewhat cheerily, in her own lifetime, so, unlike Vincent van Gogh, she can feel pleased about her life’s work in the greater sphere of things. Although, ultimately, it is a slightly moot point, as she told Will Self in 1999, saying she could no longer go on making art without it meaning something to her.

Her eventful life has been her greatest theme and her inescapable subject has been herself. It’s not narcissism to confront one’s demons and share them with the world because as an artist that is the one thing she has ever been sure of.

Well, that and solitude/loneliness. She said of her latest show at White Cube, The Last Great Adventure is You, that “the work is about rites of passage, of time and age, and the simple realisation that we are always alone”.

Emin, today is 51, single and without children. Some would think that sad, others tragic, but for this seminal artist, it is life. What’s the meaning of that? Well, what’s the meaning of any of it? How much can you really understand of yourself in the chaos of the universe anyway?

Emin, with art, tries to understand that, her own personal experience reflecting our own decidedly unique narratives. She may be resolute in her current philosophical ruminations, but she was once as giddy about love as the best of the romantics, hopelessly infatuated with the idea of the one, which she now thinks of as a dream.

However, as this exhibition demonstrates, no one knows what is going to happen from one day to the next. Emin did, after all, once remark: “I want to spend my life with someone and do nice things and go on adventures, read books and have nice food and celebrate things. I don’t want to spend the rest of my life in the bedroom like some people who just go to bed and never get out again.”

If you asked her then whether she believed that each of us is, despite our intentions, alone, she’d have scoffed. But, there you have it, life is quite the surprise. That same artist, in her most chaotic early days would never have believed the woman she is today either – a professor of drawing at the Royal Academy, a CBE, a well-known artist.

And, lest we forget, one of the greatest artists of her generation.

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Moscow’s Garage to showcase hidden contemporary art materials

Moscow’s Garage Center for Contemporary Culture is to open what will be Russia’s first public library dedicated entirely to contemporary art. As firsts go, this is remarkable in itself, given that it is taking place against a backdrop of censorship, orchestrated under the tutelage of president Vladimir Putin.

And this is just the tip of the potentially seismic iceberg. This open and very accessible library is going to contain unofficial art of the Soviet Union, much of which has never before been seen by members of the public, nor scholars for that matter.

The importance of this cannot be underestimated. Explicitly so, in fact, as it is happening at a time the Russian Federation is “choking” freedom of expression in the country, a sentiment that was expressed by 200 leading international authors including Salman Rushdie, Gunter Grass and Margaret Atwood in an open letter to Putin back in February.

This extensive 10,000 volume collection of rare books, catalogues, texts, documents and images will, at least for now – for who knows how the administration will respond to the reality of a liberated, uncontrolled collection of powerful and affecting material – offer Russians and indeed the wider world a fascinating overview of contemporary art’s development.

Speaking to The Art Newspaper, Sasha Obukhova, the head of research at the Garage, said that one of the main aims is to provide people with an unfiltered and to all intents alternative history to all aspects of contemporary art since the 1950s: “[Russian] students don’t have access to this information—they’ve been working not with a history, but with legends.”

It was, after all, business as usual after the second world war with regards to art – any form that did not prescribe to what the state determined as correct, and that which attacked the ideology of the Communist Party, was suppressed (in effect until Glasnost and Perestroika). This forced artists to go underground and the work they produced could only ever be received or enjoyed by a small audience.

While the library goes some way in correcting the mistakes of the past, they can never make up for all the art that has been lost over the years. For example, artists were forced to destroy their own work during this unfathomable period, fearful of the repercussions they faced if caught with perceivably negative art.

Nevertheless, there is an inherent contradiction in this, which the Garage Center for Contemporary Culture is all too aware of. While there isn’t expected to be much noise rumbling out of the Kremlin with the display of work from the eighties and earlier, more immediate work is expected to ruffle a few feathers.

“It is much more difficult to deal with the art from the 1990s to 2010s, since artists from younger generations have criticised recent Russian authorities,” Ms Obukhova told the online art newspaper. Consequently, the institution is approaching this will extra care and will showcase more recent material cautiously.

This is as best as progress comes in an age where much of the enthusiastic talk of modernisation and the expansion of freedoms promised when the iron curtain finally collapsed has slowly disappeared into a black hole of authoritarian control. This is history.

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The Wall

It happened one day.

A pulse; that rhythmic beat of life…

The Wall was alive.

A wall, incredulous to believe it, had become self-aware.

“I’m a wall,” said the Wall.

He was rather observant for a wall and rather unique too. For example, most walls are lifeless, but this wall however, was very conscious. The wall was also a he, although, to look at him you’d not have know, for walls are kind of quiet and androgynous.

“Call me Ziggy Stardust,” he said in English and the Wall laughed.

He had heard Starman a long time ago, long before he ever existed. This is the music of my ancestors, thought the Wall. “Yes, yes,” he said, nodding. “The sweet music of my ancestors.”

At that point a spider hurriedly crawled across him.

“How do?” asked the Wall.

The spider didn’t respond and disappeared into some small crevice in the corner.

The Wall smiled. “Funny little creatures, aren’t they, spiders?”

And that was that.

He noticed that there was no response to his open question. The house was empty and, well, no-one can hear inanimate objects talk. Only, the Wall reasoned, isn’t that a contradiction?

I am a wall, he said, in his head. I am the Wall. I can think. I am thinking. Therefore, surely that lamp over there heard me?

“Lamp, lamp! What say you of spiders?”

The lamp said nothing in response; didn’t as much as flicker into life. It just sat there, on the sideboard, waiting to be switched on like it did every other day.

The Wall couldn’t figure out if the lamp didn’t want to talk or couldn’t talk.

He waited for a response.


Do lamps think, he pondered. Maybe they do, but, and this was an epiphany, he realised no sound came from his mouth. The lamp hadn’t actually heard him.

“I do not have a mouth,” he said, somewhat perplexed. He could talk in his head and it resulted in no sound. He could talk out loud and again no sound.

“Wow,” said the Wall, who would have scratched the ceiling if he had fingers. “That’s a headache of a situation.”

“Hello!” he shouted, trying to manufacture a mouth he did not have. But nothing could be heard. A Siberian tree falling in another world is louder.

The Wall was sad. He looked on the other side of the wall and into the big mirror, which sat just above the fireplace.

It saw that it was nothing more than just a wall.

Nothing special.

Not unique.

Just a wall.

Absolutely meaningless.

He sighed and pondered for a moment.

The Wall started to whistle.

If you could hear it, it was to the tune of Let’s Dance.

“… put on your red shoes.”

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Sotheby’s and eBay announce partnership

It seems like one of the most unlikely of partnerships. On the one hand you have Sotheby’s, one of the most successful, historic and powerful auction houses in the world, and on the other, there is eBay, a global online marketplace, which has, in a short space of time, established itself as part of the fabric of everyday life.

But there you have it, new era, post-recession, economic pick-up, business confidence and all that jazz, the twenty first century. Less than two decades old, the new millennium continues to surprise. Old habits die hard, of course, history on loop, but against this, our capacity for originality endures.

The aim of this new venture is relatively modest at face value – to make art auctions accessible online. Bidding, it seems, has finally caught up with the modern world and so it is, we’re all one click away from securing a masterpiece.

Naturally, both sides will bring their respective knowledge and skills to the table – together they do present themselves as an indomitable force in what is set to be a burgeoning area of activity in the world of fine art.

Sotheby’s has unrivalled expertise, access to world-class works of art and collectibles – as well all the relevant contacts – and a long history of delivering commanding auctions. eBay meanwhile is technologically savvy, delivers integrated payment solutions and has a global audience of some 145 million active buyers.

As to how best to describe this development, the jury is still out. Various media organisations have respectively labelled it as a virtual auction house, the streamification of auctions, an online marketplace and a web platform for the buying and selling of art.

“The growth of the art market, new generation technology and our shared strengths make this the right time for this exciting new online opportunity,” commented Bruno Vinciguerra, chief operating officer at Sotheby’s. “We are joining with eBay to make our sales more accessible to the broadest possible audience around the world.”

Devin Wenig, president of eBay Marketplaces, added that a Sotheby’s-eBay partnership represents a “significant milestone” in the company’s efforts to expand the potential of live auctions in a digital age.

“Sotheby’s is one of the most respected names in the world,” he continued. “When you combine its inventory with eBay’s technology platform and global reach, we can give people access to the world’s finest, most inspiring items – anytime, anywhere and from any device.”

Although no official start day for the new service has been given, Sotheby’s and eBay did reveal that they would start offering a number of live auctions that are taking place at the former’s headquarters in New York.

They also explained that a focused new space is to be established on eBay’s site, designed to engage established, emerging and entry-level collectors and investors with an interest in preeminent works of art.

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An introduction to ArtRank

The title of McKinsey & Company’s 2011 report on big data was telling. It succinctly described this expansive and burgeoning technology as representing “the next frontier for innovation, competition and productivity”. In short, it is a game-changer.

Once exclusive to the sphere of big business, especially in technology and financial industries, big data’s open, malleable and universal framework is finally being tapped into by all sorts of organisations and sectors.

ArtRank is just one of many institutions that are making use of data to deliver new insights, new ideas and new services in the world of art. Radical, different and provocative, its novel offering has divided opinion.

Adopting a multidisciplinary approach, ArtRank utilises the expertise of a data scientist, an art professional and a financial engineer to identify “prime emerging artists”.

Based on their analysis of data, which they collate using qualitatively weighted metrics’ – including web presence, studio capacity and output, market maker contracts and acquisitions – they then determine which artists are worth investing in and which are not.

The algorithm behind ArtRank, which formerly went by the name of sellyoulater was first developed for an emerging art fund in 2012 and was found to be highly powerful and accurate. Over a 16-month period, it helped deliver a 4200 per cent return on investment.

“The algorithm is comprised of six exogenous components: presence, auction results, market saturation, market support, representation and social mapping,” the company states on its official website.

“Each component is qualitatively weighted in service of defining a vector or ‘artist trajectory’. We compare past trajectories to help forecast early emerging artists’ future value.”

The data used to inform its index, which is updated quarterly, comes from what ArtRank calls a confidential network of dealers, advisors, auction houses, collectors and journalists.

Information is provided on a quid pro quo basis – in return for the data, this network is informed of the latest developments and “reciprocally recompenses” ahead of public announcements.

What has to be understood about ArtRank and its place in the art world is that it exists as a purely financial venture, which it is candid about. The algorithm it uses to determine worth is based on the “intrinsic value” of a work of art and therefore not its “survival value”. Aesthetics and sentiments do not come into it.

“We provide clarity in an opaque market by providing actionable forecasting to collectors and institutions seeking entry to the emerging art market,” ArtRank has stated.

“Collectors and institutions interested in obtaining our reports ahead of the general public can be alerted of such opportunities by subscribing. By purchasing early reports, institutions and collectors are made privy to important insider information that can assist in making acquisitions at a fraction of secondary resale prices.”

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Christie’s contemporary art sale achieves $745 million in one evening

Here is one way of looking at Christie’s recent, record-breaking sale of post-war and contemporary art, which in one evening racked up $745 million (approximately £444 million) – it absolutely thumped the auction house’s impressionist bonanza.

Taking place in early May, that recorded $286 million (£170 million) and was considered by many to be a very respectable effort. Claude Monet’s Nymphaes was snapped up for $27 million (£17 million), 89 per cent of all works on offer went to buyers and, at all levels, works sold very well.

Brooke Lampley, head of Impressionist and modern art at Christie’s, said that this remarkable feat was “testament to the incredible breadth in our marketplace”. A similar sentiment was shared by her colleague Brett Gorvy, chairman and head of post-war and contemporary art at the auction house.

“These are incredible statistics,” he remarked, the brevity of his remarks indicative of his, and everyone else’s, disbelief. Yes, times are good, really good in fact, but numbers like this remain hard to comprehend.

For the last few years, the post-war and contemporary art market has been recording one astonishing sale after the other, with buyers demonstrating an insatiable appetite for works that fall under this category. There appears to be no limits to what some collectors and investors are willing to pay.

As an example of how staggering Christie’s sale is, consider the Wall Street Journal’s Kelly Crow’s contextualisation. The auction house recorded $745 million “in less time than it takes to watch a basketball match”.

The evening sale also demonstrated how it is difficult to predict how certain works of art will perform. A case in point was the $84.2 million (£50.1 million) achieved by Black Fire I, a work by the American abstract expressionist Barnett Newman.

Previous to this record for the late artist, who is best remembered for his inimitable ‘zip’ style, the most ever paid for one his works was half that total. This confirms, more or less, that the energy and enthusiasm for post-war and contemporary art is part of a wider and now established trend.

The ‘corner of the room’ chatter of a bubble has never materialised and, furthermore, there is nothing to suggest that the market is reaching saturation point. These are, after all, early days – the European Fine Art Foundation’s annual report revealed that in 2013, the global art market rose by eight per cent to $65.9 billion (£39.1 billion).

This is the highest level since before the financial crisis of 2007-2008 and seemingly not a pinnacle. Economies are growing, confidence is returning and buyers are willing to spend as much as they want without feeling as though they are taking a big gamble. There is real talk of an evening auction surpassing one billion for post-war and contemporary art. If not in 2014, then certainly 2015.

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