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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Sun swept,



She sings.

So cool,

In the video,

Doesn’t smile,

She delights.

Who cares,

No numbers,

No belongings,

She charms.

Just the taste of wine,

Her pretty face,

To remember,

She bewitches.

The music plays,

The crowd screams,

Nothing changes

She stops.

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She smoked.

Cigarettes are death, I said.

She smiled. Yes, she said, blowing smoke into my face, I suppose so.

She paused.

What does it feel like?

Warm, I said.

That’s the appeal of death.

It was a peculiar way of putting it but I understood what she meant. I had nothing to say in response so I stood there, leaning against the stone wall like a dog without a bone, voyeuristically watching as she slowly killed herself.

She took one last draw and stubbed the cigarette delicately on the flat surface of the wall until all the embers had turned to cold ash. She walked over to the bin and dropped the paper carcass into a refuse of crap. Death adjourned.

What are you up to, she asked.

Nothing much, I said.

The wind snaked through her hair.

Nothing to live for?

Only the moment.

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Andy Warhol achieves new auction record with Silver Car Crash

Pop art is always a difficult movement to broach. Is it art at most ironic or a parody of the conceit of the industry? Perhaps it is fine art at its contemporary best, a creative critique of history as it unfolds, or simply, the opportune outcomes of opportunistic individuals with a savvy for making people believe in nothing.

What is certain is this: financially speaking, pop art is resolutely big business and its leading figure Andy Warhol is its most bankable star, a man whose fame and influence over what art is has proved to be as interesting and provocative as Paul Cezanne’s desire to paint the actual perception of real.

With little time to fully come to terms with Francis Bacon’s Three Studies of Lucien Freud going under the hammer for an unbelievable $142.4 million (approximately £89 million) at a Christie’s auction in New York, Warhol’s bankability was once again confirmed at Sotheby’s contemporary art evening sale.

His 1963 Silver Car Crash (Double Disaster) went for $105 million (£65 million), which like Bacon’s triptych, is a record for the artist at auction, smashing his previous best Green Car Crash (Green Burning Car I), which achieved $71.7 million (£44.1 million) in 2007.

“The night truly belonged to Andy Warhol,” commented Tobias Meyer, worldwide head of contemporary art at Sotheby’s. “Silver Car Crash is the most important work of contemporary art we have ever had the privilege to offer, and its exceptional result is a testament to that fact.”

He went on to say that the eight-foot by thirteen-foot work of art, which depicts the immediate and tragic aftermath of a car crash with the driver amidst the mangled vehicle, is the best painting he has sold in his entire career. It now is the second most expensive work of contemporary art in the world.

What makes Silver Car Crash so novel in Warhol’s oeuvre is that it is seemingly less superficial or manufactured than his other works of art, which were, at a reduced level, glossy reproductions of the already mass duplicated.

It stemmed from his reputable death and disaster series from the sixties – executed between 1962 and 1964 – which saw him take a more serious and less sardonic tone, focusing his attention on the tragedy of American life in the twentieth century, or more accurately, the melancholic nature of existence.

“The composition of the painting is very cinematic,” Mr Meyer explained in an official blog last month. “If you go to old cinemas, you have these film rolls. When they rupture, then suddenly the ‘silver screen’ goes silver – because there is no image there anymore. And that is what he is painting; he’s painting a cascading rupture of images, and then the whiteness next to it. Or the end of the image.”

He likens its pathos to Pablo Picasso’s seminal and macabre Guernica (1937) and Théodore Géricault’s distressing The Raft of the Medusa (1818-1819), both indictments on the misfortunes of war, which has blighted humanity in perpetuity.

It is certainly powerful, staunch in its unflinching depiction of death. Arguably, this was always his preoccupation. The colourful, playful, universally understood and appropriated pop images he is best known for can be read as a critique of modern, industrialised democracies, which zombify people with their false idea of the perfect lifestyle.

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Art as Therapy

The writer Alain de Botton and philosopher John Armstrong want you to reconsider what you understand about art. It is not just an aesthetic, it is not just an asset and it is not just a critique of the zeitgeist. It is so much more.

They see it as a powerful form of therapy, a suitable non-medicinal way of alleviating ‘our most immediate and ordinary dilemmas’. Both Botton and Armstrong believe that certain works of art – it isn’t necessarily applicable for every painting, sculpture or installation ever conceived – can deliver momentous solutions to what woe has befallen us.

Art, as we know, has a limited audience with respects to other cultural fields, despite its universal appeal and the fact that it is a manifestation of a human need for expression. Perhaps this is where it goes wrong, Botton discusses in a recent article for the Huffington Post.

Our high regard for art – it is inextricably linked to the human existence, the meaning of life – renders it useless. He argues that upon leaving a gallery or museum, the likely emotional response is less than favourable. We are underwhelmed, bewildered and left asking “why the transformational experience we anticipated did not occur”.

We consider ourselves to be at fault, a consequence of a decided lack of knowledge about anything to do with art and/or because we are somehow emotionally or spiritually lacking, an error in our DNA leaving us somewhat nonplussed.

“I allege that the problem is not primarily located in the individual,” he discussed last month. “It lies in the way that art is taught, sold and presented by the artistic establishment. Since the beginning of the 20th century, the public’s relationship to art has been weakened by a profound institutional reluctance to address the question of what art is for. This is a question that has, quite unfairly, come to feel impatient, illegitimate, and a little impudent.”

Along with Armstrong, Botton sees it as more than just ‘art for art’s sake’ – the subtext being what else is there to do?  – and considers it as akin to a tool, which can be utilised in such a way as to “inspire, console, redeem, guide, comfort, expand and reawaken us”.

Utter tosh some may argue, but that’s the kind of retort that both the authors are actively aware of. They are actively courting rebukes because this indicates the problem of monopolised and singular thinking about what art is.

That, of course is troublesome, but this is where their book Art as Therapy comes in. It is a seed for new discourse and a spark for unhinging art from its restrained orthodoxy, thereby revealing its ‘latent therapeutic potential’.

For example, let us take the banality of work, an affliction many of us know all too well. It is difficult doing the same trite thing every day but not impossible – we do it regardless, shackled by our own ineptitude, societal prejudice, economic inequalities and the inability to roll lucky dices. It is a dull pain our souls find insufferable.

Convalesce from this ache by examining Pieter de Hooch’s At the Linen Closet (1663). Botton and Armstrong propose that the painting by the Dutch artist moves us because ‘we recognise the truth of its message’, which is the value of routine.

“It gives voice to the right attitude: the big themes of life – the search for prosperity, happiness, good relationships – are always grounded in the way we approach little things,” the authors suggest.

“The statue above the door is a clue. It represents money, love, status, vitality, adventure. Taking care of the linen (and all that stands for) is not opposed to these grander hopes. It is, rather, the way to them. We can learn to see the allure of those who look after it, ourselves included.”

It may come across as New Age, but the remedial strength of art has always existed. What has been absent is a language to describe this, a set of beliefs to lend from when visiting a gallery or museum. Art as Therapy is not new, but what Botton and Armstrong have achieved is a lucid book that helps articulate another magical side of art.

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