Meyer and Segalot

Reading the title of this article, some people may think that it is devoted to a couple of artists such as, for example, Auguste Rodin-Camille Claudel or Gilbert and George. But no, it’s really not that. The purpose of this article is to present two powerful people of the art’s world, very powerful, and in my opinion not so well known. If contemporary art, with its stars like Jeff Koons or Damien Hirst, sometimes becomes too much glamour and ‘show off’, this often happens because of two particular people, a German and a Frenchman settled in New York. On the one hand, Tobias Meyer, head of contemporary art at Sotheby’s who still holds the same position at a world level, and, on the other hand, Philippe Segalot, former head of contemporary art at Christie’s, and today a powerful independent broker. At the moment the fascination for contemporary art is a real society phenomenon. Nevertheless, there is a financial elite eager to consume art and to be a part of the VIP circle who participates in sales or auctions in New York and London, fairs in Basel and Hong-Kong or even the Biennial of Venice where, nevertheless, nothing is officially for sale (at least, officially…).
Tobias Meyer is an extremely talented manipulator in pushing some prices to summits. He is a manipulator of the public’s taste and opinions on contemporary art and, in addition, unlike many of his colleagues, he has an artistic culture that goes far beyond the 20th century. November, 2011, in New York, he managed to sell 7 Gerard Richter’s paintings, and to sell them in one shot. Seven paintings is a lot for the market, but rather than making a handicap of it, he turned it into an opportunity to influence the public’s taste, the taste of the consumers of contemporary art. He knows well how to design a catalog and to exploit it. And to support his comment, Tobias Meyer made a magnificent catalog of this exhibition and sale. A catalog where we can find articles by Hans Ulrich Obrist (co-manager of the Serpentine Gallery of London, the cream of the cream), Norman Rosenthal former head of the Royal Academy and Robert Storr (Yale school of art) commissioner of the 2009 Venice Biennal. An 45 pages catalog for 7 works is much more than the usual average. This really impressed…
What was the objective of Meyer? His objective was to present the abstract paintings by Richter as important as those of Rothko. And to support his speech he put side by side a portrait of the German artist in front of one of his big abstract works and a painting by Rothko. Does Tobias Meyer express the view of an art historian? Not only. To position Richter so close to Rothko reveals his intention to see both quotations come closer ; and let’s remember the record high prices for a Rothko at 65 million dollars today … Richter is still far, but who knows?…
In statements in the press, Tobias Meyer says that “it is necessary to find beautiful things, to give some desire, people have to dream “. And this is why he dedicated a showroom of Sotheby’s to Richter to create around them the spirit of chapel –like for Rothko- ; thus creating a contemplative and mystic atmosphere. And, certainly, this strategy was successful: as a result, the bids reached record prices, and thus, the whole lot of Richter’s works was sold for 74 million dollars, compared with a first estimation of 27 million dollars! And, besides, the record obtained for the biggest format, a picture which was presented ‘by chance’ as front page of the catalog … That’s really ‘dreaming big’
Today, money gives credibility to artists but for them to remain credible, they need people capable of making artistic judgments, that is curators and commissioners. And this is how we continue to build a circle: but virtuous or vicious circle?

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