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John Newsom
State of the Union
in Black Widow Paintings
Mike Weiss Gallery

Willem de Kooning: A Centennial Exhibition at Gagosian Gallery in Chelsea

Candida Hofer
Phillips, de Pury & Co.
May 14, 2004

Daniel Richter, The Morning After, installation view, David Zwirner Gallery, New York

Ford Beckman
Spook Clown
bought in
Ketterer Kunst Hamburg
June 4, 2003

Irrational Exuberance
by Charlie Finch

Collector Richard Massey just purchased four paintings by John Newsom from Newsoms new show at Mike Weiss Gallery for $35,000 apiece. My other collectors are going to start flipping my paintings, Newsom told us breathlessly.

At Chelsea Gagosian, 1980s-era canvases from the gallerys Willem de Kooning estate show are valued at $1.5 million each. Earlier paintings go for $3 million.

Masashi Shiobara of Tokyos Tagboat Gallery told us following the Phillips, de Pury auction, Sugimoto is now at 90 percent of potential value. The only German photographer who is still a bargain is Candida Hfer, but I still couldnt get a Hfer at auction.

Anthony Haden-Guest of Art Review magazine, after Sothebys contemporary evening sale, told us, The atmosphere is more like the bourse, than the wild party feeling of the 80s -- very systematic.

In this exchange environment, of course, a Marlene Dumas goes for more than $900,000 and a Christopher Wool for $850 grand. With such conspicuous consumption, all the global excuses routinely offered by the auction houses during lukewarm or middling markets magically disappear even though they are more real than ever: Al Qaeda beheadings, Iraqi insurgencies, an uncertain election year, soaring oil prices and a weakening dollar.

So what gives? The declining dollar and inflation fears certainly make art a decent, demand-driven place for the rich to park their money.

In these faux gilded times, the wealthy use art as a Veblenite way to advertise their fortunes -- witness gaudy spreads on the Dallas scene in the current Art + Auction and on Los Angeles collectors in the new Art Review and the New York Times. Theres nothing like showing off that boob job or eye tuck in front of a Frank Stella or Cindy Sherman.

Veteran dealer pros are especially skilled at stoking the vanity flames. Top o the heap here is Jeffrey Deitch, a master at using underbidding to whet his clients appetite for more, as can be seen in the catapulting of works by a mediocre artist like Marlene Dumas into the stratosphere.

The resultant boom trickles down all over the place to emerging artists such as John Newsom; to new trendies like Daniel Richter and Nigel Cooke, selling out far in advance of their current shows; and, maybe, eventually to forgotten stars of the recent past such as Ford Beckman, Michael Scott and Christian Eckhart.

But the boom also confronts the dark reality of possible terrorist threats at the political conventions and the Olympics. The old Puritan virtue of not displaying ones bounty seems gone forever, replaced by golden targets beckoning evil from the hills of Afghanistan and the hovels of Fallujah.

The guards at Abu Ghraib and the solons of Sothebys apparently think that all is permitted.

God, by whatever name, presumably thinks otherwise.

CHARLIE FINCH is co-author of Most Art Sucks: Five Years of Coagula (Smart Art Press).