Ten days ago my wife and I took an art-world lifer, the veteran curator Simon Watson, out to dinner. Now in his mid-50s, Simon spends half the year in Brazil and the other half in the states running his art advisory business, Scenic, with his longtime business partner Craig Hensala. Throughout the dinner Simon fielded calls from artist Kehinde Wiley, whom he was trying to shepherd down to São Paolo with a bunch of new paintings for a solo show. "Kehinde has to be in Washington, then California, then maybe, finally, to São Paolo," Watson remarked in obvious frustration.
Simon has temporarily abandoned plans to buy a building in Rio and turn it into an alternative space. "The U.S. dollar is off 50 percent in Brazil over the last year," he commented, by way of explanation. "I have a beautiful apartment on the beach, however. I love going to soccer games, though you have to go with the right people, because the scene is very dangerous. Still, there’s nothing like a stadium full of 80,000 bloodthirsty, screaming men." He feels that there is still strong market potential for artists of color in a Third World setting, citing Adam Pendleton and Mickalene Thomas as examples.
Watson thinks most contemporary collectors have enough cash to keep buying nonstop, giving his longtime patrons Susan and Michael Hort as examples. "Their core business is sound and cash heavy. Indeed, Susan’s only comment to me is, ’What are our kids going to do with all this art after we’re gone? It’s going to be a problem!’" Simon has just finished curating the Horts’ annual assemblage of new acquisitions, which debuts at a Sunday Tribeca breakfast during the Armory Show. "The crowd is so great on Sunday morning, that the Horts have added an invitation-only preview on Friday night.
Indeed, collector demand for his business is so strong that Watson sees less necessity for the kind of U.S corporate sponsorship that got his business through the lean years. "My relationship with Campari has been great, in developing group shows of emerging artists. I plan to focus more time on getting a few Brazilian corporations on board."
Indeed, the art banquet is so heavy that Watson sometimes forgets to stop stuffing his chubby cheeks to come up for air. When my wife asked him for advice on an alternative space she is possibly starting in Brooklyn, Simon looked up from his plate with a grin and asked, "What’s in it for me?" To which I replied, "Dessert!" "I’ve had plenty of desserts on you over the years, Charlie," Watson leered. Hard to believe that, for most of the ‘90s, Simon Watson barely had a pot to piss in. And if you believe Sassy Simon, the liquid gold won’t ever run dry.
CHARLIE FINCH is co-author of Most Art Sucks: Five Years of Coagula (Smart Art Press).