Over the spring I purchased two paintings and four drawings by a prominent British painter from a dealer in Tel Aviv, ignoring the not-so-hushed whispers of my peers regarding his veracity. This dealer did work with the artistís primary dealer, and had sat in the gallery booth at many art fairs over the years, so I had no reason to believe he was not the rightful owner of the works. The idea was to sell the two paintings quickly, in order to afford an opportunity to hold onto the drawings for myself, so I quickly arranged to include the works in the June evening sale at a major auction house.
Gnawing at my nerves the whole while, of course, was a sneaking suspicion that something untoward would transpire to muck it all up. When the inevitable call came from the auction house that the sale was off -- in effect, the title was being contested by the primary gallery, albeit one that has frequently landed in the courts -- I was anything but surprised. Or amused.
After calmly threatening to call the police and have the dealer arrested (I suppose cops in Israel are a bit preoccupied at the moment and may be reluctant to intercede in an art dispute), I reverted to another set of thieves, and got my lawyers involved. It seems the auction houses have a fiduciary duty to seize artworks whose ownership is in question, at least until rightful title can be clarified. And it apparently is not an infrequent occurrence. Though a lapsed lawyer myself, in the art business for 20 years, I have just launched my very first lawsuit to resolve such an ownership issue, having been an innocent third-party purchaser that acquired the works in good faith. In the U.S., such reasoning could suffice, but in the U.K., it is strictly a matter of who has lawful title.
Next time a work comes up at auction that peeves you for some reason -- canít stand the artist, canít stand the dealer -- just call up Sothebyís or Christieís and lodge a complaint! Just kidding!
Of course, in my case the prospective proceeds from the sale had already been spent on further works by the likes of Richard Artschwager, Donald Baechler, Frederick Kiesler, Not Vital, Fairfield Porter and Paul Thek. Now, instead of being flush for the summer, I am running a negative balance.
I am also in the middle of developing a building with Zaha in East London that is potentially her first in the U.K., and earlier this year we worked together to produce a hybrid furniture-sculpture-storage object that was the centerpiece of my booth at ARCO in Madrid and that now is on view in the Guggenheim Museum as part of her survey exhibition there.
Despite all this collaboration, I have somehow managed to avoid the wrath of the "digital diva," as she was dubbed by the New York Times. Sometimes considered imperious and short-tempered (to put it mildly), Zaha doesnít suffer fools. In fact, her unflinching self-belief is downright magnetic and kind of alluring. . .† but most of the time I just hide.
The Z.Car, as it is called, has transcended the world of computer animation and now exists in 1:1 scale models between the size of a Smart car and Volkswagen Golf. It has taken on a life of its own.
After being rejected from most of the major international art fairs, I finally found an event I could get into -- the British International Motor Show on the Docklands in London, July 20-30, 2006, the first time the show has been held in the city for 30 years.
I would never compare myself to Marcel Duchamp, but I canít help remembering that Duchamp once took his roto-reliefs to an inventorís fair in Paris in the 1930s. He thought they could help in visual rehab for World War I soldiers with eye injuries. He had a view to making a killing -- but got killed himself. Itís thought that he sold only one.
Though ostensibly in London, the motor show is an hour away from where I live in no traffic and about 3½ days in the thick of it; it makes Staten Island look accessible. As vertical as New York is -- after running a roving gallery in Manhattan for more than a decade, I canít help but compare the two cities, especially their headaches -- London is equally diffusely horizontal.
Another difference between the two capitals is the gratuitous violence that seems to blanket every aspect of life here. Recently a group of hoodlums ambushed an outdoor wedding, pelting stones at the bride and groom in their yard. "A wedding party," they were said to have exclaimed. "Let's brick Ďem." In the U.S., crime is quid pro quo -- if you get the shit beat out of you, they expect something in return, like your wallet or car. Nowadays in the U.K., it seems to suffice to kick peopleís heads in like grapefruits for sport, Clockwork Orange style.
In a sense you could say cars and art are fungible, as many artists seem simply to change the color scheme of their artwork from one model year to the next (and some donít even bother with that). The auto and art worlds do have major dissimilarities, though, as I have recently learned firsthand while sitting in my booth at the motor show (which was designed by Hadid as well).
For one thing, the women who tend motor-show booths are ostentatiously alluring, a tradition that survives heartily in the post-feminist era, if the shards of fabric passing as clothes are any evidence. As one joker observed, "Oh, look, she forgot to get dressed this morning." I wonder if I should hire such a crew to man my container-on-the-beach at the next Art Basel Miami Beach, where I have been relegated after a one-year hiatus.
Another contrast at the motor show is the dynamics you encounter with your neighbors, which in my case is the Nivea for Men booth, two radar detector companies and a business auctioning off vanity license plates (perhaps Simon de Pury has a niche here, too). Not quite the glam of Gagosian. The uniformed Nivea squad was handing out "firming moisturizer" and "activating shower gel" (they both sound a bit dirty). Good to see the metrosexual phenomenon has gone global.
Next, up came a blind patron, which was totally cool except for the fact that he climbed onto my pristine Hadid plinth and proceeded to feel up the entire mirror surface of the car. Again -- I love the prospect of a blind audience, whether for art or for cars. A friend just flew in a plane with a blind pilot and I find it inspiring, but at the car show, itís a race for the shiniest surface, a competition that would make Jeff Koons and his space-age balloon-dog sculptures blush. And what else do I have but to polish off the fingerprints?
But no matter, itís all about learning something new. In this case, do you know what 51 NGH means? It means £254,000 -- nearly $500,000 -- the sum paid for that registration number by an Indian driver with the last name Singh! Millions are spent on the various manufacturerís pavilions in the motor show, a stark contrast to the penny-pinching efforts at art fairs. (The Serpentine Gallery, on the other hand, manages to spend money on its annual pavilion, like the one this year designed by Rem Koolhaus, which happens to resemble an egg on a hot tin roof.)
From our model of the Z.Car sprang the prospect of a revered Austrian motoring company getting involved in the production of a licensed road-going prototype, which could lead to actually manufacturing the car, not to mention a feature in a top car mags (as good as a review by Roberta Smith). Look out, a Z.Car may be coming to a showroom near you. Well, okay, not in the U.S. (see above comment about lawyers and liabilities).
But it didnít end so well, not so well at all. Man United: 1 - Man in Pieces: 0.
KENNY SCHACHTER is a London-based art dealer.