Hardcore Art Flippers: Taking The Art Market To Its Logical Conclusion

Stefan Simchowitz took collecting and “art advising”—that’s helping people choose which art to buy—to where it was always going to go. He has a posse, a gang of 100 (100 men, seemingly), who buy artists (men, seemingly) in bulk when he says go. (“Sean Parker, Steve Tisch, Orlando Bloom, Guy Starkman, Enrique Murciano, and Rob Rankin, who is the head of investment banking at Deutsche Bank worldwide,” he told Artspace.) He’s a “disruptor” and a “cultural entrepreneur,” he believes in “inexpensive channels for art that allow it to get redistributed and redistributed and redistributed with great virality.” That means resale. (He was also producer of Requiem for a Dream.) Simchowitz is right about a lot of things, and the gallery system is a stodgy old thing that doesn’t work particularly well. (The constantly roving art fair world is undermining galleries enough already, though.) In another way of looking, he simply applied the rules of all markets and the attention economy to art. This got him attention as an infamous art flipper.

The critic Jerry Saltz this week basically called him a pig, to which Simchowitz responded, on Facebook of course:

You are a disfigured meat grinder of over inflated, self deluded, petty and insular insults, whose limitations are those of many, whose minds have closed to their once great imagination for hope of a brighter and better future. You are the cynic, but ultimately you are less than that.

Good times!

Flipping is the backbone of the art market now; dealers just have less ability to freeze out collectors who flip now. At the most recent Armory show here in New York, there was a spectacular tiny Louise Bourgeois painted print. (Really tiny! Like, four by six inches?) They wanted $55,000 for it. The last time it traded hands was just a year or two ago, though, and then its price was something like $35,000. And yet it’s still a great place to park some money for a little while. The market for Bourgeois will always be good: she was a legend, with a long and sturdy career, well-supported by dealers and collectors and institutions. She isn’t a 27-year-old with paintings being snapped up by the armful and dumped at auction. The road of the art world is piled high with bodies of young artists who had a fast boom and a bust. That’s to be expected. But if the new collectors want to treat painters like startups, they’ll get the same kinds of return on their investment as they do with startups. The vast majority of artists will fail and evaporate all their invested value. A small percentage will soldier on, for a while, but only as long as the market will have them.