Wednesday, September 24, 2008

London art dealer slams The Art Newspaper for “gutter press” journalism

“If the art market goes down, nobody’s going to be buying your rag,” London modern and contemporary art dealer Ivor Braka told The Art Newspaper’s Editor-at-Large Anna Somers Cocks in what appeared to be an impromptu video interview outside Sotheby’s in Bond Street just before the Hirst auction (view the video here).

Mr Braka was openly criticizing The Art Newspaper for its earlier report that Damien Hirst’s former London dealer White Cube was sitting on a significant freight of unsold Hirst works.

The report was not factually correct, claimed Mr Braka. “It was an inaccurate article and to deliberately sabotage an artist’s sale at this point, and particularly Damien’s, is beneath contempt.” In a rather lame defence of the article, Ms Somers Cocks responded with, “Well, we, erm, believe that article to have been based on fact." Clearly this was not good enough. Either it was fact or it was not. 'Based on fact' is not a justification for publishing something so potentially controversial.

Braka went on to claim that Hirst deserved more respect than The Art Newspaper had afforded him since he had done a great deal for other artists. “He has done more for British art in the last decade than anyone else,” said Braka, without a scintilla of irony.

But most worrying, not for The Art Newspaper, but for the culture of art publishing, was Braka’s sinister prediction that The Art Newspaper itself would suffer if it dared talk the market down. “It could be extremely damaging for The Art Newspaper,” Braka warned Somers Cocks. “It stands to lose a lot of revenue, in terms of advertising. Also, if this impacts the market of Damien, which it could do, because financial people read your paper and perhaps take more notice of it than perhaps they should, then that is particularly bad because nobody is going to buy your paper. If the art market goes down, who cares, nobody is going to be buying your rag.”

Listening to this, you could mistake Braka for a member of the Gambino crime family. But of course the art trade is a mafia of sorts and here was the firmest confirmation to date of the extent to which the art press is institutionally enslaved to the market. If it dares bite the hand that feeds it the consequences will be made all too clear.

In the event, it seems the “financial people” to which Braka referred either failed to read the offending article or read it and didn’t care, or read it and didn’t believe it. Either way, the Bond Street encounter was perhaps most notable for revealing how nervous art market insiders like Braka had become prior to the Hirst sale. Lehman Brothers bank had just nose-dived to oblivion and many believed that if the Hirst sale tanked the whole party might finally be over.

But just as speculators screwed the global financial markets, leading to the meltdown we’re all suffering, so speculators are still busy screwing the art market. Don’t blame the art press. Blame the hedge fund managers and other freeloaders who have sent art prices into another unsustainable dimension bearing no relation to reality. In The Art Newspaper video Ivor Braka looked positively demented. How will he look when the market finally comes tumbling down?