Wednesday, February 14, 2018

You are invited to dinner…oh sorry, no you’re not.

Are you an HNWI? 
To qualify for the HNWI acronym you originally needed to have investable assets of at least US$1 million, but that may soon need adjusting. The number of HNWIs in the world is expanding rapidly. Cap Gemini’s 2017 World Wealth Report notes that, “the less-wealthy HNWIs (those with US$1 million to US$5 million) is an important segment comprising about 90% of all HNWIs globally.”

The HNWI acronym is now a fixture of the daily jargon at Davos, as the BBC recently observed with withering disdain. It’s also a familiar term in the patois of the international art market. 

These are the folks that the big auction houses invite to their social functions to promote local art fairs and high-ticket auctions. Clearly they can’t invite everyone to these spiffy social functions, or can they?

Being a relatively LNWI, I was slightly taken aback to receive an invitation (left) from Sotheby’s to a fancy dinner at Loring Place restaurant at 21 West 8th Street, New York to celebrate Armory Week (cocktails at 7pm; sit-down dinner at 7.30). If they’re inviting LNWIs like me, Loring Place must be as cavernous as the Seventh Regiment Armory. 

But then came an email from John Peebles, Senior Vice President of Digital Marketing and CRM (Customer Relations Management):

Dear Client: 
Earlier today you may have received an email from us about an event during Armory Week that inadvertently went to a wide distribution list.          
Please accept my apology for the confusion. 
If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to reach out to me. If you are in New York in the coming months, we would love to see you. 
A voucher for our Sant Ambroeus Café at 72nd and York Avenue is below.             
Thank you for your understanding.    
John Peebles

That’s a coded way of saying, “Sorry, we screwed up; you’re not invited, but have a cappuccino on us”. 

Included in Mr Peebles email was a voucher (right) entitling me to “enjoy a complimentary $20.00” to be used at Sotheby’s Sant Ambroeus Café on the 10th floor. Thank you for that, Mr Peebles.

If the voucher also went to Sotheby’s entire distribution list (presumably it had to), one can only assume that the Sant Ambroeus Café is also as cavernous as the Seventh Regiment Armory. They could have a few busy days ahead as the disinvited Low Net Worth Individuals cash in their brunch vouchers. (By the way, $20 will buy you a shakerato and a Chicken Caesar salad with shrapnel to spare in case you fancy strolling on down.) 

Hard of Haring
What havoc email distribution lists can play on a balance sheet, eh? Had Sotheby’s not had to extend this generous $20 compensatory offer to its extended client list it might have been able to claw back at least a fraction of the $2.1 million it appears to have lost when New York-based Russian art dealer Anatole Shagalov (careful with that spelling) failed to pay for a horrible Keith Haring painting for which he bid a staggering $6.5 million. 

Sotheby’s re-sold the painting to another client for $4.4 million, a little over what a half-decent Velasquez  made at their Old Masters evening auction on 1st February.  

Compare the price of the Haring with any of the paintings sold in the low hundreds of thousands at the Old Masters sale and you get some idea of the tasteless insanity of the “contemporary” art market. What would you rather have for your $4 million: A Haring or a Velasquez? Hopefully you don't need to answer that. 

Dumbing down on Derby day

Speaking of questionable taste, I’ve only just noticed how Sotheby’s chose to promote the headline lot at their last Old Masters sale in London in December. 

Joseph Wright of Derby’s An Academy By Lamplight was the occasion for a cheesy video recreation (left) using real actors (or were they perhaps Sotheby’s interns?) 

The catalogue described Wright's painting as “a powerful statement on the erotic allure of antiquity,” featuring a group of young students — “in various stages of adolescence, the youngest possibly about five, the eldest perhaps eighteen or nineteen” — enraptured by the beauty of an antique statue. 

This became the starting point for Sotheby’s sub-Viola Pygmalion film fantasy in which the Academy draughtsmen (the youngest possibly about five?) are treated to the naked flesh of a young actress.

Artemisia Gentileschi
Judith Slaying Holofernes (1614-1620)
Should the National Museum of Capodimonte ever decide to deaccession Artemisia Gentileschi’s Judith Slaying Holofernes, I’m hoping they’ll make a video of that too, with the head of Sotheby’s marketing department as Holofernes. 

I’d be happy to stand in for Judith. 


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