Sunday, October 3, 2010

What do Phillipe Segalot and Danielle Staub Have in Common?

Photo by Beatrice de Gea for The New York Times

I just finished Carol Vogel's "Auction World's Blast of Brash" and I know that I should not get worked up about this because I have better things to do, I should not expect anything more, and I have called her columns the New York "artworld" version of PRAVDA. Hewing to the party line, they often read like summaries of press-releases. The fawning profile of dealer/collector/auctioneer/curator-type Philippe Segalot is not a departure from that tone. There are so many things that annoyed me while reading the article that I will limit myself to a telegraphic series of observations.

It seems perverse to introduce this person by presenting him as some kind of "brash" outsider who acts almost as a performance artist would at an art fair, yet is in fact the ultimate insider operating to ensure buyers first dibs at Basel.

It is telling that Vogel seems to think that he seems to blur the lines between auctions and museum/art fair/biennial special events (Think Pink party) and that his actions are an instance of the a recent trend to assume the cultural authority of museum curators. This strategy is used to attempt to distance art sales from the taint of crass commercialism (Olav Velthuis's Talking Prices is useful to read as is Isabelle Gaw's High Price) by presenting "curated" gallery shows, art fair exhibitions, and auctions. As many have observed, what this type of operation attempts to achieve is to endow these events with an aura of objective discernment, distinction, and canonical inevitability.

An inadvertent moment of hilarity, for me anyway, was Vogel's extensive discussion of Segalot's grooming, particularly his mane of blow dried hair. (hideous Eurotrash styling but that's only my opinion) Perhaps here Vogel is allowing herself a bit of subversive humor, mocking the apparently vain fashionista by interspersing her breathless description of his style with detailed description of starstylist Fekkai's manipulation of asynthetic/real hair weave for a Maurizio Cattelan sculpture of ex-supermodel --now star in the most delicious and dirty divorce battle-- Stephanie Seymour.

At one point, she makes an aside to mention that an (unidentified!) "reporter" attempted to fact-check a story presumably by pulling Segalot's hair to verify that it is real. Here, the revolting practices of the elitist provincial NY "artworld" intersect with the equally revolting but more entertaining practices of reality TV exhibitionism, as anyone who like me watches The Real Housewives of New Jersey will note. This is because the climax of the last season's conflict was an incident when the daughter of one of the housewives yanked at the (apparently cheap) weave of another, leading to criminal proceedings. If you want to know more about RHONJ's "Weavegate" see

Speaking of hair, the description of the Seymour sculpture is tailor-made for an Intro to Feminism or Women, Art and Power class:
"Stephanie is the ultimate fantasy," Mr. Segalot said recently...And Cattelan's description of the work "I wanted other men to be able to share her." (of course this is in line with centuries of tradition in portraits of women, such as princesses available for marriage alliances shopped around to willing monarchs). What I love about the whole article is the subtext that this is a world run by men for men where women are saleable accessories to the action/auction. It is fitting that according to Vogel the other prominent work for sale is Warhol's portrait of Liz Taylor "Men in Her Life" which dates from a period "whe she was between husbands." Much like these works are between owners, between auction and art exhibition.

Finally, Vogel's passing aside describing the works in Segalot's chic apartment, which she mentions are by artists also in the sale raised some Art Market Ethics 101 alarms. According to Vogel Segalot launched now trophy artists into the auction market, he collects the same artists, we do not know the provenance of the objects as is often the case with auctions, we do not know who ends up buying many of them, Segalot's own collection increases in value, obviously, with these transactions as the sale prices increase.

Vogel's article here:

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