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Brant Rant: Christie’s Inflated Hype for Koons’ Puffed-Up “Balloon Dog (Orange)”

"The stage is set to make history": Christie's full-page NY Times ad for Koons' "Balloon Dog (Orange) Photo by Lee Rosenbaum

“THE STAGE IS SET TO MAKE HISTORY”: Christie’s full-page NY Times ad for Koons’ “Balloon Dog (Orange)”
Photo by Lee Rosenbaum

In four decades of writing about the art market, I can’t recall a more wildly excessive binge of presale promotion than Christie’s press release for its upcoming auction of the Jeff Koons‘ “Balloon Dog (Orange),” 1994-2000, consigned to this fall’s evening sale of contemporary art by Greenwich, CT, collector Peter Brant, chairman of Brant Publications (which owns Art in America magazine).

Brant said he will use the proceeds to support the Brant Foundation Art Study Center in Greenwich:

Peter Brant at his foundation's Art Study Center, with another one of his dogs (by Basquiat) Photo by Lee Rosenbaum

Peter Brant at his foundation’s Art Study Center, with another of his dogs (by Basquiat)
Photo by Lee Rosenbaum

Describing the Koons “inflatable” as “one of the most recognizable images in today’s canon of art history” [can’t we just settle for recent art history?], Christie’s asserts that the Nov. 12 sale “promises to be a landmark occasion for the art market [assuming this dog can hunt]….This monumental work…is the most beloved of all contemporary sculptures. [I can think of more than a few that I love more.] Its spectacular [or banal] form has been celebrated around the world, having graced the rooftop of New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, Venice’s Grand Canal and Versailles Palace outside Paris.”

Here it is “gracing the rooftop” of the Met in 2008 (while Koons, in the background, on the left, is interviewed by journalists):

Koons, “Balloon Dog (Yellow),” 1994-2000, Steven and Alexandra Cohen Collection Photo by Lee Rosenbaum

Koons, “Balloon Dog (Yellow),” 1994-2000, Steven and Alexandra Cohen Collection
Photo by Lee Rosenbaum

Christie’s publicists continued to heap the hype: “It [the dog] has become an icon of Popular [their uppercase “P”] vernacular, adored by the public and collectors for its unabashed celebration of childhood, hope and innocence” [not to mention male sexual arousal].

Koons at the Met, beside the dog's tumescent tail Photo by Lee Rosenbaum

Koons at the Met, reflected in the dog’s erect, tumescent tail
Photo by Lee Rosenbaum

Christie’s goes even further out on a limb:

Estimated at $35-55 million, “Balloon Dog (Orange)” is expected to surpass the artist’s current record of $33.6 million, established in 2012 by Christie’s New York with Koons’ chromatic “Tulips”...and is set to make history for the sale of a work by a contemporary artist.

Not content to leave it at that, Brett Gorvy, Christie’s chairman for Post-War & Contemporary Art, hawks the shiny trophy-dog as the ultimate status symbol:

The ‘Balloon Dog’ is the Holy Grail [!?!] for collectors and foundations. In private hands, the work has always communicated the prominence and stature of its owner [emphasis added]. Like Andy Warhol’s portrait of Marilyn, which influenced Koons’ choice of the orange metallic color for ‘Balloon Dog,’ it is the ultimate masterpiece, instantly recognizable to the art world and public alike. To own this work immediately positions the buyer alongside the very top collectors in the world and transforms a collection to an unparalleled level of greatness” [or conspicuous consumption?].

Gorvy points out that Koons canines of other colors are owned by the Cohens, the [Eli] Broad Art Foundation,  Dakis Joannou’s Deste Foundation and Francois Pinault (Christie’s owner, but not identified as such in the auction house’s press release).

Here’s the Koons balloon, poised on the manicured grounds of Brant’s Art Study Center, as seen at a May 2009 press event (which Koons attended):

Photo by Lee Rosenbaum

Photo by Lee Rosenbaum

Falling in line, Carol Vogel promoted the pooch in her NY Times Friday scoop (second item) on the page directly opposite Christie’s strategically placed full-page ad.

Vogel gushed:

For every big Impressionist, modern and contemporary art auction season, there is always one work that becomes the symbol of those two weeks. It’s plastered on ads and party invitations, catalog covers and window displays. Bets are that by the time this year’s sales start, in early November, that image will be Jeff Koons’s “Balloon Dog (Orange),” one of the artist’s most coveted sculptures and one of the most recognizable images of 20th-century art.

I’m not sure whose “bets” she’s talking about, but my bet is that this pooch won’t be “plastered” on any “ads and party invitations, catalog covers and window displays” at Christie’s arch-rival, Sotheby’s, which been conspicuously quiet so far about its November contemporary art offerings, save for a consignment that it shouldn’t be proud of.

We can only hope that Christie’s has lined up an irrevocable bid that will match its manic predictions for “Balloon Dog.” After such a buildup, this “adored” “Holy Grail” status-symbol has become too big to fail.

For its part, Sotheby’s had better hope that it can perform better this fall in the crucial contemporary-art battles than it did last spring, when Christie’s trounced it in both quality of offerings and sale results. In its effort to snare megabucks consignments, Sotheby’s announced in an SEC filing on Thursday that it had “entered into additional auction guarantees totaling $147.6 million, which increased the aggregate amount of outstanding auction guarantees [amounts promised to consignors, whether or not bidding reaches the level of the guarantee] to $166.4 million [from a mere $18.8 million, as of July 31]….

“As of the date of this filing, Sotheby’s financial exposure under these auction guarantees is reduced by irrevocable bids totaling $23.5 million. [That leaves a large amount backed only by Sotheby’s, unless there are also third-party guarantees.] Sotheby’s may further reduce its exposure under these auction guarantees through the use of additional irrevocable bids prior to the sale. The property related to these auction guarantees will be offered at auctions in the fourth quarter of 2013 [the season of the major evening sales of Impressionist, modern and contemporary art]. As of the date of this filing, $70.8 million of the aggregate guaranteed amount had been advanced by Sotheby’s.”

This seems to signal an end to the conservatism that characterized Sotheby’s approach to taking guarantee-related risks after it got burned by such obligations during the market crash of 2008-9.

As for Christie’s, it’s counting on the shiny, high chromium stainless steel quadruped to be a consignment magnet. It urges readers of its full-page ad (image at the top) to “BE PART OF THIS LANDMARK AUCTION.”

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