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April 17, 2006

REFCO Art Collection Liquidation

A true test of strength in the Contemporary Art Photography market is coming to Christies.

Gursky_6th_ave On April 25, May 5 and on May 10th the entire REFCO Art Collection is to be quickly dumped auctioned off, with most lots to be sold without reserve.  There have been many stories written about the "High Quality" of the collection, but for the most part you'll find it a huge collection of very forgettable images, with very few standouts.  Hmm.. Maybe they were just quoting art dealers (like Damon Brandt) who sold REFCO all this unremarkable work?   It totals approximately 300 different lots all of photography (about 500 photo's) accumulated over the last 16 or so years by the now bankrupt company. The collection was lightly "curated" mostly by Adam Brooks and the wife of REFCO's founder Frances Dittmar.

Published in the book "Subjectives Realities" the REFCO collection has a somewhat random pointless broad focus covering almost the entire spectrum of art photography. It's astonishing to see so very few powerful, challenging or even interesting photographs in this huge collection.  Sadly, it's really a somewhat sanitized "very corporate" (almost Republican) portfolio. But what else would you expect?

Of course, Baldessari_beachthe REFCO collection does certainly includes some of the most over-hyped overpriced expensive artists in the art photography world such as Matthew Barney, Andreas Gursky (photo#1) and Gregory Crewdson. No wonder the company is bankrupt!  While flipping through the large 303 page Christies catalog you'll find few true standouts (Baldessari photo #2)images in this collection. One thing truly amusing, even the bright young Photography experts at Christies had nothing ingratiating to say about the collection or the quality of the curating in the auction catalog.

The only explanation of this collection comes from it's lead shopper, Adam Brooks, where he describes it as, "A collection that asks as many questions as the REFCO Collection is bound to elicit responses from the individuals who see it every day..." Can you say like, Why?? or maybe, What happened to all the money you wasted??

In a quote for an article in The Standard, Frances Dittmar once said "I believe good art adds to the quality of the workplace."  So, now we know why the entire company is in a scandalous court ordered liquidation!

History will find The REFCO collection just another prime example of a company being used as a big piggy-bank for the CEO's wife to go on an art shopping spree for her own enjoyment.  Well, it certainly will be interesting to see how this sale goes.  They reportedly paid $150,000 for the Gursky (photo #1), and it's pre-sale estimate is $250,000-350,000...so I guess the old saying "a high tide lifts all boats" may prove true.  But, it is a huge amount of work being dumped sold without a minimum reserve bid, so it's all got to go at whatever price!  And even while it's clearly not a well curated collection, there's sure to be some nice art bargains to be had among the REFCO Art Rubble!


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The danger in a very publicized auction like this one is that photographers whose work doesn't sell will be percieved to be overhyped -- even if the pieces in the sale aren't their best. It's scary to see artists' careers hinging on whether the corporate collectors chose quality work or second-rate pieces. A lot of corporate and private collections would make you think [insert major artist name here] was a talentless hack.

Lisa.. I agree.. many of these works are not strong images of the photographers work. So this auction could result in some bad precedents.
We shall see!!

Is it safe to assume.. when you wrote.. "Bright Young Photography Experts at Christies" you were being facetious??

Speaking of overpriced.

As a new young collector. One of the things I'm grappling with is how some of these galleries and artists charge $25k-$50k-$100k-$150k for their EDITIONED work right out of the box. When I've seen a nice signed limited edition serigraph/litho etc. by an immensely much more historically important and established artist such as Warhol, Duchamp, even Picasso go for under 10k still!

Except for the really important works by these new guys, ...that is if they prove their longevity. Will there be excitement for this work in 50 years when there's a whole nother crop of new artists? In 50 -100 -200 years are people going to still be clamoring about spending 1/2 mil on a Gursky or Barney? Will it look old fashioned? Will they buy it just for historical value? Or are they all going to be falling over themselves to buy the "NEW Crewdson" etc.

Some of the artists I like from the early/mid 1900s who turned out to be important and do have a place in history but are still definitely "B" grade artists in terms of success. I see their editions selling for a pittance compared to this work. So these guys have to turn out to be Blue Chip in my opinion for value to last.

Not to mention how much more work is being produced nowadays. How much more work will be produced in the next 100 years? Will the market just be completely flooded?

seems that the sky-hi inflated prices for new art reflect the posturing of the chelsea galleries,
huge showplaces overcompensating for a luckluster decade of art.
there's going to be some dumps.

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