Posts Tagged ‘Art’


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Damien Hirst’s coup

The art market – Hands up for Hirst

How the bad boy of Brit-Art grew rich at the expense of his investors

IN 2008 just over $270m-worth of art by Damien Hirst was sold at auction, a world record for a living artist. By 2009 Mr Hirst’s annual auction sales had shrunk by 93%—to $19m—and the 2010 total is likely to be even lower. The collapse in the Hirst market can partly be ascribed to the recession. But more important are the lingering effects of a two-day auction of new work by Mr Hirst that Sotheby’s launched in London on September 15th 2008.
The sale was memorable for many reasons, not least its name, “Beautiful Inside My Head Forever”. The first session took place the very evening that Lehman Brothers went bankrupt. No one on Wall Street or in the City of London knew who might be next. Yet within the New Bond Street saleroom, collectors went on bidding, oblivious to the bloodletting without.
The sale was an innovative, daredevil affair. The art market is divided into “primary”, new work sold through galleries, and “secondary”, literally second-hand art, which is often put up for auction. This sale was full of primary material straight out of Mr Hirst’s studio, some of it not yet dry. (Usually the only new art sold at auction is donated by artists to raise money for charity.) According to Frank Dunphy, Mr Hirst’s business manager at the time, the galleries that represent him were very unhappy. Soon after breaking the news to Larry Gagosian, the world’s leading dealer, Mr Dunphy recalled their conversation: “Larry said, ‘It sounds like bad business to me. It’ll be confusing to collectors. Why do you need to do this? We could continue in the old way’.” Mr Dunphy went on: “We’ve had our shouting matches over the years. But there was no shouting that day.”
Sotheby’s was keen to build its own brand around a celebrity artist rather than the usual assortment of inanimate objects. The sale was marketed on YouTube and through the media around the world, part of a conscious effort to broaden international demand for the work. Sotheby’s filled its exhibition rooms with Hirsts. Never had so much of his art been seen in one place. Many art-world insiders saw the sale as an artistic event. Cheyenne Westphal (pictured above, right), European chairman of Sotheby’s contemporary art, says: “Damien’s auctions will become part of his oeuvre. He has done three sales: ‘Pharmacy’ (2004), the ‘RED’ charity auction (2008), and ‘Beautiful’. Fast forwarding, they will be very good provenance.”
Few people were convinced, though, that the market could absorb 223 lots from one artist in 24 hours. Yet an astonishing 97% of the works sold. “Beautiful” brought in £111m ($198m) and expanded the art market: 39% of the buyers had never bought contemporary art before and 24% of them were new to Sotheby’s. Europeans (including Russians) bought 74% of the lots, while 17.7% went to the Americas and 8.3% flew to Asia and the Middle East.
But who exactly bought what? Even Mr Hirst admits, “I’m still finding out.” Dealers acquired some works, but 81% of the buyers were private collectors purchasing directly. Miuccia Prada, an Italian designer and longstanding Hirst collector, for example, spent £6.3m acquiring a trio of Mr Hirst’s trademark animals in formaldehyde: “The Black Sheep with the Golden Horn”, “False Idol” (a calf), and “The Dream” (a foal made to look like a unicorn). “I think it was an incredible conceptual gesture, not a sale,” she says.
Several billionaires from the former Soviet Union also took part. Alexander Machkevitch, a Kazakh mining magnate with a taste for metallurgical themes, bought six lots in the evening sale: a large stainless steel cabinet filled with manufactured diamonds, a pair of gold-plated cabinets containing more lab gems, three butterfly canvasses and a spot painting with a gleaming gold background for a total of £11.7m. Other buyers from the region included Maria Baibakova, Vladislav Doronin, Victor Pinchuk and Gary Tatintsian.
Speculation abounds about who spent £10.3m (including commission) on “The Golden Calf”, a bull in formaldehyde with 18-carat gold hooves and horns. Many thought the garish top lot carried an ambitious estimate, £8m-12m, and would be hard to sell. In the event it proved a nervous moment—there were only two bidders—and whoever acquired it has not been showing it off. The persistent rumour is that the “Calf” has gone to the royal family of Qatar. (Just over a year earlier the emir’s daughter, Sheikha al-Mayassa al-Thani, bought Mr Hirst’s “Lullaby Spring”, a pill cabinet, for £9.65m, the highest price ever paid for a work by a living artist.) When asked about the Qataris, Mr Hirst replies, “I’m sure they did buy things. But it’s all hearsay. I got a call from somebody who said [the Qataris] bought ‘The Golden Calf’ but I think they’re denying it.”
Could any other artist pull off this kind of spectacular trade? Mr Hirst is often likened to Jeff Koons, an American pop artist who overtook Mr Hirst as the most expensive living artist when his “Hanging Heart” sold for $23.6m in November 2007 (see chart 1). Although Mr Koons has a larger-than-life persona and his work enjoys international appeal, he is a conservative market player who issues works in controlled editions of five and concentrates exclusively on the very high end. Nothing could be further from Mr Hirst’s risk-loving manner and his desire to offer work at a range of different prices. “Beautiful” was a success in part because it offered something for everyone.
Mr Hirst, already rich and famous, became richer and more famous. But what of his investors? Two years after the auction, the second-hand trade in Hirsts has slowed to a trickle. Even Sotheby’s, which has had a Hirst in every major contemporary sale in London since “Pharmacy” in 2004, offered none of his art in this year’s evening sale in June. The auction house admits it is avoiding Mr Hirst’s work because it can’t meet its consignors’ price expectations.
The average auction price for a Hirst work in 2008 was $831,000. So far in 2010 it is down to $136,000, a sum that does not even take into account the many lots that failed to find buyers. With prices down to 2002 levels, the artist’s work is outperforming the S&P 500, but is lagging well behind Artnet’s C50 contemporary art index, an industrial average of the 50 most traded post-war artists (see chart 2). The only Hirst pieces that are showing signs of recovery are butterfly paintings, particularly the wing-only works that evoke kaleidoscopes and stained-glass windows. Nine of the ten top trades since the “Beautiful” sale have been butterflies of some sort.
A seller’s disappointment, however, is a buyer’s opportunity. Alberto Mugrabi, a dealer and devoted supporter of most things Hirst, observed the “Beautiful” sale carefully, but bought little. By contrast, he admits to buying 40% of the Hirst paintings that have come up for sale at Sotheby’s and Christie’s in the past year. “I believe in the artist,” he says. The Mugrabi family owns some 110 Hirsts, including an installation that features 30 sheep, two doves, a shark and a splayed cow in formaldehyde. The Mugrabis offered $35m for the artist’s diamond skull, “For the Love of God”, but failed to secure the work that was marketed at $100m and has never sold. “The Mugrabis rarely buy directly from me,” says Mr Hirst. “We can never work out a deal because they want such fierce prices.”
The Mugrabis liken the tumble in Mr Hirst’s secondary prices to Andy Warhol’s in the early 1990s. “In the long term, the market will be more than fine. I couldn’t be more optimistic,” says Mr Mugrabi. Yet they have not invested in Mr Hirst’s latest line of Francis Bacon-inspired skull paintings, saying that they are “not visually continuous with the old work, which we find more beautiful and relevant.” Unlike most of the work, which is made by teams of other people, the artist actually paints these himself. Most of the reviews have been ruthless: “The Worst of Hirst” and “Hirst, Renaissance man, obviously not”.
Americans who did not make purchases at the “Beautiful” sale have recently shown more confidence, buying from Gagosian Gallery’s “End of an Era” show in New York earlier this year. The Broad Art Foundation acquired “Judgement Day”, a giant gold-plated cabinet containing lab diamonds. Millicent Wilner, a Gagosian director, affirms that all 15 new works in the exhibition sold for a total of over $30m.
At the Hong Kong art fair in May a special Hirst stand by his British dealer, White Cube Gallery, was swarming with young people having their photo taken in front of the works. Daniela Gareh, White Cube’s sales director, confirms that it sold to first-time Hirst buyers from Korea, Taiwan and mainland China. “The Chinese respond to branding and Damien is a master brander,” she says. Other Criteria, Mr Hirst’s print business, also did a solid trade at the fair. Photos of Mr Hirst’s most expensive unsold work went like hot cakes. The most popular item was a foot-high image of the artist’s diamond skull, an edition of 1,000, priced at £950.
In 2008 and 2009, Mr Hirst repeatedly made statements like “The first time you sell something is when it should cost the most” and “I’ve definitely had the goal to make the primary market more expensive.” The artist was frustrated by the speculators who were buying from his galleries then quickly reselling his work at auction. Moreover, the acquisition of a package of 12 of his own works from Charles Saatchi for £6m in 2003, far more than what Mr Saatchi had originally paid, may have led to an Oedipal determination to overthrow all the high-rolling dealers and collectors who thought they might lord it over the little artist.
The goal of making the primary works more expensive may benefit Mr Hirst’s personal income in the short-term, but it makes no sense from the perspective of his market. Part of the reason that art costs more than wallpaper is the expectation that it might appreciate in value. Flooding the market with new work is like debasing the coinage, a strategy used from Nero to the Weimar Republic with disastrous consequences. If Mr Hirst were managing a quoted company, he would be unable to enrich himself at the expense of his investors in quite the same way. But Mr Hirst is an artist and, in Western countries, artists are valued as rule-breaking rogues.
Two developments could help Mr Hirst’s secondary market. He has started compiling his catalogue raisonné, a complete list of all the works he has made, which will comfort those who suspect he has made hundreds more spot and spin paintings than he admits to. According to Francis Outred, Christie’s European head of contemporary art, “As with Warhol, this could bring reassuring clarity to the question of volume within each series.” Mr Hirst is also discussing with the Tate a retrospective show to coincide with the Olympic games in London in 2012.
Hirst sceptics point out that the only museum to hold a career survey of Mr Hirst’s work was in Naples, Italy, in 2004. From October 28th a private New York gallery, L&M Arts, will show 18 of his earliest medicine cabinets. The changing shape and contents of these pieces are the most intriguing evolutionary thread in Mr Hirst’s work. Indeed, they foreshadow the artist’s drive to assemble objects into auction spectaculars.
Where will the Hirst market go from here? The ball is still in Mr Hirst’s court. “Beautiful Inside My Head Forever” may have been an historic moment in artist empowerment, but such performances risk destroying the delicate ecology of living artists’ markets. Mr Hirst should repair his relationship with his collectors and concentrate on his retrospective. Another “Beautiful” sale could be ugly.

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The importance of David Bowie

By Paul Morley FT.com
Published: September 3 2010 21:59 | Last updated: September 3 2010 21:59

David Bowie on stage in Rotterdam in 1976
David Bowie on stage in Rotterdam in 1976, the year he made ‘Station to Station’

How much do you like David Bowie? You will have to like him a lot to want to spend more than £80 on a deluxe box set edition of his 10th studio album Station to Station (1976), an ostentatious souvenir collection of memorabilia, outtakes, live concerts, photography, essays, remastered versions, exclusive mixes and heavyweight vinyl inspired by the mere six tracks that made up the original record.
It is a mesmerising album, one of Bowie’s best, which is saying something, as he made many, most of them during the 1970s, that were sold as entertainment but contained the moving detail and mysterious, transformative depth of art.
It may well be one of rock’s very greatest, as a comment both on where the smart, neurotic artist who made it was, psychologically, creatively and commercially, but also where rock music itself was, on its compelling journey from Sinatra, Presley and the Beatles to Prince, Jay-Z and Gaga, from the Velvet Underground, the Kinks and Kraftwerk to Madonna, Nirvana and Nine Inch Nails. It is one of those Bowie albums, like Hunky Dory (1971), or Ziggy Stardust (1972), or Low (1977), or Lodger (1979), that are at times my favourite of his, because they demonstrate with such elan what a sparkling, mischievous mind he had, and what ambition, and what a stupendous ego, and how dangerously charming he was.
His impact as a musician, as a brand, as a sign of the times, has been as great as Dylan and the Beatles, his influence as an otherworldly pop star actually greater, and if you just want one example of what he got up to as this erudite pop combination of shaman, singer, thinker and shameless self-promoter, then Station to Station is as good a place as any. But is all of that worth £80? And does wrapping it up inside such technological and geeky paraphernalia clarify its position as a musical masterpiece, or turn it into a banal collector’s item, a nicely designed object of desire for committed Bowie fetishists and connoisseurs?
There’s no obvious anniversary marking the release of the deluxe edition. It’s a non-special 34 years since Station to Station was produced, coming between the Americanised soul-funk slickness of his Young Americans (1975) album and the radiant, challenging Euro-bleakness of Low. He was working on Nic Roeg’s dark film fable The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976). Peter O’Toole was not available to play Thomas Jerome Newton, an exiled visitor from outer space, a role that seemed perfect for the lost, distracted, preternaturally bright Bowie. Station to Station was a soundtrack that never was to the film as Bowie was strangely not asked to compose the movie’s music. Roeg just wanted the cracked, emaciated Bowie that was falling apart in real life, the wired, burnt-out pop star playing the baffled but brilliant spaceman from the future, part new-born innocent, part ancient guru.
Playing an alien, and having lost sight of his real self after years of relentless shapeshifting, Bowie constructed a new character, the Thin White Duke. Inside six years, since 1970, he’d been a psychedelic music hall singer channelling Syd Barrett and Anthony Newley, a whimsical novelty specialist, surreal folkie, risqué glam rock starman, cosmic wizard, apocalyptic androgynous Diamond Dog and blanked-out white soul man flirting with superstardom. Now, he would play a transparently autobiographical, ghostly, narcissistic, cocaine obsessed, existential adventurer, anxiously yearning for deeper meaning in a superficial, chilling world.
Bowie would kill off the damaged, demented Thin White Duke a little quicker than he killed off Ziggy Stardust, just in case the Duke took over like Ziggy appeared to. The soundtrack to this character showed Bowie withdrawing from his fascination with the expressive, penetrating showmanship of American soul and turning to more enigmatic and forward looking European music. Young Americans, containing hits such as “Fame” and an appearance by John Lennon, was the calculatedly commercial Bowie response to achieving the American fame he had set his heart on. He was becoming so successful he was peering into some form of the middle of the road, a fixed place Bowie wasn’t quite ready for.
Station to Station – feeling hunted, he was moving from place to place, character to character, fixation to fixation, charade to charade – was where he faced his demons, and made a kind of baroque soul music where it is not quite clear if there is soul involved. It retains the iced funk and post disco groove of Young Americans, alongside decaying traces of the kinky folk, metal, glam, and cabaret melodrama he’d passed through in the early 1970s. But it was already anticipating his less obviously commercial next destination, abstract and minimalist European electronic music. Station to Station contains echoes of everything Bowie had done, or was about to do. Previous characters re-dream themselves. It becomes the link, the tunnel, through which Bowie crawled – spent, emptied out – from fraying pop star decadence to the three classic made in Berlin albums he released next. On Low, Heroes (1977) and Lodger, Bowie and close collaborators Brian Eno and Tony Visconti created a stark, pulsating post-pop soundtrack to personal and historical tensions where Bowie broke out into the wider spaces of the universe. On this trilogy, Bowie refrained from entering the worlds himself, and losing himself in all the offbeat theatre. Station to Station was where he recovered himself, or at least enough of himself that he could continue his search for new extremes, and new experiences, and the kind of unusual, unforced new pop music he craved, music that produced worlds all of his own.
. . .
Depending on your age, you might already have bought a few versions of Station to Station. First of all, pretty much on the day it came out, the original RCA vinyl disc, released when the deliciously unstable Bowie dominated the pop planet in a way that makes Gaga, Beyoncé, Florence and co seem a little lightweight. Then, a few years later, the CD version, and then perhaps, depending how much you loved Bowie, a remastered CD version, even a Japanese import. Or two.

Album cover of David Bowie's 'Station to Station'
The original 1976 cover

Digging through my record cupboard, preparing the space for the big box of Station to Station, I find I have the vinyl version, with original black and white cover, and the bright orange RCA label that induces Proustian pangs of feeling for those days when a male teenager could fall in love with Bowie because he seemed so alive, and so scandalously full of himself. I’ve also got a CD version bought at full price, and then one bought for less than a fiver when I thought I’d lost the first one. The music business survived well into the 1990s following a policy of blind greed persuading people to buy albums they already owned all over again on CD. Now, perhaps at the end of its tether, devastated by the arrival of such alternative music sources as iTunes, the music industry is hoping to persuade people to buy once more in a gorgeous new format the same thing yet again, still relying on its back catalogues for sustenance. Or, depending on your point of view, ensuring that in a world where music can be so easily distributed through the air, the album can still exist in tempting solid form, as a tangible thing, something that you can hold, not merely store, and place in a sterile list of your favourite music.
The vinyl version is something that I have clearly held a lot, and loved, and still love, prized like a hardback first edition, now looking strangely oversized and florid in a world where even the miniaturised CD has been replaced by essentially the featureless, soulless, click-click nothing of the download. The CD versions look less powerful, more paperback, and more clinical.
Somehow, an old collection of music that could recently be bought for a few pounds, on the verge of being something you could get on tap, is now on sale, admittedly smartly done up, for almost £90. This is a lavish way of pointing out that a big part of the appeal of a pop record in the last few years of the vinyl era was the combination of the music and the art, the image, the design – the overall story, a constantly developing context – that went with it.
It calls into question just what is going to happen to all those albums that have been made and that artistically deserve to endure now that the era of this kind of vinyl-shaped album is more or less over. What was an album, what is Station to Station, how will we remember it? As a complete, significant work, as a series of loosely connected songs that will just randomly flow off into space and time, separated from each other, available on demand until they just fade away into silence, or some kind of work of art that needs to be celebrated and dissected in this way?
It seems right that David Bowie is at the forefront of such consideration of how vinyl era music – songs and stardom that existed because of the nature of the 45rpm single and the 33⅓ album – will survive this new period in music. He may not have been especially active for the past 20 years or so but he’s never stopped thinking, and plotting, and fastidiously nurturing his image.
After making his extraordinary albums in the 1970s, and inevitably running out of energy in the 1980s, he then settled down into his reputation, his history, with a knowing, Dylan-like acceptance, and an occasional Dylan-like reminder of his unique powers. He wasn’t as aloof and inscrutable as Dylan, but had his own ways of protecting, and projecting, his mystique. In Bowie’s case, this meant not just an occasional good new album, or a memorable tour. It also meant a strategic understanding of how entertainment itself was changing because of the technological progression that meant there would be more and more music, less and less originality, and newer ways of receiving and playing that music. He ended his formal alliances with record labels at the beginning of the century, set himself up as web location, turned himself into a sort of bank, and in 1997 sold his future royalties to the Prudential Insurance Company as Bowie Bonds, leading some wags to suggest he invented derivatives and was directly responsible for the latest recession. A confirmed futurist, he anticipated a breakdown in music industry and media certainties, and prepared himself for the science fiction future he always craved. A future where his 20th-century music could still exist, and still sound contemporary.
Albums such as Station to Station are from the past. Boxing them up in expensive deluxe editions is essentially a commercially based nostalgic act, extending their life as product, to some extent one last mad music industry fling. But the music itself, six songs, expertly weaving their enchanting phantom spell, from the opening title track, an extended montage of despair and determination, lunacy and sorrow, to the final track, a precious, caressing version of “Wild is the Wind” first sung in 1957 by Johnny Mathis, where Bowie appears to repair his self-control, via the tricky, nervily jaunty big hit “Golden Years”, is thus given yet another lease of life. The music is strong and intriguing enough to resist the vulgarisation of being repackaged and resold one more time. Somehow, the ornate deluxe edition of Station to Station says: the album is dead, long live the album.
…………………………………………..
From Ziggy Stardust to SpongeBob SquarePants
1947 David Robert Jones born January 8 in Brixton, south London. Shares same birthday as Elvis Presley.
1953 Family moves to Kent. Attends Bromley Technical High School where Peter Frampton, later a rock guitarist, is a friend.
1961 Fight with friend leaves one pupil severely dilated, causing illusion his eyes are different colours.
1963 Leaves school with art O-level. Becomes junior paste-up artist at ad agency.
1964 First release, under the name of Davie Jones, is “Liza Jane/Louie Louie Go Home”. Interviewed on TV as founder of Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Long-haired Men, he complains, “It’s not nice when people call you darling and that.”
1966 Changes name to Bowie to avoid clash with Davy Jones of the Monkees.
1967First solo album, David Bowie, an odd, jolly mix of pop and psychedelia.
1969 “Space Oddity”, song set in outer space, released to coincide with moon landing
1970 Marries Mary Angela (Angie) Barnett for whom the Rolling Stones song “Angie” was written. Begins unequalled run of 11 studio albums from Man Who Sold The World (1970) to Scary Monsters (1980).
1972 First appearance of glam group Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars. Produces Lou Reed’s Transformer.
1973 Breaks up Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars.
1975 Re-release of “Space Oddity” is first UK number one.
1977 Bing Crosby records “The Little Drummer Boy”, with Bowie, a month before crooner’s death. Appears on old friend Marc Bolan’s ITV music show, duetting on “Heroes”. Bolan dies in car crash two days later.
1980 “Ashes to Ashes” is second UK number one.
1981 “Under Pressure”, with Queen, is third number one.

David Bowie in 'The Man Who Fell To Earth'
In ‘The Man Who Fell To Earth’ (1976)

1983 Releases Let’s Dance, produced by Nile Rodgers; title track fourth number one
1985 Having won praise as actor in films The Man Who Fell To Earth (1976), The Hunger (1983), Merry Christmas, Mr Lawrence (1983) and on Broadway in The Elephant Man in 1980, turns down role in Bond film A View to a Kill. Duet with Mick Jagger on “Dancing in the Streets” leads to fifth number one.
1989 Forms Tin Machine. Critics sneer, live album does not chart.
1992 Marries Iman Abdul Majid in Switzerland.
1996 Plays Andy Warhol in Julian Schnabel’s Basquiat.
1997 Releases internet-only single “Telling Lies”. Predicts time when music will be freely available at click of a switch. Sells back catalogue for $55m, creating Bowie Bonds, planning to pay back money from future royalties.
2003 Declines knighthood.
2004 Suffers heart attack, undergoes triple bypass.
2006 Receives lifetime award at Grammys.
2007 Voices Lord Royal Highness on TV cartoon SpongeBob SquarePants.
2010 Lady Gaga says Bowie is her biggest influence and she wants to work with him

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Behold brilliant Beirut

By Tyler Brûlé
Published: August 14 2010 00:47 | Last updated: August 14 2010 00:47
The last week has been something of a hot, hazy blur. When I landed in Beirut on Wednesday, the air over the city was so thick and heavy that it felt as if I were being pushed downwards through the soft, mushy pavement. Still, a super-humid evening didn’t stop us (me, Mom, Mats, my magazine colleagues Todd, Bruce and new friend Moritz) from co-hosting a party at Papercup in Mar Mikhael, commandeering a wonderful new Armenian restaurant a few streets away and then enjoying the crowd, fire-show, sounds, sparklers and impossibly large bottles of vodka at Skybar above Beirut’s harbour.
While the quick stop in Lebanon was mostly work, it also marked the official handover of the flat I fell for back in May. If you caught the dispatch from my trip in early June, you’ll recall that I found two flats in the Ashrafieh district but hadn’t managed to secure the one I wanted before I departed.
Fortunately, I now have the keys to the better of the two and have set to work scouring the city’s market, galleries, antique dealers and rubbish heaps for choice pieces to populate the terrace, reception rooms and hotel-size kitchen. My friend Kamal bundled me into his car before I left to select the essentials for the kitchen, and assured me that anything I couldn’t find in the country could be easily made. “Whatever you want,” he said. “Furniture for the terrace, deep sofas for lounging, bed-linen, lamps, storage units. We still know how to make things here.”
Aside from Lebanon’s winning sense of hospitality and an anything-goes lifestyle (elements that should be at the cornerstone of its tourism campaign), it’s the rich culture of craft that makes it a potentially interesting case-study for a country at the cross-roads of Europe and Asia.
A lack of investment in basic infrastructure over the past three decades has turned into a bonus for everyone from book publishers to furniture designers. A young woman who has a stationery business is able to print and hone her craft in the suburbs of Beirut on machines that were long ago replaced by digital equipment in more developed economies. The final product is luxurious and wonderfully tactile – and also incredibly rare.
Across town in Hamra, a furniture gallery that deals in pieces from Jean Royère has started adapting the designs of the respected French furniture designer from the 1950s and launched a local production facility. Boomerang-style tables that have been altered for 21st-century living are covered in plastic laminates that would have been consigned to the bin decades ago but are still found in warehouses around the country. Indeed, small-scale Lebanese furniture manufacturers are now winning jobs that might have otherwise gone to factories in China.
If Turkey is focused on going for volume when it comes to manufacturing clothes, furniture and houseware, then “Made in Lebanon” could become a mark of quality for ceramics, tailored garments, printing, food, even footwear. Lina Audi’s Liwan brand, L’Artisan du Liban, Orient 499, the couture of Rabih Kayrouz, the rustic leather goods of Johnny Farah, Rouba Mourtada’s stationery and Karim Bekdaches’ storage systems are all examples of businesses that combine Lebanese design talent with homegrown manufacturing.
The country has plenty to fix, but a focus on encouraging a culture of craft, which not only bolsters the small and medium-sized business sector but also maintains a sustainable base that allows for a differentiated tourism experience, is a good place to start building. It also puts Beirut in a unique position across the whole region (save for Syria perhaps) by offering up products and experiences that are wholly original.
As more restaurants pop up and hotels start to emerge from the ruins of derelict buildings, Lebanon will need to decide what type of tourists it wants to attract and how it will get them there. For the moment, and not through engineering, it’s a premium destination that’s avoided the hen-party and stag-weekend set or package tours in search of cheap buffets.
Two weeks ago, the government announced an expansion plan that will see the airport almost double in size. As there seemed to be some excitement about building an infrastructure to support big A380s, the government and Lebanon Inc would be wise also to ensure that they support their home-grown carrier MEA (Middle East Airlines) – something of a national treasure. One of my most memorable flights was the first time I flew with them in 1991 from Heathrow to Beirut where the service included a Sunday roast trolley – complete with huge carving utensils and chic flight attendants who smoked in the galley. On my MEA flight to Abu Dhabi last Sunday, I was greeted by an elegant woman with a French twist, deep tan and smoky voice who looked like a poster lady for the “golden age of flying” – and she was. All that was missing was the cigarette.
Tyler Brûlé is editor-in-chief of Monocle
More columns at www.ft.com/brule

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April 11, 2010

Artists Embellish Walls With Political Visions

CARACAS, Venezuela — Of all the murals and graffiti that adorn this anarchic city’s trash-strewn center, one creation by the street artist Carlos Zerpa fills him with special pride: a stenciled reinterpretation of Caravaggio’s “David with the Head of Goliath,” in which a warrior grasps the severed head of Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.
Mr. Zerpa, 26, a slightly built painter sporting a few days of stubble, shrugged at the possibility that American visitors to Caracas — or Mrs. Clinton for that matter — might find the mural offensive. “It’s a metaphor for an empire that is being defeated,” he said nonchalantly in an interview. “My critics can take it or leave it, but I remain loyal to my ideas.”
So does the government, which supports Mr. Zerpa’s creations and the work of many other street artists, and is increasingly making them a central element of its promotion of a state ideology. Government-financed brigades of graffiti artists and muralists are blanketing this city’s walls with politicized images, ranging from crude, graffiti-tagged slogans to bold, colorful works of graphic art.
The more overtly political images tend to glamorize President Hugo Chávez’s Bolivarian revolution, and his demonization of Washington is a favorite subject.
One stencil painting near the Plaza Bolívar in the old center depicts a smiling President Obama in a Santa Claus outfit distributing missiles labeled with the words Afghanistan and Iraq. Another painting lambastes the government of Colombia, Washington’s top ally in the region, by showing a knife thrust into a map of Colombia by a cherubic right-wing Colombian politician.
Some of these images were painted near billboards advertising American products like Heinz ketchup or Pepsi (the United States remains Venezuela’s top trading partner). The billboards themselves stand above traffic-snarled streets that go almost completely dark at night because of electricity shortages.
Once darkness falls, soaring numbers of murders and kidnappings make many districts a no man’s land. Not even once-esteemed public works of art are safe, with aerosol-equipped taggers carrying out a visual assault on sculptures by renowned artists like Gego and Jesús Soto.
Street artists here, who largely differentiate themselves from the city’s hordes of graffiti taggers, say the slow-burning chaos that increasingly characterizes Caracas makes it an ideal place for them to ply their trade.
“There’s a great deal of freedom here to do what we want,” said Yaneth Rivas, 27, a member of the same street-art brigade as Mr. Zerpa, called the Communications Liberation Army. Her work, mainly posters placed at bus stops, is more nuanced than Mr. Zerpa’s. She explores, for instance, the polarization of Venezuelan society in one image showing two policemen from different districts of Caracas pointing guns at each other.
Their groups, together with other street-art brigades, were created over the past year or so by the Ministry of Communes. Some groups remain part of the ministry, like Guerrilla Communications, which offers graffiti and stencil workshops around the city.
Others, like Communications Liberation Army, operate somewhat autonomously but still get material like spray paint from the government.
“These groups share the objective of reclaiming public space and turning it into a kind of street periodical that can be constantly renewed and painted over to get their message out,” said Sujatha Fernandes, a sociologist at Queens College in New York who has written a book on urban social movements in Venezuela.
Not everyone putting up images on walls here draws support from the government. Saúl Guerrero, a stencil painter who ranks among the city’s most prolific street artists, has painted dozens of melancholic portraits of people around the eastern districts of Caracas, signing them with the nom-de-plume “Ergo.”
Mr. Guerrero, 29, an anthropologist and aid worker who spends part of the year in Africa, opted to forego sharp political statements for simple portraits, often of young Africans or of worn-out faces that reflect a life of destitution. He painted dozens of them on walls and telephone boxes in Chacao, a relatively prosperous municipality here.
“I wanted to get away from the European-looking faces that dominate advertising in Venezuela in an attempt to trigger people into thinking about the reality of the place we live,” Mr. Guerrero said.
But his work, which does not toe the party line, has provoked a backlash among some supporters of Mr. Chávez.
After his full name appeared in a Caracas culture magazine, some progovernment graffiti taggers identified Mr. Guerrero as Jewish (mistakenly, it turned out) and began directing anti-Semitic slurs against him in online forums.
Some scribbled swastikas on his street paintings, reviving concerns of anti-Semitism here. Last year, after a Sephardic synagogue was desecrated by vandals, senior officials insinuated that Jews were responsible. Officials later arrested 11 people, including seven police officers, in connection with the episode.
Mr. Guerrero said the defilement of his work was unfortunate, especially since it stemmed from polarization that he was hoping to assuage. But he also said he expected others to paint over work he viewed as ephemeral.
“I would have preferred for someone to have colored parts of my work, making it 300 times better, but that doesn’t always happen,” he said.
Other street artists here said that they also expected their work to disappear into the chaos of Caracas.
Ms. Rivas, for instance, reacted almost with indifference when she learned that someone had recently pasted campaign posters on top of a multicolored poster at a bus stop that had taken her weeks to design and commented on the ideological tug-of-war on Venezuelan television.
“We’re not looking for immortality with our work,” she said. “Our gallery is the street, and that means we have to hope our images spur passers-by to think a little before they disappear.”


November 24, 2008 
For Luxury Brands, Less Money to Spend on Ads

Gold was raining from above for luxury brands in the good old days of 2007.

Last December, the designer Marc Jacobs held his annual holiday party for 800 guests, including revelers from Vogue, W, and Harper’s Bazaar, in the Rainbow Room at Rockefeller Center. With the theme of Arabian Nights, Mr. Jacobs had arranged for tableaux vivants, contortionists, five open bars, bare-chested women bedecked in gold necklaces, bare-chested men balancing candelabras on their heads and, at one point, a shower of gold glitter poured over the guests.

Mr. Jacobs has held the party for each of the last 18 years, but on Nov. 4, a short e-mail message was sent out by his business partner, Robert Duffy: “Due to the financial climate, I had to make the decision to cancel the 2008 holiday party.”

After getting through most of this year unscathed, luxury brands are suffering. Rich consumers who were relatively insulated from the economic downturn continued spending, but that has changed in the last few months. While luxury spending began to fall slightly from June, in October alone, it dropped 20.1 percent, according toMasterCard SpendingPulse, which estimates consumer spending in the retail and service sectors.

That drop-off means more bad news for magazines and newspapers in the United States that had grown increasingly dependent on luxury advertising.

Ad pages at the top luxury magazines fell 22 percent year over year for the December issues, according to Media Industry Newsletter. Vogue, for example, dropped from 284 pages last December, to 221 pages this December, while Food & Wine went from 160 pages to 126, according to the newsletter.

That has meant cutbacks at publishers. In October, Condé Nast announced it would reduce Men’s Vogue from 10 issues a year to two, reduce the number of issues of Condé Nast Portfolio and cut magazine budgets by 5 percent. Niche Media, which publishes Gotham and Hamptons, laid off some employees and closed a shelter magazine. American Express Publishing, which owns Departures, Travel & Leisure and Food & Wine, is laying off 4 percent of its staff.

“It’s definitely an environment that most have never seen,” said Ed Ventimiglia, the publisher of Departures. “Everyone is very concerned and somewhat confused as to what they should do.”

High-end advertising was one of the few strong advertising categories earlier in the year. Luxury ad spending in categories measured by Nielsen Monitor-Plus actually rose 6.7 percent through August of this year over last year, even as almost all other areas slashed their spending.

Publishers did not miss that trend. In September, Dow Jones & Company introduced WSJ., a glossy magazine, to attract luxury advertisers, and The Washington Post introduced FW, a fashion magazine. The New York Times Company has said its style magazines are big revenue sources for the company, and magazine publishers like Hearst, Condé Nast and Niche Media have also bet that high-end consumption and advertisements would continue.

For now, publishers are trying to persuade brands to maintain their ad commitments. More than half of affluent consumers have cut their spending on luxury products compared with a year ago, according to a study by Unity Marketing, a market-research firm. Those consumers’ confidence in the economy is the lowest it has been in five years.

“The stereotype in our sector is the high-end luxury brands are Teflon to a recession, which, of course, is nonsense,” said Alexander Duckworth, the founder of Point One Percent, a New York City company that advises luxury brands on marketing. “Much more so than in a traditional recession, this has really hit quite hard at the top, and quite quickly at the top.”

“We’re just seeing the very beginning of this,” Mr. Duckworth said.

Ronald Jackson, the chief executive of Tradema of America, which markets and distributes Girard-Perregaux watches in the United States, said he was reducing his advertising budget in the United States by about 20 percent for the first quarter.

“We have retailers that are saying, ‘You know what? We have this on order, but we need you to not ship it until things get better,’ ” Mr. Jackson said. “We have to react in some way.”

Graff Diamonds, the London-based retailer, is also cutting its budget. “We’re definitely not taking on any new advertising, and we’re cutting back on all our current advertising,” a Graff spokeswoman said. She declined to specify a figure, but said the cuts were higher in the United States than in Britain.

Brioni, the Italian fashion line, will cut its advertising by 10 to 15 percent in United States publications, said Antonella De Simone, the co-chief executive.

Other high-end projects, and the advertising that would accompany them, are being delayed or canceled. General Motors is postponing the introduction of the Buick LaCrosse until January, Ford is holding off redesigning its Volvo S60 sedan and XC90 sports-utility vehicle, and Chrysler has stopped production on its Aspen hybrid sports-utility vehicle. Orient-Express Hotels canceled new buildings in Miami; Cartagena, Colombia; Zambia; and Puglia, Italy. Donald Trump is postponing a $300 million development in Philadelphia, and the Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company has halted projects in Florida, Vancouver and California.

Facing a steeper decline, publishers are feeling very vulnerable.

“What the first salvo seems to be, going into 2009, is luxury advertisers — who will go unnamed — are trying to take advantage of the negative news in the market in order to secure a more favorable rate,” said Jim Taylor, the publisher of Town & Country, a Hearst magazine.

“It would be a reasonable argument if our costs weren’t going up dramatically, but we’re affected by the same things they’re affected by,” he said. “Paper’s way up, postal’s way up.”

Mr. Taylor said he was expecting smaller brands, in particular, to reduce the number of ads they would run in his magazine.

At Condé Nast Traveler, advertisers are being slow to commit, and financial services and real estate ads are plummeting, the publisher, Lisa Hughes, said.

Michael Rooney, the chief revenue officer of Dow Jones & Company, the News Corporation division that publishes the Wall Street Journal and WSJ., said luxury advertising in the newspaper was about flat. There were 51 advertisers in the premiere issue of WSJ., he said, and 52 so far in the second issue, which comes out in December.

Luxury advertising in The New York Times has been “very stable” this year, said Denise Warren, senior vice president and chief advertising officer at The New York Times Media Group. She said the holiday issue of the fashion publication T Magazine was up by one page of advertising compared with last year. Still, she said, “there is absolutely nervousness in the marketplace.”

And Mr. Ventimiglia of Departures said the January issue was down in ad pages.

“A page here and a page there add up,” Mr. Ventimiglia said, “even though many lost pages are a result of delayed budgets, and we’re taking a hit.”

Though luxury brands are reducing advertising, many continue — quietly — to spend on client dinners and launch parties, which they view as directly affecting sales. But the events may not erase economic concerns.

In October, the Swiss watch brand Vacheron Constantin hosted a party to promote a new line of watches, some costing as much as $60,000. Inside the event, it seemed like precrisis times: waiters passed trays of lobster wrapped in zucchini and beef en croûte, and filled glasses with Moët & Chandon champagne.

“As of today I think it would be wrong to stop everything because of the crisis,” said Julien Tornare, the president of Vacheron Constantin North America, in an interview. “Of course we will adjust if we have to in the future, but right now we don’t want to react.”

Two men in suits, sipping drinks, walked past one of the watches, mounted on a pedestal like a museum piece.

“You see the watch?” one asked.

“Nice little watch,” the other replied.

“Yeah, it is,” the first one said.

But they kept walking.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: November 26, 2008 
Because of an editing error, an article on Monday about advertising cutbacks by luxury brands misidentified the site of an Orient-Express Hotels project that has been canceled. It is Cartagena, Colombia, not Cartagena, Spain.


November 24, 2008 
For Luxury Brands, Less Money to Spend on Ads

Gold was raining from above for luxury brands in the good old days of 2007.

Last December, the designer Marc Jacobs held his annual holiday party for 800 guests, including revelers from Vogue, W, and Harper’s Bazaar, in the Rainbow Room at Rockefeller Center. With the theme of Arabian Nights, Mr. Jacobs had arranged for tableaux vivants, contortionists, five open bars, bare-chested women bedecked in gold necklaces, bare-chested men balancing candelabras on their heads and, at one point, a shower of gold glitter poured over the guests.

Mr. Jacobs has held the party for each of the last 18 years, but on Nov. 4, a short e-mail message was sent out by his business partner, Robert Duffy: “Due to the financial climate, I had to make the decision to cancel the 2008 holiday party.”

After getting through most of this year unscathed, luxury brands are suffering. Rich consumers who were relatively insulated from the economic downturn continued spending, but that has changed in the last few months. While luxury spending began to fall slightly from June, in October alone, it dropped 20.1 percent, according toMasterCard SpendingPulse, which estimates consumer spending in the retail and service sectors.

That drop-off means more bad news for magazines and newspapers in the United States that had grown increasingly dependent on luxury advertising.

Ad pages at the top luxury magazines fell 22 percent year over year for the December issues, according to Media Industry Newsletter. Vogue, for example, dropped from 284 pages last December, to 221 pages this December, while Food & Wine went from 160 pages to 126, according to the newsletter.

That has meant cutbacks at publishers. In October, Condé Nast announced it would reduce Men’s Vogue from 10 issues a year to two, reduce the number of issues of Condé Nast Portfolio and cut magazine budgets by 5 percent. Niche Media, which publishes Gotham and Hamptons, laid off some employees and closed a shelter magazine. American Express Publishing, which owns Departures, Travel & Leisure and Food & Wine, is laying off 4 percent of its staff.

“It’s definitely an environment that most have never seen,” said Ed Ventimiglia, the publisher of Departures. “Everyone is very concerned and somewhat confused as to what they should do.”

High-end advertising was one of the few strong advertising categories earlier in the year. Luxury ad spending in categories measured by Nielsen Monitor-Plus actually rose 6.7 percent through August of this year over last year, even as almost all other areas slashed their spending.

Publishers did not miss that trend. In September, Dow Jones & Company introduced WSJ., a glossy magazine, to attract luxury advertisers, and The Washington Post introduced FW, a fashion magazine. The New York Times Company has said its style magazines are big revenue sources for the company, and magazine publishers like Hearst, Condé Nast and Niche Media have also bet that high-end consumption and advertisements would continue.

For now, publishers are trying to persuade brands to maintain their ad commitments. More than half of affluent consumers have cut their spending on luxury products compared with a year ago, according to a study by Unity Marketing, a market-research firm. Those consumers’ confidence in the economy is the lowest it has been in five years.

“The stereotype in our sector is the high-end luxury brands are Teflon to a recession, which, of course, is nonsense,” said Alexander Duckworth, the founder of Point One Percent, a New York City company that advises luxury brands on marketing. “Much more so than in a traditional recession, this has really hit quite hard at the top, and quite quickly at the top.”

“We’re just seeing the very beginning of this,” Mr. Duckworth said.

Ronald Jackson, the chief executive of Tradema of America, which markets and distributes Girard-Perregaux watches in the United States, said he was reducing his advertising budget in the United States by about 20 percent for the first quarter.

“We have retailers that are saying, ‘You know what? We have this on order, but we need you to not ship it until things get better,’ ” Mr. Jackson said. “We have to react in some way.”

Graff Diamonds, the London-based retailer, is also cutting its budget. “We’re definitely not taking on any new advertising, and we’re cutting back on all our current advertising,” a Graff spokeswoman said. She declined to specify a figure, but said the cuts were higher in the United States than in Britain.

Brioni, the Italian fashion line, will cut its advertising by 10 to 15 percent in United States publications, said Antonella De Simone, the co-chief executive.

Other high-end projects, and the advertising that would accompany them, are being delayed or canceled. General Motors is postponing the introduction of the Buick LaCrosse until January, Ford is holding off redesigning its Volvo S60 sedan and XC90 sports-utility vehicle, and Chrysler has stopped production on its Aspen hybrid sports-utility vehicle. Orient-Express Hotels canceled new buildings in Miami; Cartagena, Colombia; Zambia; and Puglia, Italy. Donald Trump is postponing a $300 million development in Philadelphia, and the Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company has halted projects in Florida, Vancouver and California.

Facing a steeper decline, publishers are feeling very vulnerable.

“What the first salvo seems to be, going into 2009, is luxury advertisers — who will go unnamed — are trying to take advantage of the negative news in the market in order to secure a more favorable rate,” said Jim Taylor, the publisher of Town & Country, a Hearst magazine.

“It would be a reasonable argument if our costs weren’t going up dramatically, but we’re affected by the same things they’re affected by,” he said. “Paper’s way up, postal’s way up.”

Mr. Taylor said he was expecting smaller brands, in particular, to reduce the number of ads they would run in his magazine.

At Condé Nast Traveler, advertisers are being slow to commit, and financial services and real estate ads are plummeting, the publisher, Lisa Hughes, said.

Michael Rooney, the chief revenue officer of Dow Jones & Company, the News Corporation division that publishes the Wall Street Journal and WSJ., said luxury advertising in the newspaper was about flat. There were 51 advertisers in the premiere issue of WSJ., he said, and 52 so far in the second issue, which comes out in December.

Luxury advertising in The New York Times has been “very stable” this year, said Denise Warren, senior vice president and chief advertising officer at The New York Times Media Group. She said the holiday issue of the fashion publication T Magazine was up by one page of advertising compared with last year. Still, she said, “there is absolutely nervousness in the marketplace.”

And Mr. Ventimiglia of Departures said the January issue was down in ad pages.

“A page here and a page there add up,” Mr. Ventimiglia said, “even though many lost pages are a result of delayed budgets, and we’re taking a hit.”

Though luxury brands are reducing advertising, many continue — quietly — to spend on client dinners and launch parties, which they view as directly affecting sales. But the events may not erase economic concerns.

In October, the Swiss watch brand Vacheron Constantin hosted a party to promote a new line of watches, some costing as much as $60,000. Inside the event, it seemed like precrisis times: waiters passed trays of lobster wrapped in zucchini and beef en croûte, and filled glasses with Moët & Chandon champagne.

“As of today I think it would be wrong to stop everything because of the crisis,” said Julien Tornare, the president of Vacheron Constantin North America, in an interview. “Of course we will adjust if we have to in the future, but right now we don’t want to react.”

Two men in suits, sipping drinks, walked past one of the watches, mounted on a pedestal like a museum piece.

“You see the watch?” one asked.

“Nice little watch,” the other replied.

“Yeah, it is,” the first one said.

But they kept walking.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: November 26, 2008 
Because of an editing error, an article on Monday about advertising cutbacks by luxury brands misidentified the site of an Orient-Express Hotels project that has been canceled. It is Cartagena, Colombia, not Cartagena, Spain.





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