Anna Somers Cocks OBE is an art world force of nature. After a career as a curator, most notably at London’s Victoria & Albert Museum, she went on to become an art journalist and eventually founded The Art Newspaper in 1990. After many years as its leader and editor, she now dedicates her time to writing about and fighting for causes close to her heart, in particular the Venice in Peril Fund.
When do you first remember falling for art?
‘Between the ages of four and nine I lived in Munich and every weekend we would pile into the car and drive to some church or monastery. I used to be carsick every time, but I learnt what the main subjects of religious art were and spontaneously had a go at painting them in my art lessons. It also gave me a lifelong enthusiasm for good Rococo. And then, when I was nine, there was a big exhibition of Chagall in the Haus der Kunst (the place where the Nazis held the Degenerate Art show) and I remember the pictures to this day. People rather look down on Chagall now, but he painted like a child and I responded to that. I have also lived intimately with “Las Meninas” because my grandmother was a very good copyist of Velasquez and her house in Venice was full of “his” paintings.’
How did you go from art lover to founding the English-language version of The Art Newspaper?
‘I was a curator at the Victoria & Albert Museum for 13 years, specialising in liturgical goldsmiths’ work, Renaissance jewels and Kunstkammer pieces. Then I became the editor of Apollo Magazine, but I realised quickly that it had lost its constituency; it was intended for the general reader, but there is no such person anymore. Amateurs no longer have the stamina to read quite long art-historical articles, while the art world had become specialised, with dedicated publications for each area.
One day, a newspaper landed on my desk, the Giornale dell’Arte, which reunited the art world by writing about its news instead of its research or criticism. It covered everything from archaeology to contemporary art, museums and conservation, art market and the latest academic ideas, so long as the events were newsworthy and bang up to date. I thought it was marvellous and I sought out the founder and editor, Umberto Allemandi. That’s how I came to leave Apollo after three years and start The Art Newspaper for him in 1990, on the same principles as the Giornale dell’Arte, but with about 80% different news because it was and is aimed at the English-speaking world. I married him a year later and commuted between London and Turin for the next quarter century.’
How have you seen The Art Newspaper change over the years, and the wider art publishing world?
‘It has become much more focused on the contemporary art world as that is where the noise is coming from and where a great deal of money is being punted. Inevitably, universities are falling into line as students think they are more likely to get a job in the contemporary art world than if they study the Renaissance. It is also because schools have given up teaching history as a continuum, so large areas of art are completely unmapped in people’s minds. Older art history is still being published, mainly by the university presses for academics, but then suddenly a new thread gets discovered by the public, as with Artemisia Gentileschi, who has been adopted with enthusiasm, not because she is a good baroque artist—there are plenty of men as good as she is— but because she has become a feminist heroine. But artists have always gone in and out of fashion in response to the needs of later centuries. Just think of the nineteenth-century cult of the sixteenth-century goldsmith Benvenuto Cellini because they saw him as the heroic, romantic epitome of a virtuoso artist. There’s even an opera about him by Berlioz, but how many people have heard of him today?’
Where do you see art publishing going from here?
‘The sale of print books seems to be holding up; I read novels on my iPhone, but not a serious text. I hope that pointless, promotional monographs about contemporary artists will die out, but I expect I shall be disappointed. Ideas, ideas, ideas are what we want, but where is there a big mind writing about contemporary art? Perhaps it has become too fragmented along with our belief systems. I’m dying for someone to risk saying “This is good and this is not”, as Clement Greenberg used to in the 1960s—and explain why.’
What art do you surround yourself with at home? Do you consider yourself a collector at all?
‘I have three of my grandmother’s Velasquez, of course, and they take up a lot of space, so I can’t hang many of the things I’ve bought, starting with sixteenth-century Netherlandish prints that you could get in job lots at Bonhams in the 1970s. I do live with a very moving print of a poor, pregnant woman by Käthe Kollwitz and a largish wall sculpture of 2013 by Nasser Al Salem, who is a very good Saudi artist. It’s called “Allah will find a way out for whoever believes in Him” and it looks like a maze, but actually it’s made up of very stylised Arabic lettering. It unites the world of faith, which is very strong there, with calligraphy, still the predominant art form in that part of the world, with a conceptual and sculptural awareness of the kind with which we are comfortable. But I like it because the fundamental thought processes and aesthetic that have gone into it are different from those of art in the West.’
Where do you get your art?
‘I buy at occasions, such as the fair in New York’s Armory, where I got the Kollwitz from Jane Kallir, and the Nasser Al Salem, which I bought from Athr Gallery in Jeddah. I saw it when I was on one of my many exploratory trips to the UAE and the Kingdom while planning The Art Newspaper Arabia. It’s the greatest sadness of my professional life that we came within a hair’s breadth of getting it off the ground, not once, but twice, and both times something happened to stop it.’
You've had an incredible insight into the financial side of the art world, what big changes do you see on the horizon?
‘I’m too old to guess on the basis of the art itself; I don’t swim in those waters anymore, just as I can’t tell you who the most famous popular musicians are today, when once I could rattle off their names. So far as economic considerations are concerned, if we get Weimar-style hyper-inflation I imagine that the recent, tedious tendency to bank money in blue-chip art will be reinforced, while all the other artists will have to get second or third jobs.’
Christie's has just announced an NFT sale, do you think crypto is all hype, or something more substantial for the art market?
‘The words alone put you off: can you imagine saying, “Come and see my non-fungible tokens”? I am deeply sceptical, although enthusiasts say that they are no different from putting money into financial markets, but these also become unsound when they are based on fictitious values, as we saw with the subprime mortgage crisis in 2008. A work of art is not in itself worth anything; all its value is attributed and the more consensus there is on its value, the safer it is—but also vice versa.’
How do you see the art world emerging from Covid?
‘The British Parliament and World Health Organisation (WHO) have both published well documented studies recently that prove how making art with an artist can be of great help to people suffering in the mind. I believe and hope that the role of the artist as a potential healer working with communities will grow and be recognised more and more. It’s badly needed because Covid-19 is creating a mirror pandemic of mental distress.
Tate is one of the institutions leading the way with its Tate Exchange, and so is the Healing Arts initiative, which is raising money under the auspices of the WHO for artists’ projects in communities in different parts of the world. I’m trying to help them, so here is my appeal to artists who are already successful: please donate some of your very best works of art to the Healing Arts for Christie’s to sell this year on its behalf
As for the merry-go-round of art fairs that whipped up the art scene, I don’t believe that we shall see anything like it again. They are unnecessarily expensive in terms of money and environmental damage and I really believe that the first encounter with most works can be made online. Then if you want to consummate the purchase, you can go and see it.’
You've been a fierce advocate for various causes over the years, can you tell me about your current passion for Venice?
‘Early impressions are what have formed me. I first went to my grandmother’s house when I was seven and immediately thought Venice was the best place I had ever been. I still think it’s the most beautiful man-made creation in the world, which is why 42 years later I became the chairperson of the Venice in Peril Fund and we worked to understand the science and disastrous politics of the place. We financed a particularly important three-year study of its lagoon with Cambridge University, for example.
But Venice is like the world itself: all the scientific evidence says that it is doomed, but the vital connection to the decision-makers has not been achieved yet. We are like the New Yorker cartoon of a man falling from a skyscraper. As he shoots past the 32nd floor, he’s saying, “So far, so good”.’
Interviewed by: Eddy Frankel
The market for art publications during the pandemic has been slow, interrupted by the lack of book fairs, and probably also by a lack of opportunities for authors. However, as most people now have more time to read, it is worth picking up the new publication by Spanish art historian and curator Paco Barragán, an in-depth exploration of the most important sales platform for art in the contemporary market: the art fair.
Barragán has a longstanding interest in the topic, having already published a book about art fairs in 2008 (‘The Art Fair Age’ (Milan: Edizioni CHARTA)). In 2020, however, his approach has become somewhat more cynical. But that makes reading his texts more entertaining for the reader. Conceived as an ‘essay’, as the author calls it, this volume is mainly available in Europe as an E-Book. It picks up from his earlier research and adds the contemporary, global biennial into a mix of interrogation and critical analysis. Under the extensive and slightly clumsy title ‘From Roman Feria to Global Art Fair, From Grand Tour to Neo-liberal Biennial: On the Fairization of Biennials and the Biennalization of Art Fairs’, the author not only delves into the history of both art fairs and biennials, but more importantly discusses their function and relevance in society today. Naturally, that story is largely a story about Europe: the Biennale in Venice, Documenta in Germany, art fairs in Cologne and Basel, as well as Arco Madrid, for example. Thereby, Barragán repeats the well-established claim that both the art fair and the curatorially framed contemporary biennial are children of a period of globalisation of a contemporary art world which has expanded dramatically in the realm of neoliberal capitalism. And without doubt both blockbuster exhibition formats have – before the current Coronavirus pandemic struck – engaged art afficionados around the world nearly all year round with often equal excitement.
Parts of the book might only be interesting to the historically minded. For those readers, despite the fact that not all the historical threads are woven together entirely convincingly, the book is a treasure trove of learning about the whole history of the art market, including the complexities of art production and art sales in a humorous and sharp-witted way. An added bonus is provided by the entertaining “artoons” created by New York-based Mexican artist Pablo Helguera, which interrupt the flow of text by engaging the eye and allowing reflection on the topics discussed.
The book is divided into two parts; an overview of the art fair followed by a section on the history and presence of the biennial as a new type of blockbuster exhibition. Insightful charts and maps help the reader to memorise some of the material further. While the structure seems at times driven by a personal desire to shed light on specific overlooked fairs and biennials in the Hispanic and Latin world, this is certainly a narrative which has so far been widely overlooked. Broad sweeps through the past might make the academic reader twitch, but a more general audience can learn a lot from this well-researched but lightly presented essay. It does a good job of explaining how, for example, the idea of selling luxury items – including contemporary artworks in a fair context – is not as new as fair organisers often try to convince us, but also that the biennial as a concept is much more closely connected to the art market than some curators might want us to think. What the author had previously coined the ‘biennalization of art fairs’ or ‘the fairization of biennials’ still rings true. Both types of mass events have shaped our experience of culture and, for many people, dictated travel dairies all year round.
The book ends with a discussion of ‘global contemporary art’, the kind that is now being shown across the world in both art fairs and biennales, and asks questions of the reach and aesthetics of the types of art that attract this label. As Barragán admits, criticism of the global fair and the global biennial was becoming louder even before the pandemic of 2020 hit. For various reasons, people had become tired of the never-ending sameness that the English journalist Georgina Adam aptly called fairtigue. The pandemic has only served to sharpen the focus on those existing issues, and while it is too early to tell in which direction the wind will blow, many do predict the arrival of a new local art model, something which could benefit commercial and as non-commercial exhibition showcases alike in ways that might prove to be more meaningful and less frantic than before. But in any case, anybody who wants to use the partial confinement to one’s own four walls to not only dream about future art events but also to understand their mechanisms better would do well to pick up this book – before holding it to account in the real world.
Written by our ARTE Generali author Stephanie Dieckvoss, London
(Miami: Artpulse Editions, February, 2019) (by Paco Barragán, Arteditions: Miami 2020)
Let’s look back before we look forward. The good news after a long year of disruption is that the art market is not dead; and some might say, it has proven to be far more resilient than expected. The quick change to online content production and more importantly its successful and widespread take-up might not meet our desire to experience objects in the flesh, but it has helped artists, galleries, auction houses and collectors to still engage with one of their passions and often livelihoods.
The year ahead looks uncertain, but silver linings are showing on the horizon. Artists are producing works and while exhibitions might be only happening online there is still art out there waiting to be snapped up. Fellow German Londoner Lothar Goetz’s solo exhibition ‘Salvation’ at Domobaal for example comes to life through excellent installation shots. And for anyone wanting to dive into a visual homage to German political philosopher Hannah Arendt, needn’t click further than Richard Saltoun Gallery, with additional talks and video content.
Those who feel the need to have physical events to look forward to might want to pencil in this year’s Art Dubai, currently scheduled to run with 86 galleries from 31 countries from 17 to 20 March 2021. Combining sunshine with new artist led projects and installations in places across the city, sounds indeed like something to dream about. Taking people at least virtually to similarly hot places will be the next edition of the African Contemporary Art Fair 1-54, which is extending its partnership with Christie’s to set up for the first time in Paris. The fair will exhibit 18 galleries at the auction house’s Paris's headquarters at Avenue Matignon (20-23 January 2021). Christie’s is also hosting 1-54 on its website, allowing the fair access to its 300,000 subscribers. Art Basel Hong Kong has announced an optimistic opening date for the fair in May 2021 and with the situation in Asia under more control than in the rest of the world, it might actually go ahead. Most certainly it will not be the global event we got used to but much more a marker for the Asian market which has seen increased growth in 2020.
Sustained Asian interest has also been a major driver for the auction houses ongoing activity especially in regard to both blue-chip and new art, with numerous world records broken. The auction houses have also for some years had ever more success with Surrealist art. Christie’s already announced that it can offer three major works by Max Ernst, René Magritte and Joan Miró for up to 32 Million Pounds in its dedicated sale in March in London. That surrealist art is not only having a commercial comeback is further reiterated by large scale institutional exhibitions such as the solo exhibition of Giorgio de Chirico’s at the Kunsthalle Hamburg under the title “de Chirico – Magical reality” scheduled to open 22 January (until 25 April). The exhibition is supported by Generali Deutschland as main sponsor. Together with a show on “Magritte/Renoir: Surrealism in full sunlight” at the Orangerie in Paris (10 February to 21 June 20201) and a solo exhibition of the female artist Sophie Taeuber-Arp at Tate Modern (15 July to 17 October 2021), there is much to look forward to. The beauty of the auction world is that is has proven to be on one hand so successfully adaptable to online models but moreover that this has benefitted not only the large auction houses but also the more regional auction houses across Europe.
Written by our ARTE Generali author Stephanie Dieckvoss, London
„We are here since the beginning to foster art, help people see art, share art and enjoy art,“ explains ARTE Generali CEO, Jean Gazançon in an optimistic video-update, despite the pandemic. He is joined by Iris Handke (Head of Germany) and Italo Carli (Head of Italy).
ARTE Generali started its operations in Germany during the lockdown, and launched its cutting-edge app last May. Meanwhile, the launch of the business in France and Italy, scheduled in the fourth quarter, was being prepared. According to Jean Gazançon: "We more than survived, we thrived under difficult circumstances".
In the video, Iris Handke emphasizes the uniqueness of what ARTE Generali is now capable of offering: the combination of art expertise and art insurance provided through a digital platform. The COVID-19 pandemic has shifted many aspects of life into the digital sphere. As ARTE Generali has focused on digital offerings and tools from the very beginning, it found itself prepared in the face of such shift.
The ARTE Generali app exemplifies this. Specifically tailored to the art insurance market, this app is a true innovation, created with the special needs of the art industry in mind. Art expertise and art insurance combined in one digital tool.
Another example of the strong focus on digitalization are the „Digital Leaders for Art Awards“, to support galleries, private museums and cultural foundations with their respective artists on their way to digitalization.
ARTE Generali’s team is now looking ahead to the upcoming year, with many exciting projects in the pipeline, including the launch of operations in new markets and the upgrade of the app to provide customers with an even more comprehensive range of services.
Galerie max goelitz, Schläger VR – Galerie TWOART and Office Impart received the 2020 “Digital Leaders in Art Awards”
The 2020 DLAA initiative ended on November 19, 2020, with a virtual Prize Gala organized by ARTE Generali in cooperation with ART COLOGNE. As a result of the online public voting, three German galleries were proclaimed winners and will receive a €15,000 grant each for the implementation of their innovative projects aimed at digitizing the art experience.
Jean Gazançon, CEO of ARTE Generali commented: “I congratulate heartily this year’s Digital Leaders in Art! We conceived DLAA with the aims of supporting small galleries in their journey towards digitization and fulfilling ARTE Generali’s purpose to foster the sharing of art as a value for society. The pandemic made our aims even more urgent and I am extremely pleased with the concrete help we could provide through the first edition of our initiative. The quality and creativity of the entries and the success of the public voting phase are proof of the importance of DLAA. ARTE Generali is already working to expand it to other markets, in addition to Germany, starting from the 2021 edition.”
The Digital Leaders in Art Awards is ARTE Generali’s initiative to recognize innovative projects that use digital tools to foster the sharing of art and creativity in the society. To know more, please go to https://artegenerali.com/news/november-19-2020-arte-generali-presents-2020-digital-leaders-art
Galerie max goelitz (www.maxgoelitz.com) presents the “Digital Expansion” virtual project. This breakthrough project allows visitors to enjoy the exhibition by means of Virtual Reality devices and experience artworks in their individual everyday living environment through Augmented Reality.
Schläger VR – Galerie TWOART proposes a visit to the art space of sound machine artist Christof Schläger (https://christofschlaeger.de/) using Virtual Reality. His art space is a former machine hall where he has lived and worked for the past 30 years and it keeps his sound sculptures and installations.
Office Impart (www.officeimpart.com) presents the virtual exhibition "Come Closer!", which creates through the possibility of social interaction a new experience of the digital space. Not only can art lovers visit the exhibition online, but they are also visualized as visitors in real time and can thus meet on the platform and talk to each other via their PC microphone.
ARTE Generali is key partner of the leading art magazine "The Art Gorgeous" for the “Treasure” project, a video interview series
At the age of 26 she opened her first gallery in Berlin with antique art from Asia, now at 31 she already has her second gallery featuring contemporary art. She is an entrepreneur, gallerist and founder. We are talking about Anahita Sadighi, who is introduced in the first episode of the new video series "Treasure: A Female Insight into Art Insurance". Every month, the video interview format of the art magazine The Art Gorgeous, in cooperation with ARTE Generali, presents a young female personality from the art world who talk about career, passion and the most valuable art treasures.
Anahita Sadighi, who is also known as the "youngest gallery owner in Berlin", lets us take a look into her life in this video. Besides art, music is her passion. Her father, who had planned a music career for her, is one of the most sought-after art dealers and gallery owners for non-European art in Berlin. He supported her at the beginning of her career, and so the power woman has managed to prove herself independently on a highly competitive terrain. A remarkable story in a still strongly male dominated space.
Tradition meets modernity
With the help of social media channels such as Facebook and Instagram, she easily manages to balance tradition and modernity. The young gallery owner's aim is to free Far Eastern culture from its dubious and rather negative reputation and to reawaken the fascination of the Orient. The 31-year-old artist knows the dialogue between cultures very well. The Iranian-born artist came to Germany at the age of just over one year. She associates Iranian culture with a mythical awareness of melancholy.
ARTE Generali as a patron to art
Generali promotes art and the preservation of cultural heritage not only as a partner of art projects. With ARTE Generali and the initiative “Digital Leaders in Art Awards”, it is currently also supporting projects to digitize the art world in order to provide all art lovers with digital access to art even during a crisis. At the same time, ARTE Generali offers innovative and customized products and services as a lifetime partner to art collectors.