The demise of Artnet Magazine in the Art World’s first shareholder takeover is the final confirmation that Art has become a part of the larger Entertainment Industry. That’s the industry that includes Movies, TV, Broadway, Theme Parks and Traveling Arena Shows usually performed on ice. This is the kind of behavior we can expect as more and more of our Art institutions decide to invite huge amounts of outsider money into the fold, i.e. “go public.” Artnet is a public company with a very shitty balance sheet (don’t take my word for it check their annual report and stock prices.) All this particular move entailed was one ambitious shareholder with money and a dream to get a foothold in the online auction markets. The fact that this shareholder is also a collector could be very relevant as well. This corporate raider now has control over one of the largest, if not the largest, online databases that helps to shape the prices of artists work on the secondary market. Think of the synergies!
“It’s not difficult to see what the problems of Artnet are,” Mr. Weng told us, listing among other issues the need to better market the company’s online auctions. Asked if he would recommend cutting the size of the Artnet staff, he said “Yes, of course.” “Why do you have to hire 130 people in Manhattan to put in data into a database? You do that in India or somewhere else in the world. Why do you need to have an Internet company in the Woolworth building?” Rüdiger Weng quoted in the Gallerist article “Artnet Benefits: Investors Look to Wrest Control of the German Company”
Of course this ouster and takeover also meant that the Magazine had to go. The fucking thing was not only NOT paying for itself (see page 42 for a quick financial run down,) it was slagging off it’s business arm, the part of the business designed to actually make money. How many times has Charlie Finch slaughtered the cash cow in (online) print? The last slag was a doozy as he proclaimed that anything bought today would be worthless in a few months time when the art market would go tets up. This was followed by a number of reactionary articles, on Artnet and on the wider Net, vociferously rebutting Charlie’s predictions of fiscal doom. How can you run a restaurant if the chef keeps telling the customers that there are rats in the kitchen? Presto! A New Management concerned for shareholder value installed – Goodbye thorn in the side! I later read that Artnet has also closed their Paris office in addition to laying off the staff of the Magazine. This, my friends, is called reorganization. What we are witnessing are textbook activist shareholder maneuvers, real Carl Icahn power plays, in the Art World, and I think, maybe for the first time. Get used to it.
The price of Artnet stock fell on the day of the reorg announcements, of course, but has steadily climbed back to it’s normal pricing since. It seems the market likes these changes, otherwise, the stock would have remained low or gone straight in the toilet. If this move isn’t just a vanity project for the formerly disgruntled shareholders, and they’re really not that interested in running the company, I would expect it to be sold shortly, maybe to Sotheby’s or Christie’s or another auction house looking to bolster their online auction presence. I’m betting that’s what shareholders are thinking as well. And if that’s the case it’s a real “fuck you” to Mr. Neuendorf, the ousted CEO. For him this takeover must be like watching your fully stocked studio go up in flames – the fire lit by your worst nemesis. It’s hard not to feel badly for him – he built the company, grew it, made it into something. But unfortunately for him, he did it with other people’s money.
Aside from all that bullshit, I’m bummed that Charlie will not be that go-to contrarian any longer. I do not always agree with his aesthetic choices, but he’s a gold plated pisser when he talks about real life. He’ll tell you in no uncertain terms all the inside bullshit and exactly why it’s bullshit. Charlie, why not start your own blog? I’ll pay a dollar per month to read. In fact a whole lot of us would subscribe at that price to read your thoughts! Who knows? You might make more money than you did at Artnet. For Gods sake man – don’t retire! (I read that gossip as well.) I also respect Robinson for allowing his writers to speak so freely. I’m sure he had a few terse phone calls over the years about the content on AM, and I’m sure they were not always pleasant, especially when those writers needled the business. But all of this mishigas stems from the fact that the Art World, the economic part of it that provides lavish lifestyles to the privileged few, IS A CORPORATE ECONOMY. Your Mom and Pop studio practice just won’t cut it in this kind of business environment. Neither will your contrarian views. Conform or die! Or join us here in the underground! It’s far more interesting here anyway!