A Cautionary Note Regarding Cruise Ship Art


One of the perks of being an art appraiser in Vancouver is getting access to some of the most expensive homes in the country; but if there is one thing I have learned as an appraiser, it is that money and good taste do not go hand in hand. I’ve lost count of the number of visits I’ve had where the address is impressive and the curb appeal is exquisite, only to walk through the door to find all of the walls have been adorned with overinflated and/or fake art purchased on a cruise ship. Why do people do this?! Pirates, that’s why!

If you are a Type A CEO who doesn’t want to read the rest of this article, just take this bit of advice- DON’T BY ART ON CRUISE SHIPS OR FROM ANY MOBILE AUCTION HOUSE!

So how do these pirates get away with it? I was on a cruise this year, so I decided to get a closer look at how the scam unfolds. On a “sea-day” around the time that you are getting too burnt to be out in the sun any longer, the auctioneer will lure you into the room with a glass of champagne. His pitch: the upper-crust has made money investing in art, and if you buy this so can you! After a whole 20-30 minutes (if you’re lucky) of looking at the art, the auction begins.

The first couple of lots offered are usually by some obscure artists, they are touted as the next Picasso, and are hammered down for a usually a few thousand dollars. While these pieces might not be forgeries, the cruise ship is asking for far more than you could buy them for at any public auction and they certainly never go up in value at the rate claimed by the cruise auctioneer (if at all). The real offensive sales are the prints they are actually claiming are done by great masters such as Joan Miro, Marc Chagall, Pablo Picasso, Rembrandt van Rijn, and Salvador Dali. People get wrapped up in the big recognizable artist names; the auctioneer on our cruise was romancing how you could invite your neighbour over to take a look at your new Rembrandt! We can tell they are forgeries because there are records of the authentic works that these artists did, and when the details don’t match up perfectly they are fake. Print forgeries by these artists are so rampant in the market place that the authentic works are becoming more and more difficult to sell. The cruise ship auctions will sell a “Dali” for several thousands of dollars, which they will tell you, “is a steal compared to their appraised value”, but a quick search online would show that you can buy the same forgery for around $150 on eBay. Because many people don’t have the time (or access) to do due diligence on board a ship, they end up realizing the hard truth on terra firma when it is too late (the fine print will tell you that “all sales are final”). One of the reasons these cruise ship auctions are getting away with high sea robbery is because they are hosting their sales in international waters where there are few consumer protection laws.

On the cruise, I actually didn’t stay for the whole auction because I couldn’t sit there quietly any longer, and I knew that if I said something there was a good chance I could find myself overboard in the middle of the night. But because the worst part of my job as an art appraiser is being the bearer of the message that the art they purchased is worth a small fraction of what they paid, I wanted to yell STOP! There are ways that you can invest in art that will appreciate in value, but like any investment you have to do a lot of homework to be able to spot those opportunities (for homework help check out these helpful questions). Or if you don’t want to do all the homework yourself, find a reliable art specialist to help. Vancouver has the highest per capita concentration of artists in Canada, so don’t risk your money at sea- do your research and buy local.

Kate Bellringer is an Art Appraiser and the Director of Contemporary & Canadian Art Auctions at Maynards Fine Art & Antiques. Visit: http://www.maynardsfineart.com/

NYC Man Lou Reed Dies


Rolling Stone reports that musician Lou Reed passed away earlier today in New York City at the age of 71 after receiving a liver transplant earlier this year.

Introduced to us several years ago by our brother Adam Humphreys, Mr. Reed has been one of our most appreciated artists ever since.

Here are some of our favourite Lou Reed songs, enjoy:

The list goes on…

It has always astounded us how few views some of Lou’s tunes have on Youtube (less than 11,000 in the case of Women, for example). We expect this will change for the legendary artist posthumously.

RIP New York City Man, oh how we loved ya.

Strategies For Super Rich Art Collectors By Collagist Joseph Staples

I was forwarded an interesting read on a different way to look at art buying, focused on the younger generation of contemporary artists rather than the Old Master painters and “blue chip artists” like Richter or Picasso.


Confrontation 1 (1988) by Gerhard Richter, oil on canvas, 112 cm x 102 cm

Chad Loweth doesn’t suggest spending $300,000 to $3,000,000 on a few high valued (or often “overvalued” according to the author) pieces by “Nifty Fifty” artists. Though said to be safe, he sees the possibility of a crash in most of these top tier artists at today’s prices.

Loweth suggests spreading your money around to a select group of young mid career (or to continue Loweth’s metaphor “Mid Cap” artists) in the $30,000 – $50,000 per piece range. Generally, the idea is that artists who have managed to attain these price points at an age where they still have a career ahead of them have the most potential to turn into a blue chip artist.

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Life In Perspective: Bob Dylan

Life In Perspective: Bob Dylan

In the film Amedeus (1984), protagonist Austrian court composer Antonio Salieri describes the antagonist of the film — Mozart — as having both the voice of God and an unseemly, juvenile temperament. What Salieri means by “the voice of God” is Mozart’s totally integrated ability to produce innovative, beautiful music that somehow makes sense on a prelanguage level — you can almost hear your mind clicking into place when encountering some of Mozart’s harmonies. Put another way, the composer seemed to have innate access to deeply complex mathematical musical progressions that invoke a logical completeness, release, satisfaction. But the irony that eventually drives Salieri insane — the crux of Amedeus — derives from the fact that Mozart’s a seriously unrefined character, and so to Salieri undeserving of the gift God bestowed him.

You might be able to compare Amedeus‘s Mozart to Bob Dylan, if you were in an uncharitable mood. Throughout his immensely influential five-decade-long career, Dylan’s persona has teemed with indignation, difficulty, unwillingness to participate, and desire to stay on the outside of just about every label, movement, and idea with which he’s been associated. As idealistic or authentic as the message of Dylan’s go fuck yourself attitude was (whose target, mainstream journalists and pop culture, deserved) —  especially in the 60s — there’s also a sense of indulgence and affected performance to it, a sense that the guy was just not a very pleasant person to be around if you weren’t in his brand of know.

It was in NYC where Dylan established himself as a unique intellectual voice in folk music, after growing up in a bleak, nondescript mining town in rural Minnesota. Within a year of moving to the city, he had already risen from the Village coffeeshop/cafe/open-mic scene and been swooped by Columbia Records, and within two years, he and folk singer Joan Baez had become prominent (if unwilling, in Bob’s case) figures in the Civil Rights Movement. Dylan’s aggressively cynical lyrics stood in direct opposition to the characteristic cookie-cutter pop of the 60s, and very much channeled the emerging zeitgeist of youth and activist culture. Throughout the rest of the decade, Dylan became a rock icon as his popularity soared, changing the definition of pop music and what pop stars could be.

The profound effect Dylan’s music had on youth may have been due to the fact that it described what they knew before they knew it. Many of his fans and peers had grown up in the suburbs under the wing of their parents, and their migration into dense urban centers like New York City catapulted them into a liberating psychological space free of parental and small-town expectations where the atmosphere was positively electric with exploratory new ideas and lifestyle experimentation. While mainstream America continued to buy into sugar-coated pop and status-quo politics during the loss of innocence and harshness of experience represented by moments like the Cuban Missile Crisis and the tension of the Civil Rights Movement, the core of youth culture began to swell with unease, cynicism, grim existentialism, and the search for something more realistic than the mainstream worldview.

So, for example, it was no surprise that Dylan’s “Like A Rolling Stone,” which featured totally jaded, accusing, vitriolic lyrics unheard of in popular music at that time, went the 60s version of viral when it was released in 1965.

And Dylan’s persona, whether he liked it or not, was pretty spot-on in terms of capturing the angst of a generation expected to perpetuate a myth of ultra-positivity and “everything’s fine.” He was indignant in interviews, often going beyond a more socially palatable version of hiding his distaste or simply being blunt about his beliefs to actually going on the offensive by being deliberately flippant and inflammatory. See for example the video above, in which Dylan brings a prop just so he can frustrate journalists by being evasive about it. Or the first part of the clip below, where Dylan just refuses to say anything about his own album cover. Or maybe one of the most extreme instances, where at a National Emergency Civil Liberties Committee award ceremony dedicated to honoring Dylan’s prominence in the Civil Rights Movement, he accepted his award drunk, characterizing the members of the committee as old and balding and saying that he saw a part of himself — and everyone in the room — in JFK assassin Lee Harvey Oswald. This is a pretty intense thing to say at an awards ceremony for being an outstanding civil rights activist.

Throughout the 70s and 80s, Dylan’s critical reception was a bit more mixed than it was toward his output in the 60s. He toured and recorded extensively, and allegedly became a born-again Christian, though statements he’s made on the subject after this period suggest otherwise. His touring and recording continued into the 80s, performing with such acts as the Grateful Dead and Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers. In ’88, he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame by Bruce Springsteen, who said that “Bob freed your mind the way Elvis freed your body. He showed us that just because music was innately physical did not mean that it was anti-intellectual.”

Currently on his so-called Neverending Tour, Dylan’s still at it, with upcoming tour dates on the US East Coast. His releases have continued to be heralded by critics as inventive and unique while remaining characteristically Dylan. And it’s still him against the world — just watch Scorsese’s No Direction Home or read/watch any of the myriad interviews he still deigns to give. Only now his particular brand of personal rebellion seems a bit out of place — an artifact of 60s counterculture where it was truly relevant and useful — especially against the backdrop of his Pepsi sponsorship and collaboration with will.i.am, Cadillac commercials, Victoria Secret ads, and other sellout-ish stuff he’s done over the past decade or so that stands in direct opposition to his anti-message of the 60s. Regardless, Dylan does have the voice of God. You can’t deny him that.

Life in Perspective: Andy Warhol

andywarholBorn in 1928 in Pittsburgh to a pair of Slovakian immigrants, Andy Warhol was a controversial artist who became a leader in the pop art movement. Known for his painting, printmaking, photography, persona, film, and music, Warhol introduced a new paradigm to art culture. He pioneered in something like experimental artistic entrepreneurialism, which, among others, derived from his outsider status and ability to perceive without preconception. His art includes some of the most expensive pieces ever sold; a 1963 canvas of his Eight Elvises sold for $100 million. Over the course of his career, the man became an incredibly successful commercial artist, made over 60 films, produced the Velvet Underground, was shot, and made a mark on culture that has wide-ranging influence today. He died in 1987.

With bad skin, subpar social skills and an interminably poor immune system that often left him bedridden as a child, Andy Warhol’s fringe/outsider status was pretty much fated from the beginning. But at 21, he had already earned a degree in graphic design and was an early adopter of printmaking, which allowed him to quickly become a successful commercial artist with a respectable portfolio.

Warhol made his art scene debut in the early 1960s with his Marilyn Diptych, Campbell’s Soup cans, prints of money, and Coke bottles. This work was one of the first instances of one of the most important contributions Warhol would make to art culture: a dynamic definition of art. One of Andy’s central messages with his debut work was that he didn’t care about the standard conception of art.

All his work that followed his breakthrough served this premise. What even is art? Examples: his Rorschach inkblots, “piss paintings,” and film. Every one of these works — which are some of his most famous — forced its audience to question if what they were looking at was even art at all. And when you’re in front of a painting, wondering if it’s a work of art, it’s a very small step to begin questioning the legitimacy of your definition of art, as well as what you think is good and bad art.

Jean-Michel Basquiat (c. 1982), acrylic, silkscreen ink, and urine on canvas

Jean-Michel Basquiat (c. 1982), acrylic, silkscreen ink, and urine on canvas

In the mid 60s, Andy pushed another artistic product that forced its audience to understand the definition of art as dynamic when he famously paired with the Velvet Underground as its producer. Formed by Welsh musician John Cale and American singer/songwriter Lou Reed, the group was wildly experimental in its approach to form and composition. Provocative lyrics, spoken word, the use of extended drones, and noisefests all characterized their sound. Warhol contributed to the project by not only “producing” their albums (paid for studio time), but acting as a prod, mentor, agent, and art director.

Warhol’s preconceptionless views extended beyond (what would be typically thought of as) his artistic projects. His entire way of being was pretty much one of the first post-modern personalities to gain widespread attention. Throughout his career, he’d make statements like “I am a deeply superficial person” and “I want to be plastic.” He’d essentially refuse to explain his art to interviewers by often giving them one-word answers (“Um, yes,” “Um, no”). When asked about his sexuality, he revealed that he was a virgin — that he had only had sex in an “abstract sense.” At the premiere of his 1964 film Empire, an eight-hour film of continuous slow-motion footage of the Empire State Building, he walked out after 15 minutes, stating that it was too boring to sit through. Once, when asked by an interviewer to respond to criticims that his art was without substance, too-easy, basically borrowed from advertising and mass culture, Warhol responded that he had no answer — that the critics were absolutely right.

Perhaps what most directly reflects Warhol’s experimental persona is one of its most famous fruits — The Factory, his studio between 1962 and 1984, and basically the hub of the world he created. Anything went at The Factory — free love, freaks, and a general attitude of noir subversiveness were the norm. The boundaries of drug use, gender, and sexuality were always under question here. To put it in a more familiar sense: if you ended up at The Factory, you’d definitely see some stuff that — like most of Warhol’s art — would make you a little uncomfortable with your own preconceived notions of good and bad, right and wrong, appropriate and inappropriate.

Bob Dylan holding a Double Elvis print at The Factory

Bob Dylan holding a Double Elvis print at The Factory

Our natural instinct — our default setting — is to judge art in a literally self-centered way: I don’t like this, so it’s bad. But I like this one, so it’s good. Our default setting puts us, our own individual experience, in the literal center of the universe. It makes our opinions and our perspective the most important in our proximate reality. Our natural instinct often fails to consider the possibility that there isn’t any objective good and bad, any objective definition of art. Which, by definition, is a close-minded attitude that I’m not sure contributes much positivity to the world. But Warhol and his associates took the opposite view: when it came to art and being, nothing was automatically off the table. And so to me their most important contribution to culture was to introduce a way of living that forced people to drop their preconceptions and articulate that they actually didn’t know what art was, couldn’t authoritatively say how a person should be. Which is essentially an exercise in open-mindedness. And most people would agree that this is a good thing.

Life in Perspective: John Candy

Remembering one of Canada’s greats who died nineteen years ago today.

Image: The Guardian

It was nineteen years ago today that John Candy passed away in his sleep from a heart attack while filming a movie in Durango, Mexico. Appearing in over 40 films, John led an illustrious career, becoming one of Canada’s most successful entertainers.

Born in 1950, John grew up in Toronto, attending an all boys Catholic school where he played football. After graduating he managed to take community college drama courses while holding various odd jobs around the city. By his early 20s he had gained experience on stage at Toronto’s Tarragon Theater, and on set in a couple small movies produced around Toronto. He knew he belonged in front of an audience but lacked the boldness to make any big moves into the industry.

His big break came when friends Dan Aykroyd and Valerie Harper signed him up for an audition in Toronto for Second City Television (SCTV), knowing he was far too modest to sign up himself. When he arrived at the audition under the assumption he would only be providing moral support for his friends, he was completely unaware as to why he was actually brought along. But when the casting director called his name, his friends shoved him backstage and reminded him that he had nothing to lose. And the gamble paid off — John swept the Chicago comedy scouts off their feet. Aykroyd would later recall that the scouts were more excited to get Candy, than they were himself or Harper.

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Canadian Art Buyers, Beware – Appraiser Kate Bellringer of Maynard’s Fine Art Interview

Kate Bellringer, Contemporary Art, Maynard's Auction House

Kate Bellringer, Director of Contemporary & Canadian Art Auctions at Maynards Fine Art & Antiques.

For most of us, the auction house doesn’t really inspire excitement. I think of old dead work and old people. Kate Bellringer, who runs the contemporary art section of Maynard’s Fine Art department, is the exact kind of person to change that image. Young, enthusiastic, intelligent and honest, she made me want to start paying closer attention to the auction house.

Kate’s perspective is refreshing; she see’s the results of bad buying decisions and scammers, as well as big finds (like the buy of two $150,000 paintings at a local garage sale for $100). Below Kate shares a bit about her world and offers some suggestions for making educated art buying decisions.


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Day Job/Real Job – The Bond Between Art And Business

koonsFormer commodities broker and artist Jeff Koons.

Making art work is like any other job, which means that intrinsically it has the possibility to be a real drag or the only way for some to live. Or both at once. The connections and parallels between artists and entrepreneurial business people are shocking despite the outside differences. Both take a risk to gamble on themselves and to show others that the work they do not only is important and can affect their lives but that it has value; either a dollar value and a cultural value and with luck both.

You have a take on the world that others do not have the guts to and try to make opportunities that others in your field have not seen yet. How you execute those insights and the quality and number of people who see what you made will bring to you and the things you have made both respect and a comfortable life.

That’s a lot; but that’s just what you want others to feel. As important as those things are you have other things to deal with. The work itself is trying to kill you sometimes. It wants to break you and the details of the daily grind can bring about boredom and a feeling of pointlessness. In the worst cases a loss of self-esteem or drive due to the sheer impossibility of the ordeal can take you to dark places, especially when the investment is not performing.

rothko studioMark Rothko in the studio. Click here for an excellent short doc on Rothko and where his painting took him.

I guess you could say that being involved in this life doesn’t make me believe in the milquetoast ideal of the lazy artist hanging in coffee shops and talking about “expression”. Those types are out there no doubt but the most successful are strategic, highly competitive (at least with themselves), and extremely intelligent and knowledgeable about their field.

Which is why the wealthy and the established “get” art. Education and the option of being able to afford luxury items is a factor, as is bragging rights and the want to show culture and your taste to your friends and competitors. The real appeal though is in the mindset of the artist and being around those who have balls, arrogance or at least confidence and an ability to see the world differently than the rest; there is a kinship between the extremely successful and the artist.

They both pursue different goals but chase after them with a fury and single-mindedness that can include extreme narcisism and fierce self-determination. The extremes vary, but I’ve known artists that would be just as suited in a boardroom as they would in a gallery if they were chasing after a different thing.

Eli BroadPhilanthropist and collector Eli Broad with Mark Rothko paintings in the background.

We could say the business man and the artist have a kinship and a certain co-dependency. One can live without the other, but maybe not as well or not as completely. I’ve been in beautiful homes with bad, cheap art and it just hurts. It hurts me and the owner; they are filling space and showing nothing more than a desire to do what’s expected to the least degree. At a certain point the Sub Zero and the Eames chair become a sort of standard as does real art by serious artists. You know what I’m talking about but when you see the opposite  glaring. I’ve also been in small homes and apartments with great collections built on meager budgets and more than unread books on philosophy or Sun Tsu, they breathe class and true richness.

Artists can continue to make work that piles up in their space, respected and admired work that is talked about and adored. But the final proof is the acceptance of this work by others – be that of the museum or collector. The financial aspect of being paid for work solidifies the commitment of a buyers adoration. For the artist, the sale is their start-up taking off and the breathing of fuel back in the tank. It’s confidence and energy replenished and rent and bills paid. It’s the start of the next venture with the emotional and financial capital in place. It’s hard to admit that the financial and peer or societal approval means this much for some of us, and for others the opposite could be true. But it’s a complex thing letting go of a piece.

We’ve talked about seeing art, about going to galleries and asking questions to acquire some of the necessary tools to make good decisions. Over the next few weeks, I’ll be interviewing a few people on both sides of the fence; collectors, patrons, and artists. I want to talk about how they first came to buy work and why, what they got out of the exchange and their relationship with the artists they support, and how these things are perceived or accepted from the artist’s point of view.

Joseph Staples – Office Supplies Incorporated

The Element Of Surprise: Specialization In The “Culture” Industry & The Waldorf Hotel

I really hate the word culture sometimes. It means a lot of different things to different people and seems to be applied to many things that to me don’t qualify but to others are valid. One person’s culture is anothers knitting club.

How you define culture is up to you and like we talked about in art, you are an expert. That said, the level of your expertise is defined in your experience in the field; what you have seen, created and been a direct not passive part of. I believe that this participation is the active contributor in your experience and a depth of knowledge is your guide in what you consider “good”.

Thankfully, we don’t have to go and find these experiences all on our own. We have curators, event organizers and venues that offer us options in how we want to create our experience. We trust in them to tell us what is of value; to act as guides through the amateurs and direct us to brilliant or the brave.

Graham Landin, Me and You, 2012

The difference between taste and conformity is a willingness to accept something you don’t understand as having possibility. Putting yourself in new experiences outside of your realm of understanding becomes a prerequisite for a fuller understanding of yourself and the world you are in. This in turn opens you up to new ways of thinking about your own field and your return on the investment of leaving the house becomes greater than the energy to get off the couch.

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Legally Stealing – appropriation and concept in art

Appropriation – separating something from where it came to give it another purpose – has been with us for a while and seems hard for someone to understand how it works in art making today.

The idea that somethings are art and others are not isn’t the easiest thing to understand. It’s subjective and personal. The basic idea is that if it’s put into the context of art, it can or should be accepted as such. The question remains;  is it any good?

Marcel Duchamp

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