The first big article about art in 2015 isn’t about art but about how money is having sex with young artists these days. The New York Times Magazine ran a well-balanced, 5,000-word profile of Los Angeles–based, self-proclaimed “collector/dealer/consultant” Stefan Simchowitz, in an article titled “Patron Satan: Why Does the Art World Hate Stefan Simchowitz?” Accompanying it is a picture of the barrel-chested Simchowitz standing naked except for black underpants and socks as three clothed women turn from his masculine nakedness, doing nothing as he talks on the phone, presumably doing business. It’s like those smarmy, 19th-century academic paintings of skeletonless women lounging about while some sultan runs an empire. Simchowitz says the picture was his idea, “an image to do some theological exegesis upon — both caricature and performance … stripping down in front of the art world (and) the stripping down of the art world.” Whatever. As soon as the article appeared online, artist Richard Prince funnily tweeted that he “liked pimps, dead-ends & pretty paintings” and had “optioned” this “TV Reality Kibbutz” Times story for a Hollywood film to be called either Patron Putz or See-Saw for the way traffickers like Simchowitz buy low and sell high.
In the article, Simchowitz talks about how his organization “Simcor” creates “heat” and “velocity” for artists. He discusses how he uses “proxies” to buy from galleries who “blacklist” him, says he “invests in cultural production,” claims that his collection of 1,500 pieces is worth about $30 million, calls other dealers and consultants “parasites,” states that the work of one of his artists is “weak,” then instructs an assistant to buy “the whole studio — fast — paintings signed on the back, photography, the whole nine yards.”
Last March, after a similar Simchowitz story, I culled a bunch of quotes and ventured skeptical commentary, going paranoid-alarmist at one point, calling him “a Sith Lord.” After which he took to my personal Facebook page to denounce me and anyone who didn’t see things his way, disparaging great dealers like Michele Macarrone and Gavin Brown. (The next day, Brown posted a severed horse-head as a response on my Facebook page.) Most understood that Simchowitz’s claims were garden-variety art-advisor talk amplified to the nth degree and that he simply represented how market-driven the art world had become. He was a conspicuous symptom and stand-in for the real and symbolic roles that money and power-brokering have come to play in the art world, what Simchowitz calls “the culture industry.”
This time, Simchowitz took to the Facebook page of an art blogger named Paddy Johnson even before the article hit the newsstands, and for over 5,000 words, carried on, denounced, defended, and opined about the story. Two days later, he wrote 5,000 more words on the Facebook page of Hrag Vartanian, whose excellent Hyperallergic blog often deconstructs money men like Simchowitz. (The offending thing Vartanian had written was, “Anyone have any thoughts on the Stefan Simchowitz stuff?”) Then, on his own Facebook page, Simchowitz published a 5,000-word “RE-BUT-ALL,” crowing, “I identified post-internet art as a movement; I’ve read Marinetti’s manifesto and art theory; I am not a news organization, just an exhibitionist;” etc.
The real difference this time, however (and the one that I found depressing), was in the responses to his comments by artists, so many of whom feel excluded by the system and find themselves excited by the prospect of a new one. More and more artists now appear resigned to a cynicism that basically says, “The whole art world sucks; Simchowitz doesn’t suck anymore than anything else.” Many now see Simchowitz as an outlaw/do-gooder “disrupter” invading the closed domain of the bad gallery world and spreading the wealth around. Numerous artists click “like” on whatever Simchowitz says. They applaud that “He threatens the order of the system and authority … so the system is striking back”; “He challenges the elaborate academic, journalistic and institutional infrastructure the art world has built to mete out prizes”; “He ruffles the too insider-y, corrupt established dealers system”; “He’s a breath of fresh air who I’d personally be happy to work with him [sic].” The great consultant/curator Kenny Schachter cut to the chase writing, “Bankroll me Simcho, you can have it all.”
I find Simchowitz’s crowing boringly predictable, self-serving, bullying — steeped in defensiveness, insecurity, and something like a martyr complex. It’s true that he didn’t create the monetary metrics now so prevalent and that he’s really just another player, a Hollywood guy likely to be here for five years or until the money goes, and then, like most of his ilk, be gone, leaving the last ones holding the paintings to be burned.
But I could be wrong. Maybe all those who see Simchowitz as some sort of Robin Hood and who have grown cynical about the system are right about him being a true believer who happens to think, talk and type in the crassest, most outrageous terms. (He wouldn’t be the first of that kind: mea culpa.) In any event, while it’s impossible for an old dog like me to believe, consider the following statements and try to imagine they might be the thoughts of a man driven not by power-hungry bullying of investor interest and making money, and instead as those of a great lover of the ecstatic experience of new art. Or at least someone who’ll stay the hell away from my Facebook page.
1. “We … have huge conviction in emerging contemporary. It is a category where we want to stay, consolidate, and frankly dominate.”
2. “I can offer an alternative centralized management system.”
3. Citing Coca-Cola CEO Roberto Goizueta, who “put Coca-Cola everywhere,” he says he is interested in “the democratization of distribution of art … to use all mechanisms possible in a similar way to how Wayne [sic] Goizueta introduced Coca-Cola as a product to the masses.”
4. About artist Torey Thornton, who has not “delivered” on promises made and who “demonizes” him, Simchowitz says, “He will be sued in court and he will loose [sic], no question, the behavior I have seen demonstrated consistently is disgusting.”
5. “I simply will not stand for it politely … in the way most people do. So I discuss it, move to conflict and resolve. These are not things to do in the art world.”
6. I am “an ambitious entrepreneur … often entangled in the lack of ethics that is prevalent in business … defending [my] position and demythologizing the myths of artist, institution, journalist and gallerist in the culture industry.”
7. “I am a collector/dealer/consultant. I service my clients like a gallery or consultant or dealer would.”
8. “I have … watched JUST ABOUT EVERY SINGLE WELL KNOWN COLLECTOR, MANY WITH FOUNDATIONS, FLIP/SELL/AUCTION emerging art, whilst I have taken the brunt of the heat for EVERYONES PARASITIC BULLSHIT.”
9. “I have watched galleries blacklist me and seen their ENTIRE STOCK just about end up at auction … I have watched TIER ONE galleries sell work to people who have the taste of carrier pigeons and the morality of slave traders.”
10. “Big name consultants servicing clients … and famous galleries festooning these folks with access because they [the clients] are either too daft to see, to stupid to listen or complicit …”
11. “I go to Australia … develop new clients outside of the standard base, nurture clients … and think outside the box constantly.”
12.”Now for what I do for artists … I find them galleries to show with. Galleries to be represented by. Fellow collectors to support them. Institutions to be introduced to … mortgage brokers … book publishing.”
13. “I work through proxy often, so to avoid the artist taking too much of my heat.”
14. “My job is to prepare artists to move forward with their careers and help them make the right decisions …”
15. “I am forthright to a fault.”
16. Artist Robert Melee and gallerist Andrew Krepps are “ingrates.”
17. “I offer EVERY ONE a SHOT.”
18. “We believe in the future. We invest in the future.”
19. “I am a man of my word, my word is my bond, I speak my mind. I have no need to back room deal. This is one with conviction.”
20. Words he uses to describe Times writer Christopher Glazek: “undermining,” “absurd,” “silly,” “gratuitous,” “insulting,” “unnecessary,” “unfair,” “knee-jerk,” “back-handed,” “snarky.”
*This article has been updated to show that Simchowitz’s organization is called “Simcor,” not “Simcore” and to clarify that Simchowitz mistakenly referred to former Coca-Cola CEO Roberto Goizueta as Wayne Goizueta in a quote.