Ask David Zwirner. ... Zwirner, the son of a famous German dealer, opened his first gallery in 1993, in SoHo. Since then, he has risen to be one of the most prominent dealers in the world. He is not really a pioneer, in terms of the art he has championed, or the style in which he has presented it, or the people he has sold it to. He is, in many respects, one more boat on a rising tide. Still, the brightwork gleams. People often say that he’s angling to be his generation’s Larry Gagosian—every era has its dealer-king—but his approach is really nothing like Gagosian’s, or anyone else’s. He brings the calculating eye of an efficiency expert to the historically improvised hustle of buying and selling art objects. “He’s the new dynasty,” Gavin Brown, the New York gallerist, told me. “It’s the Norman conquest.”
The trade in stolen antiquities from Syria funds all sides of the civil war that has engulfed the country. BuzzFeed News’ Mike Giglio traveled along its porous border with Turkey to meet the people involved in this black market, from grave robbers and excavators to middlemen and dealers. ... Four years into a conflict that has killed more than 200,000 and displaced millions, Syria’s immense history is being sold off on en masse as looters descend on ruins across the country. An untold number of people have joined Mohamed in a black market that helps to fund armed groups from ISIS to Western-backed rebels to the Syrian regime. Many of the newcomers have no interest other than making money, but Mohamed is enamored with the history of the ancient objects in which he trades. Known among his colleagues for having an expert eye, his phone buzzes endlessly as he receives photos via WhatsApp from sellers trying to catch his interest and fellow traders wanting advice. People ask him to come and “talk” with their artifacts. “Falso,” he says, his voice rising, when he sees a forgery. If he likes a piece, he calls it “fantastic.” ... “We have been living in a war for more than four years, and people will do anything to feed their kids,” said one middleman on the border, guilt-ridden over his role in bleeding Syria’s history. “I don’t care if the artifact is coming from [rebels] or from ISIS. I just want to sell it.” ... diggers around Syria work daily to pull them from the ground. The digs range from backyard affairs by heavy-handed amateurs to skilled excavations. ... The risks of traveling to Syria make the looting all but impossible to witness firsthand, leaving archaeologists with little more than satellite images that reveal a pockmarked landscape.
Without question, attempting to pass off a counterfeit Rembrandt was an incredibly brazen move on Ely Sakhai’s part. But brazen he was, and he did have a certain advantage in his scheme: the legitimate ownership of the authentic painting that he had his artists copy. The authenticity of his Rembrandt, The Apostle James, was not questioned. Nor was the fact that it was purchased by Ely Sakhai from a reputable source. So when he would offer what he purported to be the painting for sale, it didn’t raise questions about authenticity, if only because those interested in the painting perhaps failed to imagine the nefarious scheme of the seller. Thanks in large measure to his travels in the Far East with his wife, Sakhai made it his mission to establish a steady clientele in Tokyo and Taiwan too. and in June 1997, he sold his Rembrandt to the Japanese businessman and art collector Yoichi Takeuchi. ... Call it karma or serendipity, but Sakhai would be undone by circumstances as simple as his scheme was complex. Not content to simply make enormous profits on the fakes he sold to unsuspecting buyers, Sakhai’s greed led him to sell the original authentic works too.
Inside the rotunda of the Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art, a circular walkway spirals down from the street level, like an underground version of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Guggenheim Museum in New York. A series of galleries branches out from there, giving up astonishing secrets from one of the finest—if forgotten—collections of 20th century art in the world. ... The galleries are a ghost town, except for a dozen photography students who, for the $1.50 price of admission ... Built by Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi’s wife, Empress Farah Pahlavi, just before the 1979 revolution, the Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art amassed the greatest collection of modern Western masterpieces outside Europe and North America ... As revolutionary mobs protested in the streets in January 1979 after the shah and his wife fled, the museum spirited its 1,500 works of Western art into a basement vault. ... The collection’s survival is part of the larger Iranian paradox—the struggle of one of humanity’s oldest and most refined civilizations to overcome an historic spasm of fundamentalism and xenophobia.
Bouvier is an opportunist. Pitch him and he will decide if he is in or out. “It is always a question of what I will earn on the deal,” he said. ... “When you buy, it is always to sell,” he said. “You always have the buyer before you have the seller.” ... He got the certificate a few days later and called Rappo. He asked her to set up a proper meeting with the Rybolovlevs at their house in Cologny. This time, Bouvier told me, he offered them his services more generally. He could protect them during their adventures in the art market, he promised. And he could also find them art. ... He was aware that the proposal was audacious. Major buyers typically build collections through several dealers and auction houses, knowing that they will be charged the maximum the market can bear. To protect their interests, many also employ an art adviser or consultant, who works for them and is paid a retainer or a commission—in the region of five per cent—on the works that they acquire. Very rarely are all these roles performed by one person. ... Rybolovlev assumed that the two-per-cent fee was Bouvier’s commission. He was impressed by Natural Le Coultre’s premises in the freeport, which put Bouvier in contact with the owners of expensive art works. “He had insider information,” Rybolovlev said. “He knew the collectors without intermediaries. He knew what was where.” ... “For me, I will be clear,” he told me. “If I buy for two and I can sell for eleven, I will sell for eleven.” ... A freeport offers few tax advantages and scarcely any security features that a standard bonded warehouse cannot provide. But Bouvier’s development in Singapore carried within it two ideas. The first is that freeports will become hubs in the sixty-billion-dollar international art market, destinations in themselves—places for scholars, restorers, insurers, art-finance specialists, consultants, and dealers. The second idea is that the ultra-rich don’t want just another warehouse. ... One rival, who visited the Singapore Freeport and saw the Arad in the atrium, told me, “If a client of mine walked into my office and saw a five-million-dollar sculpture, he would assume I was charging him too much.” Others couldn’t work out where Bouvier was getting the money.
“Hamilton” is really two phenomena: an extraordinary piece of theater, created by the composer, rapper and actor Lin-Manuel Miranda, and a commercial behemoth powered in part by scarcity — the near impossibility of obtaining tickets, which sell out as quickly as new dates go on sale (through January 2017, for now). Seller helped nurture Miranda through the five years it took him to develop the musical and consulted on every important decision, from casting to a major change in the show’s structure to the changing of its name, which took gentle but persistent prodding before Miranda finally agreed. (He had wanted “The Hamilton Mixtape.”) ... Broadway can be a very poor investment, but when shows hit, they really hit. The most successful of them dwarf the revenues of even the biggest Hollywood blockbusters. “Hamilton” could easily run on Broadway for a decade or more. In September, the first road production will open in Chicago, and it will be a “sit down” show, meaning it is intended to stay there for a year or more. Ultimately, there may be as many as seven “Hamilton” companies, in addition to the one on Broadway, performing at the same time in multiple American and international cities. Ticket revenues, over time, could reach into the billions of dollars. If it hits sales of a mere $1 billion, which “Hamilton” could surpass in New York alone, the show will have generated roughly $300 million in profit on the $12.5 million put up by investors.
“Floating Piers will be three kilometers long. And will use 220,000 polyethylene cubes. Fifty centimeters by 50 centimeters. Two hundred twenty thousand screws. Interlocking.” ... He explains the financing—he pays for every project by selling his art, no donations, no sponsorships—and suggests she read the 2006 Harvard Business School case study to learn the details of how they do it. ... In the months and years leading up to every installation, he produces hundreds of smaller pieces of art: preparatory sketches, studies, models, paintings, collages. This he does alone. Today the New York studio is filled with scores of canvases in every size and shade of blue; lakes and piers in every medium from pen to pencil to pastel, crayon to paint to charcoal; islands and towers and abbeys mapped as if by satellite, or sketched in a few quick strokes; simple as a color block, or complex and precise as an architectural elevation. Some of the multipanel pieces are several meters wide by a meter or more high and sell for hundreds of thousands of dollars to a loyal circle of collectors.
Perfecting the digital printout, he told me, had involved hundreds of hours of analog assessment: thousands of paint samples were mixed by hand, in Luxor, to match the tones in the original tomb, then compared with ink-jet outputs. Factum modified an enormous Epson printer so that it could make repeated passes over the gesso-like skin in perfect registration, allowing for fine tweaks. ... The only thing that was perceptibly modern was the absence of a musty odor. Lowe noted that the room’s sound wasn’t right, either. He hopes to enlist engineers to record the “acoustic signature” of Tutankhamun’s tomb, so that he can re-create it inside the facsimile. ... Factum began operations in 1998, when it was becoming clear that 3-D printing was a revolutionary tool. The workshop has made millions of dollars by fabricating sculptures for artists—Anish Kapoor, Maya Lin, Marc Quinn—who sometimes require technological assistance to realize their visions. Lowe appears to spend nearly all his profits on fanciful-seeming projects that, in aggregate, mount a serious case that the facsimile can play a central role in art conservation. ... Because an art work can be scanned without physical contact, the facsimile process makes traditional conservation efforts—from repainting to varnishing—seem like an exalted form of graffiti. A facsimile also allows the public to see objects that are nearly impossible to approach in person: Factum has recorded and reassembled everything from a Renaissance painting outside the Pope’s bedroom to rock carvings on a remote plateau in Chad.
The very act of a person seeing himself in a mirror or being represented in a portrait as the center of attention encouraged him to think of himself in a different way. He began to see himself as unique. Previously the parameters of individual identity had been limited to an individual’s interaction with the people around him and the religious insights he had over the course of his life. Thus individuality as we understand it today did not exist: people only understood their identity in relation to groups—their household, their manor, their town or parish—and in relation to God. ... the average person saw himself only as part of a community. This is why the medieval punishments of banishment and exile were so severe. A tradesman thrown out of his hometown would lose everything that gave him his identity. ... What happened in the fifteenth century was not so much that this community identity broke down, but rather that people started to become aware of their unique qualities irrespective of their loyalty to their community. That old sense of collective identity was overlaid with a new sense of personal self-worth.
Many in the art world are worried about bubbles. The market, they say, is becoming too fast, and too short term. They have reason to fret. The price swings for these artists – rises and falls of 500% or more in less than two years – make this market more volatile than even the most turbulent financial ones. Mini-crashes are becoming more common. They risk doing both financial and creative damage to the art world – financial, because it could put off serious, long-term investors; creative, because artists burn out before they really get started. ... The blame for this is directed at a new breed of art dealer, known as “flippers”. In contrast to a traditional dealer, who may stay with an artist for a lifetime and keeps tight control over who buys his work, flippers buy low and sell high to anybody who will buy. They treat art as though it were a financial instrument. ... His plan is based on his second big influence, the notion of “creative destruction” set out in Joseph Schumpeter’s book “Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy”. ... Simchowitz dislikes the art-world hierarchy, which he thinks excludes people from buying art; he would like to dislodge it and make art easier to see and buy.
Consider Einstein’s impact on physics. With no tools at his disposal other than the force of his own thoughts, he predicted in his general theory of relativity that massive accelerating objects—like black holes orbiting each other—would create ripples in the fabric of space-time. It took one hundred years, enormous computational power, and massively sophisticated technology to definitively prove him right, with the physical detection of such gravitational waves less than two years ago. ... Einstein revolutionized our understanding of the very laws of the universe. But our understanding of how a mind like his works remains stubbornly earthbound. What set his brainpower, his thought processes, apart from those of his merely brilliant peers? What makes a genius? ... Genius is too elusive, too subjective, too wedded to the verdict of history to be easily identified. And it requires the ultimate expression of too many traits to be simplified into the highest point on one human scale. Instead we can try to understand it by unraveling the complex and tangled qualities—intelligence, creativity, perseverance, and simple good fortune, to name a few—that entwine to create a person capable of changing the world.
A skyrocketing interest in Amedeo Modigliani’s work is producing Picasso-level price tags, with major museum shows stoking the flame. Buyers are wary, though: the mystery surrounding one of the world’s most-faked artists has led to death threats, lawsuits, and hoaxes. ... Perhaps appropriately for one of the world’s most faked artists, there have even been fake fakes. Experts, meanwhile, are jockeying to be recognized as the ultimate authority on what should and should not be accepted as authentic. ... The stakes are high and are only getting higher. Modigliani prices, long dormant, have been climbing dramatically. Liu Yiqian, a former taxi driver who built a fortune in the stock market and has become one of China’s leading art collectors, paid $170.4 million in 2015 at Christie’s in New York for a Modigliani painting, Nu Couché (Reclining Nude). The previous record for a Modi-gliani was $70.7 million, paid at Sotheby’s in 2014 for a carved-stone head of a woman. The acceleration in the Modigliani market is said to have begun in 2010 at a Christie’s sale in Paris, where a Modigliani sculpture, expected to sell for between $5 million and $7 million, went for $52 million. ... Modigliani died of tubercular meningitis in Paris in 1920 at the age of 35.