quinta-feira, 23 de maio de 2013
May 22, 2013
Staffan Ahrenberg, a Swedish collector of contemporary art, was walking along Rue du Dragon in Paris one day in 2010 when he noticed Cahiers d’Art, a legendary gallery and publisher. He recalled seeing Cahiers’s lovingly designed art books, including a famous catalog of Picasso works annotated by Christian Zervos, in his father’s library. He ventured inside and asked two questions: “Who owns Cahiers d’Art?” and “Would he sell it?”
Cahiers had been languishing since its founder, Mr. Zervos, died in 1970, and the current owner said yes, he would part with it.
Mr. Ahrenberg bought the publishing rights, and the gallery is now reissuing “Pablo Picasso,” or as art world denizens call it, “the Zervos,” the most prominent catalogue raisonné of Picasso’s paintings and drawings. Comprising 33 volumes and more than 16,000 images, it was the result of an intense four-decade collaboration between the artist and Mr. Zervos.
“Zervos served Picasso very well, and Picasso was very grateful,” said John Richardson, the Picasso biographer.
The pre-order price will be $15,000 for the set; upon the work’s release in November, it will climb to $20,000. While the price tags may startle, in Mr. Ahrenberg’s view they are “irrelevant” to his target audience: “You can’t buy anything original by Picasso for less than $500,000, or maybe a couple hundred thousand dollars, that’s any good,” he said in an interview in Manhattan.
And he says, the price is a relative bargain compared with vintage sets, which themselves are collector’s items routinely selling for around $60,000 at auction and going for close to $200,000 in pristine condition.
There are many catalogs of Picasso’s work, but art dealers tend to speak of the Zervos, published between 1932 and 1978, with reverence. “It’s the go-to catalog for Picasso,” said Larry Gagosian, whose gallery has mounted four Picasso shows and will be selling the book as well. “The sheer volume of works and the accuracy are remarkable.”
“Some days Picasso painted four or five paintings — in one day — and that’s all chronicled,” he added. “The actual date is noted in the index. You get a sense of how he worked on a given day or week or period, how one style morphed into another.”
A select group of publishers have long sought to turn books into high-end art objects. Next month, for example, Taschen is releasing a $9,000 two-volume edition of “Genesis,” a book of photographs by Sebastião Salgado, that weighs 130 pounds and stands nearly four feet tall. Each of 500 copies will be sold with a signed print and a custom stand designed by the architect Tadao Ando. Another 2,000 collectores’ editions priced at $3,000 come with stands but no signed print.
Such books are like a fashion house’s haute couture, bestowing status on the publishers even though most of their revenue comes from products aimed at the masses. The $70 “popular” edition of “Genesis,” said Creed Poulson, Taschen’s marketing director, is “on pace to sell a million copies” worldwide. Taschen is also planning to publish a limited-edition Rolling Stones tribute book this fall signed by all four Stones and priced somewhere in the thousands, and a similarly colossal Annie Leibovitz tome after that.
Cahiers d’Art is aggressively marketing the Zervos. Sotheby’s will also be involved in selling the catalog by singling out top international art collectors, especially anyone who has bought or sold a Picasso at auction.
The entire Zervos will be translated into English for the first time, something Mr. Ahrenberg said that Mr. Zervos himself had wanted to do, and will incorporate small corrections requested by the managers of Picasso’s estate. True to the original, however, all the images will be printed in black-and-white.
“Picasso and Zervos could have done color,” said Carmen Giménez, a Picasso scholar and curator of 20th-century art at the Guggenheim Museum. “Picasso wanted to do it in black-and-white. Color is always false.”
Whether Cahiers d’Art can make money is another question. By 2011, when Mr. Ahrenberg acquired the business, it had not published anything new in decades, he said, and was deriving much of its revenue from reconstituting and selling full sets of the Picasso catalog.
The company’s relationship with Picasso’s family had petered out a few years after the artist died without a will in 1973. “When Picasso died, it was just total chaos,” said Mr. Richardson, the Picasso biographer, noting that children of the artist who were born out of wedlock fought for years to gain the legal right to share in his estate.
Mr. Ahrenberg, a former film producer (“Johnny Mnemonic,” “The Quiet American”), said he had long wanted to find a formal role in the art world. His father, Theodor Ahrenberg, was a prominent collector who introduced his son to Picasso when he was a toddler.
Still, it’s not just a passion project devoid of pragmatism. He is hoping to give Cahiers d’Art at least a “fighting chance” to make money and has hired consultants to analyze the industry. “After a month of it I felt like taking a cyanide pill,” he said. “It was so depressing — everyone kept asking me if it was a philanthropic exercise.”
He recruited Samuel Keller, the well-connected director of the Beyeler Foundation in Switzerland, and Hans Ulrich Obrist, an influential Swiss curator, to serve as co-editors. Last fall the team also revived the storied Cahiers d’Art journal, which had published works by Hemingway and Beckett, with a cover and a lithograph by the artist Ellsworth Kelly, who turns 90 this month.
Mr. Ahrenberg said the subscription list would help the company market the Picasso catalog. Another factor working in Mr. Ahrenberg’s favor is that the research on the artworks, the most expensive element of creating a catalogue raisonné, is done.
Joel Wachs, president of the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, said it spends about a million dollars a year researching and writing Warhol’s multivolume catalogue raisonné, three volumes of which have been published by Phaidon, with many more to go. “Making money?” he said. “No way. We’re not recouping any of that through royalties.”
To aficionados, money is beside the point. “I don’t think it was ever profitable,” Mr. Richardson said of Cahiers d’Art. “I don’t think you can apply American notions that everything be profitable.”
Posted by Francisco Augusto Vaz Brasil at 12:10