Paddles ON! Auction Exceeds Estimates in Developing Digital Market

by Paddy Johnson on July 3, 2014 · 10 comments Newswire

Michael Manning, Chinese Broccolini Torta, 2014, (detail) digital print with acrylic on canvas, 72 x 48 inches

Michael Manning, Chinese Broccolini Torta, 2014, (detail) digital print with acrylic on canvas, 72 x 48 inches

How successful was tonight’s Paddles ON! sale of digital art in London? On its face pretty good. Phillips sale totaled £83,500 ($113,636.83), exceeding their high estimate for the sale at £67,150 ($91,392.43). Dig a little deeper, though, and the results of the auction as a whole, which included 22 lots, suggest a still developing market: Five lots went unsold and four sold for under their estimates. Two unremarkable abstract panels that sold for as much as five times their estimate boosted the evenings sale numbers. Michael Staniak’s IMG_885, a monochrome painting made of casting compound and acrylic on board, brought in the most; it sold for £25,000, £20,250 over its £4,750 estimate. Trailing Staniak came Michael Manning’s Chinese Broccolini Torta, a pastel digital print on canvas which sold for £15,000, £10,000 over its £5,000 estimate.

It’s important to be cautious when evaluating the Paddles ON! sales figures, because if we don’t, we may miss what they tell us. A look at the names paired with the overall performance of Paddles ON! suggests that an auction may be a dangerous place for young artists to enter the market. Whereas the last auction included big names like Petra Cortright, Rafael Rozendaal, Mark Tribe, Kate Steciw, and Nicolas Sassoon, this version’s larger names were either making the type of work famed flipper Stefan Simchowitz and friends would buy (Michael Staniak, Michael Manning) or were mostly untested in the market (New Aesthetic proponent James Bridle, and GRL’s Evan Roth). Jonas Lund and Sara Ludy are arguably two exceptions to this, but only Lund’s work exceeded its estimate; it sold for £6,000, £4,000 over its £2,000 estimate. For all the press this auction did before it launched—they produced a video with Michael Manning, promoted relentlessly on Twitter, and even secured a feature on Artnet—it seemed to have little influence over a collector’s willingness to purchase an unknown commodity. If anything, Paddles ON! seemed to function as little more than an engine for artists already on the rise.

The auction also had little influence over better-known commodities. Harm van den Dorpel saw his piece go unsold, and he’s a respected artist who is represented by Wilkinson Gallery and has been shown at the New Museum, Museum of Modern Art, and MoMA PS1. A similar piece was shown at Higher Pictures earlier this year. The mobile made of hand cut PET-G may have been a hard sell to begin with—it’s a clear ball—but poor documentation didn’t help. A brief look at how the piece was documented on his site versus Paddle8 certainly suggests that a better quality photograph would have helped the sale.

Unfortunately, there’s no good way to spin problems like van den Dorpel’s unsold lot, though the hope may be that we can simply forget about it. After all, if total sale numbers are propped up to two lots by artists known to be favored by collectors of zombie abstraction, that may do a lot to obscure the core weaknesses of the auction itself. For younger, less established artists in the digital arts, this may mean they still require the kind of nurturing a gallery—not an auction—can offer. A full list of the results can be found on the Phillips website.


friendship person July 4, 2014 at 2:42 am

lindsay, let me do something with a philips auction in the future. i have a few ideas ive been talking about with my mom who supports my work. id be interested in selling something simple, like a traditional bubblejet print, or something a little bit more experimental, like a GIF

wiki minaj July 4, 2014 at 3:20 am

I don’t think it’s the lack of big names that made it hard, it was the overall quality. The pieces just weren’t that good, cohesive, or well curated. The market responded as it ought to, minus a couple ‘gaming for reputation’ pieces.

I mean, if Michael Manning’s lethargic finger wiggling is the highlight of your lot then you don’t have much to present. Even the recognized names’ pieces weren’t particularly strong.

Only a few lots were worth looking at and the lack of visual documentation makes the first impression the ONLY impression. Zooming in on a picture only to be treated by a low resolution, bilinear blur set the tone immediately. This shit doesn’t matter.

Paddy Johnson July 4, 2014 at 10:22 am

I totally agree that this was a big problem. I wonder if people are distrustful of the sales format? I mean, Phillips isn’t a small name—it shouldn’t have been a problem to get better work.

tom moody July 5, 2014 at 7:15 pm

Michael Manning’s finger wiggling is anything but lethargic, wiki minaj! His muscles are toned, and so powerful he has had to register his fingers as weapons. His studio floor is littered with broken phones from his enthusiastic jabs.

Kidding aside, Manning has yet to find a Harold Rosenberg to pen the definitive “American Action Painters” essay for phone and tablet painting, ultimately rendered as printed canvas, daubed with actual physical gel. So we are having to rely on the collector’s nose for quality at this moment. The paintings are good in person — have you seen them, or are you basing your dismissal on jpegs? There is a bit of a goofing quality to them but they also have a sense of freedom and openness, owing to the large scale. They don’t read like “digital art” much at all, yet have an interesting artificiality. The viewer thinks about how — and why — they were made.

10 years ago you could hardly give away a digital painting, collectors were so nervous about them. Manning has broken the ice for more people working this way.
But who gives a tinker’s damn about the money? Let’s talk about the art.

Paddy Johnson July 6, 2014 at 7:21 pm

I don’t think it’s a good idea to rely on collector noses for quality. A lot of the time that’s the last thing they are interested in.

I haven’t seen Michael Manning’s paintings in the flesh. I’m a little skeptical of how much they could be transformed IRL, though your vouch for it does make me question that skepticism.

From the jpegs and videos, I can see that scale helps the work, but they still still feel a little hotel-y to me. What’s so unique about them. Are they really staking out a position for themselves?

tom moody July 7, 2014 at 9:41 am

I’ve seen two shows of the work in person but I was already intrigued by the way Bill Brady presented it, just from the installation shot:
I know of one feted new media painter (via hearsay) who was convinced by actually seeing the work.
Hotel-y is part of the story — in quotation marks — but in person you are vacillating between the skepticism you would have if this work had actually been made with paint and the digital aspect, which is all about simulation and physical modeling (at the most accessible level of “consumer” tech). It’s a matter of scale — these things tower over you — but also of presence and presentation. The gel medium is smeared on as if it were painted, yet has little actual relationship to the underlying strokes. This is funny, but is also adding a weird kind of solidity to the work.
They are pretty but not merely pretty, and certainly not cloying, in person.
By the “nose of the collector” I only meant that plunking down money will have to do until someone actually provides the critical exegesis. By then the flippers will be on to something else. I don’t see any of our established NY painting critics providing this exegesis. I think they will avoid this work because it’s “digital” and they still don’t know how to talk about that. (Of course I’d be interested in any articles I might have missed.)

Paddy Johnson July 7, 2014 at 12:31 pm

Where did you see the work in NYC? (Or did you see it elsewhere?)

wiki minaj July 8, 2014 at 5:38 pm

Why would anyone want to critique an evening trip to the Windows store and a brushstroke of gel medium on ‘american cliche’-sized canvas? Brady seems right to present them on the floor, propped up against the wall like any other ‘arts and crafts’ fair item. Less so to coattail the paintings into artistic sincerity as a result.

But I don’t even know why I’m tossing you these peanuts, he did the best at auction so clearly the exegesis just needs to be put to paper, right?

tom moody July 7, 2014 at 2:32 pm

These were the two I saw:
American Contemporary (East Village, NYC)
Apr – June 2014
Retrospective gallery (Hudson, NY)
May – June 2014

tom moody July 8, 2014 at 10:00 pm

To wiki minaj: OK, so you haven’t seen the work — your rage about this terrible situation is noted.

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