with Art Market Reporter Judd Tully
March 5, 2010
Judd Tully is editor-at-large for "Art +
Auction" magazine published monthly in New York
by Louise Blouin Media.
BRIAN APPEL: Tell
me a little bit about how you got started
JUDD TULLY: I came to New York in the early
seventies--I had been in Northern California and
I was looking for something to do in New York in
terms of writing journalism.
BA: So you were writing before.
JT: Sort of. Yeah. Right out of college I was
writing for these underground newspapers in
BA: Oh, really?
JT: Yeah, “The Berkeley Barb”.
BA: Oh, wow.
JT: Yeah. The Barb was supported by
pornographic ads in the back.
BA: Of course!
JT: Anyway I stumbled, literally, into this
exhibition. I didn't really know what it was. It
was an installation of Red Grooms in Ruckus,
Manhattan which was an installation—he called it
a sculptural novel. At the time, New York City
was completely bankrupt and the World Trade
Center was still standing. It was basically a
new building but it was empty.
JT: So Grooms built a miniature model of it,
but with “For Rent” signs crudely made on the
outside. He had maybe 30 young artists who were
working for him making the Woolworth Building,
the Brooklyn Bridge, and when you walked through
a subway car with figures in it, it would rock;
it was on springs. And I thought it was really
And I wound up writing about it. And there was a
publication at the time called “The SoHo Weekly
News” and I just submitted it—the article.
BA: And it went.
JT: Well yeah, I mean, I was interested. I'd
seen the paper and they published it and then I
started writing some stuff for them, and one
thing led to another. And a lot of the artists
who were working for Red Grooms at the time were
my age—were young then, and so I met a bunch of
artists. So when they would have, say, several
years later a show somewhere they knew me and
they said hey, can you write something?
So it's sort of bits and pieces. And I wrote
a review in “Flash Art” magazine in the early to
mid-eighties when Jeffrey Deitch was the New
BA: The MOCA director-to-be.
JT: Oddly enough. Anyway, I found out that I
couldn't support myself even with part-time jobs
writing criticism. Well, it wasn't criticism, it
was more like art reviews.
And I switched more to journalism. And then I
wrote for “The New Art Examiner” in Chicago. I
went to the Museum of Modern Art library. I used
to hang out there and look at publications. And
I liked that publication, contacted them, and
then started writing stuff about New York for
them. And then it gradually—I got very lucky in
the mid-eighties—and started freelancing as a
stringer for the “Washington Post” for the style
section. And then wrote a tremendous amount of
stuff on auctions. Not that I knew anything
That's how I fell into it.
BA: Oh, okay.
JT: It's like falling into a ditch. Stumbling
and falling into a ditch.
BA: That's great. I had no idea. Where were you
JT: Then I was living in—I dropped out of
graduate school and –
BA: In Chicago?
JT: No, in California.
JT: And there was some weird—it was in a
break-off from something from Stanford
University. Some sociological place called the
Wright Institute. And there was this guy, Art
Pearl, I believe his name was, and he developed
something called environmental education. But he
was a very early thinker, sort of in that Paul
Goodman way of the world should be smaller and
more integrated and recycled. Anyway, it was
BA: Who’s Paul Goodman?
JT: He wrote this book, "Growing Up Absurd"
which was a famous book in the sixties maybe.
BA: Oh, yeah, gay lib, youth revolt, that sort
JT: And an educator, but kind of populist.
BA: And this is like around 1971, '72.
BA: Wow. So you've been writing for –
JT: Millions of years.
BA: Are you familiar with Lucia van der Post, a
writer for the “Financial Times” weekend
magazine, “How To Spent It”?
BA: Every Saturday they publish a magazine
called “How To Spend It” for their upscale–
JT: Yeah, I've seen it.
BA: Last month in the weekend magazine she
wrote: "It used to be the world of rock and
roll, the music and its stars that were the true
touchstones of the times we live in, reflecting
back to us our preoccupations, our passions, our
notions of politics, life and living." She
suggested that: "Today art and artists are
attracting the fans, the adulation, the
attention and the bank balances that were once
the terrain of rock stars." Do you agree with
Ms. Van der Post?
JT: It sounds conceivable. I mean, I would
say today there're still rock stars, or maybe
it's more like hip-hop artists that, you know,
Jay-Z - making buckets of money and having huge
legions of fans and celebrity, and now a lot of,
you know, branching out doing fashion and
doing—I mean, I think Kanye West even
collaborated with Takashi Murakami on a—Murakami
did an album cover for them.
JT: I think there's some relevance to it in
terms of artists and making money certainly. You
know, someone that you've written a lot about
Richard Prince would definitely embody that kind
of rock star status. So though I don't think
he's not—he's much more low-key in terms of
being out in the public.
JT: I think it's true that artists—some
artists that are in the marketplace that make a
lot of money—Jeff Koons—they did become these
kind of celebrities or famous. I'm sure in their
day somebody like Franz Kline or Jackson
Pollock—well, not exactly Pollock, he died a bit
too soon, but some of those Abstract
Expressionist guys started to make a lot of
money when Sidney Janis finally started selling
their paintings. And then they were kind of
wiped out by the Pop artists.
BA: Janis had this one show where he invited--
really early—it was 1962 I think— five or six
Pop artists in a group show—“The New
Realists”—Warhol was in it, so was Lichtenstein,
BA: And apparently all the Abstract
Expressionists that were on his roster—Rothko,
Guston, Gottlieb, Motherwell— just abandoned him
in protest. Because the Pop artists were
considered a stain on ‘real’ art.
JT: Yeah. Like the plague.
JT: Actually there's a piece at the Armory
show in this gallery—Galerie Thomas—which is
from Munich and it's a Warhol piece, I've never
seen it before. Small. He might have done thirty
of them, but it's sort of an homage to Sidney
JT: And they’re green and black—basically
they're from snapshots of Janis as a child and
then later he was this kind of very small
gymnast and he was at the beach—a bathing outfit
holding up a woman on his shoulders. And it's
BA: There were multiple images?
JT: Yeah. I think he did 30.
BA: Like 8 by 10s or 16 by 20s?
JT: Not even that large. - - .but yeah, I
mean, I think it is true, I mean, even today in
“The New York Times”, Roberta Smith reviewing
the “Skin Fruit” show at the New Museum and
talking about how these artists like
Murakami—well, not so much Murakami, but
Maurizio Cattelan, Jeff Koons, I mean,
BA: It’s the Jeff Koons curated exhibition –
JT: Of the Dakis Joannou collection, this big
BA: The billionaire tycoon.
JT: It's like going to an elaborate "Last
Supper." in terms of this cornucopia of - -
market-driven –- images… pieces. Urs Fischer and
all these characters. It's all the last 20
But, getting back to that about the rock star
thing, I suppose it is true. I mean, I suppose
there're even conceivably groupies for certain
artists or there's a kind of clubby atmosphere.
And a lot of dealers have made tremendous
amounts of money off –
JT: - promoting artists like rock stars. So
like Larry Gagosian who's –
BA: The king.
JT: You know, maybe he's the Bill Graham—if
that's a name that rings a bell –
BA: That's perfect –
JT: Of his time.
BA: How does a critic, an art journalist
navigate being honest and at the same time not
alienating any artists, dealers, collectors or
other professionals he doesn't like?
JT: I don't think that's possible or even
advisable. I mean, it's just the way it happens
to be. I mean, there's a big difference between
an art journalist and a critic. I mean, a
critic—you're simply stating your views, and
they don't have to be backed up by anything.
BA: A subjective analysis….
JT: An art critic. Yeah. I mean, if you're a
journalist, hypothetically anyway, you're
reporting something, you're reflecting not just
your own views; you're reflecting other views as
well. So if you think—let's take that New Museum
show, for example.. If I was a critic and I was
writing about it I would just say what I thought
about it and if there was an essay, if there was
a publication I'd probably read it beforehand to
get a sense of, you know, I'd read what Jeff
Koons' thoughts were about the show and take it
from there. But if I was writing about the
collection and Dakis Joannou and some of the
works, I'd talk about market value and about the
implications of the New Museum supporting
basically a private collection –- and what that
does. And I'd be getting comments from either
dealers or artists or other museum people, I'm
sure. And so it's a very different way. Now, you
can be heavy-handed as an art journalist because
you're trying to show something and you've just
kind of cherry-picked quotes that are negative
BA: Pushing through your agenda.
JT: But then you run into the distinctive
problem of what are your motives and then you
can get into trouble over that.
You can be sued for libel as an art journalist
if it's published in a magazine, but you can't
really be sued for libel as a critic because the
critic is just your opinion.
BA: A critic-al distinction.
JT: Yeah. Exactly. but it's very difficult
to, I mean, if you're playing—you might as well
go into public relations if you're really trying
to not step on anyone's toes or get someone
upset about something because there's
always—what I always like to do is show both
sides. Because there're wrinkles in both –
JT: - if there's a controversy or if there's
a lawsuit about the art world, about the art
BA: You're mirroring how the cognoscenti and the
general public are responding to the work as
opposed to your own opinion - - . I love the way
you dealt with the critic versus the journalist.
Now, how do you see yourself? I read your bio
and you've been a critic –
BA: - a curator.
JT: Right. Yeah.
BA: You're obviously a journalist, an art
JT: Yeah. I'm more of a journalist. I mean,
in terms of I've never really seriously
considered myself an art critic. I would have
been more in the sense of a reviewer. Like my
first—I never had a kind of killer instinct for
walking into a show and saying . I don't like
this work and therefore I want to –
BA: [Interposing] Crush it.
JT: - or tear it apart or something. I would
just, more than likely, bypass it and write
about something that I liked. That would just
make more sense.
BA: By writing about something or not writing
about something you're pointing; your addressing
what you think is valid –
JT: Yeah, in a way, but, you know, going back
to ancient history there was a guy in New
York—he was a publisher of something called
“Art/World”, his name is Bruce Duff Hooten. And
he had a little office in this hotel on the
Upper East Side, the Hotel Wales. And he put out
this amazing paper of just tons of reviews. It
was a tabloid style paper. An old,
pre-computer—like in the seventies and eighties.
And he was a former art critic for one of the
major dailies when there was more than one major
daily, like the “Herald Tribune” he wrote for.
But he was kind of—not getting into personal
history for him, he was like a reformed drunk
basically. And there were a lot of guys that
would come there that were sort of in the same
boat. But there was a tremendous amount of
coverage of shows. And he would just write these
short reviews. And the idea is you would go in,
you'd see the show, you'd write about it, it
would come out, and it wouldn't be like two
months later, say, like reviews come out in “Art
In America” –
BA: It's still fresh.
JT: And I've always liked that aspect, both
in terms of the news and both in terms of, you
know, to sort of be part of some kind of—not
dialogue exactly because these are such small
BA: Are you familiar with the writer James
Panero from “The New Criterion”? He recently
quoted Leo Steinberg’s prophetic observation
about the art world from 1968: "We shall have
mutual funds based on securities in the form of
pictures held in bank vaults."
When did the point of sale rather than the point
of creation come to take precedence to
determining the primary meaning for certain
works of art?
JT: Oy. What a—oh, so intellectual. I didn't
even—was that Leo Steinberg? Is that who he's
BA: Yes. the American art critic and art
historian. He’s up there with Clement Greenberg
and Harold Rosenberg.
JT: Yeah. I had no clue actually. I thought
Leo Steinberg died in 1905 or something, but
anyway I could be confusing him with someone
else. I don't even know how to begin on that
question, but –
BA: Maybe the Robert & Ethel Scull auction at
Sotheby’s Parke-Bernet is a good place to
JT: Yeah. Well no, I'm thinking about, I
mean, in terms of commerce, in terms of art, in
terms of art as investment which certainly the
mutual funds—and I'm sure somebody writing in
1968—I mean, a mutual fund today, when you
mentioned mutual fund you sort of grimaced, I
think, oh, you're going to lose money.
JT: Because of that—the unreliability of
stocks going up in an orderly manner every year
and blah, blah, blah. So it is true at a—okay,
so in one of those Scull sales, because I'm not
quite sure, there were—I believe there were
three Scull sales. The first one I knew about
was the famous 1973 one. Fifty works sold for a
total $2.2 million. There's a black and white
documentary by E. J. Vaughn that was done on
that auction only at—I went to see once years
ago at the Museum of Modern Art—and there's a
scene in it where Robert Rauschenberg confronts
Scull for selling a work he purchased for $900
that went for $85,000 at the auction—and punches
him in the stomach.
JT: I mean, it almost seems like I could be
imagining that I saw it on film, but this was
part of the film.
But basically values started going up in
multiples, I suppose, like that auction where
they didn't even print estimates in those
catalogs, it was like a separate sheet. There
was very little information about what something
was or, you know, pre-Artnet, pre-anything. And
I was talking recently with—not to namedrop, but
with Bill Acquavella who's doing a show next
month that Judith Goldman's curating from the
Scull collection. It's sort of big hits and
bringing them from museums and things.
BA: Oh, great.
JT: Acquavella must be in his seventies now.
He recalled bidding unsuccessfully in that first
Scull sale, or one of those Scull sales on
Willem de Kooning's “Police Gazette”, which is a
major picture. And he said that the estimate was
something like $40,000 to $60,000 and it sold
for–like a $104 thousand. Like something way
over his—but then he tracked the history of it
and he later bought it for $2.4 million. He sold
it to Steve Wynn for $12 million. Steve Wynn
sold it—you know, I mean, it just kept until it
became this $60 million picture.
BA: Iconic works are fought over. Is it still
JT: Yes. I think Steve Cohen owns it, and I
think Cohen bought it from Geffen.
BA: Steven A. Cohen, the hedge fund
billionaire—he bought the 40 by 40 inch
“Turquoise Marilyn” from Chicago collector
Stefan Edlis for $80 million.
JT: Yeah. He also bought Willem de Kooning’s
“Woman 111” from Geffen for roughly $135
million. But anyway, the notion of the
marketplace is interesting. The only difference
is that the—and I think it's a major
difference—that that moment of creation and
however it's determined to be a great work of
art or not, it's still that work of art no
matter what happens to it. But in the
marketplace it can be the most expensive work of
art, a worthless work of art, like in one
decade, or from another.
One of the most illuminating kind of accidents
that I had in terms of the art—learning about
things like that—was in L.A. years ago just kind
of wandering around, and there was a used book
shop and on the sidewalk there were tons of
these old art magazines and I bought a bunch of
them. It was like “Arts” magazines from the
fifties and the sixties.
BA: Oh, how cool.
JT: I used to always go through them and I
would be amazed seeing these big ads for artists
whose names I didn't recognize. And looking at
the reviews—and certain names, of course,
you—because, you know, Frank Stella is Frank
But there are many, many, many artists that
had—as Andy Warhol would say—their 15 minutes of
fame, but they've just been whatever, you know.
BA: Good point.
JT: Yeah. By either their own, you know,
decisions or other decisions. But anyway yeah,
that's an interesting question. I mean, to pose
that. But in 1968 I don't think a contemporary
work of art had sold for $1 million.
BA: I think Johns was the most expensive
contemporary artist at that time, and he was
commanding, I think, in the low six figures –
JT: Right. Well, just one more example.
JT: From Scull, talking about Scull, last
November in New York when “200 One Dollar Bills”
sold—Andy Warhol's painting for $40,000,000
BA: $43.8 million.
JT: Yeah, something like that. His seller
bought time at auction at the Scull estate
auction in 1986 for what was then a record
JT: And she held onto it for 23 years—that's
like Warren Buffet—buy and hold.
JT: But I wouldn't, I mean, I don't think art
will ever be—they argue—they, being people that
are trying to sell these art funds, that art is
a separate asset class, which is the kind of
financial lingo as in stock. So if you have $10
million you want to invest 10% of your portfolio
in art. So, you could an have art fund. That I
think is, you know, ludicrous. Because I don't
think it's—first of all, art's not liquid. You
have all these hedge fund guys that lost their
jobs and they were buying, you know, George
Condo, not to put anything down about George
Condo, but—or, you know, Richard Prince or you
name it. Murakami. They can't flip it tomorrow.
You know, it's illiquid.
BA: Right. They can't—unless they have a rare,
fresh to market, iconic work with impeccable
BA: In 2006, Tobias Meyer, the worldwide head of
contemporary art Sotheby's infamously remarked:
“… that the best art is the most expensive
because the market is so smart."
Was Meyer telling the truth?
JT: I have to hand it to Tobias for being a
great showman and almost like a huckster in
terms of the art market. I mean, he is great. He
comes up with these great sound bites. But I
think that is just a complete crock— because you
can't say that. For example, the Francis Bacon
triptych that sold at Sotheby's for $86 million
three years ago that this Russian oligarch,
Roman Abramovich bought—that is not a great work
of art. That is one of the most overpriced
pieces of, you know, failed—I mean Bacon is a
great artist. One of the—I think he's one of the
greatest artists of the 20th century, you know,
and post-war, whatever. But there are so many
examples you could start picking to say Tobias,
that's really pathetic. I mean, I think he has a
point in that I think the market is smart or the
people that follow the market, but if we wanted
to look at “Walking Man 1” by Alberto Giacometti
that sold as the most expensive work of art ever
at auction –
BA: $104.3 million.
JT: Uh-huh. That sold in London a couple of
weeks ago at Sotheby's. And the - - was
something like—I think the estimate was 12 to 18
million pounds or whatever. One hundred million
is an insane price. It's a great work of art,
but first of all, it's a multiple, it's a
bronze. There're nine others. I mean, it's an
edition of six plus, I think, four artist proofs
or something. Anyway, I think that's just part
of the spin that you try to—you know, like oh,
There's this Christie’s auctioneer who I really
get a big kick out of in London—Jussi Pylkkanen
I think he's Finnish maybe. Anyway, he's very
smooth with a posh British accent, whatever. But
whenever he sells—and if you look at auctions a
lot you can tell—against the reserve, in other
words, there was really just one real bid in the
room –and typically it's on a telephone.
JT: He would always say to the anonymous
phone bidder brilliant. You know, like
complimenting the person who just bought the
farm, so to speak. That no one else was bidding
on it, no one else wanted the work. So I think
it is true that collectors that seem to be
savvy, they know prices, this and that, or they
say okay, there are only ten of these made, or
this was made and it was reviewed or it was in a
museum show or whatever critic—or it was in this
collection and therefore—or it came from the
artist's studio, you can make all of these
little kind of arguments for this is why it's
worth ten times what the auction house is
estimating it's going to go for. I think you can
get killed in this field if you're looking at it
as a pure investment. I mean, you just get
JT: And that's why I like the name of Damien
Hirst’s private collection which is called
“Murder Me”. Is Hirst’s abundant serial output
essential to his oeuvre and an important aspect
of his need to keep enough works in circulation
to sustain growing global growth or is it a time
bomb waiting to explode?
In other words, prices could kill you—perhaps
not literally—but definitely figuratively
BA: Arthur C. Danto has argued in his new book
"Andy Warhol" Yale University Press (2009) that
the artist's “Brillo Box” sculptures from 1964
induced a transformation in art's philosophy so
"…it was no longer possible to think of art in
the same way."
Danto felt that the history of art had come to
an end. He suggested that the installation of
the Brillo shipping cartons stacked in
regimented piles had realized its possibilities
and there was nothing more to be achieved. Art
had now become both post-historical and
Would you agree with Danto's premise? Are we
still under the huge shadow of Warhol's last
show of grocery cartons at the Stable Gallery in
New York? Or are you of the opinion that the
history of art opens up new possibilities all
JT: Well, if I was a philosopher maybe I
would be able to come up with something to
address what Danto's saying. I mean, that's the
difference between a critic/philosopher and a
journalist. Like I would go out and I would ask,
you know, I'd call up different people and say,
what do you think of this quote of Arthur
Danto's? But basically, I agree up to the point
of that Warhol was definitely, you know, some
kind of genius…
BA: [Interposing] Game changer - - .
JT: Yes, game changer. Game changer's one,
but even—and not even saying it in any kind of
cynical terms, but yes, he put—actually
monotized the Walter Benjamin theories from the
thirties about mechanical reproduction—he sort
of put them in three dimensions or something
JT: In terms of silk screen.
JT: Mechanical reproduction. I mean, he
really just was sort of a post-modern printer I
think, an expression event? I mean, it's hard to
know what can happen next in terms of creativity
or new art movements because so much art is
being made and so many different people are
artists, you know, that have gone to art school
or not, released from insane asylums and decide
to become outsider artists, I don't know. But
you don't know what someone else might come up
with. I don't know. It’s anybody’s wild guess.
BA: Some would say that postmodern art is art
produced by artists liberated from the burden of
JT: Yeah. Yeah. It's the same argument, I
mean, in a way of whenever, you know, “Time”
magazine had the question on its cover in 1966;
‘God Is Dead?’, I mean, in terms of sort of it's
the end of the road and there's nothing else to
JT: Maybe that applies for a certain amount
of time—who knows? When I was talking before
about, hand-delivering copy to a magazine or
from a typewritten page and using White-Out to
correct your mistakes or using carbon paper to
make a copy of it, it just sounds so ancient
backward and so labor-intensive!
BA: [Interposing] But the content is –
JT: - turn the switch off in terms of what
possibly can be created or what can come next
and I don’t necessarily mean Steve Jobs’ IPAD.
BA: Can you name an artist who you initially
liked, but through time and repeated viewings
changed your opinion? What about an artist who
initially you didn't like, but subsequently came
JT: That's a pretty interesting question. I'm
still having issues with George Condo, I have to
say. I think his work is really awful. And even
though I really try to like it, and some of it's
very funny, and he makes so many different kinds
of works, so I suppose when I first saw him
maybe 20 years ago—I thought, ‘Egad, what’s this
BA: He's 50, 52 - - .
JT: Yeah. But I thought it was very punchy
and kind of—I like art that's either crisp or
conceptual or else something very different,
that packs a big wallop—someone like Basquiat. I
know he's done some really bad works, but from
the first time I ever saw some of his graffiti
on the Bowery under the moniker, ‘Samo the art
bum’, and later connected it to who he was…it
blew me away.
BA: [Interposing] “Samo –”
JT: I mean, I've always thought his work was
amazing. But I think I'm a sucker for this sort
of, that neo-expressionist or wild child edge,
although he was never really a wild child.
If there's an artist whose work I don't really
like, or someone I don't really go out of my way
to see it, it might be someone like Elizabeth
Murray. Yet a lot of people and important
institutions like MoMA, say her shaped paintings
are important, and her contributions, especially
as a women artist gaining fame in the 1980s, on
a track by herself. And I mean, I don't even
really want to say anything negative because she
just recently died and too young at that.
I have to say that Murakami is an artist who
when I first saw the work I was very
underwhelmed by it. And over time I've seen
certain works of his that I quite liked. And I
like his philosophy about making work, or his
whole sort of movie producer, George Lucas ‘Star
Wars’ type view of the world.
People say he’s copied Andy Warhol’s studio
practice but Lucas was his inspiration. The
other thing I like about Murakami is that he
doesn’t exactly believe in his fame or fortune
being long-lasting. He knows the winds will
shift and indeed, they have already.
But, you know, that's a tough question. Both of
those are tough.
BA: Could you name an overrated artist and a
couple of underrated artists?
JT: That's like a loaded question - - .
Underrated artists. I think I would go back to
older artists in terms of underrated. I know
that someone like Paul Jenkins who's from that
second generation abstract expressionism and he
has been usually throttled in reviews–but he's
someone that I've seen his work—I saw a show of
his of works from the sixties and the seventies
which I thought was fantastic. So I think he's
better known in Europe, and if he lives long
enough, may be rehabilitated here.
I used to think Koons was overrated. Now, I'm
not so sure though I think he should stay away
from curating. I guess the quintessential
example of being overrated is Julian Schnabel—at
least as a painter, is pretty well accepted,
apart from a small number of great (as in broken
BA: Do you agree with that?
JT: Yes. I think he made some great paintings
in the 1980s. I think he really contributed to
that whole Neo-Expressionist dialogue, if that
was a dialogue going on then. I think it’s lucky
he became a filmmaker. And I think he's very
good at that. I have to say I think Richard
Prince is a tad overrated in terms of just
market adulation in the same way that I think
Maurizio Cattalan is a tad overrated although a
brilliant kind of thinker and pundit and kind of
pun maker, but a serious artist.
And then there’s Anselm Reyle.
BA: Under, over?
JT: Overrated. But he's newer to the game so
I don't even know. Where someone like, Mark
Grotjahn (Gagosian, etal) I mean, there's a
whole scene of artists that have been hitting
the market and a lot of my viewpoints on
individual artists is colored by the
marketplace. Like Andreas Gursky. I think if
it's possible for someone like him to be
underrated, I think he's really pretty great.
“99 Cent” store and his recent work in North
BA: After Richard's Cowboy.