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The Buyennial

Collectors hit the Whitney, checkbooks in hand. (David Byrne feels priced out.)


'Before I had no money. Now I have money,” said Rob Fischer, a sculptor from the last Whitney Biennial, as he pushed his way over to the basement bar at the VIP opening of this year’s show. Getting in the Biennial has always been like winning career Lotto, with the payout never so big as now. Adam McEwen’s blown-up tongue-in-cheek celeb obits were chosen this year, prompting Elizabeth Fekkai, the ex-wife of hairstylist Frédéric Fekkai and an art dealer herself, to declare she wouldn’t sell the McEwen faux obit she owns (of porn queen Marilyn Chambers) “for less than $15,000.” (“It’s personal, but it’s also an investment,” she explained.) Meanwhile, several large, egglike imitation boulders that Dan Colen had oil-painted to look like they’d been graffitied and covered in gobs of gum caught her eye. “I love everything about him,” she gushed improbably, given her Jackie O.-esque chestnut bob. “But his work is sold out.” (A rock runs about $30,000.)

So many collectors “have too much money and a herd instinct,” says Walter Robinson, editor of Artnet magazine. And the Biennial is their shopping list. “Look at Cecily Brown,” he says. “Five years ago, you could buy her for $7,000 to $14,000. Now a piece goes for 80.” Even David Byrne, examining a wall project that involved panty hose and men’s briefs, said he felt a bit priced out. “I used to collect outsider art,” he said. “But then it went through the roof.” Chloë Sevigny seemed to think she could get around the hype through her sheer hipness: “I just started making enough money again” to collect, she said. “So I’m going to start with young people that I know. They’re less expensive.” Also on hand was Malcolm Gladwell, but he couldn’t say if we’ve reached some sort of collecting tipping point, because “I don’t buy art.”


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