For Aaron Garber-Maikovska, Gestures Speak Louder Than the Market
By: Marion Maneker
If Aaron Garber-Maikovska, the multi-media artist who had a breakout year in 2015, has a signal trait that has won over curators and collectors alike, it is his sincerity. “I have never seen an artist who has such enthusiastic responses to studio visits,” says his gallerist, Rob Greene.
At any time, Garber-Maikovska’s brief market run—his works first sold publicly in late 2014 before running up to $87,500 at Phillips and $97,500 at Sotheby’s in New York this last November—would provoke interest, admiration and suspicion in equal parts. But coming on the heels of a broad market run of abstract artists who have been seen as cynically shaping their production toward market tastes, the artist’s success with collectors has been even more remarkable.
“I first heard of him from a European collector,” says Artlist’s Astrid de Maismont who has sold several works by Garber-Maikovska watching as last Summer’s lull in interest for emerging artists gave way to a resurgence this Fall. de Maismont took her cues on the artist from that collector whom she describes as, “someone really off the radar with a great collection from Monet to Richter to Wool.”
“His prices haven’t gone cuckoo crazy,” says Kenny Schachter, the collector and chronicler of the art market, who says Garber-Maikovska is different from the waning Zombie Formalists. “He seems to be a young person on the move.”
“His work is something to live with and not worry about because the quality is so apparent,” says Schachter who bought one of Garber-Maikovska’s works from a friend and promptly put it in storage. “I find the work is just a lot more appealing. His work seems to have a voice that distinguishes itself from its peers. Zombies are supposed to live forever but they died.”
Whether Garber-Maikovska’s market can take on a life of its own remains to be seen. But this week will be a big test as four different works appear in the London Contemporary art day sales. There’s one at Sotheby’s, one at Phillips, and two at Christie’s (a black-and-white work and one in color.) Is there enough demand to place all of these works—and at the price level he so recently achieved?
Maybe. Having four works for sale at once isn’t ideal. But de Maismont thinks Garber-Maikovska has staying power. “He has great supporters with serious collections,” she says. “That’s where I’ve sold his work. And his controlled production only makes me more convinced he’ll do well over time.”
Making Gestures at the Market
When many artists see their work taking the first tentative steps into the secondary market, their primary dealer is apoplectic. But Garber-Maikovska’s gallerist, Rob Greene, takes a more circumspect approach. “I got to know a lot of the people who were buying on the secondary market,” Greene says. “They’re donating pieces; they’re buying videos. Now they want works from every part of the practice. Having good relationships with these people is the most important thing. You don’t have to be a person with a private museum to be a good custodian of the work.”
What seems to be giving Garber-Maikovska’s work a life of its own is his commitment. Where other artists produce for the market, Garber-Maikovska tends to work out formal problems over a long period, holding onto his work. Greene says the artist draws energy from even his mistakes. That is, in part, because his work is an outgrowth of his videos and performance pieces which, in turn, form the basis of a larger project about language and gesture.
“The viewer may attempt to look into meaning in Garber-Maikovska’s work,” Chrsitie’s Ed Tang recently wrote on the auction house’s website. “But the aim of the artist is to convey new modes of communication through the gesticulations of his body. Visually, the paintings have a gestural bravado and a frivolous sense of movement and rhythm.”
Learning of this connection brought the artist’s work into focus for de Maismont too. “There’s something very expressive about the line and the colors,” she remembers of her first encounters with his work. “Then I discovered the new form of language he is creating and then I got into the work in a new way.”
Through Artlist, de Maismont sold a couple of his black-and-white works early last year. Then some of the works with color as recently as a few weeks ago. Since then, she has heard from a number of interested buyers, many from the Los Angeles area where Garber-Maikovska has his studio.
“Something is coming,” de Maismont says. But it may be simply that more and more curators and collectors have been stopping by the studio and there’s a backlog of work that hasn’t been released.
Playing the Game
“If Aaron has any charisma,” says his primary dealer, Rob Greene, “it is in making people feel comfortable. When you go into the studio and see how much he is experimenting and how innovative he is being with materials, that’s revelatory.”
“I’m such a new gallerist,” Greene explains, “and it was only last year that we got going to international fairs. So it has taken a lot of people a while for it show up on people’s radar. I think what you’re seeing now is people realizing that this is a mature artist who is making work for some time. The work is good; its fairly rare; and, it is going to be something where there are going to be people wanting to acquire more works than are available.”
The combination of word of mouth (“He’s always trying to surprise himself as much as anyone ,” says Greene. “That’s revelatory for someone visiting the studio.”) and the constrained supply seems to be driving the demand. But let’s see how long that lasts.
“He wasn’t on the tip of everyone’s tongue,” Schachter says by way of explaining Garber-Maikovska’s appeal. “His work is progressively changing in a positive way. He doesn’t look cynical or like he is kowtowing to the market.”
According to Greene, Garber-Maikovska can sit on work for as long as 18 months which gives him more time to live with the work and potentially edit or destroy doesn’t seem to lasting. “He can be selective about what he releases,” Greene says. “It is either going to an institution or goes straight into a show.”
Together, Greene and Garber-Maikovska seem to have a strategy. “You can play the game,” the art dealer days, “or let the game play you.