In one of Eric Fischl’s “Art Fair Paintings” from 2014, the figure of Josh Baer is unmistakable. Amid montages of gallerists and collectors, curators and celebrities, Baer, ​​with his mop of white hair, is shown engaged in the same activity as most of Fischl’s other fairground figures – staring at his phone rather than the exhibited work. It’s an overview of the contemporary art market, but it also highlights Baer’s pivotal role as a sought-after advisor and founder of The Baer Faxt newsletter – a roundup of auction results. , gallery openings and artist signatures which he has published weekly since 1994.

‘Art Fair: Booth #17 Instructions’ (2014) by Eric Fischl depicts Josh Baer in the whirlwind of the art world © Courtesy the artist/Skarstedt

Today, his base of more than 7,000 subscribers includes many of the biggest players in the art world, from gallery owners Larry Gagosian and David Zwirner to Christies chairman Marc Porter. Zwirner stresses its importance to insiders: “It’s something we would all struggle to do without.”

Now Baer is expanding its reach. “I got to a point where I could just kind of walk around,” he says over the phone in his broad New York accent. “The newsletter was getting a little less interesting but people were still signing up. You know, I’m 66 now. I thought to myself, ‘Do I just want to play the chord or am I trying to make it more interesting?’

By selling a minority stake in his company — for an undisclosed amount — to investment bank LionTree and Virtru Investment Partners, the family office of MoMA board member Glenn Fuhrman, Baer launched a “product portfolio.” known as The Baer Faxt+”. In addition to the newsletter, it includes an auction database (detailing buyers and underbidders as well as prices), inflated content for subscribers (video podcasts with curators and artists) and a new service advice on request.

Two men sitting on chairs discussing

Josh Baer (left) chatting with artist NFT Beeple for a video © Joshua Geyer

The latter is the art world’s equivalent, says Baer, ​​of Doctor on Demand, providing on-call counseling to “people who don’t need a full-time counselor walking around with them.” at every fair. Priced at $3,000 a year (compared to $40,000 to $500,000 according to Baer, ​​it would otherwise cost to “access a world-class art adviser”), it appeals to collectors at both ends of the market. “People who know a lot about art and want to know why this summary of Richter is better than Richter’s, but also people who ask, ‘Who is Gerhard Richter?’

Baer grew up in the New York art world – her mother, Jo Baer is a painter now represented by Pace Gallery. “As a child, Robert Smithson or Clement Greenberg would come to our house for dinner, or we would go to see a show with Jasper Johns,” he says. “I was at the center of the art world, looking for the future, although my mother certainly didn’t embrace my becoming an art dealer. For her, art dealers were generally bad.

After studying math and computer science in college, Baer returned to the New York art scene in 1979 and cut his teeth as director of the artist-run nonprofit White Columns. He followed with an eponymous SoHo gallery, representing artists such as Nancy Spero and Lorna Simpson. However, after the art market crash of the mid-1990s, his career hit a low point – “I went out of business and was deeply in debt”, he says, prompting him to begin compiling The Baer Faxt, for which a standard subscription is $375 per year.

Two pages from the first edition of Baer Faxts in 1994, which came out as a fax

His very first subscriber was Zwirner, who befriended Baer when the gallerist moved to New York in 1990. “You sat around on Thursdays and waited for that fax to come. He was filling a void. I always read The Baer Faxt to find out what my competitors are doing.

Baer Faxt’s knowledge helps Baer as an advisor. Over the past 27 years, he has facilitated over $500 million in transactions. “I don’t take a scattered approach,” he says, so he engages less often but more successfully. He facilitated Basquiat’s sales and a particularly memorable transaction for his client, tennis player John McEnroe.

“I’ve been very involved in African American art for at least 30 years and I said to John, ‘Do you know this artist called Mark Bradford? Because I found something; you have to come on see,” Baer says of the monumental 12-by-35-foot abstract canvas that McEnroe bought in 2014 and sold at Phillips in 2018. “It made a record price of just over $12 million and is went to The Broad in Los Angeles. I would say that was a really good home run: acquire it, live with it, sell it smartly, and have it end up in an institution with a multiple x return.”

Two men sitting on chairs discussing

Gallery owner David Zwirner (left) talks to Josh Baer © Jeff Herbert

Not that Baer necessarily considers making a good comeback his forte. “Now with all the NFTs and speculation, people can make a lot of money buying and selling art, but I’m not too good at it,” he says. “There are other people who have better business acumen, who can really smell a market and time it.”

In his expanded advisory capacity, he aligned himself with a list of peers: Liz Sterling and Rick Wester in New York, Xiaoming Zhang in Shanghai (the Chinese-language version of The Baer Faxt has around 3,000 subscribers) and Kami Gahiga in London. Their collective experience extends to auction houses, private collections and institutions, including the Guggenheim.

Curiously, Baer himself says he is not a collector. “But I do own artistic,” he added. “The difference is that I don’t care if the value drops to zero. Once in a while, I find something that I really like. Recently, this has included a photographic work by American sculptor Charles Ray – “I bought it with emotion” – and a portrait by young Ghanaian painter Amoako Boafo, a piece whose price he compares to a house in the Hamptons. “It’s a job that could actually go as low as $1,000,” he muses. “It hangs in my living room.”