Josh Baer started faxing out his eponymous newsletter, the Baer Faxt, in 1994, a no-frills list of recent auction buyers and underbidders (as identified in the saleroom by Baer and his informants) plus bits of art industry news and gossip.
Now an email, it has a big following, although, given the variable spelling, it is nicknamed The Barely Factual by some. Not so, Baer says—he insists that since 1996 he has received just five to ten name corrections out of a total of over 10,800.
Last year, The Baer Faxt got financial backing from LionTree and the family office of the Moma board member Glenn Fuhrman, and now it is launching The Baer Faxt Auction Database, which contains an index of auction buyer and under-bidder identities from 1996 to now.
There are no shortage of databases for the art market today, all claiming to offer unique insight into this famously opaque industry. But this one is different in that it offers access to buyer and underbidder names, not numbers. You will need deep pockets, however—Baer is charging an eye-watering $200 per month for individual access, rising to $500 per month for a large company subscription. Add that up over the course of a year and, for the same amount, you could spend a week in luxury in the Seychelles or buy a (slightly ropey) second-hand car.
“It’s not enough for you in the business to know what a work of art sold for at auction,” Baer says in his sales pitch. “What’s more important is who bought it—or, perhaps even more valuably if you’re the one looking to sell, the data of who tried to buy it and didn’t get it.” The presumption is that users will also have access to a price database like Artnet to find out price trends for an artist’s work and the press release adds the caveat: “Naturally, for some lots, Baer was able to confirm buyer or under-bidder but not both”.
Baer’s press release lists various endorsements, such as this from the art dealer Jeffrey Deitch: “The best way to become a player in the art world is to be an underbidder on a major work of art [at auction]. Just raise your hand near one of the top bids on a Warhol or another major lot and Josh will list you in The Baer Faxt among the underbidders.”
All very well, but what happens if you actually buy it?