Sarah Cascone, Tuesday, December 16, 2014
A purported version of the world's most iconic painting, Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa, has surfaced in Singapore, and appears to show a younger Mona Lisa in front of a different background. Said by its owners to be by the hand of the Renaissance master, the painting is thought to predate that of Paris's Louvre by a decade, and is claimed to have undergone scientific analysis that dates the piece to 1503.
Now being shown publicly for the first time at the Arts House in Singapore's Old Chambers of Parliament, the story being put forth about this unfinished painting is as follows. It's said to have been purchased by an English noble visiting Italy in 1778. It was rediscovered by British art collector Hugh Blaker in 1913 in Somerset, and became known as the Isleworth Mona Lisa after it was restored in his London studio.
The canvas, which has belonged to an international consortium since 2008, has now embarked on a tour of the Pacific, with stops in Hong Kong, China, South Korea, and Australia.
One of the new painting's champions is Switzerland's Mona Lisa Foundation, which manages the paintings and began attesting to its authenticity in 2012. "We feel these latest discoveries and new scientific analysis just carried out leave little doubt that it is Leonardo's work," foundation vice-president David Feldman told Reuters. "The vast majority of experts now either agree with us or accept that there is a strong case for our thesis."
Of course, it could also be that this Mona Lisa is just another Leonardo forgery, of which there are many (see "A Tale of Two Leonardos"). Leonardo expert Martin Kemp has been quick to voice his skepticism, warning the BBC that "the fact it's being shown in Singapore and is not getting an outing in a serious art museum [or] gallery is significant in itself," and criticizing the work's landscape and drapery as "inert."
Should the painting prove authentic, it would seem to debunk at least part of the theory of art historian Angelo Paratico, who recently voiced speculation that the iconic canvas's sitter was none other than the artist's mother, and that she was both Chinese and a slave (see "Was the Mona Lisa Leonardo's Mother and a Chinese Slave?"). If the newly unveiled version of the painting really does date to 1503, it seems to depict a woman in her 20s, even though Leonardo would have been around 50 years old at the time. (The Mona Lisa is more widely believed to be Lisa del Giocondo, the wife of a Florentine merchant.)
The Isleworth Mona Lisa is the third known copy of the painting, joining the well-known Louvre version, and a more obscure one held at thePrado in Madrid. Recent comparisons of those two paintings, now thought to have been painted during the same portrait sitting, have raised speculations that together they form a stereoscopic or 3-D image, perhaps the first in history (see "Was Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa the World's First 3-D Image?").
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artnet News, Thursday, December 18, 2014
artnet owns the world's largest and most comprehensive price database for secondary market sales of fine and decorative art. With the help of the artnet Analytics team, we crunched the numbers to assemble the definitive list of the world's most collectible living artists at auction.
We looked at sales results from auction houses worldwide over the past four years, the post-recession period, which we believe has the most relevance for both current market conditions and future trends. From these we derived two intersecting lists.
The first list shows the top 100 living artists ranked by total value of secondary market sales; the second presents the top 100 lots by living artists, ranked by price. Whereas the first list displays overall sales volume by value and quantity, the second tracks top lots for individual artworks and therefore contains duplicate entries for artists where an artist's work is in high demand. Small arrows indicate a change in rank from the previous month.
In addition to the name of the artist, the sale year, and price for the works of art, we felt it important to also include the name of the auction house and the location of the sale. Not surprisingly, we found that London, New York, and Hong Kong continue to be dominant points of sale.
For more information about top lots, including the name of individual works, or comparable sales, or to research other artists beyond the top 100 most collectible living artists at auction, we invite readers to visit the artnet Price Database at artnet.com. We source, update, and publish this top 100 list regularly on artnet News.
Benjamin Genocchio, Editor in Chief, artnet News
Eileen Kinsella, Alexandra Peers, Friday, July 4, 2014
Art Basel and the London summer auctions are behind us, and the auction market continues to hit unprecedented peaks. But today's records and art stars came straight out of yesterday's headline-grabbing auctions. With that in mind, we take a look back at some major milestones of the last few decades—from the 1973 sale that arguably lit the fuse on the current contemporary market to the recent three-quarters-of-a-billion dollar total of a single evening—to see how these 10 auctions changed the game and perhaps what might happen next.
1. The Scull Sale, Sotheby's New York, October 18, 1973
During the 1950s and '60s New York collectors Robert and Ethel Scull steered the profits from their sizable Manhattan taxi fleet towards acquiring one of the most extraordinary collections of Abstract Expressionist and Pop art ever assembled. It focused heavily on works by Jasper Johns as well as Robert Rauschenberg, James Rosenquist,Roy Lichtenstein, Andy Warhol, and Tom Wesselmann. The couple were close friends with, and sometimes financial backers of, the many artists whose works they collected. When a show of Johns's work at Leo Castelli Gallery failed to draw buyers, Robert Scull snapped up the whole thing. On the evening of October 18, 1973, there was considerable buzz around a sale of 50 of their works at (then Sotheby's Parke Bernet) which was expected to take in a then-whopping $2 million. Not only was it the first single-owner sale to feature contemporary American art, it was held when "conventional and cultural wisdom at the time was that these movements [Abstract Expressionism and Pop] would never be be taken seriously," according to Judith Goldman, who penned the catalogue essay for a 2010 show of the partly reassembled Scull collection at Acquavella Galleries. A group outside Sotheby's protested the fact that only one woman—Lee Bontecou—was included in the sale. Meanwhile, inside the packed salesroom, prices for the works soared far above what the Sculls had paid for them. Johns's Double White Map, bought for $10,000, fetched $240,000. Rauschenberg's Thaw, a combine painting bought for $900, sold for $85,000. After the auction, an outraged Rauschenberg, who later admitted that he had been drinking, shoved Mr. Scull in the chest, and angrily told him: "I've been working my ass off for you to make that profit." Johns however, saw cause for celebration; he and his crew took a break from making lithographs to uncork some champagne, according to a New York Times report. And Lichtenstein said of Rauschenberg's reaction: "What did he want, the work to decrease in value?" Art historian Irving Sandler said of the 1973 sale, that, more than any other single event, it "kicked off the market that we know today."
2. Vincent Van Gogh's Irises (1899), Sotheby's New York, November 1987
When Australian financier Alan Bond shelled out $53.9 million forVincent Van Gogh's Irises, less than one month after the massive stock market crash on October 19th it set the record for the world's most expensive painting. It also created an inflated level of confidence about the ability of the art market—or at least masterpieces of this caliber—to withstand a brutal economic downturn. But nearly two years later, it was revealed that Sotheby's had lent Bond roughly $27 million, or more than half, of the purchase price and that he wasn't yet paid up. The house also admitted it was still in control of Irises and was storing it at an undisclosed location. Observers called it a "manipulated sale," compared it to buying on margin, said it was not a "real" price, and lamented the fact that it had become such a significant benchmark in the marketplace. Three years later, the Los Angeles—based J. Paul Getty Museum bought Irises from Bond in a deal brokered by Sotheby's. The price has never been disclosed and it still hangs in the Getty today. Sotheby's Financial Services tightened its loan policies considerably as a result of the Bond debacle.
3. Leonardo da Vinci Codex Hammer, Christie's New York, November 11, 1994
At this single-lot auction almost exactly two decades ago, Microsoft founder Bill Gates engaged in a fierce bidding war against an Italian bank believed to be buying on behalf of the Italian government. But Gates won Leonardo da Vinci's Codex. The price of $30.8 million set a record for any non-art item at auction—and Gates presaged the digital boom by making the text and drawings of da Vinci's notebook available online for free. Christie's had been attempting to get Gates to the auction block as a major player for years, hoping the purchase would open the door to a generation of Silicon Valley billionaires buying at auction. By and large, it did.
4. The Estate of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Sotheby's New York, April 23–26, 1996
There have been many notable and packed celebrity estate sales, but for sheer before-and-after impact, nothing beats the April 1996 sale of the Jacqueline Kennedy estate. It raised $34.5 million, compared with a high estimate of $4.6 million for the former First Lady's books, tape measure, saddle, and other prosaic items. The auction was front-page news in mainstream publications that had never paid attention to auctions before, and it was packed with celebrity bidders. Amid the craziness, a mahogany footstool once used by Caroline Kennedy as a child sold for $33,350 on an estimate of $100 to $150. Even the catalogue set records; Sotheby's had more than 100,000 copies printed, surpassing the 40,000 it had printed for the Andy Warhol memorabilia sale in 1987. The sale's real success, however, was behind-the-scenes. Sotheby's employed sophisticated tax strategies and an escalation clause so that the more money it raised, the higher percentage the auction house made. In other words, the hype paid off.
5. The Victor and Sally Ganz Collection, Christie's New York, November 10, 1997
The art collection of the low-profile Manhattan couple, who assembled it over five decades for about $2 million, raked in a stunning $206.5 million total in late 1997, far surpassing expectations of $125 million. As many observers noted, the resounding success was the result of a combination of blue chip masterpieces and savvy, elaborate marketing: A $100 book devoted to the collection sold out, and Christie's transformed its galleries into a mini-museum of sorts for the open-to-the public auction preview. In the weeks before the sale, more than 25,000 visitors viewed the collection. The auction drew normally low-profile names to the salesroom: including cosmetic magnate Leonard Lauder, publisher Mortimer Zuckerman, and William H. Gates, father of Microsoft founder Bill Gates. The first painting Victor Ganz ever purchased for the collection, Picasso's Le Reve (1932), a portrait of his mistress Marie-Therese Walter, for $7,000 in 1941, soared to $48.4 million at the 1997 auction. (In what was perhaps a troubling echo of the 1987 Bond Irises sale, Wolfgang Flöttl, the Austrian financier who purchased it at Christie's resold it to Steve Wynn in 2001 when he encountered financial difficulties.) Other highlights of the sale included Picasso's Woman Seated in an Armchair (Eva), a 1913 portrait that sold for $24.7 million, clearing the high $20 million estimate. The Ganzes had acquired the painting in 1967 from a Swiss collector via dealer Heinz Berggruen, for $200,000. Giddy Christie's employees, in the moments following the sale opened champagne and toasted: “To the profit-sharing!"
6. Picasso Boy with a Pipe breaks the $100 million mark at auction, Sotheby's New York, May 5, 2004
Though the $100 million auction price barrier has been breached several times since—by Edvard Munch, Francis Bacon, and Andy Warhol—Picasso, not surprisingly, got there first, when his painting Garçon à la Pipe, or Boy with a Pipe (1905), sold for $104 million at Sotheby's New York in May 2004. The painting had everything going for it: it was a rare, Rose-period work, and a masterpiece at that. It was offered for sale from the collection of John Hay and Betsy Cushing Whitney, who had acquired it in 1950 for $30,000. Prior to the sale, the most expensive work sold at auction was van Gogh's 1890 Portrait of Doctor Gachet, which was sold to a Japanese billionaire for $82.5 million in 1990 at Christie's. Though there has been much speculation about the identity of the buyer, including rumors that it was acquired by pasta billionaire Guido Barilla, Henry Kravis or Lily Safra, the painting has not been seen in public in the decade since it was sold and no one has ever come forward as buyer.
7. Damien Hirst's "Beautiful Inside My Head Forever," Sotheby's London, September 15–16, 2008
As the contemporary art market roared ahead throughout the mid-2000's, auction sales volume, eventually started to eclipse the millions raised by sales of Impressionist and modern art. The shift indicated not only the shrinking supply of blue-chip Monets and Picassos, but also the buying power and more contemporary taste of the growing ranks of new, younger super-rich collectors around the world. Season after season seemed to be marked by head-scratching at the astounding prices for artists like Damien Hirst and Jeff Koons, with observers asking: "How much higher can it go?" Audiences had their answer in September of 2008, when Sotheby's London organized "Beautiful Inside My Head Forever," an auction of more than 200 works by Hirst that defied market conventions in more ways than one. The auction was a complete end-run around powerhouse Hirst dealers like Larry Gagosian in that it brought so many works straight to the auction block. It also appeared to defy reality, coming as it did on the same day that Lehman Brothers officially collapsed and amid mounting panic over the mortgage crisis. Seemingly shrugging off any suggestion of fear, Sotheby's evening sale of 56 Hirst works netted $127 million (£70.5 million), clearing the high $112 million (£62.3 million) estimate. Only two works were unsold. The top lot was The Golden Calf, made of 18-carat gold, glass, gold-plated steel and formaldehyde solution with a Carrara marble plinth. It sold for a whopping $18.6 million (£10.3 million), followed by The Kingdom, which consisted of a tiger shark, glass, steel, silicone, and formaldehyde solution, that swam to $17 million (£9.6 million). The Hirst sale was a gravity-defying success, but just a month or two later, not even the soaring art market could shake off the effects of the economic crisis.
8. The Collection of Yves St. Laurent and Pierre Bergé, Christie's Paris, February 23–25, 2009
There had been fashion legend auctions before, and multi-day auctions before, and auctions of great art before. But the three-day-long Yves St Laurent sale at Christie's Paris in February 2009 ticked all those boxes and more. The massive hoard of art and antiques that St. Laurent shared with partner Pierre Bergé brought in $443.1 million, with records set forMondrian, Matisse and Brancusi and lines for the viewing literally around the block. Among the most astonishing prices was the $28 million (€21 million) paid for Irish designer Eileen Gray's chair Fauteuil aux Dragons (c.1917–19) against an estimate of just $2.6–3.8 million. But perhaps the most notable aspect of the sale was that it took place when the world was knee-deep in a global recession. It sent the message that the art market lives in a reality all its own.
9. The Collection of Elizabeth Taylor, Christie's New York, December 3–17, 2011
The December 2011 sale of the jewels, art and fashion of Elizabeth Taylor is notable for many “firsts" and records. It featured the first online-only auction Christie's ever held; it has gone on to hold them on an almost daily basis. Every single item was sold, including 26 lots for over $1 million each. In all, the house took in $156.8 million. It was the most money—$5.5 million—ever raised for a clothing and fashion collection (outpacing the jumpsuits of Elvis Presley and the gowns of Lady Diana Spencer). The evening jewels sale achieved $115.9 million, the most valuable jewelry auction in history and seven new world auction records were established: price per carat for a colorless diamond and for a ruby; a pair of natural pearl ear pendants; a pearl jewel at $11.8 million; an Indian jewel at $8.8 million and an emerald jewel at $6.6 million.
10. $745 Million Evening Sale of postwar and contemporary art, Christie's New York, May 12, 2014
Christie's made history this past May with a $745 million sale, the third time it set a record for the largest single auction total ever. It exceeded the previous $691 million overall total set at this past November's evening contemporary sale, and the year-ago spring contemporary auction that pulled in a then–record $495 million. But if prices were staggering, so was the material on offer. The sale featured no fewer than nine lots priced at a minimum of $20 million each, but there was no shortage of eager buyers. New records were set for Alexander Calder, Joseph Cornell, Robert Gober, Joan Mitchell, Barnett Newman, Frank Stella, and Salvatore Scarpitta. The sale also embarrassed and put pressure on rival Sotheby's, at a time it was in a proxy bidding war with hedge funder Dan Loeb, who ended up winning his desired slate of three seats on Sotheby's board.
Alexander Forbes, Tuesday, November 18, 2014
Jasper Johns's studio assistant of 27 years, James Meyer, pleaded guilty in August to having stolen 22 artworks from Johns's Sharon, Connecticut studio and selling them for a combined $6.5 million (see "Jasper Johns's Assistant Pleads Guilty to Stealing Paintings"). Meyer reportedly netted $3.4 million in the fraud. He's agreed to forfeit $4 million in the settlement and will be sentenced to up to nearly four years in prison on December 10th. Meyer has refused to speak to reporters since being nabbed on the theft charges, but a feature in this week's New York magazine has extensive new insight into the history of the case.
According to the report, Meyer sold the works through a dealer named Fred Dorfman, starting around 2005. (Dorfman's lawyer told New York that “James Meyer defrauded many people, including Fred Dorfman," when explaining that his client wasn't knowingly a part of the scheme.) Despite Meyer being a more or less failed artist himself—and previously having lived on friend's couches in New York and later in a small house in Lakewood, Connecticut—he began to exhibit increasing levels of wealth beginning in 2007: living in a much more expensive home and purchasing several new cars, motorcycles, and a sailboat. Speculating about Meyer's motive, a friend of Johns told New York: "The assistant's probably sitting there thinking each brushstroke is a thousand dollars."
According to dealer Francis Naumann, who arranged for a client to buy one of the works Meyer claimed Johns had given him as a gift, friends may have alerted Johns to Meyer's conspicuous, increased wealth but "Jasper maybe concluded he's doing well selling his work. Because what did he know?" Meyer did show his work from time to time, but reportedly had a tendency to irk those with whom he had dealings. An unnamed art critic told New York, “Once he even gave me a work of art out of the blue [...] I was so freaked out I returned it to his dealer, saying, ‘I don't accept anything.'"
A recently amended suit filed by Naumann's client, Frank Kolodny, contends that Meyer may have stolen “nearly 50" of Johns's works during his tenure at the studio. At the very least, Meyer hadn't sold all of the works he took from the studio when caught. He reportedly mailed one piece back to Johns after the investigation began. However many artworks were stolen—even calling them artworks could be a misnomer as many were unfinished—they all, remarkably, came from a single drawer that Meyer was tasked with organizing during his time working in Johns's studio, according to New York.
A busy and trusting Johns never noticed the works leaving his archive. And, at least in Naumann's case, no one called the artist to check on a work out of respect for Meyer, who claimed he didn't want Johns to know that he was selling the purported gifts. That is until 2012 when, according to an unnamed friend who spoke to New York, “Someone emailed an image to check against the catalogue raisonné, and it got back to Jasper." The individual said that Johns “knew immediately it was not something he permitted. Jim [Meyer] was fired that day."
Christie Chu, Friday, November 14, 2014
Sheikh Saud Al-Thani's surprise death (see "Qatar's Sheikh Saud Died of Complications Related to Heart Condition") has put a renewed focus on Qatar and the country's ruling Al-Thani family.
The Sheikh and his many relatives were also some of the world's biggest art collectors of everything from fine art and vintage cars to rare watches (see "Sheikh Al-Thani's Watch Sells for $24 Million After His Mysterious Death"). Over the years, in fact, the late Sheikh and his family, Qatar royalty, have spent many billions on art and other collectibles, building an enormous collection that includes the rarest and most magnificent oriental, Islamic, and western contemporary and historical art, as well as an incredibly deep Indian jewelry collection.
Once labelled the "modern-day equivalents of the Medicis," the family has been applauded for its commitment to collections and the establishment of museums in a region bereft of cultural institutions. They have established the Arab Museum of Modern Art in Doha, I.M Pei's Islamic Museum of Art, a combined Natural History Museum and Qatar National Library, a Museum of Photography, and a Museum of Clothes & Textiles.
In the wake of the death of Sheikh Saud, at age 48, we thought we would put together a tribute to him listing the top 10 acquisitions that he and the Al-Thani family have acquired. In some cases the prices paid are indeed phenomenal, but what stands out is the diversity of the Sheikh's interests and undimmed passion for collecting. He was the world's biggest collector.
1. Paul Cézanne, The Card Players, $250 million
This masterpiece is supposedly the most expensive work ever sold.
1. World's Biggest Art Collector Sheikh Saud bin Mohammed Al-Thani Dies at Age 48
Once regarded as the world's richest and most powerful collector, Al-Thani died suddenly in his home in London on November 9 at the age of 48.
2. Why Are The Kardashians So Obsessed With Art?
The short answer: because no one ever told them money can't buy class.
3. George W. Bush is Still a Bad Painter
Some things, like the many inadequacies of W, will never change.
4. Rothko Reels In $45 Million at Sotheby's $343.6 Million Contemporary Evening Sale
New records were set at the sale for Jasper Johns, Glenn Ligon, Robert Ryman, and Jean Dubuffet.
5. See the 20 Hottest Art World Hangouts of 2014
From dive bars to fine dining, we've got the best locales for you to hit.
6. Epic Christie's $852.9 Million Blockbuster Contemporary Art Sale Is the Highest Ever
Two Warhols accounted for $151.5 million.
7. Hedge Fund Honcho Steve A. Cohen Is Buyer of $101 Million Giacometti
The finance manager was the only bidder.
8. Sheikh Al-Thani's Watch Sells for $24 Million After His Mysterious Death
Before his death, he had turned his watch over to the auction house, along with $70 million in assets to help cover an enormous amount of debt he had accrued.
9. Jeff Koons Turned Sofia Coppola's Birkin Bag Into a Readymade
What's better than a Birkin and better than a Koons? A Bir-Koons, of course.
10. Meet Xin Li, Christie's Secret Weapon for China Sales
The former basketball player and fashion model now wines, dines, and shows art to billionaires.
After nearly 15 years, a Henri Matisse masterpiece is back on display at Venezuela's Museo de Arte Contemporaneo de Caracas Sofia Imber (MACCSI), alongside the poorly-made copy left behind by thieves, reports Reuters. The painting was returned to Venezuela over the summer (see "Stolen $3 Million Matisse Returns to Venezuela"), but the details of the case remain shrouded in mystery.
The $3 million Odalisque in Red Pants was rescued by the FBI in 2012, more than a decade after it went missing. Although the couple who attempted to sell the painting have since been convicted, no one has ever been charged with the original theft.
Even the exact date of the heist is unknown. The museum assumes it had been stolen by 2001, but Marianela Balbi, a Venezuelan journalist who authored The Kidnapping of the Odalisque, a book about the theft, believes it took place earlier, sometime after it was moved in anticipation of flooding in December 1999, but before mid-2000. The book cites museum negligence, but stops short of accusing corrupt officials of being involved.
The painting was next seen in Florida in 2002, during a period of unrest that briefly threatened Hugo Chávez's rule, when a colonel in the Venezuelan National Guard tried to sell it to a gallery in Miami. Word of the painting reached Venezuela-born dealer Genaro Ambrosino, whose attempts to contact the museum were initially rebuffed.
"I was furious," Ambrosino told Reuters. "So I sent an email to everyone I knew in the art world." Shortly afterward, MACCSI was forced to admit the original Odalique had been stolen, and a fake version left in its place. It took ten years, during which time the canvas made its way to New York, Paris, and Mexico, but the FBI finally tracked down the real Matisse.
The forgery, done with acrylic paint instead of oil, is marred by a large brown stain in the center, and fails to correctly replicate key details, painting eight horizontal green stripes where the original has seven, and using a different shade of red for the topless woman's iconic trousers. Now, visitors to MACCSI have the chance to view the two works side-by-side.
"It's a very bad copy," Venezuelan artist Elizabeth Cemborain told Reuters. "It doesn't have the original's design; it doesn't have its elegance. I don't understand how no one realized."
MACCSI hopes the display, which includes an educational video comparing the two paintings, will educate viewers about the illegal trafficking of cultural goods.
For her part, Balbi is not a fan of the museum's approach. "It's absurd that they're showing the copy, too," she told Reuters. "It legitimizes the object of a crime that Venezuelan authorities haven't done anything about in 12 years."
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Berlin played host to the third edition of ArtFi, the Fine Art and Finance Conference, on Wednesday, welcoming influential panelists and art world insiders to the Tagespiegel newspaper headquarters for a day of high-tempo exchange on the latest trends and developments in the art market. Coinciding with Berlin Art Week, the conference's focus on art and money turned more than a few heads in the German capital, which is legendary for its extremely low concentration of collectors. But speakers such as Art Economics' Clare McAndrew, the Armory Show's Noah Horowitz, Art Stage Singapore's Lorenzo Rudolf, and the Fine Art Fund's Philip Hoffman, were greeted by a hall packed with international individuals hungry to get the inside scoop on the nexus of money and art. For those that couldn't attend, artnet News boiled the day down to 10 must-know bits of intel for investing in art.
1. Key players are bullish on art market performance in 2014.
While Clare McAndrew was hesitant to make any specific projections on the market in 2014 in her opening remarks for the conference, she expressed confidence that this year would see continued growth across the art market, over the €47.42 billion in market value for 2013 ("TEFAF Art Market Report Says 2013 Best Year on Record Since 2007, With Market Outlook Bullish"). That likely means that we'll see the market eclipse its pre-recession level of €48.07 billion from 2007 this year. McAndrew noted that some sectors of the auction market are up 20 percent over 2013, according to half-year reports, due to a strong spring auction season. Nevertheless, she cautioned that much of the market's worth and relative performance won't be decided until the fall sales wrap up in December.
2. Business is best in New York, but that doesn't mean you have to move there.
McAndrew also noted that 80 percent of sales over $10 million are occurring in New York, a city which continues to dominate the global art market, across the upper-end of the price spectrum. A&F Markets' Pierre Naquin explained in a later break-out session that much of this market dominance could be ascribed to favorable taxation terms in the United States in comparison to other major art markets. Naquin and McAndrew both agreed that the US remains one of if not the art market's most business-friendly locales. Thus, a not-insignificant portion of what's calculated as the US market is in fact art that is imported to the country for sale. Naquin explained that due to art's relative portability compared to other hard assets, collectors and dealers are increasingly exploring the most favorable sales conditions internationally—something that has accounted for a sizable downturn in the European art market's growth—especially due to the Artist Resale Right (ARR) ("UK Art Dealers Are Dodging Artist Resale Rights"). McAndrew even referenced a sale in which a client determined it would be cheaper to crate and ship a work to the US rather than sell it in Europe, due to the ARR.
3. China remains a solid medium-term bet.
The Chinese market may have dropped 30 percent in 2012, but for those who take a slightly longer view, there continues to be much to win. The Chinese upper-middle class is expected to hit 55 percent for all urban populations by 2022, something which McAndrew cited as a foundation on which solid, long-term growth for the country's art sector could be built. Art fund manager and panelist Serge Tiroche has bet big on such projections for emerging economies with Art Vantage PCC. The fund currently has managed assets in the eight-figure range and is based solely on a privately held collection of contemporary art from emerging markets.
4. You don't have to have billions to get into the game, but it helps.
Throughout the conference, panelists continued to reference the fact that it's the extreme upper-end of the market that is seeing the highest levels of growth. Armory Show director Noah Horowitz noted the increasing death of mid-size galleries ("Are Mid-Size Galleries Disappearing, And Who's To Blame?"). And all four participants on this reporter's panel "Art as a Financial Asset"—Philip Hoffman, Shirin Kranz, Naquin, and Tiroche—more or less agreed that high-end contemporary is the place to put your money right now for the highest return when investing in art. But, McAndrew also noted that only 0.5 percent of the market is located above $1 million, so there's plenty of the room for relatively less well-heeled players to get into the game.
5. Interest in art funds continues to grow.
Fine Art Fund Group founder Philip Hoffman reported that interest in the securitized side of the art investment field continues to expand at a rapid pace. The group is in the process of closing out its latest, $200 million fund. That will bring their total managed assets upwards of $500 million. He reported that they are currently purchasing about $4 million in art per week and selling at favorable returns, with only approximately two percent of sales resulting in a loss. Perhaps surprisingly, Hoffman claimed that the greatest of those losses has been with the ever-buzzy Chinese contemporary market.
6. Put a damper on your passion for art when making purchases.
Despite Hoffman's success with the Fine Art Fund itself, he shared a cautionary tale from the art advisory side of the group's business: a collector who had recently spent €12 million on a group of artworks that, according to Hoffman's experts' calculus are worth no more than €7 million. When passion for an artwork or artist gets in the way of strategic analysis of acceptable purchase price ranges, it can completely tip the scale from a moderate return on investment to a devastating loss.
7. But, don't think that passionate collecting and achieving moderate returns are mutually exclusive.
That said, private collectors can afford to spend slightly more on single works of art than an art fund might. So, with a bit of discipline, the right advice, and if all else fails, a trusty companion to rip the bidding paddle out of your hand, you could find yourself a member of what collector Sylvain Lévy said is a lucky sub-set of collectors who both get to enrich their lives with fantastic artworks and make some money in the process. Just don't think you'll end up the most popular collector in town. Berlin gallerist Johann König took Lévy to task when the panel was opened up to questions from the audience, regarding the collector's practice of selling 15 percent of his and his wife's collection every year.
8. Proliferation of art lending set to add further liquidity to European market. Art lending has become increasingly commonplace in the US thanks to less regulation on how the collateralized piece of art is held. Would-be European art loan providers have to take physical possession of the artworks being lent against, which provides increased challenges and transaction costs. But that hasn't stopped Berlin's PrivatBank from being Germany's first to enter the field. The bank's Shirin Kranz, formerly of Phillips, said that the recently-opened sector allows galleries, collectors, and even artists to pull some liquidity out of their holdings without selling the works, whether as a bridge loan ahead of a sale or on a more long-term credit line basis. Considering the slump in the European market, it's liquidity that could help bolster the market's future.
9. Art exchanges and derivatized art investment products are coming but remain a distant prospect.
But what about taking art as an asset class to the next level? Can funds or other financial services firms create compelling collateralized investment products out of art? According to Pierre Naquin, yes, but we're in the very early days. Naquin started the Art Exchange in 2011, which allowed investors to purchase and trade shares of various artworks. Naquin says the exchange never really took off. But he was optimistic about the ways in which art analytics indices could be derivatized in the medium-term as banks and private investors alike become increasingly comfortable with art as a part of their portfolios.
10. Greater transparency in the art world is going to benefit everyone.
It's no secret that the art world is incredibly opaque—particularly on the primary market. In ArtFi's final panel, the Wall Street Journal's Mary Lane referenced a recent article in which she unpacked the rise of millennial artists like Hugh Scott-Douglas, Parker Ito, and David Ostrowski and just how thick a stone wall was placed in front of her when attempting to speak to some of the artists' dealers about their market values. But greater transparency in the art market is urgently needed. "Transparency and knowledge is only going to benefit everyone," artnet's own Cornell DeWitt quipped later in the panel. "It's either us in the art media or it's going to be the Feds."
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Sotheby's opened the fall series of New York auctions tonight with an Impressionist and modern evening sale that realized $422 million, brushing up against the high end of the overall presale expectations of $316.5–424.9 million and becoming the highest-ever auction total in Sotheby's history. The sale was 79 percent sold by volume, with 58 of 73 lots finding buyers (one lot was withdrawn prior to the sale). By value it realized 95 percent. Though most of the expected top lots performed well, energy flagged notably in the second half of the auction as a string of lower priced six-and-seven-figure lots failed to elicit any enthusiasm and were bought in, or, failed to sell.
The expected star lot, Giacometti's Chariot, sold for just over $100 million ($100,965,000). If it's possible for a sale of an artwork that brought in over $100 million to feel anti-climactic, this one was it. Auctioneer Henry Wyndham opened the bidding at $80 million to what appeared to be not a single bid from the saleroom. Eventually Impressionist and modern specialist David Norman came in with a single bid at $90 million. Wyndham, for what felt like an eternity, kept asking the room if there were any more bids before announcing that he could sell it at $90 million—a sign that the reserve had been met. Not a single second bid emerged and the sculpture was hammered down at $90 million. Despite any palpable feeling of excitement in the room, the final price is the second-highest auction result for a work by Giacometti and the second-highest price for any sculpture at auction.
In a lengthy catalogue entry for Chariot, Sotheby's called it "perhaps the most important bronze the artist created." The idea for the sculpture came to Giacometti in a flashback to his Surrealist period of the late 1930s, an image that "arrived fully formed and unmediated," according to Sotheby's specialists. The artist himself once explained that he was recovering from an accident in 1938 at Bichat hospital in Paris, where he "marveled" at the nurses moving about and pushing pharmacy wagons with tinkling bells. The image stayed with him and he prepared several sketches before eventually creating the sculpture.
The story was the polar opposite for the other star sculptures of the sale. Modigliani's carved stone Tête (1911–12), which sold for an all-time artist record of $70.8 million, far outpaced its unpublished estimate that was "in excess of $45 million." The previous record for a sculpture by Modigliani, which come to market far less frequently than his paintings, is $52.6 million. That price was achieved in 2010 at Christie's Paris. The auction high for a painting by the artist is $68.9 million and was set the same year at Sotheby's New York.
Bidding opened at $38 million and the sculpture was the target of a protracted bidding war between Sotheby's specialists Alex Rotter and Lisa Dennison, bidding for their respective clients and duking it out in half-million dollar increments up to about $56 million. Just when it seemed Dennison's bidder would win it, another Sotheby's specialist joined the fray for his client and eventually won the work at a hammer price of $63 million.
Due to a lack of money and difficulty in obtaining material, Modigliani was unable to pursue sculpture to the extent he would have liked, experts say. Tête was created from a single block of limestone known as pierre d'Euville, which was quarried in a small town in eastern France. The artist scavenged the material from construction sites around Paris, ferrying it back to the studio he shared with fellow artist Constantin Brancusi in a wheelbarrow. Brancusi reportedly helped out by giving Modigliani instructions for carving.
Another of the most eagerly anticipated lots of the evening was Vincent van Gogh's late painting Still Life, Vase with Daisies and Poppies (1890), which sold for $61.7 million. It was a high number compared to its $30–50 million estimate, which some observers believed was lofty. Bidding opened at $23 million and numerous bidders chased it, including one who entered the competition at $42 million before it was hammered down for $55 million to a Sotheby's specialist bidding for a client. Prior to the sale, Sotheby's confidently called it "the most important still life by Van Gogh to appear at auction in more than two decades" and the evening proved them right. See arnet News' recent in-depth look at the Van Gogh auction market (see: "Do Riches Await In the Van Gogh Auction Market?"). The artist painted the work at the house of his friend Dr. Gachet in Auvers-sur-Oise, where he had settled upon his release from an asylum in St.-Rémy-de-Provence in May of 1890. The artist died in July of the same year.
Claude Monet was well represented here, with three major works all consigned from the same private American collection and a collective presale estimate of around $60 million. They performed well, reeling in $61.9 million in total. These included Alice Hoschedé au jardin (1881), which sold for $33.8 million against an estimate of $25–35 million; Sous les Peupliers (1887), a scenic depiction of the French countryside, which sold for $20.3 million on an estimate of $12–18 million; and Église de Vernon, soleil (1894), a painting of the tranquil town of Vernon with its "resplendent reflection" in the Seine, which sold for $7.8 million on expectations of $7–9 million.
Better Luck Next Time for Kandinsky?
As usual, works making a return trip to the auction block provided something of a barometer for individual artists or artworks. To that end it was not exactly a great night for work by Wassily Kandinsky. For instance the second lot on offer tonight, Kandinsky's Diagonale (1930), an oil on cardboard, sold for $1.5 million on an estimate of $1.2–1.8 million. The consignor who acquired it at Christie's London in February 2007, paid $2 million or £1 million on an estimate of $1.7–2.4 million. But it was bought in when offered in 2012 at Christie's London with an estimate of $1.9–2.5 million. And five lots later, another Kandinsky painting with a $600–800,000 estimate was opened at $350,000 and never got off the ground. Bidding stalled at around $440,000 and it failed to sell.
A painting by Pablo Picasso Verre et pichet (1944). that was estimated to sell for $2–3 million, sold for $2.85 million. Last offered for sale seven years ago, at Christie's New York, it sold for $3 million, double the $1.5 million high estimate.
And a brushy Alfred Sisley landscape painting Le Loing à Moret (1883) that sold for $4.9 million on an estimate of $2–3 million, was last seen on the auction block at Christie's New York in May 2005, where it brought in $1.6 million on an estimate of $800,000–1.2 million.
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It's the Sydney Opera House crossed with a blimp. So what happened here? The problem with this building, for me, is that it is so corporate, so safe, so sanitized in terms of its design and the art on display, while at the same time trying to be cool, that you come away from a hopeful visit to the new $143 million Fondation Louis Vuitton museum in Paris feeling as if you have stepped out of a luxury retail store with a glass, mirrored interior courtesy Peter Marino.
It's a shopping space sheathed in a prophylactic of art and creativity, an unimaginative building masked to look like an interesting and daring one. Not so long ago the fashion business swallowed the art world, and here, along with Art Basel in Miami Beach, is the apotheosis of that fatal absorption—everything that is radical, challenging, dirty, and difficult about contemporary art has been stripped away to reveal a handbag palace on steroids, complete with a bejeweled LV monogram on the outside entry wall.
The building was commissioned by Bernard Arnault, the chairman and chief executive of the luxury goods empire LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton. It was envisaged as a contemporary art museum and performing arts center, a private museum in a country in which, well, there aren't many private museums. That much is to be applauded and is even visionary. We are all better off for the establishment of this new public enterprise which will eventually be donated to the French republic. Bravo to Arnault and LVMH for that. And yet the corporate identity of the institution and its current funding model over-determine the entire look and feel of the place, not to mention its mission. Visiting the museum with a crowd of eager Parisians and tourists, I felt caught up in a publicity stunt more akin to the launch of a new fashion line or label than a serious endeavor to collect, show and conserve contemporary art. I felt excited for a new museum and disappointed at the same time.
Frank Gehry is the building's architect. He has become a go-to guy for those looking to build signature museum buildings. The basic problem is that he has never equaled his Guggenheim Museum building in Bilbao; instead he has been churning out derivative, stripped-down designs for unimaginative, lazy clients looking for the image of innovation. Here the Fondation Louis Vuitton board knew what it was doing. In the business of building luxury brands, they wanted the appearance of innovation and creativity without actually having to provide or contend with it. This building is all about fashion, from the choice of the fashionable architect to the fashionable if mind-numbingly inoffensive art on display.
What about the art? Pierre Huyghe, Gerhard Richter, Thomas Schütte,Ellsworth Kelly, Bertrand Lavier, Taryn Simon, Sarah Morris, and Christian Boltanski are all good artists, sure, but what you have here for the opening display is the world's most dull collection of their work. This stuff is so desperate not to make enemies, it's going to have trouble making friends. Inside the Horizon (2014), a commission by Olafur Eliasson, is probably his least inspired and most forgettable artwork: 43 prism shaped columns of varying widths placed along the walkway in the grotto beside a water pool. Two of the sides are covered in mirrors and the third in a yellow blown glass, suggesting the work is all about reflections. It's a piece of empty, light-driven decoration.
The museum itself is of questionable value as a functional space, because once you take away the exterior there are limited galleries, all of which look and feel a little awkward to me, with loads of glass and viewing areas designed more to admire the architecture than the art. Also, the lack of attention paid to movement and flow throughout the building is difficult to understand for an architect as experienced as Gehry—he is 85. A heralded reliance on "aerospace technology" and special 3-D software developed by Gehry Technologies (which made it possible to model complex shapes imagined for the exterior and is kind of interesting in a science-nerd sort of way) is redundant and irrelevant once inside, as everywhere image takes precedence over substance: Visitors struggle with limited restrooms, small elevators, and a tiny restaurant inadequate to the crowd capacity.
Bottom line is that it is hard to know where to go, or why, in this building, and even when you get there you are overwhelmed by a dispiriting sense of Why did I bother?
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