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While the results were robust, the ambience in the Christie’s New York saleroom on Tuesday night was a little subdued. The occasion was its prestige evening sale of Impressionist and Modern art, the first salvo in a two-week-long series of dispersals of some of the most expensive art on the market today. On offer were 53 lots estimated at up to $359.1m, without fees, so the final tally of $285.9m, including fees, fell short of the top target. Nevertheless, the total was the second highest the firm had ever made, and 80 per cent up on the $117m it received in the same session last year, showing just how far the market has come recently.
Top lot was Monet’s “Nymphéas” (1907), with an impeccable provenance: it came from the estate of the reclusive heiress Huguette Clark, who died in 2011 at the age of 104. It made $27m (est $25m-$35m), going to Christie’s Hong Kong-based Elaine Holt, but fell short of its high estimate. And Picasso’s portrait of Dora Maar from 1942, with the same estimate, limped to a single bid of $22.6m. However, Modigliani’s “Jeune homme roux assis” (1919) was a hit, soaring to $17.6m (est $8m-$12m). It had last sold in 2002 for $8.5m.
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With a lot less fanfare than at its inaugural Shanghai sale in September last year, Christie’s held its second session in the Chinese city at the end of last month. It garnered just under $20m, in line with expectations, for a humdrum, 61-lot mix of Asian and western modern and contemporary paintings. While Asian private buyers accounted for six of the top 10 lots, one surprise was that westerners took home a couple of the highest-priced works.
Picasso’s splodgy 1964 “Tête de femme” sold for $1.7m and Chunya Zhou’s portrayal of a Tibetan girl, “Radiance of the Sunset” (1982) made $1.2m – both on low estimate, and both going to private western buyers. The Picasso had been sent for sale from the west, so made the round trip from west to east and back – proving, that “Shanghai is now an international centre for the firm”, according to Christie’s Asian president François Curiel.
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A curious item is coming to auction at Drouot in Paris – a mounted set of kouprey horns. A buffalo-like beast whose horns characteristically fray at the tips, the kouprey is Cambodia’s national animal but is probably already extinct: the last sighting of a live one was in the 1980s. Once described as “southeast Asia’s version of the Loch Ness monster”, the mysterious kouprey has lured journalists, scientists and big game hunters into many fruitless searches, although unlike Nessie it did genuinely exist (pause for objections . . . ).
Anyway, there are just five known sets in the world, three already in museums, in the US and France. The last to sell at auction made €39,000 in 2007, and went to a British collector. This one, the largest of the group, is estimated at €35,000-€40,000 and goes under the hammer of Olivier Coutau-Bégarie on May 23. If it sells to a non-French buyer, it will need an authorisation for export but this will not pose a problem, says the auctioneer. However the sale’s specialist, René Boutonnet, hopes that a generous donor might step forward to help secure it for a French institution.
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Alex Platon, former head of private treaty sales for Impressionist and Modern art at Sotheby’s, has revealed his next move: he is going to Marlborough in London to run its secondary market business. “The art market is changing,” he told me. “I wanted to look at the art world from a different angle than an auction house, looking at it as a dealer.”
He is taking on a challenge – the once powerful gallery is seen as having lost much of its impetus and was tarnished by the now 40-year-old Rothko scandal. However, Marlborough boasts an international network (New York, London, Madrid, Monaco, Santiago in Chile and one in Barcelona opening at the end of this month). “I want to make people aware of the gallery’s past achievements,” says Platon, who adds that he will be making a big splash at Art Basel. “It will be the opportunity for me to show off a new aesthetic in the gallery and establish a stronger presence in the market.”
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Persian fantasy? In November last year, the Tehran news agency FARS announced that the Iranian culture minister Ali Jannati had asked Christie’s to start sales in his country. The location would be the free-trade holiday resort of Kish Island, just a few hundred miles from Dubai across the Gulf. Sales would be held regularly, said the report, quoting the minister directly. However no other media picked up the story and Christie’s says it didn’t see any need to react at the time.
Now, almost seven months later, the same story has just appeared on the French service AFP. Questioned about this, Christie’s says there was never any truth in the story. “To date we have no plans to open a further sale room in the region and we have not been approached by the Iranian ministry of culture,” it says, pointing out that it is happy selling Iranian art through its twice yearly sessions in Dubai. So how did the original story start? “I have no idea,” says a spokeswoman for the auction house.
Georgina Adam is art market editor-at-large of The Art Newspaper
Hong Kong fairs
Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Center, Expo Drive
This expansive fair will showcase 245 galleries, offering dealers and collectors a vast platform for art in a city heralded as “the gateway” between east and west. This year’s event will include new work from the German artist Carsten Nicolai. Appearing as a lighthouse, “a (alpha) pulse” will project light pulses across the city from the 490m-high International Commerce Centre from 8.30pm throughout the fair.
Conrad Hong Kong Hotel
The Asia Contemporary Art Show is held twice a year in Hong Kong. The spring edition will exhibit more than 3,000 works. As well as pieces from emerging artists worldwide, highlights include works by Sir Peter Blake, Banksy and Andy Warhol’s “Queen Elizabeth II” from his “Reigning Queens”, at Tanya Baxter Contemporary.
Kowloon Bay International Trade and Exhibition Centre, Hong Kong
Specialising in Asian antiques, ceramics and ornamental pieces, this fair – now in its ninth edition – is an important trading platform for collectors, museums and galleries. Rare jade and aloeswood pieces will be exhibited alongside Chinese calligraphy, contemporary paintings, bronzes, sculptures and multimedia works.
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Phase 1 Chai Wan Industrial City, 60 Wing Tai Road
The Chai Wan district is at the heart of the Hong Kong art scene and is home to many of the city’s contemporary artists. Running alongside Art Basel Hong Kong, Chai Wan Mei is a weekend of open studios; with artist talks, installations and exhibitions this initiative offers something different to the traditional art fair, gallery or museum experience.
Hong Kong Arts Centre, 2 Harbour Road
The second annual exhibition to be held at Hong Kong Arts Centre will feature pieces from the private collections of Indonesian curators and collectors. Visitors should take advantage of the Art Bus, a free shuttle service from the HKAC to various arts institutions and noteworthy sites across the city.
F1 Pit Building, Marina Bay, Singapore
The Affordable Art Fair made its name from humble beginnings (Will Ramsay set up Will’s Art Warehouse, selling affordable pieces from a warehouse in southwest London). The Singapore event this month will be the group’s 100th fair since 1999 and, to celebrate this milestone, a selection of miniature artworks donated from across the globe will be available for $100 a piece.
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