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Last updated: May 5, 2012 12:11 am
Beyond the sale of Munch’s “The Scream” (1895), which smashed the world record for any work of art at auction, the New York sales of impressionist and modern art revealed a strong if not always exuberant market. Christie’s started the season with a slim catalogue of just 31 works and a double disadvantage – it had put together its sale after Sotheby’s announced that it had bagged “The Scream”, and also had to go first, always trickier for judging the market. In the circumstances, the firm was delighted with the $19.1m made by a lovely Cézanne watercolour, a study for one of the figures in the artist’s famed “Card Players” and the same amount given by a Russian buyer for a Matisse flower piece, “Les Pivoines” (1907). The total of $117.1m landed squarely in the middle of expectations: “It was a solid sale, and did better than might have been feared,” said the London dealer James Roundell.
But that total was slightly less than the price of the one painting at Sotheby’s, which racked up its second best ever result with $330.6m. Apart from “The Scream”, surrealism continued to attract high prices, and Dalí’s “Printemps nécrophilique” (1936), which had belonged to the designer Elsa Schiaparelli, fetched $16.3m, almost double its low estimate. A group of works from the estate of the “buyout king” Ted Forstmann, who died last year, made $83m even if some sold under estimate including a smart Soutine – “Le Chasseur de chez Maxime” (about 1925) which made $9.4m, short of its admittedly punchy $10m-$15m estimate. “The market is strong, but for the best things – it’s still tough for the less stellar material;” said dealer Jorg Michael Bertz. Nevertheless, the huge price for the Munch was greeted with whoops and cheers, and after the sale, auctioneer Tobias Meyer said: “To be able to say during the bidding ‘one hundred million hammer’ is a moment I will cherish forever.”
. . .
A footnote to Sotheby’s sale: in November last year a braying crowd of art handlers, who are in dispute with the auction house, Occupy Wall Street and other activists heckled the well-heeled crowds arriving for the sales. This year security was tough and a canvas walkway was constructed into the building, so that visitors barely saw the inflated “fat cats” brought along by a smaller group of protesters, penned away from the entrance. And the sale of “The Scream” was not punctuated by the characteristic horns that had sounded during last year’s sale.
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The Belgian food baron – as he is always described – Guy Ullens, successfully sold off parts of his extensive collection of contemporary Chinese painting at auction, garnering $55m at Sotheby’s Hong Kong last year. Now a group of works on paper from his collection is going on sale at the Hong Kong art fair (starts 17 May) with the Beijing-based dealer Hadrien de Montferrand. While De Montferrand does not identify the “private European collector” who has consigned the 30 works which will go on show, one of the works he is selling is Zhou Teihai’s “Price RMB1600” (1989) IMAGE, which was shown in the Espace Cardin in Paris, 2002, as part of the Ullens collection. The works date from 1983 to 2002, and as well as the Zhou include Xu Bing’s “Softening the Brush” (1996). Prices range from €25,000-€250,000.
Ullens is the founder of the Ullens Centre for Contemporary Art in Beijing, one of the first private museums in the country. At one point he tried to sell it, but now has apparently reversed this. He has installed the respected academic and journalist Philip Tinari as director: Tinari told The Art Newspaper recently that Ullens is “a hands-off” manager of the project. Meanwhile Ullens is busy collecting in a new field – Indian, Indonesian and Korean art.
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The whole question of copyright is becoming increasingly important in the art world, as artists “appropriate” (some say rip off) other people’s work. A number of lawsuits are wending their way through US law courts, notably the Prince/Cariou case, when photojournalist Patrick Cariou accused Prince of copying his image. Cariou won initially, but there is an appeal, and until that case is resolved, a group of works is languishing in a warehouse, as they cannot be sold.
The latest case, brought in California, concerns the photographer Jim Marshall, who died in 2010. He created images of jazz musicians, and his estate, which is bringing the action, says they were used by the artist known as “Mr Brainwash” and Google to create a giant backdrop to promote the new Google Music service. Mr Brainwash is Thierry Guetta, the central figure in the film Exit Through the Gift Shop, directed by the street artist and general prankster Banksy.
The Marshall estate is demanding unspecified profits and costs from Guetta, who has previously faced – and lost – a similar case. The crux of these cases is the extent to which an artist, when using another work, “transforms” it and comments on it, instead of just copying it.
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Collect, the contemporary crafts fair, opens at the Saatchi gallery in London on Friday 11 May with 31 booths including two from Japan as well as British, Dutch and Norwegian exhibitors. Prices are extremely broad, starting at about £500 and going up to six figures. New this year is the Raw Craft section, a non-selling show of works that reflect the age of austerity that some – not everyone, judging by the New York sales – are now living. The pieces, mainly furniture, use modest materials and a hands-on approach to production. The designers, among them Tomás Alonso, Fabien Cappello, Simon Jones and Max Lamb, have rejected, say the organisers, “the rich narratives, lavish materials and frivolity that came to characterise much of the design/art era.” Until 14 May.
Georgina Adam is editor-at-large of The Art Newspaper
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