The Art Market

April 25, 2014 7:50 pm

Lorcan O’Neill’s new Roman empire

Four Old Master works and three Impressionist paintings stolen from a Dutch gallery in 1987 are on the market. The works, to be offered at Christie’s London and Amsterdam between May and November, were taken from the Noortman gallery in Maastricht. Two works are available by Willem van de Velde II, one with the highest estimate of €120,000 to €180,000. The others are by artists such as Camille Pissarro, Pierre-Auguste Renoir and David Teniers II. The works are consigned by the Art Loss Register on behalf of insurers, including Lloyd’s of London, who will receive the sale proceeds.

Nine paintings were stolen from the gallery of Old Masters dealer Robert Noortman, who sold his business to Sotheby’s in 2006 and died in 2007. Eight works were recovered in 2009 in a sting operation that led to the arrest of three suspects, including a German man based in Dubai.

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According to Dutch press reports, the Dubai-based suspect had hoped to sell the missing works back to the insurance company. Noortman reportedly received an insurance payout of about 5m guilders in 1988. The suspects have since been convicted of money laundering in relation to the case, and fined up to €70,000, a sentence against which the Dutch public prosecutor has appealed.

“In our experience an interesting and full provenance will help achieve the best value for insurers [who] paid the claim,” says Julian Radcliffe, chairman of the Art Loss Register.

. . .

The way we buy art via the internet is slowly but surely becoming more established. Auction houses Piasa and Bukowskis have turned to internet auctioneer Paddle8 to boost their profiles – and sales – online. A period of “preview bidding” for Bukowskis’ 443-lot contemporary art and design sale goes live on Paddle8 on May 7, with high bids transferring to a live auction on May 14. (The sale includes Andy Warhol’s 1986 silkscreen “The Last Supper”, estimated at $8.6m-$11.6m.) This is the first of three sales that Paddle8 will host in conjunction with the Swedish auction house.

An online-only sale of 20th-century Italian lamps organised by Parisian auctioneer Piasa (until May 5) was launched last week on Paddle8, the first in a series of monthly auctions.

But how does the New York-based digital platform make money from these new partnerships? “Depending on the arrangement with each auction house, it’s either a flat fee or a split commission,” says a Paddle8 spokeswoman.

Meanwhile, Mandarin- and Russian-language versions of New York-based online sales platform lofty.com, which offers works priced between $500 and $50,000 through its auction and “buy now” direct sale web facilities, will shortly go live, says company founder Mark Lurie.

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Sotheby’s released robust preliminary first-quarter results this week, giving the beleaguered auction house a much-needed boost in the light of its ongoing battle with activist investor Dan Loeb. “For the first quarter of 2014, Sotheby’s expects to report that net auction sales have increased by 40 per cent from the prior year to approximately $730m,” the firm said.

This upturn is mainly due to a $113m (34 per cent) increase in sales of Impressionist art and contemporary art. The pre-tax loss for the first quarter is around $6m, compared with $32m in the first quarter of 2013.

Loeb, founder of New York-based hedge fund Third Point, has written to shareholders about his plans to nominate three directors to the 12-member Sotheby’s board. In response, Sotheby’s issued a statement on Thursday urging shareholders to vote for all of Sotheby’s own director nominees, and insisting that Loeb’s nominated candidates could “negatively impact shareholder value”.

Meanwhile Third Point, which built up a 9.6 per cent stake in the auction house last year, is suing Sotheby’s over its use of a “poison pill”, barring it from taking its stake above 10 per cent.

The entrance to Lorcan O’Neill’s second gallery in Rome©Giorgio Benni

The entrance to Lorcan O’Neill’s second gallery in Rome

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Rome is not traditionally seen as an art market hub but Irish dealer Lorcan O’Neill, who has a contemporary gallery in the Trastevere district of the Eternal City, launching a sprawling second gallery in July in the striking former stables of the 17th-century Palazzo Santacroce.

“The new space [means] we [can] expand the range of exhibitions,” O’Neill says. “There are older Italian artists like Luigi Ontani and Enrico Castellani whom we can show with a grander presence in their home town, and younger artists like Eddie Peake and Celia Hempton to whom we can give a variety of environments.”

Rachel Whiteread is making resin sculptures based on doors and other objects unearthed during the gallery refurbishment, to be included in her show there next year. Exhibitions devoted to Richard Long and Jeff Wall will inaugurate the building.

. . .

One of China’s biggest auction houses has undergone radical restructuring. China Guardian, which reported total auction sales of Rmb6.6bn (£630m) in 2013, has become a subsidiary of the new Guardian Culture Group, along with the newly established Guardian Investment Company. The latter, according to a spokeswoman, will “manage existing investments under China Guardian international auctions, drive the development of its associated businesses and operate the Guardian Art Centre”. The Art Centre, in Beijing, will be mainly engaged in the planning of exhibitions, but will also run a consulting arm.

And a new fair, jointly organised by the Art Centre and Hong Kong’s Fine Art Asia fair, is due for launch at the China Beijing International Fair for Trade in Services (May 28-June 1). Among 30 galleries participating from abroad are London’s Rossi & Rossi and David Aaron Ancient Arts, and Dutch gallery Vanderven Oriental Art.

. . .

A monograph devoted to the US abstract master Ad Reinhardt prepared in collaboration with the artist’s estate, new insights into Bridget Riley’s body of work and a discourse on the Cologne and New York 1980s art scenes are among the scholarly tomes planned by US mega-dealer David Zwirner, who is launching a stand-alone publishing company this autumn. Its headquarters will be based near Zwirner’s galleries in Chelsea, New York. The new company will also produce catalogues raisonnés, no doubt boosting the critical and commercial standing of some artists.

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