January 11, 2013 8:00 pm

The Art Market: Sitting pretty for a new season

New gallery for HK; French fillip for Christie’s; arrests in Italy
18th-century Chinese sculpture

The 18th-century Chinese sculpture that made €9.3 at Christie’s in Paris

Fabio Rossi of London’s Rossi & Rossi has teamed up with local art dealer Jean-Marc Decrop to open a new gallery in Hong Kong specialising in Middle Eastern and Asian art. Yallay Space is located in the south of Hong Kong Island in Aberdeen, an area increasingly being colonised by art galleries because it offers industrial buildings with large spaces, high ceilings, and, says Decrop, “rents that are a third of those in the centre”.In addition, it will be just seven minutes from the city once a subway extension opens in 2015.

Rossi, who is already based in Hong Kong, specialises in classical Himalayan and contemporary Asian art, while Decrop’s interests are in contemporary Chinese, Indonesian and Middle Eastern art and artists – “Away from the dominating north Atlantic sphere,” he says. He recently became a partner in the Isabelle van den Eynde gallery in Dubai.

Yallay Space opens next Saturday with a mixed show of artists from a range of countries: Algeria, Turkey, Bhutan, Kazakhstan, Australia and New Zealand. Rossi will maintain his London base, and about once a year will be sharing it with Hanart TZ, the renowned Hong Kong gallery founded by the academic and dealer Johnson Chang, which specialises in contemporary Chinese art.

. . .

Christie’s was top dog in France in 2012, selling €231.4m worth of art at auction and in private sales. If you just take auction sales, the firm totalled €193.5m, a drop of 2.8 per cent from 2011, but private treaty sales – which were finally authorised in France last year – boosted the result by €37.9m, making an increase of 12.7 per cent over 2011. Its star lot was an 18th-century Chinese sculpture that made €9.3m, the highest price in France last year.

Picasso’s painting ‘Tête de femme’

Picasso’s record-breaking ‘Tête de femme’ (1939)

Just below Christie’s, in second place, came Sotheby’s France with €182m, a drop of 4.2 per cent. The firm does not separate out private treaty sales but said that these “were in line with the rest of the company at about 15 per cent”. Its consolation prize was achieving the highest price for a painting in France, made by Picasso’s “Tête de femme” (1939), which sold for €6.33m.

The number three slot went to Artcurial, which had its best year ever, racking up €144.3m, up 13.4 per cent over 2011, mainly achieved by sales of Asian art. Drouot, which groups the smaller Parisian auction houses, continued its long decline with sales of €430m, a 10.8 per cent drop over the previous year.

. . .

Phillips de Pury chose to announce the departure of its chairman Simon de Pury two days before Christmas, prompting a flurry of speculation about why its charismatic star auctioneer was leaving. His line is that he chose to pursue “new adventures”, leaving the company in “an excellent position ... going from strength to strength”.

Renamed simply Phillips since January 1, the auction house is a private company belonging to Russian luxury goods group Mercury, which is incorporated in the Seychelles, so its financials are not available. However, accounts for the UK company filed up to the end of 2011 show a loss of £7.8m on sales of £56.7m – an improvement over the reported loss of £11.3m on sales of £38m in 2010. Phillips held 25 sales last year and grossed a little over $338m, but only earns a percentage of this in the form of buyer and seller premiums. Nevertheless, it is expanding its New York premises at 250 Park Avenue, and will be moving later this year to Berkeley Square in London.

. . .

One of the most faked artists around is Modigliani, because his drawings in particular are quite easy to counterfeit, because his work can sell for multiple millions – rumour has it that a reclining nude sold privately last year for $95m – and because of the inextricable imbroglio around authentication of his work.

There are (to simplify) two authentication experts who have been rivals for decades. One is Rome-based Christian Parisot, who was secretary to Modigliani’s daughter Jeanne, the only living descendant of the artist. Both he and Paris-based art historian Marc Restellini are preparing catalogues raisonnés, although neither publication seems likely to appear soon, as the field is so fraught.

Now Parisot, who is president of the Modigliani Institute in Rome, has been arrested in Italy along with art dealer Matteo Vignapiano after a two-year investigation by the Italian antiques and forgery squads. The police seized 59 works allegedly falsely attributed to Modigliani, including drawings, sculptures and a painting, as well as fake certificates of authenticity. The total value of the alleged fakes was €6.65m, said the Roman prosecutor in charge of the case. Parisot has been put under house arrest, as has Vignapiano; seven other people are also under investigation but released pending trial. Parisot was “not available [to] make declarations at the moment,” said Eleanora Chiolo of the institute when I tried to contact him.

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The London Art Fair, which specialises in modern British and contemporary art, inaugurates the fair season on Wednesday in Islington with more than 100 galleries, mainly British. For those interested in this market, analyst Anders Petterson will be giving a talk on trends and looking at the performance of individual artists on Thursday. More details can be found at www.londonartfair.co.uk

. . .

Congratulations to the Salzburg and Paris super-dealer Thaddaeus Ropac, who has just been named Chevalier of the French Légion d’Honneur for his 29 years service as an art dealer. In October, he opened France’s biggest commercial art gallery in Pantin, just outside Paris’s Boulevard Périphérique, with shows of Anselm Kiefer and Joseph Beuys (both end January 27).

Georgina Adam is editor-at-large of The Art Newspaper

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