Last updated: January 22, 2012 5:34 am

The art market: Heaving Hong Kong, leaving Las Vegas

Dealers rush to China but away from Nevada while Old Masters take centre stage in New York

Old Masters take centre stage in New York this week with a number of auctions as well as the dealer event, the week-long Master Drawings New York. This opens on Saturday with all 23 galleries staying open in the evening. While US dealers are in the majority, some foreigners also participate – including Londoner Lowell Libson showing at Mitchell-Innes & Nash and the Madrid-based José de la Mano at Arader Galleries. Libson always has lovely things, including a portrait of a boy by Sir Thomas Lawrence priced in the region of £120,000. And the French dealer Laura Pecheur, participating for the first time, is bringing a show of 40 watercolours and drawings by Dora Maar, Picasso’s lover and muse, famously known as la femme qui pleure (the crying woman).

’Portrait of John Millington’

’Portrait of John Millington’ (1795) by Thomas Lawrence, exhibited by Lowell Libson at Master Drawings New York

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As for the Old Master auctions, the offerings are far stronger in New York than they were in London last December. Christie’s kicks off on Wednesday with an evening sale featuring one of the last two Memlings in private hands: “The Virgin Mary Nursing the Christ Child”, estimated at $6m-$8m. Also attracting a lot of interest is Gerrit Dou’s “A Young Lady Playing a Clavichord”, estimated at $1m-$2m. This is a rediscovery, having been sold by Duveen in 1927, and in the same family ever since.

Sotheby’s holds its Old Master sale on Thursday: among the standouts is a piece by the top Dutch flower painter Jan van Huysum (est $4m-$6m), which comes from the estate of Lady Forte of Trusthouse Forte. But the real buzz is about another still life – a crisp, gorgeous arrangement of flowers set in a niche by Ambrosius Bosschaert the Elder from about 1618, estimated at $1m-$1.5m but tipped to soar much higher, despite having been cleaned by the auction house. It was deaccessioned from the Hermitage museum in 1932: a stellar provenance.

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In London, all the talk is about the vast Hockney show that has just opened at the Royal Academy: its walls are plastered with his bright landscapes and poster-like works made on iPads. It is interesting to compare these with much earlier lithographs on show around the corner in Cork Street. Print dealer Alan Cristea is showing nine works from the 1980s, five of them of a Mexican courtyard, along with a flower piece and still lifes. Made in the studio of Ken Tyler, these are Hockney’s largest and most complex prints, demonstrating his bold colouring and energetic brushstrokes, as well as multiple points of view and a bending perspective. “These works are at the root of everything you can see at the Royal Academy today,” says Cristea. Prices range from £5,000 to £55,000 and the show continues until February 18.

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Meanwhile, in New York, the mighty Pace Gallery has lost one of its stars, the multimedia artist Sterling Ruby. This must be a blow as Ruby was at the base of its contemporary art programme, and last year he had a solo exhibition at Pace’s Beijing offshoot. Beyond confirming Ruby had left, Pace declined to comment. His studio director in Los Angeles said Ruby “hadn’t chosen another gallery yet” but that he was staying with his existing European representation of Sprüth Magers and Xavier Hufkens.

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The rush to set up galleries in Hong Kong is accelerating. White Cube is opening its new gallery at 50 Connaught Road, Central on March 2 with a show of Gilbert & George’s “London Pictures”. The leading French dealer Emmanuel Perrotin has found a 600 sq m gallery in the same building, and will open in May with a show by the pop-meets-manga artist KAWS. London’s Simon Lee has also found a space in the highly sought-after Pedder Building, which already houses Gagosian, Ben Brown and Hanart. And Pedder will also be home to the glamorous Hong Kong and Chinese socialite and dealer Pearl Lam, who is opening up there in May. All this is happening in the run-up to the Hong Kong art fair in May, which will be the first held under its new majority shareholder Art Basel, and which will be offering an expanded “projects” section curated by Yuko Hasegawa, director of Tokyo’s Museum of Contemporary Art and curator of the Sharjah Biennale in 2013.

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Is art really compatible with Las Vegas? The past is littered with cultural endeavours designed to give the Nevada gaming city a more “family-friendly” feel, such as the Guggenheim Hermitage Museum, which closed in 2008. Even the Las Vegas Art Museum, shuttered three years ago, has finally given up and handed over its collections to the University of Nevada. Plans for a contemporary art museum, LV MOCA, funded by the London collectors Poju and Anita Zabludowicz – who are invested in the city through the Tamares group – also vaporised with the financial crisis.

And now also leaving Las Vegas, or at least the Centerpiece art gallery in the grandiose CityCenter, is dealer and adviser Michelle Quinn. She was responsible for the $40m sculpture collection that remains dotted around the $8.5bn property development. But CityCenter was hit hard in 2008-09, although business is apparently now picking up. Quinn says she will continue to work from an office downtown, and is pinning her hopes on the cultural landscape being revived by the Smith Center for the Performing Arts, opening in March. “Now that could really change things,” says Quinn.

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

This article is subject to a correction and has been amended.

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