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June 5, 2010 1:22 am
Harry Blain and Graham Southern, the two lynchpins of London’s Haunch of Venison, owned by Christie’s, are leaving the gallery. “It’s an amicable departure,” Blain told me. “We are leaving to establish a new gallery in the West End, which will deal on the primary and secondary markets; we should be opening early next year.”
Blain, a former stockbroker, started dealing in 1992 from a gallery in Bruton Street, going into partnership with ex-Christie’s specialist Southern in 2002. One of Blain’s clients was Christie’s owner François Pinault, and in 2007 Christie’s bought the business, a takeover that was criticised for muddying the relationship between auctioneers and dealers. Keith Tyson, one of the gallery’s leading artists, defected this year, citing “different visions”. “I’m looking forward to getting back to working more closely with the artists,” said Blain. “A large organisation sometimes pulls you away from that.”
Phillips de Pury is launching its new 450 Park Avenue space in New York with a sale “curated” by mover-and-shaker Philippe Ségalot. He is the first of a series of “guest curators” for the Russian-owned Phillips who will put together “carte blanche” sales to be held from November onwards. Ségalot, a partner in the New York and Paris dealing firm Giraud, Pissarro, Ségalot, is a former Christie’s man with a client list to die for, probably including the Qatari royal family, who are discreet but important art buyers.
Cultural differences came into play at ARTHK last week, particularly on the last two days of the fair. Attendance was above 45,000, a surge of 65 per cent on last year, but many western dealers were startled by the way visitors photographed absolutely everything – even the “no photography” signs – in the show. “This is going to be the best-documented fair in history,” sighed Ricky Mann of new exhibitor Leo Castelli as a stream of mobile telephone- and camera-wielding snappers focused on Pettibone’s “Andy Warhol’s 32 Large Campbell’s Soup Cans, 1964” (sold to Hong Kong buyer for about $550,000).
Worse still, said Mann, was the “touching problem”. Across the fair, dealers were desperately shielding their art works from curious fingers. “I won’t bring any sculpture next year, that’s for sure,” said Adrian Turner of Marianne Boesky, gently shooing away a young woman pretending to hold up a ceramic Yoshitomo Nara for the camera. Indeed, one visitor dislodged a Yu Fan sculpture on Eastlink’s stand, fortunately not damaging it.
Dealers were mainly more than happy with sales at the fair, although these tended to be in the middle and lower price ranges: Greenberg Van Doren’s $12m Picasso (watched over by a security guard) did not find a buyer, although White Cube sold Hirst’s dove fluttering in formaldehyde, “The Inescapable Truth” (2005) for £1.75m. Local dealers said it went to a Taiwanese collector. Overwhelmingly, exhibitors swore to return next year, but hoped that between now and then something could be done about those pesky fingers.
A number of exhibitors at the Hong Kong fair are considering opening spaces in the city. Gagosian is renovating its new gallery on the seventh floor of the Pedder Building, strategically placed in Hong Kong Central between the International Finance Centre and the Landmark Tower. Pace, which already has a gallery in Beijing, does not deny rumours it will also open in Hong Kong; London’s Michael Hoppen is scouting for a locale as well. London’s Ben Brown, who already has a gallery in the Pedder Building, says that during the course of the fair he saw a stream of interested dealers looking at a space available in the same premises.
Returning to the market next month are what must be the best documented pair of porphyry vases in history. The “Houghton urns”, catalogued as dating from the 18th century, were bought at Christie’s by heiress Taylor Thomson, daughter of Lord Thomson of Fleet, for almost £2m in 1994, four times estimate. But she subsequently had doubts about their authenticity and took Christie’s to court, accusing them of misrepresenting their age and claiming they were 19th-century imitations. A long legal battle ensued, accompanied by extensive experts’ reports. Christie’s won on appeal and the urns were declared genuine 18th-century pieces. Now they are coming back for sale at Christie’s, this time with an estimate of £500,000-£800,000, in the firm’s July 8 sale of European decorative arts.
ARCO, Spain’s premier art fair, has a new director: Carlos Urroz. Urroz, once deputy director of the event, inherits a poisonous situation. The outgoing director, Lourdes Fernández, was criticised last year for allowing Luis Eduardo Cortes, president of the fair’s organising body Ifema, to override the selection committee by including rejected galleries. Some 70 art dealers threatened to boycott the event; in the end things were patched up but gallery owners are still up in arms against Cortes. Add to this Spain’s dire economy and a sharp drop in institutional spending on art, and Urroz has a lot on his plate as he takes up his new position.
In an interview with me in the May 29 Collecting Supplement, François Curiel of Christie’s quoted figures indicating that two Chinese auction houses, Guardian and Poly, sold over $250m each per annum, putting them ahead of Bonhams. Bonhams has asked me to point out that its turnover is more than this figure: for 2007 (the latest figures issued) sales were about $600m. However, since then Bonhams’ turnover has dropped, while Poly’s and Guardian’s have risen: Guardian’s Spring auctions alone, held in Beijing in May, raised $311.5m.
Georgina Adam is editor-at-large of The Art Newspaper
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