December 6, 2013 6:43 pm

The Art Market: Art Basel Miami Beach, China auctions and Rembrandt still unsold

Ai Weiwei's silver 'Bicycles', on sale at Art Basel Miami Beach

Ai Weiwei's silver 'Bicycles', on sale at Art Basel Miami Beach

The annual art-fashion-luxury-goods-party-party-party fest that is Art Basel Miami Beach has been in full swing in Florida this week, ending Sunday. I will report on sales next week but some dealers were tailoring their offerings to displays in the newly opened Pérez Art Museum Miami. This revamp of the old Art Museum of Miami, in a smart new Herzog & de Meuron building, was controversially renamed when Jorge Pérez, a local real estate developer, gave it $40m, and its arrival is a definite boost to the cultural offering in the city.

The opening shows in PAMM include China’s Ai Weiwei, with a huge installation of 700 bicycles. At the fair, Lisson and Urs Meile were showing smaller versions, in gold or silver, ranging from one to seven deep – an edition of 14 in total, priced at €200,000-€400,000. Also in PAMM was an installation by the Polish artist Monika Sosnowska, with the leading Mexican gallery Kurimanzutto offering a crushed metal locker at €50,000.

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The Miami Museum of Contemporary Art is holding the first Tracey Emin show in the US. Her dealers White Cube and Lehmann Maupin had both brought Emin works for sale. David Maupin says: “The MoCA show features her neons and films, so we brought a quilt piece and sculptures to show another side of her practice.”

Design Miami launched a day before Art Basel Miami Beach with a smart show of works that sit between design and the contemporary art just across the road. French gallery BSL, for example, was offering a “Mystic Garden Screen” by Algerian artist Taher Chemirik, a unique piece priced at $220,000, in bright brass petals – certainly a more decorative than functional piece. And Patrick Seguin had brought a whole Jean Prouvé house into the fair. The demountable house, dating from 1945, was made in response to the need for affordable, mass-produced housing following the second world war. A number were made but only two apparently remain, of which one is listed and conserved in Nancy, France. The other, on show at the fair, is priced at $2.5m. Such structures, rather surreally, are now in demand for garden houses or guest quarters for the well-heeled: a fate that Prouvé certainly couldn’t have predicted nor would probably have approved of.

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A painting by the Chinese abstract artist Zao Wou-ki sold for a record $14.7m at Sotheby’s Beijing last week, trouncing the previous record of $11m and going to Xiaojun Zhang, a collector from the coal-rich Shanxi province, according to the firm, which described the buyer as an existing customer.

Abstraction” (1958), sent for sale by the Art Institute of Chicago, was the top item in a 141-lot sale that raised $37.2m and marked Sotheby’s entrée into mainland China. The firm obtained the right to organise auctions and sell art (but not Chinese antiques) in the freeport and other agreed locations last year.

Demountable house (1945) by Jean Prouvé, offered at Design Miami©Patrick Seguin Gallery

Demountable house (1945) by Jean Prouvé, offered at Design Miami

According to Sotheby’s, western and eastern art worth a total of $212m was exhibited in Beijing during an “art week” that included a selling exhibition of works by Picasso and Rodin as well as furniture and decorative arts. It was held in the five-star China World Summit hotel in the city centre, accorded tax-free status for the occasion. The exhibition also featured Rembrandt’s “Portrait of a Man with Arms Akimbo” sent for sale for about $50m by “a dealer” – presumably Otto Naumann, who failed to sell the work at Tefaf, Maastricht, in 2011. While Sotheby’s does not reveal private sales, it seems that the problematic portrait – from the artist’s “difficult period” of 1658 – is still looking for a buyer, Chinese or not.

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Undaunted by a distinctly lacklustre sale in Beijing in April, the British-based Association of Art Auctioneers is organising its second sale in the capital this month, concentrating on what worked best the first time around: antique European silver, clocks and objects of vertu. The auction will be held in conjunction with Infinity, a real estate auctioneer, in the Landmark Hotel on December 22. The 262 lots are estimated at a modest £850,000 – far from the previous 900-lot sale, which aimed for £6m but only made £1.5m. But silver did well that time, which is why the auctioneers are up for a second round in Beijing this month.

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Finally, and still on the subject of China, Philip Tinari, the highly switched-on director of Beijing’s Ullens Center for Contemporary Art, is curating the Focus section of next year’s Armory Show in New York. He will bring in 17 Chinese galleries, nine of which have never shown outside Asia before, so there’s a chance to discover little-known names such as Space Station, Ink Studio (specialising in the highly popular ink painting), Tianrenheyi, Yang and Aye. Alongside them in the section are better-known galleries such as Shanghart, Chambers and Pékin Fine Arts.

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

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