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October 14, 2011 8:33 pm
Dealers and auctioneers were playing
the confidence card as Frieze Week began, although many privately admitted they were nervous as to whether the art market could hold up against a backdrop of economic turmoil. Initial sales at the fairs and auctions indicated that buyers are cautious – but that the market has most definitely not collapsed.
The Frieze preview on Wednesday saw the habitual queue of VIPs but there seemed less sense of urgency than in previous years. Nevertheless, some sales were quickly made. Zwirner reported selling Michael Riedel’s three-part painting, “Blinds Vertical, Wheel 6 Spoke, and Checkerboard Across” (2011), fresh from the studio, to the Chinese-Indonesian collector Budi Tek for $150,000, while Hauser and Wirth found a European buyer for a huge, brutal Thomas Houseago sculpture, “Hermaphrodite” (2011), for $425,000. Most deals were at a lower level: Kate McGarry sold two of five editions of Ben Rivers’ battered shed with a film installation, “This Is My Land” (2006), for £20,000 each. Frieze continues until October 16.
At the auctions, Phillips de Pury had had the difficult task of going first on Wednesday with a 36-lot sale that came in well under expectations, making £8.2m (pre-sale estimate was £9.9m-£14.4m, excluding commission). The top price was made by Jeff Koons’s “Seal Walrus Trashcans” (2003-2009), which sold under its target at £2.1m (it was on offer at Art Basel at $5m). Almost all the action was on the telephone, including the sale of two Hirst pieces, a butterfly window and a circular spot painting, both going to the firm’s Moscow-based Svetlana Marich. The first, carrying a guarantee from the Russian-owned group, made a low-estimate £780,450; the second sold for £580,000.
Sotheby’s then pulled off its most successful sale ever of 20th-century Italian art on Thursday, which included 36 lots from an Italian collector widely identified as the family of the dealer Corvi-Mora, although this was hotly denied by the auction house. Italian art has a seemingly unassailable position in the art market with a keen international set of collectors, and the sale did very well, racking up £21.6m, just short of high estimate. The following evening sale saw a tiny but fine Lucien Freud drawing make just over £3m, a little under low estimate. While bidding was thin and the sale came in under expectations with £17.8m, 77 per cent of the lots found buyers. “It was consistent, considering the material on offer,” commented dealer Pilar Ordovas. She bagged Leon Kossoff’s “A Street in Willesden” (1985) for £690,850, a new record for the artist.
The respected dealer Thomas Dane has extended into a ground-floor gallery in Duke Street, just opposite Christie’s. His inaugural show of five works by the German painter Albert Oehlen was sold out before the opening, at prices between €175,000 and €285,000. But this will be the last Oehlen show for Dane – the artist has been poached by Gagosian. Thomas Dane, elegantly, refuses to be drawn on the subject, just saying: “Albert decided he would benefit from showing with Gagosian, who have a global presence. He’s very committed to this show and he is a close friend and will remain so.”
A set of four monumental bronze sculptures by Matisse are to be sold separately after failing to find a buyer at a reported $200m. The casts of a woman’s back were made over 23 years from 1908 and become increasingly abstract. They were made in an edition of 12, and nine complete sets are in museums, including Tate. The Texan charity Burnett Foundation put its set up for sale at the beginning of this year, following the huge price fetched by a single cast, “Back IV” (1930, made in 1978), which sold for a massive $48.8m at auction in 2010. The foundation decided to sell privately through Sotheby’s, and according to the trade the undisclosed price was $200m. But as no one has stepped up to the plate, the “Backs” will be offered separately in the group’s sales of Impressionist and Modern art over the next nine months. The first is estimated at $20m-$30m and will come up for sale in New York on November 2. Sotheby’s says the others will be priced closer to the date, meaning that it will see how the first sale goes. According to dealers, the first (the most naturalistic) and the fourth (the most abstract) are the most desirable. The choice of Sotheby’s to sell is hardly a surprise, as the group’s honorary chairman, John Marion, is married to the Burnett oil heiress.
Georgina Adam is editor-at-large of The Art Newspaper
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