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It was difficult to avoid discussion of Brexit at this year’s Tefaf art fair, held in Maastricht, where the treaty that founded the EU was signed in 1992. “Parliament voting was happening throughout the set-up and preview days [March 13-15]. If there had been indications of a hard Brexit, that would have affected the mood,” says Patrick van Maris van Dijk, chief executive of Tefaf. As it was, he says, once a no-deal exit was rejected, “sterling immediately went up and everyone breathed a sigh of relief” — there are 71 UK dealers among Tefaf’s 279 exhibitors this year.
Elsewhere, the upgraded Modern art section proved a winning draw as more VIP visitors than usual seemed to turn right on entry this year (the Old Masters paintings dealers, normally the first port of call, are on the left). Older works are still the fair’s more distinct offering, though, and highlights this year include a jewel-like painting of two young sisters, Juana and Isabel de Aragón y Pernstein, by Antonio Ricci, dated to about 1598-99, partly by using the clothes and hairstyles of the sitters (Rob Smeets, €220,000). A gold Renaissance marriage necklace (c1583-91) that originally belonged to Friedrich Wilhelm I, Duke of Saxe-Weimar, sold from Les Enluminures ($350,000). It is not known whether the necklace was offered to the duke’s first or second wife. It was also once in the British Rail Pension Fund, which invested some £40m in fine and decorative art between 1974 and 1980.
Tefaf Maastricht runs until Sunday.
Up to $7.3m of art from the collection of the disgraced international jeweller Nirav Modi, who was arrested in London as this column went to print, comes to auction at Saffronart in Mumbai on Tuesday. Modi left his home country of India last year amid accusations by the state-owned Punjab National Bank of perpetrating a $2bn fraud, which he has denied. India’s government has since seized his assets in the country, including 68 works of mostly Indian Modern and contemporary art. Mumbai’s income tax department is now offering these at a live auction on March 26, to begin recovery of the Rs95.9 crore ($14m) that it specifies is owed.
It’s the first time that an auction house has been taken on for this type of sale in India, says Abha Housego, vice-president of Saffronart. “The value of Indian art only really started to go up in 2008, so it hasn’t really been an option until recently,” she says.
Much of the collection’s expected value comes from VS Gaitonde’s meditative “Untitled” (1973), estimated at between $3.5m and $4.5m. This was included in New York’s Solomon R Guggenheim’s 2014-15 solo show. Other highlights include Raja Ravi Varma’s 1881 painting of an official visit to Kerala by the third Duke of Buckingham (est $1.8m-$2.6m), a national treasure so it can’t be exported. Among the contemporary fare is Jitish Kallat’s “Untitled (Eclipse) — 6” (2007-08, est $88,000-$118,000).
Christie’s often sells a single painting for more than the total £7.5m (£9.3m with fees) that it made from 61 works that belonged to the singer George Michael. But its energetic marketing efforts ahead of the March 14 sale give a clue to the power of a celebrity collection.
Overall, the within-estimate auction proved a mixed bag as some high-profile disappointments — notably below-par prices for expected star attractions by Damien Hirst — overshadowed some of the showbiz buzz. Hirst’s formaldehyde works “The Incomplete Truth” (2006) and “Saint Sebastian, Exquisite Pain” (2007) both hammered long before hitting their £1.5m high estimates, fetching £750,000 (£911,250 with fees) and £720,000 (£875,250 with fees) respectively and extending the ongoing drift in value for Hirst’s work.
The standout performer was Michael’s friend Tracey Emin, perhaps benefiting from her well-received show at White Cube in London. Her messy, acrylic “Hurricane” (2007) went for £350,000 (£431,250 with fees, est £120,000-£180,000), while her neon “George Loves Kenny” (2007), a reference to Michael’s one-time partner, the art dealer Kenny Goss, drew a heartfelt round of applause when it sold for £280,000 (£347,250 with fees, est £40,000-£60,000).
Subsequent online sales of £2m pushed the fee-inclusive total to £11.3m for works mostly by Young British Artists. Proceeds headed to charities that Michael supported before he died in 2016.
Art Dubai, which opened in the Madinat Jumeirah resort on Wednesday, was launched back in 2007 as the Gulf Art Fair, just before such events became two-a-penny. Chief executive Ben Floyd, who co-founded the fair with the London dealer John Martin, says he has witnessed much cultural change since. “The city is unrecognisable now,” he says, noting that there were only about seven commercial galleries back in 2007; now, he says, there are around 30, including a dozen on Alserkal Avenue, a cultural district established in 2008.
Floyd and the fair’s artistic director Pablo del Val acknowledge that the market’s growth has been relatively slow, given that the critically acclaimed Sharjah Biennial for contemporary art began back in 1993. Certainly, Dubai doesn’t seem to have the turbocharged momentum of cities such as Hong Kong and Shanghai, but this may prove a more sustainable environment. Del Val says: “We are building something thoughtful here, and that takes time.”
The young German artist Dennis Buck has a clear sense of the direction of today’s art market. Many of his pieces put his name, the work’s title, date, medium and sometimes dimensions prominently on the canvas. “I feel more like a small-business owner [than an artist],” Buck told visitors to his exhibition at London’s Roman Road gallery last week, while talking about the realities of “deromanticising” his profession. The artist even offers us his telephone number through some works, which doubles as the title of the exhibition: “+491522414NAME” (until April 28, canvases £3,500-£7,500).
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