The Art Market: daggers at dawn

The German billionaire industrialist Reinhold Würth is probably best known for his vast collection of modern and contemporary art displayed in his private museum in Schwäbisch Hall, in Baden-Württemberg. He also has a museum of medieval art in a converted 12th-century church in the same town, which holds one of the greatest of German old master paintings, the glorious “Darmstadt Madonna” by Holbein the Younger. He paid $70m for the work in 2011, adding it to a collection of medieval works acquired from the princely von Fürstenberg family in 2003.

The von Fürstenbergs also owned five works by another great German painter, the Master of Messkirch (active 1515-40). These – the Wildenstein and Falkenberg altarpieces and three parts of an altar from St Martin’s church in the town of Messkirch – are all unexportable national treasures. Now, in a deal brokered by the Frankfurt consultant Dr Christoph Graf Douglas, Würth has bought the Falkenberg altar, and the local authorities the Wildenstein and one part of the St Martin’s piece for a total of €11.8m; the other two wings from St Martin’s should be acquired within two years for another €6m. All will go on display in the Staatsgalerie Stuttgart.

The third edition of Art Stage Singapore opened in the massive casino/shopping mall/convention centre of Marina Bay Sands on Wednesday, with 130 galleries, three-quarters of them from the Asia Pacific region. The event is owned and run by Lorenzo Rudolf, one-time director of Art Basel.

Last year’s event was marked by low attendance and poor sales but this year seems to be a clear improvement. Singapore’s government is pouring money into culture with a new National Gallery of Art, boasting 60,000 sq metres and costing S$532m (£274m), set to open in 2015, and new spaces such as Gillman Barracks.

“A mixed bag” is the fairest thing to say about Art Stage, with some standout displays such as Jannis Kounellis at Malingue (five works from the “Translating China” series at €260,000 each). Among visitors were the Malaysian collectors Aliya and Farouk Khan, who were musing on the purchase of an installation by Shooshie Sulaiman, “Muar Art Kindergarten, Johor”, on the Tomio Koyama stand, for S$200,000 (£103,000).

At the Indonesian Pavilion, “Silent procession of this cheerful Trojan horse” (2012), by Indieguerrillas, sold quickly for about S$27,000 (£14,000). But the pavilion also caused controversy, as most of the art was being sold directly by the fair, which was taking a 50 per cent cut.

“Rumours grow like mushrooms in the September rain,” said Art Stage Singapore director Lorenzo Rudolf when asked about a story doing the rounds at the fair. It concerned Louise Blouin, the millionaire owner of Art & Auction and, who has been in negotiations to buy The Armory Show and other fairs. She is also interested, said the gossips, in buying Art Stage, so as to extend its reach with an “Asian Armory”. Ben Hartley, president of Blouin Media, would only comment that “we are always interested in new opportunities around the world.” As for Rudolf, he said that he does not rule out bringing in a partner.

The lawsuit between the billionaire investor Ron Perelman and his former “friend”, mega-dealer Larry Gagosian, is turning very nasty. Last week Gagosian’s lawyers filed a motion to dismiss the suit in a New York state court, accusing Perelman of being a “deadbeat – and then a bully” and of using the proceedings “to take public swipes at Gagosian”.

Perelman took Gagosian to court last year over a deal involving a $4m Koons “Popeye” sculpture. Perelman ordered it through Gagosian and also bought a $10.5m painting and a $12.5m sculpture, identified by the New York Times as being a Cy Twombly and a Richard Serra respectively. However the Koons was not delivered in time and Perelman “paid” for the Twombly and Serra by returning the rights to the Koons to Gagosian, plus giving other “unwanted” works of art to the dealer. Perelman claimed that he lost millions of dollars because Gagosian undervalued the exchange price of “Popeye”, and that there was a secret agreement with Koons for the resale of the sculpture that meant Perelman could not obtain “fair market value”.

In the latest motion, however, Gagosian’s lawyers say that the dealer has actually lost upwards of $1.8m disposing of the unwanted works of art, and $100,000 on the Koons. In response, Perelman’s spokesperson Christine Taylor said: “Mr Gagosian’s latest court filing does not address the issues in the case. He manipulated the contemporary art market he knows more about than anyone else, which caused him to obtain improper profits on both sales and purchases through his gallery.”

The Perelman side has subpoenaed the Mugrabi family of dealer/traders – Alberto, David and Jose. Asked why, Taylor said that they are believed to have previously owned the Twombly, and that its valuation was “artificially high”, having gone from $4.5m to $10.5m in just seven months. Stay tuned.

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

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