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Bonhams has unveiled its “spectacular new headquarters” in London, and for once the hype is justified. In place of its rather shabby old rabbit warren, it has conjured a light-flooded, state-of-the- art building with three immense salerooms. Everything is in sleek wood, steel and glass; foldaway doors disappear into the walls, giving clear views from the salerooms into Haunch of Venison Yard. A huge car lift can bring vehicles – the second-biggest grossing part of Bonhams’ business, after paintings – directly into the building. The sky boxes have special lighting so that bidders can watch without being watched.
Matthew Girling, chief executive of Bonhams, says that to his knowledge it is the only custom-built saleroom of any international auction house. He is particularly proud of the soaring atrium, rising through five floors, that connects the building to New Bond Street. The new premises will show highlights of the firm’s coming sales until next Tuesday, including Fragonard’s “Portrait of François-Henri, 5th duc d’Harcourt”, estimated at more than £10m.
Meanwhile, Phillips is on the move in Paris, taking over a historic building in the Rue du Bac, in the heart of Saint-Germain-des-Prés. Bigger than the firm’s previous Right Bank home, the space includes an exhibition room that is open this weekend to show highlights of its forthcoming New York sales.
Frieze Week has ended in London and the focus now shifts to Paris, where the leading French fair Fiac has flung open its doors in the Grand Palais. Once again a host of collateral fairs, visits and events are being laid on for visitors. The Tuileries gardens have 17 outdoor sculptures, including James Lee Byars’ impeccable golden sphere, originally conceived for Charles V’s Alhambra palace (Michael Werner). At the Jardin des Plantes, projects both inside and outside the museum include a Jaume Plensa statue (Lelong) and multicoloured mannequins by Clédat & Petitpierre (ACDC). A cluster of satellite fairs include Cutlog, Slick, Outsider and Yia (Young International Artists). Fiac itself is dominated by Ai Weiwei’s “Iron Tree” (pictured, left), the only one in metal of a series of trees, standing almost 7m tall, on Neugerriemschneider’s stand. The Fiac fest continues throughout Paris until tomorrow night.
An exhibition of paintings by Hollywood actor Sylvester Stallone opens on Monday in St Petersburg’s Russian State Museum, in collaboration with Gmurzynska gallery. No doubt choosing her words carefully, the museum’s deputy director Evgenia Petrova hails the works’ “expressiveness, their rich and bright colouring and the meaning that is discernible in each painting”. According to Gmurzynska’s director Mathias Rastorfer, the star “managed to conceal his talent for a long time” but he did show his work in 2009 at Art Basel Miami Beach, where critics were less than laudatory. While the Russian show is non-commercial, prices for Stallone’s work elsewhere range from $50,000 to $120,000. Rastorfer told me: “These are very serious paintings from a very serious artist.”
Sotheby’s has pointed out that the “riposte” mentioned in this article is not a reply to Daniel Loeb “or anyone else”, and that the “investor briefing” posted on the site is an update of its existing “continuing dialog with shareholders”. It also points out that the briefing addresses the question of average price points and says that “works of art sold in the $50k to $5mm range generate by far the larger proportion of Sotheby’s auction revenues and are the engine of Sotheby’s profitability”.
Georgina Adam is art market editor-at-large of The Art Newspaper
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