London continues to be a magnet for new art galleries. A notable arrival is Kallos, in Davies Street, Mayfair, just opposite Gagosian and a few steps from Berkeley Square. In contrast to the many contemporary art set-ups, though, this newcomer focuses on a very different field: Greek antiquities.
Its owner is hardly new to the art world, and has both the background and the finances to launch the sumptuous new space. He is the 50-year-old Baron Lorne Thyssen-Bornemisza, son of the famed collector “Heini” Thyssen-Bornemisza and brother of Francesca von Habsburg. He says he has been collecting for eight years: firstly snuff boxes and then Roman antiquities – “but not Greek works, so no one can accuse me of cherry-picking from the gallery,” he explains, sitting in his sleekly-decorated study. According to Thyssen-Bornemisza, “only six to ten great Greek antiquities come up at auction each year,” but he has also “extracted some works from private collections” for his stock.
Asked why he has chosen to open a commercial gallery – as one assumes it can’t be for the money – Thyssen-Bornemisza says: “I want to provide a counterbalance to the current massive focus on contemporary art; I want to share my passion for antiquities, and to bring new collectors to this field.” With prices for the few but exquisite pieces on display starting at £30,000 and rising to over £3m, though, the entry-ticket is daunting. There will also be an educational programme, though, and Thyssen-Bornemisza hopes to use the gallery as a forum of discussion on the tricky question of the trading of antiquities in general.
In contrast, just around the corner in Bond Street, another newbie, the Contini gallery, has also thrown open its doors. It will specialise in modern and contemporary art, with its first show devoted to imposing sculptures by the Polish artist Igor Mitoraj, priced in the region of £200,000.
Meanwhile, in Paris, Thomas Bompard, who was with Sotheby’s for 12 years, is opening a new gallery on the Rive Gauche opposite the Louvre, in the former Camoin-Demachy antiques gallery. Bompard is bringing in decorator François-Joseph Graf for a redesign of the space, but keeping its sweeping staircase and plush salons. Eclecticism will be the rule: Bompard will offer his original speciality, books and manuscripts, alongside impressionist, modern and postwar art (“From Rodin to Rothko”, as he puts it), but also tribal art and photography. Galerie Gradiva opens on Tuesday, May 28.
Still in Paris, this weekend sees the first edition of Choices, an open weekend modelled on Berlin’s Gallery Weekend, which just wrapped up a very successful 10th edition.
The French version takes place across 35 galleries in Saint-Germain and the Marais, with participants including Almine Rech, Chantal Crousel, Claudine Papillon and Georges-Philippe Vallois, all featuring solo shows. Curiously, one work from each show will be presented in the nearby École nationale supérieure des Beaux-Arts, in a display chosen by its director Nicolas Bourriaud and his students. We shall have to see how that works out, as it could be a potential cacophony. All the galleries will be open from midday to 7pm today, May 24, and will open again tomorrow.
It generally takes a few weeks before the true results of a fair come out, but even now, a week after Art Basel Hong Kong closed, it seems that commercially this year’s edition was much stronger than the last, with numerous galleries reporting buoyant sales. Michael Hoppen was celebrating, having placed eight Bill Brandt photographs in mainland China on the first day. while Victoria Miro sold two tapestries by Grayson Perry: one to Taiwan and one to the China Academy of Art in Hangzhou. Indeed, one of the aspects of the fair this year was an increase in buying by mainland Chinese, and particularly for museums in the second- and third-tier cities. Their names may be unknown to westerners, but these regions have populations in the millions and are looking for art to fill their new museums. Generally, however, dealers reported that such buying tended to be well below US$200,000.
Remaining in Hong Kong, next year sees the launch of a new satellite fair, timed to coincide with Art Basel in mid-March. The brainchild of organisers Tim Etchells and Sandy Angus (who created the original ArtHK), the event will be held in a purpose-built tent, conveniently within walking distance of the Mandarin Oriental hotel, and will feature some 100 dealers. Its working title, so far, is Art Central. As if that wasn’t enough, Design Miami’s new director, Rodman Primark, is also eyeing-up the former British territory. While a new event is not confirmed for next year, Design Miami “will have some sort of presence during Art Basel Hong Kong [but] not necessarily a fair, as such,” says a spokesman.
The results of the Phillips contemporary auction in New York came in too late for us last week, but the firm made its highest-ever total in this field, racking up $131.8m by the end of the contemporary art auction week. Rothko’s “Untitled (Red, Blue, Orange)” (1955), reportedly consigned by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, made just over $56m after a slightly bumpy ride from bidders. The strongest action, however, was among the younger artists. A work by hot-hot-hot Alex Israel reached almost double its estimate, at $581,000, while an Oscar Murillo – whose show at David Zwirner has been critically panned – fetched $389,000, having been estimated to reach between $100,000 and $150,000. Tucked away in a skybox, watching the action, was actor Leonardo DiCaprio, who alongside dealer Helly Nahmad (recently sentenced to a year and a day in prison for organising an illegal gambling ring) apparently purchased Dubuffet’s “Voie piétonnière” (1981) for $605,000. In any case, as the work was hammered down, the inhabitants of the box started banging triumphantly on the window.
Georgina Adam is art market editor-at-large of The Art Newspaper