One of Assa Kauppi’s ‘In Search of a Winner’ pieces, priced at €42,000
One of Assa Kauppi’s ‘In Search of a Winner’ pieces, priced at €42,000 © Assa Kauppi

“I can’t get over it – I never thought I would sell Scandinavian artists so well in Turkey!” said a delighted Stefan Andersson of the Swedish gallery Andersson/Sandström on the second day of Istanbul’s newest art fair, ArtInternational (which took place last week).

Andersson had found buyers for all five sculptures of Assa Kauppi’s editioned “In Search of a Winner” (2013), showing a sulky petit rat sitting cross-legged on the floor, and priced at €42,000 each. Three went to local collectors. Andersson also sold two editions of Riitta Päiväläinen’s photographs of Nordic woodlands at €21,000 – again to local collectors.

His was one of the success stories of the fair, inaugurated last Sunday just after the 13th Istanbul Biennial opened too. Elsewhere, business was being done, albeit more patchily: London’s Bischoff/Weiss sold two colourful Rana Begum wall pieces at £7,700 each, while Wendy Norris of San Francisco found a Saudi buyer for a group of photographs by the Mexican artist Julio César Morales ($25,000 for a group of five).

Some galleries did less well – it appeared that the pricier works were taking longer to shift. Lisson, whose artist Anish Kapoor has a big show at the local Sakip Sabanci museum and also had three of his pieces in a small dedicated room at the fair, was coyly talking about “great interest”. However, Paris’s Yvon Lambert did sell (for €250,000) a Francesco Vezzoli sculpture, “Portrait of Sophia Loren as the Muse of Antiquity (After Giorgio de Chirico)” (2011), again to a local collector.

The fact that the fair got off the ground at all was something of an achievement for its creator Sandy Angus, one of the founders of Art HK (now absorbed into the Basel group of fairs). Having banked on the potentially rich Turkish market, he was faced with a series of obstacles as the launch grew nearer, including a collapse in the value of the Turkish lira.

One of two Rana Begum wall pieces
One of two Rana Begum wall pieces that sold for £7,700 © Rana Begum

The political and social unrest this summer prompted many dealers to consider pulling out. A rival fair, Contemporary Istanbul, proved aggressive in defending its patch and things came to a head with a lawsuit just before the opening. The owners of Contemporary Istanbul alleged breach of copyright over the inclusion of “Istanbul” in ArtInternational’s original name. This meant there had to be a name-change, with everything having to be reprinted.

Despite these and other hitches, the fair did finally go ahead in a conference hall on the Golden Horn. The first day drew most of the major Turkish collectors, a smattering of Europeans – including Caroline Bourgeois, François Pinault’s curator – and a good number from the Gulf, including Prince Bandar al-Saud from Saudi Arabia and Sheikha Hoor al-Qasimi of Sharjah, who runs that emirate’s own well-respected biennial.

News in the Knoedler drama seems to come in daily. The gallery, one of New York’s oldest, snapped shut in 2011 after a client sued over a $17m Pollock that he said was a fake. It turned out to be just one of more than 60 works by renowned artists, including de Kooning, Rothko and Motherwell and worth more than $80m, that an obscure dealer called Glafira Rosales, had been selling via Knoedler and another New York gallery for almost 20 years.

Rosales has now admitted that all were fakes, and has pleaded guilty to crimes such as conspiring (with a person not linked to the gallery) to sell them and to money laundering, according to US attorney Preet Bharara. The paintings were actually bought from a Chinese painter in Queens, said the attorney: the artist was named as Pei-Shen Qian by the New York Times, which reckoned that he got as little as a few thousand dollars for his imitations, and it is unclear how much he knew of Rosales’ fraudulent activity. Rosales could face up to 99 years in prison and up to $81m in restitution to her victims.

Meanwhile, Ann Freedman, who worked for Knoedler and had sold many of the fakes, is suing New York dealer Marco Grassi, accusing him of defamation. Grassi was interviewed for an article in New York Magazine last month about the affair – published after Rosales was accused of counterfeiting but before she pleaded guilty – in which he had cast doubt on whether Freedman had done enough to check on provenance before handling the works, saying: A gallery person has an absolute responsibility to do due diligence, and I don’t think she did it.”

In the complaint, Freedman’s lawyers say that on the contrary she exercised “extraordinary diligence” and enumerate a long list of experts she consulted about the works. Her complaint says the wealth of positive expert opinions about the paintings, and the “absence of any negative opinions”, was overwhelming. She is demanding unspecified damages.

‘Pieta’ (1947) by FN Souza
‘Pieta’ (1947) by FN Souza, sold for $327,750 © FN Souza

With Christie’s preparing to hold its first auction in Mumbai this December, local auction houses are raising their game. Saffron, which until now has only conducted online auctions, held its first live session, also in Mumbai, last week. On offer were 101 lots by Indian modern artist FN Souza. They were not headline material, with many works on paper, but all came directly from his daughter. The sale was a success, with everything sold: the total of $1.27m tripled pre-sale expectations. The top lot, “The Man from After” (1968), made $122,000, well over pre-sale expectations of up to $55,000.

All this came against the backdrop of a plunging rupee, which has lost 20 per cent this year. “Anywhere but in India, the sale would have been a disaster,” commented dealer Conor Macklin of London’s Grosvenor Gallery, who was present. “There are not enough Indian buyers outside the country, nor enough people who can spend money overseas since the government reduced the amount Indians can export. But the sale shows that there is still a lot of interest in more traditional art in India,” he added.

Francesco Vezzoli’s ‘Sophia Loren as the Muse of Antiquity’
Francesco Vezzoli’s ‘Sophia Loren as the Muse of Antiquity’, which sold for €250,000 © Francesco Vezzoli

Meanwhile, in New York this week, Christie’s sale of Modern and South East Asian art was a bit of a snooze, with just 62 per cent sold and totalling a little over $5m. There, a Souza “Pietà” from 1947 made a within-estimate $327,750.

The two Pinta art fairs, which specialise in Latin-American art (one held in New York, one in London), have broken up. Asked about it, a spokesperson for the New York event said, “It remains to be determined how the fairs will navigate the coming years as two separate entities.” Meanwhile Alejandro Zaia, one of the founders and London chairman, said, “New York and London are – definitely – very different markets for Latin American art … so we decided that it deserved a different approach.”

And finally: congratulations to Pace president and art market grandee Arne Glimcher, who has been promoted to the rank of Officier of the French Légion d’Honneur – which puts him a step up from Larry Gagosian, who is a mere Chevalier.

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

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