Catherine Grenier
Catherine Grenier

Ever since the death of Annette Giacometti in 1993, the fiercest of battles has been fought over the estate of her husband Alberto, a situation exacerbated by the obdurate personalities of the two main players. Now, it seems, there is hope of calming the troubled waters of the decades-old imbroglio. The art market is hoping that recently announced changes will make it easier to deal with issues concerning the estate of the highest-priced sculptor in the world.

From next month, curator Catherine Grenier will become director of the Annette and Alberto Giacometti Foundation. She arrives from the Centre Pompidou, after she failed in a bid to become director of the establishment.

Grenier replaces Véronique Wiesinger, who spent years in legal clashes with Mary Lisa Palmer, head of the rival Giacometti Association and formerly Annette Giacometti’s trusted secretary. Such was the hostility between the two women that before sales, auction houses and dealers habitually asked for certificates of authenticity from both, for fear of any challenges by one side or the other.

“This is good for the market,” says Hugh Gibson of London’s Thomas Gibson Fine Art, which has a long relationship with Giacometti’s estate, including a knockout show at the first Frieze Masters in 2012. “Hopefully, dealers and auction houses won’t have to get two certificates – it will be good if the two institutions can co-operate now,” Gibson says. “And I hope it will also clarify the relationships with other galleries.”

There is no space here to go into the fine detail of the war between the two institutions – and women – but one indication of the bitterness is that until now, 25 years after the Giacometti Association was founded, five lawsuits had been ongoing. In addition, the Foundation was in a fight with the Swiss-based Alberto Giacometti Stiftung, which opposed its attempts to make and sell posthumous casts.

Now all the lawsuits have been abandoned. “We are pleased and hope the general climate will improve,” said Dr Christian Klemm, director of the Zurich foundation, while Palmer said: “There is now an open and serene environment and there can now be co-operation – notably in fighting fakes – that was not possible before.”

As for the foundation’s deals with galleries, these are being re-examined. “Until now we worked with Gagosian and Kamel Mennour,” says Grenier: “We will continue with them, but not exclusively. When works are sold, it will be primarily for cultural reasons; for example, we will give priority to the new museums being created around the world so that a new generation of specialists will know Giacometti’s work.”

The global auction market for fine art in 2013 was $14.4bn, according to the online site Artnet: an increase of 5 per cent on the previous year. This figure, says the firm’s lead analyst Katherine Markley, falls short of the post-recession peak of $16.2bn in 2011 – but that figure, she cautions, “was boosted by the strong performance of Chinese auction houses; since then there has been speculation about how accurate those figures are”. Recently, numerous articles have exposed over-reporting and problems with fakes and non-payment in China, so it seems reasonable to conclude that last year was probably the best-ever for the art market.

It ended with a surge: the fourth quarter was marked by an increase of 27 per cent in the US compared with the same period in 2013, largely thanks to Christie’s record auction led by the $142.2m Bacon. Of the top 10 works sold in 2013, seven were sold in the fourth quarter, says Artnet.

Looking at individual countries, Artnet recorded a drop of more than 3 per cent in sales in China last year, and in the UK a drop of 4 per cent, while the US was stable. Hong Kong, bouncing back after a poor 2011, saw sales increase by almost 25 per cent.

The full results of the big auction houses for last year are yet to come, but Sotheby’s has reported just over $5.2bn in auction revenues, a figure that does not include private sales. These came in at $906m in 2012 and will certainly be higher for 2013, considering that they were nearing $1bn in the first nine months of the year. Christie’s has not yet announced its sales for 2013.

One cultural victim of the political situation in the Middle East is the well-regarded Running Horse gallery in Beirut. Known for presenting younger artists and for exhibiting at the past two editions of Art Dubai, Running Horse closed at the end of last year; its founder Lea Sednaoui says she will communicate her new plans soon.

Luis Tomasello artwork
Luis Tomasello’s ‘Atmosphère Chromoplastique No 1029’ (2013), which will be on show at a Tomasello exhibition opening at the Mayor Gallery’s new home in Cork Street

In London, the Mayor Gallery – the oldest in Cork Street – has relocated after the decision was finally made to pull down the central block that housed it and six other galleries. Mayor hasn’t gone far: it is now occupying the first floor at 21 Cork Street, previously Ben Brown Fine Arts’ space. Meanwhile John Martin, in nearby Albemarle Street, is opening a second gallery in the Fulham Road, Chelsea, next week. Asked why, he said: “With one gallery, I couldn’t take on new artists – I just ran out of space to show them. And I have noticed that footfall in Mayfair is going down; the price of London property means that offices are being converted to residential and many of the residents are from overseas. It’s like a ghost town in the evenings.”

Add to this the increasing takeover of fashion stores in Mayfair and St James, which is driving art galleries away, particularly the smaller ones. The local Westminster City Council says it is aware of this, and has recently put out a consultation document, but art galleries are classed as “retailers”, it says, which means a fashion store can take over without any need for planning permission. The council does, it says, want to find a way to preserve Cork Street and the whole area for art galleries, and is inviting comments until February 14.

Martin says: “It’s important to support this initiative, otherwise Mayfair will just become a bland homogenous area of global names in retailing, and will lose its character as a special place for tailoring, art galleries, clubs and independent boutiques.”

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

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