The November auctions in New York have been compared to a stock exchange for art – at least for the tip-top end of it. This coming week sees Christie’s and Sotheby’s roll out their Impressionist and modern art sales, and pretty heavy-hitting they are too. Christie’s offerings are bolstered by consignments from the Krugier estate: a rather eccentric group of 63 lots by Picasso, Balthus or Kandinsky mixed with tribal art, which comes up on Monday, and further offerings in the day sale. As a result the firm’s pre-sale target of $391m for the week is well in excess of Sotheby’s $261.3m.
So between the two houses, more than $650m worth of art is coming up for auction this week, led by two Giacomettis, both showing the artist’s brother Diego. Christie’s has a portrait on canvas estimated at $30m-$50m on Tuesday evening, while Sotheby’s the following evening offers a bronze head of Diego with a target of $35m-$50m.
Giacometti’s “L’Homme qui marche I”, sold in 2010 for £65m (then $103.4m) holds the world record for any sculpture but no painting has come near these prices – the artist’s record currently stands at $14.6m for a portrait of Caroline, his final muse.
On his return from the New York sales, Sotheby’s Impressionist and modern painting specialist Philip Hook will unveil his latest book, a potpourri of thoughts, facts and titbits, with something to dip into at any page. He compares transfer fees for footballers to auction records for art, and argues, given the resale values, that Chelsea Football Club owner Roman Abramovich might conclude that “money is safer in art”. Hook debunks “artspeak” with a glossary of words. These include “honest = inept” and “important = art-historically significant but difficult to sell, i.e. ‘X’s important painting of a massacre in a leper colony’.” He tells the reader about suicides, madness and muses, and skewers “middlebrow” artists such as Beryl Cook (“Cook painted fat women who look like something Stanley Spencer might have produced if he had been set to design a seaside postcard”). He also notes how colours and the weather affect the saleability of a painting (“Floods upset people”).
And he’s not above poking fun at himself, reminding the reader that he won the London Literary Review Bad Sex prize in 1994 and so is “not the best authority on erotic art”.
Christie’s has not yet completed its appraisal of the collection of the Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA), now due at the end of this month. But the art world is increasingly worried that the stellar $1bn group of paintings and sculpture, which includes masterpieces by Van Gogh, Rembrandt, Rothko, Tintoretto, Breugel the Elder, Gauguin, Picasso and Cranach the Elder, could indeed be sold. Other solutions, such as trying to monetise the collection by renting it out, would be a drop in the ocean of Detroit’s $18bn deficit.
When the collections were toured a few years ago, DIA director Graham Beal said at a panel in New York organised by the International Foundation for Art Research (IFAR) last week, they raised only $750,000. “Our whole collection could go and it wouldn’t settle more than a fraction of Detroit’s debt,” he said.
Audience member Walter Liedtke, curator of European paintings at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, said that every curator at the Met would resign “if [it] placed a single bid for any one of your objects”. However, dealer David Nash noted that even if American institutions and collectors refused to buy, “dozens of rich buyers outside the country, in Qatar, Russia and perhaps China” might step up.
Asian art is all over London this week. There are open evenings at participating dealers tonight in Kensington, tomorrow in St James’s and Monday in Mayfair. This is the 16th year of the event, which runs the whole gamut of Asian art, including contemporary Indian miniatures at Grosvenor Gallery, Chinese works of art at Roger Keverne, Japanese screens at Gregg Baker, Chinese textiles at Jacqueline Simcox (in Stoppenbach and Delestre’s Cork Street space) and Tibetan art, both ancient and modern, at Rossi and Rossi.
All next week the auction houses are holding specialised sales. This could be a chance to see Bonhams’ spiffy new saleroom on New Bond Street, as well as to bid on Chinese art on Thursday, or preview Lyon & Turnbull and Woolley & Wallis’s forthcoming sales. And, for the first time, Dreweatts & Bloomsbury are joining in, with a sale of Chinese ceramics on Monday November 11.
On Wednesday there is a lecture by Zhang Hongxing, curator of the Victoria & Albert’s major Chinese painting survey, and other talks in the commercial galleries: schedule at asianartinlondon.com.
One month: that is how long Adel Abdessemed’s giant statue of French footballer Zinedine Zidane remained on Doha’s waterfront in Qatar before being unceremoniously removed and carted away. “Coup de Tête”, a five-metre-high bronze showing Zidane’s infamous headbutt during the 2006 World Cup final, was concreted into the Corniche as part of the country’s public arts programme and to coincide with Abdessemed’s current exhibition in the Mathaf museum.
However, it immediately attracted criticism in the Muslim country for being idolatrous, as well as promoting violence and focusing on the most negative moment in the footballer’s career. The statue will now be installed in Mathaf, according to the local press.
“Coup de Tête” is just one of a number of purchases made by former Christie’s specialist Jean-Paul Engelen, who is now in charge of Qatar’s public arts programme.
Georgina Adam is art market editor-at-large of The Art Newspaper