The Art Market: Freudian grip

Five years ago, virtually no Italian art dealers had a presence in London – or indeed in many cities outside Italy. But the number setting up in the British capital is swelling, and includes Imago, Massimo de Carlo, photography specialist Brancolini Grimaldi and Rosenfeld Porcini. Not all focus on Italian art, but all say it is essential to have a London presence.

The latest arrival is Ronchini Gallery, opened by Lorenzo Ronchini and funded by a Morgan Stanley banker, Andrea Floccuzio. “My father is a collector of arte povera,” Ronchini says. “He was buying this work when no one else wanted it, and now my objective is to discover the next generation of artists who will make that sort of an impact.” The opening show, Italian Beauty, includes a sculpture by Paolini, elegant, minimalist “paintings” made of wax by Domenico Bianchi (£12,000-£50,000) and drawings by architect and designer Giò Ponti.

“It is so important to be here in London, because of the auction houses, galleries and museums,” Ronchini says. “I can reach more of my collectors here, even if they are not British.”

And an Italian artist will be centre-stage at Tate Modern next week, with the opening of Alighiero Boetti: Game Plan (February 28-May 27).

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Previously unseen photographs of Lucian Freud, taken by his long-time studio assistant David Dawson, have been a sell-out hit in London at Hazlitt Holland-Hibbert. All 36 boxed sets of six photographs found buyers at £9,000 each. They show the artist towards the end of his life, with David Hockney, cuddling Kate Moss in bed or shaving, always an unsmiling presence. This is the third and final set of Dawson photographs of the artist – and the first two also sold out completely. On view until March 2.

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David Dawson courtesy Hazlitt Holland-Hibbert

Art from the Nordic countries is garnering interest in the market. The region is featured in a special section at New York’s Armory Show next month (March 8-11), with 19 exhibiting galleries from Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Finland and Iceland. In London the Danish- and Norwegian-born duo Elmgreen and Dragset unveiled their “rocking horse” on the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square last week, and in Stockholm Daniel Birnbaum, artistic director of the 2011 Venice Biennale, has taken over as director of Moderna Museet. Norway – awash with oil money – is soon to unveil a huge new museum designed by Renzo Piano in Oslo.

As for art fairs, the region boasts two main events: Art Copenhagen and Market, which took place last week in Stockholm. Held amid the plaster casts of the Swedish Academy of Fine Arts, this is a compact fair, with just 42 dealers, but participants praised its intimacy and attendance. “There is a huge potential in Sweden, with a strong collector scene,” said Claus Robenhagen of Nicolai Wallner.

The fair included i8 gallery from Reykyavik, showing work by Ólafur Elíasson, the best-known contemporary Nordic artist.

Asked about the impact of the financial crisis, Börkur Arnarson said: “We weren’t affected by the boom, as bankers never came to our gallery anyway, and actually last year was our best ever.” He was showing a sculpture by Elíasson priced at €110,000, very much the top end of the offerings – most prices were well below this level. Business was good: Claes Nordenhake, Susanne Ottesen and many other galleries sold out their stands. While Nordic artists predominated, international names such as Jaume Plensa and David Shrigley were dotted around, and Andersson Sandström reported the sale of a sculpture, “Feather child”, by British artist Lucy Glendinning for £10,000.

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How much will Edvard Munch’s “The Scream” (1895) fetch when it is auctioned by Sotheby’s in New York in May? A British bookie is offering odds of 3/1 that it will break the $125m barrier, way over its $80m-plus estimate – the first time, to my knowledge, that the price of an artwork has been subject to public betting. But then “The Scream” is one of the best-known art images in the world. This picture has rarely been seen in public, however, because of the four versions Munch painted it is the last in private hands. (The other three are in Norwegian museums.) “I think that bidding will be totally international, it’s a trophy that any collector would love to have,” says Munch specialist and dealer Jens Faurschou. As well as museums (if they can afford it), a surprising number of other collectors might step up: Qatar, currently the biggest buyer of modern and contemporary art, or perhaps a Russian oligarch, a US hedge-funder or indeed another Norwegian collector.

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There was much apprehension at the beginning of this year over the extension of Artists’ Resale Right (ARR) in the UK to the resale of works by deceased artists, for 70 years after their death, which was introduced on January 1 this year.

The art trade is fiercely opposed to ARR, saying it will weaken the British market and drive sales elsewhere. While smaller auction houses and dealers are certainly punished by the levy, Sotheby’s and Christie’s have been forced to admit that it did not hamper their strong sales of Impressionist, modern and contemporary art over the past fortnight. “At this level, ARR is not an important consideration,” said Oliver Barker of Sotheby’s, shortly after the firm had sold Francis Bacon’s “Figure with Monkey” (1951) for a little over £1.8m, of which €12,500 goes to the artist’s estate. But the market is extremely strong at the moment: it remains to be seen what might happen if it weakens.

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

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