Pedro Almodovar, Untitled, 2017 - courtesy Marlborough Gallery
Untitled 2017 still life by Pedro Almodóvar © Marlborough Gallery

The art market spent much of 2018 trying to harness hyped cryptocurrencies, whose performance this year then proved dismal. There’s much work to do in this unproven field but Marcelo García Casil, chief executive of the blockchain-powered platform Maecenas, plans a second tokenised offering of a work of art in the new year — though this time with more stable digital currencies.

Back in September, his company reported it had sold 31.5 per cent of Andy Warhol’s “14 Small Electric Chairs” (1980) to about 100 participants, described as “sophisticated investors, crypto enthusiasts and fine art professionals”. The sale process raised $1.7m and marked the beta launch of a platform that still plans at some point to become an exchange, Casil says. The original plan, however, had been to sell 49 per cent of the work for nearer $3m. Despite this, Casil says “we’re happy with the result” but explains that “the cryptocurrencies we were using [bitcoin and Ethereum] were particularly volatile in the summer so we stopped the process two weeks early.”

He will do things a bit differently next time. The exact work to be offered has not been finalised but will be by Picasso and will be valued at about $2m, Casil says. The whole work will be divided up, rather than just a portion, and while it will still be a digital currency offering, it will use so-called “stablecoins”, pegged to the US dollar, such as USDC and the Gemini dollar. With the Warhol, Maecenas partnered with Dadiani, a business that runs a gallery in Mayfair, whereas the Picasso will come from another source, to be confirmed next month.

Will Ramsay, the founder of an art fair planned for the Swiss Alps in February, has postponed its launch as the season has subsequently proved too congested. In June, the organisers of the new fair, to be called “Sommet” and held in St Moritz between February 8 and 11, reported interest from galleries including Almine Rech, Massimo De Carlo, Sadie Coles and Galerie Eva Presenhuber. All galleries are among the 70 that have since been confirmed as exhibitors at the first Frieze Los Angeles fair, which opens to VIPs on February 14. De Carlo and Coles are also committed to Taiwan’s Taipei Dangdai, another new fair in the calendar, which runs until January 20.

“People want to do Sommet, but they need more planning time and we need another year to build momentum,” Ramsay says, emphasising that the event’s “salon style” presentation, with only about 25 modern and contemporary art galleries, can only work if it is “the best, with the best people”. He is emphatic that this is a postponement, not a cancellation. “I’m still investing in it,” he says, though he jokes that “my Christmas presents just might not be as generous this year”.

Banking executive Dee Kerrison, who with his wife has long collected African-American art, has joined Borro Private Finance to launch its lending business on the west coast of America. “We can offer quite an elegant solution of borrowing against a passion asset, without the rigmarole of a traditional bank,” Kerrison says.

Borro differs from most lenders in this field in that it loans directly against the collateral — chiefly art, vehicles and jewellery — so that, in the event of a default, it keeps the item rather than going after the borrower. It will lend against items worth up to $30m, though Kerrison says the “sweet spot” is between $250,000 and $5m. Borro typically loans up to 50 per cent of value, the industry norm, and its rates are what Kerrison describes as “competitive”, at between 7 and 14 per cent per annum.

Art lending is an area of the market that is slowly growing as owners, particularly in the US, seek ways to make their works more economically useful. Kerrison, who is based in Los Angeles, says that the recently rebranded Borro Private Finance has made at least $500m of loans over the past five years, the majority against fine art and jewellery.

Rachel Whiteread, 'House', 2018, Mixed media on card, 11.1cm x 15.1cm. Courtesy of the artist and Migrate Art
‘House’ (2018) by Rachel Whiteread © Courtesy of the artist and Migrate Art

The refugee charity Migrate Art salvaged about 60 pencils and crayons from the site of the Calais Jungle camp in the aftermath of its destruction and has persuaded 30 artists to create new works with them “in whatever way they wish”. The resulting art will be part of an exhibition and auction next year that aims to raise at least £250,000. The artists involved include Rachel Whiteread, Zhang Huan, Richard Woods and Raqib Shaw.

Eight pieces have been made already for the Multicolour exhibition, which will take place in March 2019 followed by an auction at Phillips in London. Woods has drawn one of his trademark houses in blue crayon, while Zhang’s “Incense brick” has markings, drawings and the work’s title in Chinese made with a salvaged pencil. Estimates for all the works will range from £5,000 to £75,000.

Migrate Art’s key charity partners are RefuAid, Refugee Community Kitchen, The Lotus Flower and The Worldwide Tribe.

Still looking for Christmas gifts? The Arco Madrid fair may have the answer. In an effort to encourage new buyers of art, it has set up an online store for its exhibiting galleries on the website (which stands for Kicking Off Young Art Collecting), ahead of the 2019 fair. The 132 works currently on offer include still life photographs from 2017 by Spanish film-maker Pedro Almodóvar (€1,815 each, Marlborough gallery) and a striking 2006 photo of Berlin by Frank Thiel (€1,455, Helga de Alvear).

The initiative is called #mecomprounaobra (Spanish for “I am buying myself an artwork”), a tag that the fair used for less pricey works among its booths this year, and runs until December 26.

The art market column takes a seasonal break and will be back on January 12/13

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