The Art Market: Walking on water?

As financial markets go into ever more dramatic tailspins, the art market seems to continue to walk on water. Overall, the most recent sales of contemporary art – traditionally the most volatile segment of the market – produced solid, if not spectacular results. These are mid-season sales, comprising lesser material, but all the more interesting because they do not contain the top works which are generally easier to sell when times are tough.

Christie’s sale of postmodern and contemporary art in New York on September 21 made just shy of $10m and was 73 per cent sold by lot, and the following day Sotheby’s sale of the third part of dealer Alan Stone’s collection did really well, making $13.3m, just short of its high estimate. Ready buyers were on hand for works by the Californian painter Wayne Thibaud; his 1981 “Cherries #1” made $962,500 (est $500,000-$700,000). Sotheby’s contemporary art sale on the same day was weaker, with just 65.5 per cent of the lots finding buyers. Phillips’ lower value sale on the same day made $2.8m but was 70 per cent sold by lot.

Christie’s mid-season sale of impressionist and modern art also did well and totalled $2.4m, above expectations, with a top price of $110,500 given for Salvador Dalí’s “The Eye of Time” (1974), estimated at just $18,000-$25,000.

The outlier was the Artists for Haiti sale, which racked up a powerful $13.7m – but charity sales, and this one in particular, are no way to assess the market.

The fair scene in Hong Kong is dominated by the modern and contemporary art fair which has just been sold to Art Basel, but there is another that has been going for seven years now: Fine Art Asia. It is organised by a Hong Kong dealer, Andy Hei, and focuses on art and antiques, claiming to be the “Maastricht of Asia”. That may be a little strong, but the fair is attracting an increasingly international roster of top-notch exhibitors, among them Littleton and Hennessy, Priestly and Ferraro and Christian Deydier. Not only Chinese art will be on view: the 100 dealers are showing everything from Himalayan art to jewellery, silver and contemporary painting. London’s Waterhouse and Dodd offers a C-type print by Chen Jiagang ($23,000), and Rossi and Rossi is displaying an amazing 11-headed Avalokitesvara bronze from about 1400 AD, with an equally towering price – over $7m. The fair opens on Monday October 3 in the Hong Kong Convention Centre.

'The Kiss II' by Gerald Laing

Meanwhile in London, Thomas Gibson Fine Art is holding a memorial exhibition, opening on October 11, for the singer Amy Winehouse by the 1960s pop painter Gerald Laing. Fascinated by celebrity, Laing made a series of paintings of the troubled singer between 2006 and 2008, based on newspaper images: he never actually met her. These were first exhibited, along with images of other style icons such as Kate Moss, in 2008. Gibson is showing just the Winehouse portraits, which are made in characteristic Pop style, inspired by comic books, with bold flat colours. Prices range from £3,000-£125,000 ($4,700-$195,000), with the highest price being asked for the well-known image of Winehouse kissing her husband Blake Fielder Civil – “The Kiss II” (2008). The gallery and the artist are donating 20% (10% each) of the proceeds of sales to the rehabilitation project launched by Winehouse’s father Mitch.

What has happened to the heavily hyped online art site Backed by power dealer Gagosian, Roman Abramovich’s partner Dasha Zhukova and “punchy” Wendi Deng Murdoch, the site promised to do for art what Pandora did for music, allowing users to find – and eventually buy – art that corresponds to their tastes. With no news of a launch date, I checked in, only to be told that the site is “coming along very nicely” and that I would be “kept informed”. I will certainly pass on any news when I get it.

Turkey is very much in the sights of the art world at present: the Istanbul Biennial has just opened and Turkish artists are generating considerable interest both inside and outside the country. Turkey is also the guest country in this year’s Marrakech art fair, which debuted on Friday and continues until Monday. Seven galleries from Istanbul are present, along with a surprisingly international turnout among the 48 participants, which include Aidan from Moscow, Continua from Italy/China and Metro Pictures and Edwynn Houk from New York, alongside Moroccan, Middle Eastern and North African galleries.

The issue of censorship remains a major issue in Morocco, as in all Muslim countries, and art fairs are particularly vulnerable to criticism. On one hand, the artist Nabil Ayouch has been allowed to project his film Une minute de soleil en moins (A minute less sunlight) which was banned when it was first released in 2002 because of its theme of homosexuality. It forms part of a film and video programme held in an old cinema in the city. But ahead of the fair, the Moroccan press criticised inclusion of works by Mehdi-Georges Lahlou. Their ire surfaced over one work in particular: “Nude Koran Picture”, a photograph of Koranic verses projected onto Lahlou’s naked body, including his genitals. However, the photograph was apparently never going to be exhibited at the fair, nor indeed was the artist expected to visit, despite rumours to the contrary.

Two art fairs are being inaugurated in Los Angeles this week. One is Art Platform, organised by the owners of New York’s Armory Show. This smallish (about 80 exhibitors) event focuses on local artists with an international reputation, as well as emerging artists. And also dipping its toes in the Californian waters is the Pulse art fair, with 60 exhibitors. Both started on Friday and continue until Monday October 3.

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

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