Christie’s seemed to have lost pace against Sotheby’s in the race to get into the Chinese market. But it has powered back and now obtained a licence to operate auctions in the mainland; the first sale will be held this autumn in Shanghai. Unlike Sotheby’s, which is in partnership with the government entity GeHua, it has an independent “comprehensive auction licence”. But what the firm will not be selling is “cultural relics” – there are tight controls on antiques and antiquities such as jade, ceramics and ink paintings – which are the most high-priced works in the market.
However, international works of art, wine and jewellery will be offered and, says Asian president François Curiel, “We will also be able to make private sales ... We are hoping to access Chinese collectors who do not necessarily travel abroad so much.” Asked whether this means the end of Hong Kong as a sales centre, he says: “Not at all, I don’t think it will cannibalise it at all, the market is big enough for everyone.”
Still in Asia, Sotheby’s spring sales season in Hong Kong concluded with a solid grand total of US$280m, against expectations of US$220m-US$295m (pre-sale estimates don’t include commission; results do). These figures are far from the record of US$447m set for the same series in 2011, but since then the Chinese market has cooled quite dramatically, due to a slowdown in the Chinese economy.
At Sotheby’s, the traditional fields did well, with a tiny 17th-century ruby-red tea bowl, sold by the collector Alice Cheng, making a tidy US$9.6m. However there were some hiccups in the sale of contemporary Asian art, which made US$16.7m. According to the local art dealer Jean-Marc Decrop, “In some cases estimates were too high, and because the market has been weaker, vendors were holding off consigning. But the good things did very well: as an example, a Fang Lijun painting, “Series 1, No 4” (1990-91) made US$2.3m, despite being black-and-white, so not necessarily as immediately appealing as his more colourful works.”
Still on the subject of Chinese art, a new website is being launched on Monday: Artshare.com. It will focus exclusively on modern and contemporary Asian art, and each month will present a curated exhibition of 10 works: the first will feature paintings by, among others, Yu Youhan (US$200,000) and Li Shan (US$150,000). An influential advisory committee includes Johnson Chang of Hanart TZ gallery, Pearl Lam and collectors Dominique and Sylvain Levy. China specialist Philip Dodd, who is also on the committee, says that the site “should plug into a global constituency of collectors who can’t get to Beijing.” Prices start at US$10,000 and there is a “private sales avenue” for transactions above US$100,000.
Speaking of private sales, Christie’s has a new wheeze – a nomadic “sculpture garden” to display works outside real estate developments in New York. The first is close to the firm’s Rockefeller Center headquarters at Madison and 54th Street, where the firm has placed Claes Oldenburg’s huge “Typewriter Eraser” (1976), which is being sold by private treaty. I thought the point of these transactions was confidentiality, but not so here – the piece is being touted very publicly. Christie’s explains that some transactions “we don’t communicate” and others are “open to the public”. The price is also confidential – Alexis Klein of Christie’s assures me this is legal – but hints that it is above $2.2m, which is what the piece fetched when it last sold in 2009.
This week sees Christie’s latest sale of Modern and Contemporary Arab, Iranian and Turkish art in Dubai, held on Tuesday and Wednesday. The market for Iranian artists has been hit by trade sanctions against the country and the plunging rial, which has fallen by some 60 per cent in the past year. Its Part I sale is the smallest ever, with just 29 lots expecting up to $3.5m, while the high estimate for Part II falls just short of $2m. “Inevitably, the supply diminishes with time, as some of the artists have passed away,” says a Christie’s spokesperson, noting that the firm is “very happy” with the level of the sale. Top lot is a glittery fairytale painting by the Iranian Farhad Moshiri, “Secret Garden” (2009), estimated at $300,000-$500,000.
In Paris, Sarti gallery has just unveiled a show of 22 paintings in the Caravaggesque tradition, which it has been patiently accumulating over the past 10 years. “While we are principally known for gold ground paintings,” says Giovanni Sarti, “we wanted to show that our interests extend beyond that, into the 17th century and beyond.” While Caravaggio himself did not have students nor did he found a school, his influence was immense, and the exhibition includes works by his closest followers – Bartolomeo Manfredi, Giovanni Battista Caracciolo, Bartolomeo Cavarozzi – to more distant admirers such as Giuseppe Ribera, Luca Giordano, Artemisia Gentileschi, Bernardo Strozzi, Daniele Crespi and Guido Reni. Prices range from €250,000 to €2.2m; the show runs until July 12.
London galleries are expanding and moving: Victoria Miro is returning to the West End, taking on an extra space in St George’s Street, right behind Sotheby’s. The gallery said that it was “waiting to tie up things” before making an announcement. Stuart Shave has left his Eastcastle Street premises for 6 Fitzroy Square, and is opening a second space in Clerkenwell at the end of the year. And Sadie Coles is leaving her New Burlington Place gallery for a bigger space in Kingly Street, just on the other side of Regent Street. “We have been looking for over a year. We’re delighted with the quite grand building we found, which gives us much more space,” says Coles. The gallery will hold a couple of “guerrilla” soft openings in August, before launching in September with a show by the US artist Ryan Sullivan.
Georgina Adam is editor-at-large of The Art Newspaper