The art market: Ivory and towers

Fair organiser Sanford Smith has got a surprising new French squeeze. He has joined forces with the staid, venerable Syndicat National des Antiquaires (SNA), the French antique dealers’ association, for his new fair in New York this autumn. This follows on from Smith’s major falling-out with France’s Patrick Perrin, his co-organiser for New York’s inaugural Pavilion of Art and Design fair (PAD) last year. Things turned very sour and Smith quickly booked The Armory for this year (November 8-12) on almost the same dates that Perrin was planning for his 2012 PAD (given on its website as November 7-12). Smith’s new fair will have 53 exhibitors, about half of them French, and will focus on 20th-century art and design. Baptised for the moment Salon of Art and Design, the event might need to acquire a new moniker shortly, as the organisers didn’t initially realise that this made it, er, SAD. “The SNA is helping with vetting and selection, but it’s my show,” says Smith. Already agreeing to go are oriental art dealer Christian Deydier – SNA president – as well as Vallois and Barry Friedman, along with two tribal art dealers. Perrin did not return requests for comment.

Meanwhile, like a dowager duchess hitching up her skirts and taking to the dance floor, the SNA is on a mission in advance of this year’s Biennale des Antiquaires (September 14-23). Between now and May, SNA delegations are visiting 24 places as far away as Kazakhstan, Qatar and Brazil, meeting collectors and holding dinners to promote the fair. Behind this charm offensive is president Christian Deydier, who says: “Everyone is talking about contemporary art these days, and antiques had got a bit forgotten; we had gone to sleep a little.” But, he says, “the market is global and we have to move with it.” He also has tentative plans to organise a fair in Hong Kong, in 2013 or 2015, non-Biennale years.

Christie’s sales in 2011 were $5.7bn, according to figures released this week, up from $5bn in 2010: a 9 per cent increase in pounds and 14 per cent in dollars. As a private company, it does not give any figures for profits. Most noteworthy, however, was the punchy £502m in private sales (included in the total figure), which expanded by 44 per cent. Not surprisingly the richest category was postwar and contemporary art, where a tidy £735.7m changed hands, up 22 per cent on the previous year, followed by Asian art at £552.9m. Jewellery sales increased by 35 per cent to £372.2m, boosted by the $157m Elizabeth Taylor auction. The only dips in sales were in impressionist and modern art, which came in 28 per cent lower than in 2010, partly due to a weak November sale in New York, and Dubai, which saw a 65 per cent retraction, albeit from a low base.

‘Tour Eiffel’ (1926) by Robert Delaunay

Sotheby’s auction sales last year were $4.9bn, but the firm has not yet released its full figures: all it will say is that private sales were “phenomenal”. All the London auction houses are gearing up for a fortnight of impressionist, modern and contemporary art sales in London, which could make up to £562m. The evening sales kick off on Tuesday night at Christie’s with the Hubertus Wald collection, which includes Delaunay’s stunning “Tour Eiffel” (1926), estimated at £1.5m-£2.5m.

Anish Kapoor is on a high. His hugely successful (and just plain huge) “Leviathan”, an inflated structure that ballooned inside Paris’s Grand Palais as part of the Monumenta series last year, was greatly admired. It is now rumoured to have been sold for an undisclosed sum to Brazilian billionaire Bernardo Paz, owner of the sculpture/ museum park of Inhotim, according to French online publication Le Quotidien de l’Art. Kapoor’s London gallery Lisson said it could not comment on the rumour.

As London gears up for the impressionist and modern art sales this week, transatlantic partnership Eykyn Maclean is opening its new London space with Cy Twombly. The 11 works in the show span 1956 to 1975 and all come from the Sonnabend estate: they reflect Twombly’s multicultural and transnational influences, from a wonderful 1956 grisaille “New York” to the “Triumph of Galatea” (1961). None are for sale: “We want to encourage collectors and curators to come and see the works without any commercial pressure,” says co-founder Nicholas Maclean, adding that he will be hosting selling shows in the space in future. The firm, which brokers private deals on the secondary market, already has a space in New York: so why open in London? “The market here is incredibly strong,” says Maclean: “And we have many clients for whom London is more convenient.”

Ivory carving of Pluto and Proserpina (c.1690-1700) by Matthias Steinl

New York gallery Blumka is joining forces with German specialist Julius Böhler to put on a show called Treasures of the Past, which will feature medieval, renaissance and baroque pieces. Its current exhibition, which opened at the end of January, is the seventh they have organised, and the headline piece is a vigorous ivory carving of Pluto and Proserpina by Matthias Steinl, 17th-century sculptor to the court of Vienna.

It is, says gallerist Anthony Blumka, “Probably the most important piece I have ever handled; it’s wonderful to have one of the top 10 baroque ivories in the world.” Its price – $3.8m – reflects its rarity and beauty, which Blumka and other dealers recognised at a Sotheby’s auction two years ago, when it was in “horrible condition” and only attributed to Steinl. He ended up paying $1.2m – 10 times more than the estimate – and has spent the intervening time restoring and researching it to give it solidly to Steinl. In the same exhibition, a baroque angel, whose pair is in the Bayerisches National Museum in Munich, is priced at $185,000.

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

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