Listen to this article
An interesting case concerning art expertise has finally concluded in France’s Cour de Cassation, the highest court in the land; it has art specialists breathing a huge sigh of relief.
At issue was a painting by the Cubist painter Jean Metzinger, “Maison Blanche”, which the recognised expert and holder of the droit moral, Bozena Nikiel, had refused to include in her catalogue raisonnée, saying it was a blatant fake. The painting’s owner then brought a lawsuit, demanding €140,000, claiming he couldn’t sell without her inclusion.
The painting was appraised by a court-appointed specialist; he admitted he was not an expert in Metzinger’s work but concluded it was mediocre but genuine. As a result, a lower court found against Nikiel, who was ordered to include the work in her catalogue and pay a fine if she did not do so; on appeal, she was ordered to pay an additional €30,000 to the owner.
Deeply disappointed, Nikiel went to Cassation as a last resort and was finally triumphant when the judges overturned the previous judgments.
This case was in France but comes against a backdrop of increased pressure on specialists in other countries. In the US, where a number of authentication committees (including those for Warhol and Basquiat) have closed because of lawsuits questioning their decisions, a new bill is being drafted by the New York City Bar Association that would give better protection to experts who speak out in the case of doubtful works. Fear of litigation has increasingly prevented them from giving their opinions; if the bill passes this summer, it should make things a little more difficult for those who try to bully them into silence.
The online data site Artprice has crunched the figures for sales of fine art at auction in 2013, and delivers some nuggets. The top-selling artists by volume were Warhol ($367.4m), Picasso ($361.4m) and the Chinese artist Zhang Daqian ($261.7m) – no surprises there. And, last year, a startling 13 of the world’s top 20 auction houses by turnover in the fine art segment were Chinese. The line-up is led by Poly and Guardian, of course, but also features names that few outside the country will recognise: Shanghai’s DuoYunYuan (turnover of $136m in 2013) and Hangzhou’s Xiling Yinshe ($128m). Many were founded less than 10 years ago.
Chinese figures are notoriously unreliable, however, with unsold lots or unpaid-for lots routinely recorded as “sales”. Asked about this, Artprice’s head economist Martin Bremond admitted: “There may be a 16-20 per cent margin of error but, on the other hand, we don’t know all the Chinese auction houses either. These are the best numbers we can get.”
Artist Mark Wallinger has left his long-term dealer Anthony Reynolds and signed up with the mega-gallery Hauser & Wirth. Wallinger won the Turner Prize in 2007 and his sculpture “Ecce Homo” (1999) was the first work to occupy the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square, London.
More recently, Wallinger carried off a 2009 competition to design a sculpture near Ebbsfleet train station in Kent, with a 50-metre high white horse – a £12m project that galloped wildly over its original £2m estimate and then stalled while private donors were sought. Certainly, the move to Hauser will give Wallinger a broader international reach – and perhaps help him get the gee-gee out of the gate again. And in another move, the figurative British painter Dexter Dalwood has joined Simon Lee Gallery after leaving Gagosian. Shortlisted for the Turner Prize in 2010, Dalwood’s last solo show with Gagosian was in 2009, in the firm’s Beverly Hills space.
Next week sees the second edition of Art14, the London fair launched last year by the “dream team” of Tim Etchells and Sandy Angus, who originally founded the Hong Kong fair – now part of the Art Basel stable.
Praised last year for its freshness and for not showing the “same old” art fair fare, the event produced wildly varying commercial results for exhibitors. Some were very happy but others made no sales at all. The result is that 33 galleries have dropped out and there are 101 newcomers. A few are in the modern field, for instance the Delhi Art Gallery and Park Gallery, which deals in modern and contemporary Arab art. The fair is considerably bigger this year, with 196 exhibitors compared with 128 last year. “We have grown organically,” says fair director Stephanie Dieckvoss. “Last year was the first and it’s inevitable that there was some turnover; some applicants didn’t get in this year either. The event is definitely getting stronger.”
Among those returning are India’s Sumukha, with paintings by Paresh Maity; and Hong Kong’s Pearl Lam, this year with the Korean artist Choi Jeong Kwa as well as a work by Jenny Holzer in Chinese characters. Among the newbies are Maria Lund from Paris, showing Scandinavian photography and sculptures, while Turkey’s The Empire Project has a solo show of drawings by Mehmet Güleryüz. All of this gives an idea of the global nature of the fair, which opens to the public next Friday.
Yet another new fair is announced, again in London and slated for this summer. START is a collaboration between the Saatchi gallery and the Globaleye programme, a non-profit platform for emerging artists that has already held 18 exhibitions around the world, including the Korean and Hong Kong “Eye” exhibitions at the Saatchi gallery in 2012. In keeping with its aims, the fair will feature a curated section, Eye Zone, for unrepresented artists: its curators are Serenella Ciclitira, who founded Globaleye with her husband David, Nigel Hurst of the Saatchi gallery and the renowned dealer Johnson Chang of Hanart TZ Gallery. The fairs aims to sign up 50 galleries, all under eight years old; the dates (June 25-29) coincide with London’s Masterpiece fair.
Georgina Adam is editor-at-large of The Art Newspaper