The Art Market: Top of the charts

The US has shot back up to its previous position as the world’s biggest market for art, dethroning China – which in 2011 had powered its way to the top spot. According to a new report, in 2012 the US had 33 per cent of the market, while China slipped into second place with 25 per cent. Britain remained in third place, with 23 per cent.

These figures come from art economist Dr Clare McAndrew, in her annual report for the European Fine Art Fair; they are based on auction sales and reported dealer sales. According to her findings, the art market contracted by 7 per cent to €43bn ($56bn) in 2012; sales in the US actually grew by 5 per cent to €14.2bn ($18.5bn), while sales in China plummeted by 24 per cent to €10.6bn ($13.8bn).

The report also highlights the strength of the market for contemporary and postwar art, which for the first time became the biggest fine art sector, with a 43 per cent share. It elbowed out the modern and impressionist art category, which in 2012 represented 30 per cent of the market. And anyone observing the market will recognise the report’s finding of polarisation at the top end, with the highest prices going to “blue-chip” artists with a proven track record.

It is rare for anyone to admit a bad investment. Refreshingly, however, Tel Aviv-based Gil Brandes, one of the founders of Art Partners ( has pointed to some of the works that have underperformed. Overall, the fund has made upwards of 30 per cent so far on the sale of five works. But with other works remaining, the final outcome cannot be predicted. Now Brandes is poised to launch Art Partners II. The first fund had just over $9m invested, over a five-year period; the new fund is seeking up to $25m for a 10-year term.

“We did well on two [Haruki] Murakamis, [Rudolf] Stingel, [John] Chamberlain and in a small way on Cindy Sherman,” says Brandes: “And we are hoping to do well on a [Donald] Judd. But we have taken hits on a Jonathan Meese sculpture, a Jack Pierson, a Franz West and Anselm Reyle.” The worst case, not surprisingly, was a large Damien Hirst butterfly piece that the fund bought for $1.5m, now being resold for just $1m.

Picasso’s 'Portrait of a Lady'

Abu Dhabi’s Guggenheim museum project looked in doubt, but now seems to be back on track. What’s more, Abu Dhabi’s cultural department, responsible for the Saadiyat Island project, has released details of a few more acquisitions. They include an El Anatsui “tapestry” made from bottle ends, three paintings from the Rosa Issa gallery, a work by Chinese artist Feng Mengbo and two photographs by Youssef Nabil. These are just a hint of the collecting that dealers say is gathering pace. Next month the other mega-museum, Louvre Abu Dhabi, will display 130 of its acquisitions in a show titled Birth of a Museum (April 22 to July 20, in Abu Dhabi). Its highlight is Picasso’s “Portrait of a Lady” (1928), which has never before been exhibited publicly; it was acquired privately for an undisclosed sum.

Just before New York’s Art Week, Paul Morris (one of the founders of the city’s Armory Show) unveiled Chosen, a new format for selling art by assembling a group of cherry-picked works for presentation to an elite group of buyers. Some 200 “select” collectors were invited to dine in a fabled but now decaying building near Wall Street, surrounded by art for sale. The building is without power, so generators had to be brought in, adding a certain frisson. Food was conjured up by a chef from El Bulli and other grandes tocques. The 42 works of art ranged from Louise Bourgeois and Dan Flavin to Joan Mitchell at prices of $500,000 to $30m, partly culled from dealers, partly from private collectors.

“It was a great success in terms of sales,” said former hedge fund manager Dogan Perese, who partnered with Morris in the venture but did not wish to be more specific. However, some of the contributing dealers said they were taking back unsold works during the Armory Show. But Morris said: “We feel confident to continue with the formula – perhaps next in London!”

Despite disbanding its authentication body last year, the Keith Haring Foundation has intervened over an exhibition that it says was full of fakes. The show, Haring Miami, featured nearly 200 works purporting to be by the late artist. It was held in the Moore Building in Miami’s Design District, and a good crowd attended the $250-a-head VIP opening. Within four days, however, only 10 works remained on the walls – the foundation had raced to court and obtained the withdrawal of 165 others. The organisers, Michael Rosen and Colored Thumb Productions, said in a lawyer’s statement that they had taken the works down “in an abundance of caution” and that: “Mr Rosen was assured by the owners of the disputed artwork that it was indeed authentic.”

In court, foundation director Julia Gruen said she recognised about 25 works that had previously been reviewed and rejected. Asked why the foundation was intervening despite abandoning authentication, its lawyer Michael Stout said: “The mission of a foundation is to use its resources for its charitable work, not providing authentication services for a small number of people. But when there are egregious violations, then it has to intervene, because otherwise fakes seep into the art market, and everyone suffers.”

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

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