Ai Weiwei, Two Figures, 2018. Alpha plaster, Acrylic liquid, Mattress, Ormosia Seeds (500 kg)
‘Two Figures’ by Ai Weiwei (2018)

Online viewing rooms, where galleries show their wares on high spec, time-based websites, have become the latest battleground for buyer attention. Gagosian gallery has upped the ante for its next offering and persuaded the in-demand Los Angeles artist and fashion designer Sterling Ruby to take the reins. Ruby has chosen seven of his own works that have not been on the market before, including a new, large-scale WIDW (window series) painting and ceramic sculpture made for the online show (price range $45,000-$600,000, September 27-October 8).

Ruby will pair his works with items by historical artists, also for sale, to bring out his influences. One of his sweeping Alabaster works is paired with a Hokusai “Great Wave” woodcut; Ruby has also aligned himself with the photographer Brassaï and the Italian Modernist Lucio Fontana.

Ruby has had a busy few months. His fashion label, S.R. Studio. LA. CA. (think bleached overalls for $1,700) had a well-received launch in Florence’s Pitti Uomo menswear show. Fashion forays can get sniffed at in the hierarchy of culture but Ruby sees S.R. Studio as an extension of his art and has long worked with fabric. Sam Orlofsky, a director at Gagosian, says that the gallery is very much in favour of “medium fluidity” among its artists.

Their viewing room coincides with a solo Ruby sculpture show in Gagosian’s Britannia Street gallery in London (opens October 2) and a solo booth of Ruby’s colourful WIDW works at Frieze London (October 3-6).

Jens Faurschou, a Danish collector and gallerist with spaces in Copenhagen and Beijing, is opening in Greenpoint, a hipster neighbourhood in Brooklyn, New York. Faurschou Foundation’s new 12,000 sq ft industrial warehouse opens at 148 Green Street on November 3 with a group show that addresses weighty themes of war, politics and hope (until April 11 2020). Faurschou says the timing isn’t a deliberate commentary on our era. “I didn’t realise until we put the show together, but it’s a fitting coincidence,” he says.

Artists on show will include Ai Weiwei, Louise Bourgeois and Tracey Emin. Among the works will be “The Ozymandias Parade” (1985), a huge, dystopian installation by Edward and Nancy Reddin Kienholz that was shown at the 2014 Gwangju Biennale. Georg Baselitz’s Hero painting, “Mit Roter Fahne” (With a Red Flag, 1965), which Faurschou bought for the German artist’s auction record of £7.5m at Sotheby’s in 2017, also features.

The valuations of art businesses need to be made more visible to encourage new investment to the field, noted Bernadine Bröcker Wieder, founder and chief executive of the collector-to-museum platform Vastari. She was speaking at this year’s sixth Art Business Conference in London on September 4. The prices for opportunistic tech acquisitions, such as Sotheby’s purchase of the AI start-up Thread Genius in 2018, are generally undisclosed. “If you can’t determine a value for your business then you don’t know what percentage your investors own, so it would help to have some benchmarks,” Bröcker Wieder later explained to me.

She restructured Vastari in 2015 to give management a controlling stake. To value her business, she looked at the sale of Collectrium, a collections management tool that was bought by Christie’s for $16m in 2015. This was one of the few publicly revealed pricetags and a level she reckoned her business could reach in time. “So we set out to raise 10 per cent of that,” she said, admitting that the calculation was “a bit back-of-an-envelope”. Her relative clarity has been rewarded: the business raised £1.25m between 2015 and 2018 and has since raised funds again, at a valuation that was “more than double,” Bröcker Wieder said.

Despite some concerns raised by its shareholders ahead of its special meeting on September 5, Sotheby’s got the green light for its proposed $3.7bn acquisition by BidFair, owned by businessman Patrick Drahi. The auction house secured a 91 per cent approval from the 70 per cent of shares represented. “Mr Drahi’s offer delivers a significant premium to market for our shareholders,” said Domenico De Sole, chairman of Sotheby’s Board of Directors.

When Drahi’s offer came in on June 17, it represented a 61 per cent premium to the auction house’s share price, an offer that has always seemed difficult to refuse. The vast majority of Sotheby’s staff of 1,713 (according to its 2018 annual report) are also invested in the firm. The transaction is still pending regulatory approval and is expected to close in the fourth quarter of this year.

a rare object that will be at the LAPADA Fair in September. Timothy Millet, a specialist in historical medals, has acquired a box thought to be made from the wood of the barrel that carried Nelson’s body back from Trafalgar
A box thought to be made from wood of the barrel that carried Nelson’s body back from Trafalgar

Among the items for sale at London’s Lapada Art & Antiques fair, which runs in Berkeley Square until September 18, is a box believed to have been made from the oak of a barrel that brought Lord Nelson’s body back to Britain after the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805. In the absence of a coffin, it is believed the barrel was filled with brandy to preserve the body for the journey home. The box lid has the inscription “This Wood Once Contained His Mortal Remains” and is for sale through the historic medals specialist Timothy Millett for £28,500.

It is not known exactly when the box was made, though there was a fashion for such memorabilia between 1750 and 1830, Millett says. In 1891, the box was loaned to the Royal Navy exhibition at London’s Chelsea Hospital by Edgar Goble. Goble’s father Thomas was standing with Nelson when the maritime warrior was shot. The box stayed in the Goble family and was identified in 2018 in the estate of Edgar’s great-grandson.

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