Record set for Schwitters in Christie’s sale

“What happened between Monday and Tuesday night – is there something I missed?!” inquired an art dealer after Christie’s disappointing sale of Impressionist and Modern Art on Tuesday, which followed a highly successful session the night before at Sotheby’s.

The figures tell the story. Sotheby’s evening sale on Monday made just under £122m with premium – near its high estimate, which didn’t include fees. Only four of the 46 lots failed to find buyers, and its top lot, a fine example of Monet’s “Nymphéas” (1908), racked up more than £31.7m after an agonisingly long battle between two telephone bidders, one probably American, the other rumoured to be Wang Jianlin, China’s richest man. The “American” won a work that four years before had been rejected by the market at Christie’s (its estimate of £30m-£40m had proved too much at that time). This time it carried an irrevocable bid, so it was presold before the auction.

Another work being re-offered was Kandinsky’s 1911 “Herbstlandschaft (Autumn Landscape)”, which found a buyer at £5.6m. It had failed to sell at Christie’s New York in November, when it was burdened with an aggressive estimate of $20m-$25m. Other successes included a 1927 Mondrian, “Red, Blue and Grey”, which fetched £15.2m, while a US buyer carried off a piece of classic impressionism, Monet’s “La Seine à Argenteuil” (1875) for £8.5m.

Things were very different on Tuesday night at Christie’s, which made just £85.8m – way under expectations of £96m-£141m, with 20 of the 60 lots remaining unsold. No hands were raised for the cover lot, Giacometti’s “La Main”, a skeletal sculpture conceived and cast in 1947, expected to fetch £10m-£15m.

Kurt Schwitters’ detritus collage ‘Ja-Was? Bild’ (1920) sold for £13.9m – a new record for the artist (Photograph: Christie’s)

It wasn’t the only casualty in a flaccid evening: Mondrian’s 1935 “Composition A, with Double Line and Yellow” (est £5m-£8m) was another, along with three other Giacomettis and works by Pissarro, Kandinsky, Ernst and Van Dongen.

“There were too many Giacomettis, eight in total, in the sale,” says Nicholas Maclean of the dealership Eykyn Maclean. “‘The recent rash of giant bids for his work has probably raised expectations too high.”

However, a bright light shone on Kurt Schwitters’ “Ja-Was?-Bild” (1920), an abstract work cobbled together from detritus – oil, paper, cardboard, fabric, wood and nails – which made a stunning £13.9m, way over its £4m-£6m, after a pitched battle between two determined telephone bidders. Its new record for the artist is far above the previous high of £1.3m.

London continues to be a magnet for foreign galleries. The latest arrival is Paris’s well-respected Tornabuoni, a specialist in modern Italian art, known for notable shows including its current Fontana exhibition. Tornabuoni will open a gallery on 46 Albemarle Street, Mayfair, in February 2015. Owner Michele Casamonti promises four exhibitions a year, two devoted to postwar Italian artists, and two others that will be thematic. “London is the European capital with the biggest international appeal, the most interesting from the art market point of view,” says Casamonti. He is not alone: New Yorker Dominique Lévy is hunting for a space in Mayfair.

Going the other way, early next year, Lisson will open an 8,500 sq ft space in New York’s Chelsea, at West 24th Street. It will be Lisson’s fourth space, with two in London and one in Milan, and run by Alex Logsdail, son of Lisson founder Nicholas.

Sarah Douglas, new editor-in-chief of ARTnews (Photograph: ARTnews)

Poland’s Abbey House is the new owner of ARTnews, the US’s oldest art magazine, which boasts a muscular audited circulation of 65,000. The well-known journalist Sarah Douglas has been brought in as editor-in-chief, and the new owners have ambitious plans for the publication. Douglas has covered the art market for years, most recently for The New York Observer, where she created the popular GalleristNY section. ARTnews, which has been lossmaking for the past two years, will be redesigned, and will launch a new digital platform in the autumn.

By buying ARTnews, Abbey House – which is listed on the Warsaw stock exchange with a market capitalisation of 61m zlotys (about £12m) – is boosting its position in the art media world. Its stable includes the glossy Art & Business magazine, the media company Skates and an 8.9 per cent stake in the art information provider Artnet. The group plans to raise $3m-$4m on the Warsaw stock exchange to fund its ambitions.

Abbey House has also divested itself of the art gallery and art fund that it previously ran, thus heading off concerns of conflicts of interest: it had artists on a stipend, sold their paintings and also put them into its fund. The Abbey House Gallery has been bought by the New York and Vienna dealer Ernest Hilger, while the fund has been divested to the New York asset company IndexAtlas.

Just 18 months ago the French art dealer Hadrien de Montferrand, who has an art gallery in Beijing, joined forces with Olivier Hervet and went on the hunt for a new gallery location. They focused on China’s “second-tier” cities, particularly those with populations of between 4m and 10m, which are considered to have significant potential as future economic drivers. “All these huge cities – many of which people outside China have never heard of – have people with money who either buy art or who will buy art in the future,” says Hervet.

They settled on Hangzhou, which has 8m residents, after considering places such as Ningbo, Changsha and Shenzhen. “Hangzhou has a well-respected art academy, and is an old, cultural and historic centre, close to Shanghai,” says Hervet, adding that the few existing galleries in the city show traditional Chinese art. HDM gallery opened just seven months ago, and Hervet is delighted with the response to the four shows he has already put on, which have focused on emerging Chinese artists.

Over and out: this column is now going off the air for the summer, returning in September.

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

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