The Art Market: Fair overload?

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The fifth edition of Art HK, which opened this week, is in a transitional mood: it now belongs to Art Basel but won’t be fully run by the new owners until next year. Still, the organisers say they will keep much of the present flavour of the event, retaining its director Magnus Renfrew and the 50/50 balance of Asian and international galleries. Competition to get in is already intense – 700 hopeful galleries applied for 266 spaces this year, which are spread out over two floors. Mindful of criticism last year that the Asian exhibitors were banished to the upper floor, this year the “big box” galleries and emerging ones were mixed up. This caused immediate grumbling from those grandees who found themselves up two flights of escalators and far from the VIP lounges. “The layout needs improving,” said Iwan Wirth of Hauser & Wirth, staring at a 20ft mirrored Tatsuo Miyajima installation flashing in front of his stand. “The corridors are narrow, the public projects like this one are confused. But that being said, I have also had a great fair, selling 12 pieces on the first day, mostly to Asian clients.”

The fair offers everything from Picasso or even Monet to the most cutting-edge art of the small “Asia One” exhibitors: EM gallery from Seoul, for instance, was offering Kim Jwee’s collapsed homes, and Wiyoga Muhardanto at Platform3, from Indonesia, showed art products stripped back to their essentials, based on the Japanese brand Muji. At the other end of the price scale Christophe van der Weghe had Warhol’s green “Little Electric Chair” (1964) tagged at $5.5m and a $5.8m Richter abstract attracted early interest. Michael Werner gallery had engaged the Russian Dmitri Ozerkov to curate its stand showing 20th-century German art, including a Schwitters, “Untitled” (1943), at $1.5m.

“I was very impressed with the material on offer this year,” said adviser Arianne Levene. “There was a lot of fresh and exciting work to see.” There were many sales and reserves from the off: Ingleby Gallery immediately reserved Peter Liversidge’s “Everything is Connected” (2012) for £35,000; Rossi and Rossi sold half its stand of paintings by Nortse on the first day; David Zwirner sold three works in the first half hour, including a Borremans for $900,000. The fair ends Sunday.

Meanwhile, new art fairs continue to proliferate: a Beijing-based company (Affordable Art China, not to be confused with the group of fairs by the same name founded by Will Ramsay) is planning a new fair in Hong Kong next year, although no venue has yet been announced. The Affordable Art Fair is launching an Indian edition, probably in Gurgaon, 30km south of New Delhi, while Australia will get two new fairs: a “mini” one launched by two dealers in Melbourne, and Sydney Contemporary, the brainchild of Art HK’s founder Tim Etchells, which will bring some 70 galleries to the city in April 2013.

Oversaturation? Adam Lindemann is a controversial figure in the art market. The well-heeled (with Tod’s, as he would have us know) author, art collector and investor created a stir last year when he announced in the New York Observer that he was not going to Art Basel Miami Beach because of its “phonies and scenesters” and too many parties.

He finally did go, by the way. Anyway, that was then. Now Lindemann has opened his own art gallery on Madison Avenue, in the same building as the main Gagosian gallery and opposite the Nahmads. Across the road is the Luxembourg & Dayan gallery, “Dayan” being Lindemann’s wife, Amalia.

Venus over Manhattan is the name of the gallery, and Lindemann has employed an architect to strip out the third floor fixtures and make it look “raw”. The first show, A rebours, is inspired by JK Huysmans’ 1884 book of fin-de-siècle decadence. On offer – or on loan – are everything from French Symbolist works (Redon, Moreau) and a Fuseli to bang up-to-date contemporary – a George Condo portrait or a Piotr Uklanski hanging.

Lindemann is quite coy about details, but “available” are Franz von Stuck’s “Inferno”, a 1908 Redon drawing and an African Kota, at prices from several thousand to several million. Asked if he isn’t in competition with his wife, Lindemann just says, “There are so many galleries in New York – there’s room for one more.”

It didn’t get much airtime, but a Mahzor, a rare Hebrew prayer book dating from the Renaissance, sold in Paris last week for €1.8m (its estimate was €400,000 to €600,000) after an epic 15-minute battle between nine bidders, all on the telephone. After about €1.2m the contest came down to two determined collectors: an unidentified European emerged the victor. He or she may want to try to unveil its mysteries: the frontispiece and some of the pages of the Mahzor are thought to be the work of the Florentine illuminator Boccardino il vecchio (1460-1529), who also worked for the Medici family. The Jewish family who commissioned it has not been identified. Some of the illuminations were left unfinished, and at some point the coat of arms on the 16th-century goatskin cover was covered up. Censors annotated it in the 17th century and then it disappeared until 1908, when it turned up in Germany. The price was the highest ever given for a Mahzor.

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

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