“Frieze week” kicks off this week in London, drawing the cream of the art world to Britain’s capital. It is centred of course on the fair that started it all (Frieze opens to the public in Regent’s Park on Thursday), but a host of satellite events are also on offer. One of the more intriguing is taking place just down the road from the fair, at 2 Cornwall Terrace, part of an enormously expensive real estate project being developed and sold.
In what appears to be a sophisticated way of selling both art and the property, the 18th-century mansion is being used as a temporary venue for an exhibition entitled The House of the Nobleman, October 15-20. The format is hybrid, both commercial and non-commercial, with 68 works on show, half of them loans from collectors – one is David Roberts, the rest are secret – the other half consisting of works of art for sale.
The House of the Nobleman is curated by the artist Wolfe von Lenkiewicz, who has teamed up with a young Russian curator, Victoria Golembiovskaya. It is backed by Mirax, a Russian real estate company that has a “significant but minority” stake in the Cromwell Terrace complex. Mirax belongs to a Russian billionaire, Sergei Polonsky, but Mirax has been troubled since the financial recession and has a reported $120m in debt; the firm did not respond to a request for comment. The eight houses in the Cromwell Terrace complex are priced between £29m and £60m.
Various dealers, from the UK and elsewhere, are contributing works of art to the show; they range from two paintings by Poussin to Picasso’s “Buste d’Homme à la Pipe” (1969), priced at £3m. Banksy, Richter, Klein, Rodin, Cézanne and Warhol are the unlikely bedfellows in the show, which includes two works by Von Lenkiewicz himself (at £60,000 and £50,000). While entry is free, visitors must register for admission (www.cornwallterrace.co.uk); they will be taken around in groups of 50, according to the curators.
Last month Christie’s set a new record for selling art over the internet, when a Shang dynasty wine vessel (12th-11th century BC) made a stunning, double-estimate $3.3m in New York. Inevitably, the sale will be taken as proof that the time has come for high-priced art to be sold over the internet. While low-value art, particularly multiples and prints, already sell well online, it is much rarer to see top pieces finding buyers this way.
Those with longish memories will recall that in 2000, during the internet boom, Sotheby’s made an attempt at selling high-end art on its website, bringing in “associate dealers” to sell their wares as well. But after losses of at least $74m and a failed attempt to work with eBay, Sotheby’s pulled the plug on the venture. Christie’s has had online bidding for the last three and a half years, but excludes its five top evening sales. According to the firm, almost $70m worth of bids were placed online in 2009.
Another sign of the increased importance of internet bidding is the new VIP art fair, first announced in this column in May. This will be held, online only, for just one week, January 22-30 2011. The concept is credited to the New York dealer James Cohan, and founder exhibitors included many of the market’s heaviest hitters: Gagosian, Zwirner, Hauser & Wirth, Sadie Coles and White Cube. Since then, many more keynote galleries such as Perrotin, L&M, Sprüth Magers and Lehman Maupin have signed up, bringing the current list to 90 (the aim is to reach 120 exhibitors).
The cost of participating is between $5,000 and $20,000 and dealers will send VIP invitations to their clients, which allow them to chat by phone or Skype with the dealers during the period of the fair. Anyone can browse the offerings online, and can buy a VIP ticket for $100 (for January 22 and 23, afterwards $20); whether this will enable visitors to chat directly with the notoriously reticent Larry Gagosian, say, remains to be seen.
Marrakech is the newest potential market for art being explored this weekend with the inaugural Marrakech Art. This fair brings together 31 participants, nine from Magreb countries, two from the Gulf and most of the rest from Paris, including the ultra-smart Jérôme de Noirmont. The fair is being held in the Es Saadi Palace hotel and includes a cultural programme with an exhibition of Moroccan artists at the Marrakech museum and a street performance by the Moroccan rapper Don Bigg.
“The Lost Collection” turns out to be more aptly named than anyone could have imagined. It designated 15 works of art due to be included in Christie’s Dubai sale, scheduled for October 26. According to Christie’s publicity, the works came from a US couple: “Eric and Sheila [Azari], who formed the collection, were patrons of the arts in Tehran from the late 1950s through the 1970s.”
The works had “escaped the public gaze” and were “unknown to most scholars and curators since the 1960s”, said Christie’s; the artists concerned were the Iranians Charles Hossein Zenderoudi, Parviz Tanavoli, Faramarz Pilaram, Sadegh Tabrizi and Nasser Ovissi, and the works expected to fetch from $3,000 to $120,000.
However, this week all the “Lost Collection” works were pulled from the sale, and William Lawrie, the firm’s director of Middle Eastern art, has left the company to set up his own gallery in Dubai. Asked whether Lawrie would still be with the company for the sale he had prepared, Jussi Pylkkänen Christie’s president for Europe and the Middle East said, “It might well be he wants to take gardening leave.”
In a statement, Christie’s said: “‘The [Lost] Collection’ has been withdrawn from sale pending resolution concerning title. While we are in touch with all parties to try to resolve the matter, the discussions are taking place in private and we have no information to disclose.”
Speaking from Doha, where the sale was being previewed this week, Pylkkänen said he hoped the group would be offered in Dubai in the spring of next year.
Parviz Tanavoli, one of the artists whose work was in the “Lost Collection”, told me, “In the 1960s, Eric Azari and his wife were living in Tehran and they asked a number of artists to give them art for sale in the new gallery he was opening. I gave 12 paintings; others gave many more. There were a lot of promises but we were never paid, but just recently we saw some of the works in Christie’s sale. We did try to negotiate with Christie’s but the terms were unacceptable.”
The UAE-based art dealer Charles Pocock, who represents all the artists except Zenderoudi, said “We are not aware that the collection could be offered in the spring; nothing has been confirmed at present.”
Georgina Adam is editor-at-large of The Art Newspaper
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