“Refreshingly different” was how most people described London’s new fair Art13, which ended this week having enjoyed high attendance and encouraging sales – albeit mainly in the lower price range.
Art13’s organisers (who also founded Art Hong Kong, now part of the Art Basel empire) seem to have successfully spotted a gap in the market for an event offering more affordable art than Frieze, and from galleries around the world. This international reach, with exhibitors from Lithuania, Saudi Arabia, Estonia, South Korea and Dubai among others, brought lots of new artist names to London: “Not the usual suspects,” as one visitor approvingly noted.
As always in an art fair, some galleries did very well; others had a harder time. Lawrie Shabibi from Dubai immediately sold a number of works, including Shahpour Pouyan’s “Projectile 8” (2012) to a Los Angeles collector for $20,000, and closed a deal for a further two from the edition on the second day.
An installation of porcelains by Young-Jae Lee titled “Earth, Ink and Fire” (2011), shown by gallerist Alexander Ochs of Berlin and Beijing, went to an Italian buyer for €50,000, while Korean gallery Hakgojae found a buyer for Lee Yongbaek’s “Angel-Soldier No 4” at £22,750. While there were some higher prices – for instance a Banksy sold at £375,000 by Lazarides – most transactions seemed to be in the £10,000-£70,000 range.
Even those for whom sales were slow, such as Budapest’s Ani Molnár, were pleased to see attendance nudging 25,000 – with more than 6,000 on the first night alone – and by the calibre of the visitors. “I’ve met some very good people,” she said. Cleverly, the fair’s organisers had boosted its high-profile attendance by inviting 30 big collectors from around the world for a private museum owners’ conference, among them Dakis Joannou, Sylvain and Dominique Levy, Daniel Teo of Singapore, Patrizia Sandretto Re Rebaudengo and the Rubells of Miami.
Among these collectors were three Chinese private museum owners, who participated in a public talk about their institutions. Wang Wei and her investor husband Liu Yiqian last year opened Shanghai’s Long Museum, which shows traditional Chinese art alongside modern and contemporary.
The second, Li Bing, has established the He Jing Yuan Art Museum in Beijing, and runs a collectors’ club. The third panellist was property developer Dai Zhikang, who opened the Himalayas Art Museum (formerly the Zendai Museum) in Pudong, Shanghai, last year. For Wang Wei and Li Bing, it was their first trip to the UK.
“China has 200 museums, and the number is growing every day,” said Dai. He went on to explain that the massive destruction during China’s Cultural Revolution meant that collectors such as himself were key to re-establishing museums and an artistic heritage. “We have waited 100 years for this moment,” he said, and later switching into Chinese, despite his excellent English, so that there could be no possible misinterpretation, he continued: “We will get the money first, and then we will get our dignity back. When China becomes the world’s number one economy, Chinese works of art will become the most valuable in the world!” Nevertheless, when all three speakers were “given” a limitless amount to spend on art, Dai chose the “Mona Lisa”, while Li and Wang wanted a Monet and a Manet …
The field of pre-Columbian art is becoming increasingly fraught, as more countries contest sales of works of art that they claim have been illegally exported.
Sotheby’s is set to auction about 300 works from the Barbier-Mueller collection in Paris on March 22 and 23 (see Susan Moore: The age of rediscovery). The collection is the finest private holding of pre-Columbian art in the world, and includes material from Mexico, Central America and South America. Now, however, Peru’s Ministry of Culture has put out a press release saying that about 60 Peruvian works in the sale may have been exported clandestinely.
“It is possible to deduce that their exportation must have been clandestine, given that from April 2 1822 Peruvian regulations prohibit the removing of archaeological goods without government authorisation,” the ministry said, adding that it planned to act “to place charges that these goods were presumably obtained in an illicit manner”.
Sotheby’s said it had not been contacted by the ministry so far, but “would give careful consideration to any inquiry”. The auction house added that “the works in the Barbier-Mueller collection have long ownership and exhibition histories.” Peruvian highlights in the sale include an anthromorphic vessel from the Cupisnic culture (estimated at €80,000-€100,000) and a head of a feline from the Mochica culture (estimated at €60,000-€80,000).
This is not the first time problems have broken out in France over such sales. In 2011 the “Year of Mexico” was cancelled after Mexico declared a Maya statue that sold at Drouot for €3m a fake. The move was widely interpreted as a ploy to disrupt the sale, as the piece had impeccable old provenance.
This latest dust-up shows that the 1970 Unesco convention on the illicit trafficking of cultural goods is no longer sure to protect vendors from claims. Under this convention, anything with a solid provenance from before 1970 was shielded; now, it seems, governments are going back earlier than this.
As expected, Sotheby’s has made changes to its commission structure following a recent announcement by Christie’s. The changes are not quite the same: in the US, Sotheby’s mid-range, for which buyers will pay a 20 per cent premium, will soon be $100,000 to $2m, (against $75,000 to $1.5m at Christie’s), and £50,000- £1m in London (at Christie’s, this is £37,500-£750,000). Sotheby’s will apply its new rates from March 15. No word so far from the other auction houses about their intentions.
Sotheby’s announced its new thresholds along with surprisingly lacklustre results for 2012. Sales were $5.4bn but profits dropped by 37 per cent – $108.3m in 2012, against $171.4m in 2011. Chief executive Bill Ruprecht said this reflected a $464m (58 per cent) decline in revenue from single-owner collections, as well as weakening in the Chinese market. Private sales in 2012 were $906.5m, up 11 per cent. Looking to the future, despite a “fuzzy crystal ball”, Sotheby’s is pinning its hopes on the enormous wealth creation in Brazil, and noted that: “Many of the most significant transactions recently included powerful Brazilian bidding.”
Iranian-born collector Ramin Salsali founded Dubai’s Salsali Private Museum in 2011. It is the region’s first such institution, and displays mainly Middle Eastern and Arab artists. Now Salsali has come up with an innovative plan: to build the first public Dubai Museum for Contemporary Art (DMOCA) close to the towering Burj Khalifa, and to finance it with contributions from Dubai citizens and residents. Locals will be encouraged to buy “shares” (but not the sort you can resell) so that, in Salsali’s words, “the people of Dubai feel they have ownership towards and belong to the museum”. He plans to launch the first phase later this year.
Georgina Adam is editor-at-large of The Art Newspaper
Armory New York: At first site
New York’s venerable contemporary Amory Show (in full swing now, until Sunday) arrived this year with a new twist – eager buyers and browsers could go online to artsy.net and see a preview of more than 2,600 works from 200plus galleries. This twin approach to marketing works of art may have something to do with the fact that the Armory Show’s new managing director Noah Horowitz was previously director of the onlineonly VIP Art Fair – obviously a convert to the power of the web to bring art to the people, or the people to art.
Cynics may wonder whether this means that the physical fair has become redundant, but there is no doubt that the claims to global reach made by many among the everproliferating roster of fairs are trumped by this move. The site is clear and wellorganised, with neat sections under which to file its thousands of images, and doesn’t bother with bells and whistles. Recommended.
Meanwhile, at the real-life event, the crowds pour in. The Armory Show was named in homage to the first fair in the Park Avenue space, held a century ago, whose legendarily hot controversies live on in cultural legend to rival those of the same year’s Rite of Spring premiere in Paris. The modern show, now 15 years old, has retained the name, even though it has moved to Manhattan’s West Side piers – Pier 92 for contemporary, Pier 94 for modern art – and has this year honed its roster of participating galleries by a hefty 25 per cent, down to about 220.
The quality of the work remains strong, however, and the surrounding hullabaloo – known as Armory Week – includes about half a dozen other fairs and glittering events, including the Independent fair and Scope in Chelsea, the ADAA on Park Avenue, Volta in SoHo.