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Hats off to the University of Oxford, The Alan Turing Institute and the artists’ rights organisation DACS for getting UK government and cross-party support for their vision of “The Art Market 2.0”, which identifies how a blockchain-based digital ledger could potentially overcome many of the market’s inefficiencies. “We are right by your side and I will do my bit to make sure the art market thrives in this new digital age,” said Matt Hancock, secretary of state for digital, culture, media and sport, at the launch of a related report in the House of Commons this week.
The report, which took soundings from 26 professional artists, business leaders and tech experts, says that: “Art is currently plagued by fraud, illicit business and tax evasion, all products of a fragmented physical market that is hard to follow. Enter blockchain, which on the surface appears a silver bullet.”
They’ve got their work cut out, however. The report identifies from the outset that “Blockchain is not as far along in its development as many expect, with one leading technologist comparing it to the internet in 1993.” Plus, there are the art market’s “competing interests” — namely, too many influential intermediaries who currently benefit from its inefficiencies.
But calls for transparency are coming thick and fast at the moment and whether or not blockchain is the answer, this latest report makes some thought-provoking points about our murky world. Bonhams auction house is keeping schtum about reports that it has appointed brokers NM Rothschild to seek out possible buyers, likely from the private equity sector. Bonhams, which is currently owned by its chairman Robert Brooks and an investment company run by the Dutch businessman Evert Louwman, last tapped the market back in 2014. Five potential buyers were reportedly then in the frame but, market sources said at the time, none was prepared to go as high as the auction house wanted, whispered to be about £300m.
A growing political awareness among art buyers came to the fore last week at New York’s contemporary art evening sales, where works by female and black artists, alive and dead, performed particularly well. At Sotheby’s on May 16, Avery Singer’s “Fellow Travelers, Flaming Creatures” (2013) sold for $600,000 ($735,000 with fees, est $80,000-$120,000). Then, at Christie’s on May 17, “Blueberry” (1969) by the late, great Joan Mitchell sold for $14.5m ($16.6m with fees, est $5m-$7m).
Meanwhile, the rapper P Diddy has emerged as the buyer of Kerry James Marshall’s “Past Times” (1997) for $18.5m ($21.1m with fees, est $8m-$12m at Sotheby’s), the highest price achieved by a living black artist. And at Phillips, also on May 17, Jean-Michel Basquiat’s “Flexible” (1984), painted on fencing slats, doubled its $20m low estimate to sell for $40m ($45.3m with fees).
There’s an element of following a trendy herd, says art adviser Lisa Schiff: “People are buying with their ears a bit. But none of the artists they are picking up are trite or superficial, so if political consciousness is finally seeping into the market, then that’s great.”
Overall, Sotheby’s evening auction of contemporary art made $246.3m ($284.5m with fees); Christie’s an above-estimate $343.5m ($397.2m with fees) and Phillips’s combined 20th-century and contemporary auction made $113.4m ($131.6m with fees), taking the total two-week auction haul in New York, including fees, to an eye-watering $2.8bn.
Is art replacing religion? The latest destination private museum, courtesy of Polish investor Grażyna Kulczyk, is in Susch, a remote town in the Swiss Alps (population 200) that is on the ancient Christian pilgrim route to Santiago de Compostela in Spain. The museum, due to open in January, is on the site of a 12th-century former monastery and Kulczyk says visiting could represent a “new kind of pilgrimage”, based on the town’s history, setting and potential future. “Muzeum Susch wants to inspire new ways of creative and critical thinking,” Kulczyk says, encouraging “contemplation and meditation”. Kulczyk, an entrepreneur and reportedly Poland’s wealthiest woman, has a home near the Swiss town and is funding the project. She could not be drawn on its expected costs.
Exhibitions will include works from her collection of eastern European and international artists, in 16,000 sq ft of gallery space. Kulczyk also plans a residency scheme, a research institute and a programme of dance and performance.
Muzeum Susch opens with a group exhibition of works that address body politics, organised by Tate Liverpool senior curator Kasia Redzisz.
Christie’s mammoth Rockefeller auctions may be over, but there’s another chance to buy works by Jane Hammond, an American artist favoured by David Rockefeller. About 14 of Hammond’s large-scale, vibrant “Botanical Collages” from 2016-18 are now at Lyndsey Ingram’s gallery in London (until June 15) and offered for £9,500 each.
Hammond was born in 1950 and says she inherited a love of plants from her grandmother. The artist has only recently allowed herself to indulge her passion professionally. “I entered the art world in the heyday of Minimalism, when less was more and flowers were verboten,” she explains.
On May 11, one of Hammond’s much smaller, earlier collages, “Siam Wicker #1” (2006) sold online from the Peggy and David Rockefeller’s collection for $8,125 (including fees), way ahead of its $700-$1,000 estimate.
Ingram says that half of the works in her show have already found buyers — perhaps inspired by this week’s opening of London’s Chelsea Flower Show.
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