£33 Million Kandinsky Breaks Record at Sotheby’s—and the 9 Other Biggest News Stories This Week
Catch up on the latest art news with our rundown of the 10 stories you need to know this week.
01 Solid Impressionist and Modern sales at Sotheby’s London saw the auction record for Wassily Kandinsky’s work broken twice in one night.
Kandinsky’s Murnau – Landschaft mit grünem Haus (1909) sold for £21 million (with fees), setting a new record for the artist. It stood for all of six lots until Kandinsky’s Bild mit weissen Linien (1913) went for £33 million with fees. By the end of the night, the sale had brought in £127.9 million, falling squarely within its estimate of £110.6 million to £142.6 million. The sell-through rate of 73.9% was, however, less impressive, and a special sale of small works titled “Actual Size” didn’t meet its low estimate and notched only a 65% sell-through rate. The house’s day sale drew in £19.6 million on a sell-through rate of 73.8%, falling between the estimates of £17.6 million to £25.7 million. While last year’s sale boasted a slightly higher total of £20 million, it also featured a higher number of lots overall: 277 lots in 2016 to 210 lots this year. After announcing the cancellation of its June contemporary auctions in London earlier this year, Christie’s will hold its Modern and Impressionist sale next week.
02 A man has been arrested for faking a series of Damien Hirst prints—forgeries that he began making 15 days after completing a previous prison sentence.
(via the New York Times)
Vincent Lopreto was arraigned on Monday in State Supreme Court in Manhattan, pleading not guilty to several counts of grand larceny and fraud. Police picked up Lopreto and two associates after he sold fake Hirst prints to four Manhattan residents and an undercover investigator. Lopreto was also arrested in 2013, eventually pleading guilty to selling $1.5 million in forged art. In that case, he testified against an accomplice to receive a lighter sentence. Following his 2015 release, Lopreto revived his forgery operation almost immediately. Although he focused on relatively easy-to-fake Hirst works, which he sold to collectors at modest prices ($3,000–$5,000), Lopreto also attempted to pass off more complex pieces at higher costs. However, these fakes—including prints of Mickey Mouse in the style of Hirst—soon caused him difficulties. “The Mickeys are too hot,” Lopreto wrote in an email. “We need to get away from those.” Those emails, along with bank records, are key pieces of evidence that prosecutors will use when outlining their case.
03 A New York Congresswoman has introduced legislation that would forgive up to $10,000 in student loans for arts professionals.
If passed, the American Arts Revival Act could reduce debt for those working full-time as museum employees, professors, artists, and more by offering federal public service loan forgiveness. “Individuals that dedicate themselves to these professions enrich our culture and my bill would provide many of them with relief from mounting student loan debt,” Rep. Nydia M. Velázquez said in a statement. More than 100 organizations, including Carnegie Hall, CalArts, and Pratt, have endorsed the bill. On average, students who receive degrees in art, design, or music graduate with almost $22,000 in debt—a statistic that has been given additional weight by the personal stories of artists amassed by arts collective Occupy Museums. Their work, Debtfair, was on view in this year’s Whitney Biennale and estimates that, in total, artists in the U.S. today owe more than $55.5 million.
04 The Walker Art Center is facing another round of criticism from Native American communities, this time centering on an exhibition by sculptor Jimmie Durham.
(via MPR News)
Last month, the Minneapolis institution was caught up in a controversy surrounding the installation of Sam Durant’s sculpture Scaffold (2012), which recalled the gallows used by the U.S. government to hang 38 men from the Dakota tribe in 1862. Durant soon apologized, allowing the Dakota people to dismantle and dispose of the sculpture in the manner of their choosing. Now, Native American artists are taking issue with a retrospective of Durham’s work that opened this week at the Walker. Although the American artist identifies as Cherokee, critics state that researchers can find no evidence to back up this claim. Durham’s well-established practice makes frequent reference to this Cherokee heritage; he also served on the board of the American Indian Movement for many years. The show was organized by Los Angeles’s Hammer Museum and is set to appear in four major cities.
05 A collector is suing Christie’s for allegedly trying to re-auction a David Hammons print that had already been sold.
(via The Art Newspaper)
On April 18th, collector Philippe Dupont filed suit in a New York district court, claiming that Christie’s withheld Coach (1974), a David Hammons body print sold to him in March. After Dupont’s payment of $475,000 cleared from his bank on March 10th, four Christie’s employees called to cancel the sale. Claiming they had mistakenly omitted an additional bidder from the sale, organizers intended to restage the auction on March 17th. Though its terms of sale state that Christie’s reserves the right to “cancel the sale of the lot, or re-offer and resell any lot,” this suit raises the question of whether the policy applies to instances such as Dupont’s in which the title has passed to the buyer. Court documents reveal that Christie’s offered to compensate Dupont for the mistake, though Dupont refused, demanding that the work be delivered to him in Luxembourg. The work has yet to be re-auctioned or delivered to Dupont. Neither Dupont nor Christie’s have commented on the case.
06 Jeff Koons has laid off half of his painting staff, shrinking his studio for the third time since 2015.
(via artnet News)
Koons is well known for maintaining an extensive network of studio assistants to fabricate his artworks. However, this studio practice has recently shrunk for a third time since 2015, with reports that roughly 30 members of Koons’s staff were let go on June 13th. The artist’s studio now sits at a much leaner team of 30 painters after assistants—several of whom had served with Koons for over a decade—were cut, some reportedly receiving no severance pay. Last year, as many as 20 painters were let go following rumored attempts to unionize. “Everyone there is basically treading water,” one source close to the studio told artnet News. Additional sources, who also asked to remain anonymous to protect their relationship with the studio, said that lukewarm sales of Koons’s 2014–15 “Gazing Ball” series partly led to the recent downsizing.
07 Julia Peyton-Jones, who formerly served as director of London’s Serpentine Galleries for 25 years, is joining Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac as Senior Global Director.
(via Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac)
Peyton-Jones is the latest high profile institutional figure to migrate to the commercial side of the art world, following Paul Schimmel, who in 2013, left MOCA, Los Angeles to launch Hauser & Wirth’s LA outpost (he’s since left) and Eric Shiner, who left the Andy Warhol Museum to join the Fine Art Division at Sotheby’s last July. Peyton-Jones will be based out of Ropac’s recently opened London gallery and focus on the creative development of the gallery’s program of approximately 60 artists and 30 shows annually, across its four locations: London, Paris, Paris Pantin, and Salzburg. Thaddaeus Ropac told Artsy upon opening the Mayfair townhouse housing his London gallery that he intends to continue to focus his efforts on deepening his presence in Europe rather than seeking global dominance, as has more often been the trend among galleries of his scale. Joining over 100 employees, Peyton-Jones, Ropac said, is “one of the most respected and admired figures in the art world with an unparalleled level of experience.” She will begin her tenure with Ropac on September 1st.
08 $12 million in paintings, including works by Frank Stella and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, have been stolen from a Queens storage facility.
(via NY Daily News)
William Pordy, a 62-year-old retired doctor and entrepreneur living in Manhattan, discovered on June 1st that 22 works of art were stolen from his Queens storage unit. Thieves had cut the lock on Pordy’s locker and cleared out its contents, leaving behind the cardboard boxes that once held the works and replacing the broken lock on their way out to evade detection. Examination of the facility’s records by police revealed that the theft occurred on December 30, 2016—two months after Pordy last reported visiting the unit. Investigators have compiled a list of the stolen works and are currently monitoring for attempts by the thieves to resell them.
09 In Italy, five suspended museum directors have been temporarily reinstated by the nation’s highest administrative court.
(via The Art Newspaper)
Italy’s Council of State overruled a regional court decision from May that had dismissed the group of directors—all of whom had been appointed by the Italian government as part of a plan to rejuvenate the country’s ailing museum system. Following this latest ruling, the five directors have temporarily returned to work; a full hearing by the Council of State will take place in October. The lower court had previously ruled that the appointments were not made transparently, noting that several interviews were conducted “behind closed doors” without proper oversight. The directors expressed relief at the suspension of this ruling by the Council of State, noting that they were happy to get back to work.
10 Almost every staffer at the Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art resigned last week, in what has been framed as either a power grab gone awry or a protest over poor labor conditions.
(via the New York Times)
On June 13th, 14 employees—five full-time, two part-time, and seven on contract—quit their jobs at the museum. According to staffers, the mass departure was a result of financial mismanagement and unfair labor practices. “How many organizations expect employees to work for 10- to 12-hour shifts without even a single 15-minute break?” one former employee wrote in her resignation letter. “How many institutions expect someone who makes less than $14/hr to be on call 24/7 for operational, managerial and executive assistant demands?” The museum board countered with the conclusions of an external investigator, who on June 6th noted that “there is no basis to the allegations concerning labor law violations and mistreatment of staff.” One board member claimed that the employee resignations were the result of a few instigators—a statement that former museum staffers have forcefully rejected.
Cover image: The Impressionist and Modern Art Evening Sale at Sotheby's on June 21 in London. Courtesy of Sotheby's London.