$78 Million Bacon Lot Fails to Sell at Christie’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  Frieze Week auctions wrapped up on Friday with a solid sale at Phillips and the surprise flop of a Francis Bacon painting that had been estimated to sell for around £60 million ($78 million) at Christie’s.

(Artsy, Bloomberg)

£57 Million Sotheby’s Sale Led by Twombly and Hockney

Thursday’s sales at Sotheby’s, which kicked off the Frieze Week auctions, were mixed. Its contemporary sale, the house’s highest-ever Frieze Week sale to date, brought in £50.3 million, including buyer’s premium. Two lots were withdrawn, but over 88% of the remaining lots sold, and the night had several pleasant surprises, including a record for Josef Albers at auction and a near-record for David Hockney. The contemporary auction was preceded by the house’s “In Context” sale of Italian post-war artists’ works, in which nearly a third of lots failed to find buyers; it brought in £18.4 million, with fees. At Phillips, 34 out of 36 lots (94%) sold, for a total haul of £23,924,000 or $31,579,680, including buyer’s fees. The results showed the potential of a well-priced, well-planned sale; the total was up 34% from the same sale a year ago. At Christie’s, the most ambitious lot of the night, Bacon’s Study of Red Pope (1971) was met with silence when offered for £58 million, and failed to find a buyer. The total for the post-war and contemporary sale at Christie’s was £99.5 million, including fees, on 54 lots sold (out of a total of 65 offered). The house’s “Thinking Italian” sale made £32.1 million on 25 lots sold, out of a total of 31.


02  Frieze London and Frieze Masters opened to VIPs and solid sales on Wednesday.

(Artsy)

Frieze London and Masters Find a Common Future for Contemporary Art

The 15th edition of Frieze London and the sixth edition of Frieze Masters were met with solid, but not frenzied, sales. Although the former traditionally focuses on art made after 2000, and the latter on art made anytime before, this year the temporal boundaries softened. Much of the work on display across the two fairs—which together welcomed some 300 galleries—reflected critical dialogues and market trends that have increasingly blurred the distinction between “old” and “new.” Hauser & Wirth’s museum-esque “Bronze Age c. 3500 BC – AD 2017” was a prime example (and one of the best booths at the fair). Artists from or in dialogue with Tate Modern’s current show “Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power” were also present across both fairs. The museum exhibition has brought “a lot of attention to artists and to ideas that maybe weren’t at the forefront here,” said gallerist Jack Shainman, who showed at Frieze London for the first time this year.


03  The Louvre has refused to show a sculpture by Dutch sculptor Joep van Lieshout, citing concerns that the work is too sexually explicit.

(via the New York Times, The Art Newspaper, and Dezeen)

Attributed to Atelier Van Lieshout, which Joep founded in 1995, Domestikator (2015) was slated to go on view October 19th in the Musée du Louvre’s Tuileries Gardens. The 40-foot-tall sculpture, “whose outline depicts copulation,” the New York Times wrote, provoked concern from the Louvre’s director, Jean-Luc Martinez. “It risks being misunderstood by visitors to the gardens,” Martinez relayed in a letter to the art fair FIAC, which had organized for the sculpture to be a part of its public art program in the Tuileries. But the design of the work is hardly a surprise: The piece has been on view at Ruhrtriennale art festival in Bochum, Germany, for six weeks each year for the past three years. While there, Domestikator, part of Lieshout’s ongoing “CryptoFuturism” series, served as a structure that viewers could enter and climb inside. The work is meant to provoke thoughts on how humans attempt to domesticate the world around them, while surveying the landscape. (The piece was taken down in Bochum on Wednesday, as was previously scheduled). “The censored artwork is a liveable architectural sculpture, 12 metres in height, with a humouristic and provocative representation of the domestication of human beings in the world,” the Carpenters Workshop Gallery, which represents Atelier Van Lieshout, said in a statement. Johan Simons, artistic director of the Ruhrtriennale, critiqued the Louvre’s decision in a statement, noting that Domestikator could and should provoke a range of responses, but that “one has to have the chance to see it” for there to be any dialogue. “A museum should be an open place for communication. The task of the museum and the press is to explain the work,” van Lieshout told the Times. The artist’s work has been exhibited in numerous museums including London’s Victoria and Albert Museum and New York’s Museum of Modern Art. His decades-long practice frequently involves irreverent large-scale works that play with taboos—including Wombhouse (2004), which invited viewers to experience and touch mock human organs.


04  David Geffen’s $150 million gift toward the Los Angeles County Museum of Art’s new building broke records, becoming the largest donation for construction of an American museum ever recorded.

(via the Los Angeles Times)

Prior to Geffen’s pledge, which was announced Wednesday, LACMA had raised $300 million out of a goal of $650 million toward the construction of a new, Peter Zumthor-designed building, to occupy the site of the institution’s current home. Museum director Michael Govan has spent over three years fundraising for the highly anticipated project. While billionaires like Eli Broad and Alice Walton have spent similar or greater amounts on museums in the past, Geffen’s donation is remarkable because it goes towards a public institution, rather than a private one to house his own collection (though LACMA’s new building will be named the David Geffen Galleries, and he didn’t rule out bequeathing part of his art collection to the museum). The major gift to the Los Angeles museum comes as a New York cultural institution bearing Geffen’s name has stalled. Lincoln Center’s planned revamp of David Geffen Hall, backed by a $100 million pledge by the billionaire entertainment mogul in 2015, was halted by new leadership this week after additional funds needed for the $500 million structure could not be secured.


05  An Auguste Renoir painting was stolen from a French auction house in a brazen theft.

(via Deutsche Welle)

On Saturday, a thief entered an auction house west of Paris, removed Renoir’s Portrait d’une jeune fille blonde from its wall display, and exited without being seen. Set to sell at auction on Sunday, the five-by-four-inch canvas by the renowned 19th-century Impressionist painter was estimated to fetch between €25,000 and €30,000 (roughly between $29,000 and $35,000). The Yvelines police department have yet to identify the culprit, but are reviewing security imagery in pursuit of the perpetrator, reported Deutsche Welle.


06  Cultural institutions across Puerto Rico have begun to reopen and aid in relief efforts following Hurricane Maria.

(via The Art Newspaper)

Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico on September 20th, just a few weeks after Hurricane Irma battered the island in early September, leaving residents and museums grappling with back-to-back destructive storms. While several museums in San Juan and elsewhere have reopened, the Museo de Arte de Puerto Rico (MAPR) opted to stay closed because of nightly blackouts and communication challenges (only 5 percent of the island currently has reliable power). “As soon as everything comes back, we will be here for our public,” interim director Marta Mavel Perez told The Art Newspaper via a cell phone (landlines remain down). Staff continue to work at the museum, with the MAPR planning to launch online fundraising efforts and work with the Smithsonian, of which the MAPR is an affiliate, to safeguard the island’s collections and to send conservators to Washington, D.C., for training. While much of Puerto Rico was devastated by the storm, institutional art collections were largely unharmed, according to The Art Newspaper.


07  A plaque outside Canada’s newly opened Holocaust Memorial omitted any reference to Jews, sparking outrage and then its removal.

(via the New York Times)

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau inaugurated the Daniel Libeskind-designed National Holocaust Monument in Ottawa last week. But while a plaque outside the memorial recognized the “millions of men, women and children murdered during the Holocaust” and the survivors who made their way to Canada, it did not include any direct mention of anti-Semitism or Jews. Fierce criticism of the plaque from both inside and outside Canada quickly mounted. The Times noted that reporting by Canadian media “suggested that the omission had been unintentional” and that the plaque was removed, with a new one expected to be unveiled. In his inaugural speech at the monument, Prime Minister Trudeau did specifically discuss anti-Semitism, affirming Canada’s commitment to “fight anti-Semitism, racism, xenophobia and discrimination in all its forms.”


08  A 45-foot-tall statue of a nude woman may be coming to Washington, D.C.’s National Mall in November.

(via the Washington Post)

The towering 16,000-pound steel statue, R-Evolution (2015), created by artist Marco Cochrane, would stand facing the White House near the Washington Monument as part of the third annual Catharsis on the Mall festival. If permitting efforts are successful, the work would remain on view at the mall for four months following the free festival’s run from November 10th to 12th. Cochrane created the statue, which the Post described as “depicting a strong woman feeling confident in her body,” for Burning Man in 2015. To transport the sculpture from Cochrane’s studio outside San Francisco, organizers are raising more than $100,000 and have recruited a team of engineers to assemble and inspect the piece. “We need to show women just being in their bodies, just being humans, as an antidote for the constant sexualization of the woman’s body, the constant dehumanization,” Cochrane has said. A spokesman for the National Park Service told the Post the agency is reviewing permits and added it’s possible that the agency will allow it to remain through winter, with organizers pushing for March.


09  The $37.7 million sale of a rare Song dynasty bowl has broken the world record for Chinese ceramics.

(via Reuters)

The Sotheby’s auction of the 900-year-old porcelain bowl in Hong Kong on Tuesday lasted 20 minutes before selling to an anonymous bidder (making it one of only four rare Ru ware works in private hands). The five-inch bowl used to wash brushes came from the revered kilns of China’s Henan province during the Northern Song dynasty, which spanned from 960 to 1127. The Ruzhou kiln only operated for a short two-decade stint and produced signature wares with an “intense blue-green glaze and ‘ice crackle pattern,’” Reuters reported. The bowl, which previously belonged to the Chang Foundation in Taiwan’s Hongxi Museum, broke the record set by a 2014 Hong Kong sale of a 500-year-old imperial cup. Sotheby’s Asia deputy chairman Nicolas Chow told Reuters that the “influx of mainland Chinese buyers” over the last 20 years has “really driven the price today.” According to ceramic expert Regina Krahl, the small wash bowl is also one of at most six Ru ware items to appear at an auction since 1940.


10  Two allegedly stolen Henri Matisse cut-outs, together worth $4.5 million, are at the core of a heated and complex ownership lawsuit.

(via The Art Newspaper)

A French court is set to rule on the origins and owner of the two works in a case brought against the artist’s grandson, Georges Matisse, by the Hong Kong-based company Rozven. The pieces were consigned to Sotheby’s by an unknown seller in 2008, but the auction house pulled the works after receiving a letter from Georges claiming ownership on behalf of the family. The Matisse heir claims the pair of works are two of hundreds that went missing while in storage. Rozven claims it purchased the works from art dealer Jérôme Le Blay, who in turn said he purchased them from Josette Lefebvre, an heir to an art supply and storage company. But Matisse expert Wanda de Guebriant, who was contacted by Sotheby’s at the time of the consignment, expressed skepticism that the chain of custody could be legitimate. Following the letter and withdrawal from auction, Rozven sued Georges Matisse. A court dismissed the case in 2010 due to the company’s continued anonymity and its refusal to “justify” the work’s provenance. However, Rozven appealed the ruling, seeking €2 million in damages from Georges Matisse. An appellate decision is expected this month.


—Artsy Editors

Cover Image courtesy of Christie’s Images LTD. 2017.