News
Auction Sales Rose 25% in 2017—and the 9 Other Biggest News Stories This Week

01  Global auction sales increased 25% to $11.21 billion in 2017, according to a report from ArtTactic.

(via The Art Newspaper)

The analysis by the London-based firm looked at publicly available data from Sotheby’s, Christie’s, and Phillips, finding improved sales across the board. The overall increase came even as consignments dipped 9.3%. Christie’s saw the greatest overall turnover and improvement from 2016, with total auction sales of $5.89 billion, a rise of 34% over 2016 performance thanks partly to the record-breaking sale of Leonardo da Vinci’s Salvator Mundi in November. Sotheby’s sales totaled $4.69 billion, a 15% increase, with improved performance of sales in London accounting for much of the rise. Phillips remained a distant third in terms of overall turnover, with sales of $624.4 million, a notable 28% increase from the year before. Together, the findings “suggest the auction market is in full recovery after slumping by almost a third between 2014 and 2016,” reported The Art Newspaper.


02  French President Emmanuel Macron agreed to loan the fabled Bayeux Tapestry to the United Kingdom.

(via The Guardian, AFP, and the Washington Post)

The decision, announced at an Anglo-French summit in Britain on Thursday, symbolizes the continued strength of relations between the two countries even amid the forthcoming exit of the U.K from the European Union in 2019. A major historical object for both Britain and France, the 68-meter (223-foot)  tapestry depicts the 11th-century Battle of Hastings between Norman-French and English troops. It was created shortly after the battle and has has not left France in 950 years. The loan won’t begin until 2022 so that preservation work can be done to ensure the tapestry can be moved safely. The fragility has led some French experts to criticize the announcement, with Pierre Bouet, the curator who cares for the tapestry at the Normandy museum where it is on view, saying he thought the announcement was a “hoax” at first. It has not yet been announced where in the U.K. the work will ultimately be displayed once it is restored. Regardless of the location, British Museum director Hartwig Fischer told The Guardian it was “probably the most significant” loan ever from France to the U.K.


03  The Tate and National Galleries Scotland suspended ties with prominent British art dealer and major donor Anthony d’Offay after allegations of sexual harassment.

(Artsy, Hyperallergic, and the New York Times)

Three allegations against the 78-year-old d’Offay, first reported on Sunday by the London-based Observer newspaper, date between 1997 and 2004, and include unwanted kisses, demeaning language, and inappropriate workplace behavior. A fourth woman filed a complaint on December 20th, alleging that d’Offay had sent her malicious messages. The charge is currently under investigation by London police. D’Offay told the Observer that he was “appalled” by the allegations and “categorically” denies the claims, adding that he was unaware of the investigation and believes that “police time is being wasted.” The sexual harassment claims against d’Offay were not the only to emerge against figures in the art world over the weekend. Thirteen male models and assistants accused legendary fashion photographer Mario Testino of sexual exploitation and misconduct, while 15 male models leveled accusations against Bruce Weber in a New York Times story published last Saturday. “Both photographers said they were dismayed and surprised by the allegations,” the paper reported. And on Tuesday, Hyperallergic reported four new allegations of sexual misconduct against artist Chuck Close, who said he had “never received any complaints prior to reading about them in recent news reports,” and apologized.


04  The European Fine Art Fair (TEFAF) will no longer publish its annual art market report.

(via the Financial Times)

The TEFAF report was a key barometer in the art industry for years, providing a comprehensive and sweeping overview of the often opaque and diverse market. A statement from TEFAF cited “consultation with both stakeholders and industry experts” as the reason for canceling the art market report. Instead, the fair will produce “very in-depth and highly focused reports that concentrate on a variety of subjects in the art market,” the statement read. The future of TEFAF’s art market report has been uncertain after its author since 2008, economist Dr. Clare McAndrew, left in 2016 to compile a new report for Art Basel and UBS. New methodology used for the 2017 TEFAF report by McAndrew’s replacement, Maastricht University professor Rachel Pownall, found the overall size of the market in 2016 to be $45 billion, while McAndrew put it closer to $57 billion. McAndrew’s analysis saw the market contracting by about $6 billion from 2015 to 2016, while Pownall’s methodology found that the overall size of the market hovered at around $45 billion both years. “Such inconsistencies raised pertinent questions about how to measure an opaque market and it’s a shame that the debate has in effect stopped,” wrote Melanie Gerlis in the Financial Times.


05  Prominent curators, dealers, and scholars questioned the Museum of Fine Arts in Ghent’s Russian Modernism exhibition, calling it “highly questionable.”

(via The Art Newspaper & artnet news)

The Art Newspaper published an open letter on Monday, signed by leading scholars and dealers, raising authenticity concerns over 26 Russian avant-garde works attributed to artists such as Wassily Kandinsky, Kasimir Malevich, and El Lissitzky on view in the exhibition. They suggested the works be removed until the museum addresses the questions raised. On loan from the Russian art collector Igor Toporovski’s charitable organization, the purportedly 20th-century artworks have been on display at the Museum voor Schone Kunsten in Ghent, Belgium, since mid-October 2017. Signatories of the letter include renowned art historians, writers, curators, and dealers who have expressed concern that the paintings “have no exhibition history, have never before been reproduced in serious scholarly publications, and have no traceable sales records.” A spokesperson for the museum told artnet News that “the museum followed standard procedures to review the loans ahead of the exhibition,” but deferred to Toporovski for provenance and expert examination. Toporovski has affirmed to artnet News that his foundation can provide “provenance, history, and technical description…on request, for research, scholars, and professionals” and invited a reporter to view the materials in person; however, he refused to discuss further details via email.


06  Over 100 figures from the German and international art world have signed an open letter questioning the firing of Documenta CEO Annette Kulenkampff.

(via e-flux)

The letter challenges the actions taken by Documenta’s supervisory board in the wake of a multi-million deficit run up by Documenta 14, curated by Adam Szymczyk. In November, it was announced that Kulenkampff would not complete the final year of her contract. But the letter argues that blame has been disproportionately placed on Kulenkampff even though the quinquennial’s imperiled financials “arose through a program concept for which all involved parties shared responsibility.” The letter also accuses local and state politicians on the advisory board of conspiring to end Documenta’s nonprofit status and not adequately challenging the far-right German officials who have attacked work included in the exhibition as “disfigured art,” a phrase that invokes the Nazi-era classification “degenerate art.” Among other recommendations, the letter called on the supervisory board to adapt Documenta’s budget to the “requirements of a global art event with worldwide impact that is unique in its dimensions,” affirm its nonprofit status, and reinstate Kulenkampff to a board position.


07  Simon de Pury declared his victory in a legal tussle over a privately sold $210 million Paul Gauguin painting.

(via artnet news)

The Swiss art dealer, curator, and auctioneer Simon de Pury ammounced on Instagram this week that he and his wife, Michaela, had won their lawsuit seeking $10 million in connection to a 2015 Gauguin sale that de Pury helped broker. He said he was owed the fee due to a “gentleman’s agreement” with former Sotheby’s executive director Rudolf Staechelin, the seller of Gauguin’s 1892 work Nafea Faa Ipoipo (When Will You Marry)?. The painting was sold to Guy Bennett, a former Christie’s expert who now directs the collections and acquisitions for Qatar’s museums. When de Pury first approached Staechelin about selling the painting to Bennett, the auctioneer said he was verbally promised a handsome commission. However, Staechelin claimed de Pury set the price at $230 million, despite knowing the Qataris would max out at $210 million. Although the sale eventually occurred, Staechelin’s lawyer, John Wardell, told the Telegraph in June that de Pury’s behavior constituted “a clear breach of fiduciary duty and all commission has been forfeited if any right ever existed.”


08  A historic Frank Lloyd Wright building in Montana was razed last week despite efforts by preservation groups to save the structure.

(via Hyperallergic)

Bulldozers descended on the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Lockridge Medical Clinic late on January 10th, demolishing the 5,000-square-foot structure designed by the famous architect in 1958. The Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy (FLWBC), which had fought for over a year to save the historic Whitefish, Montana, building, reacted with shock and anger. Developer Mick Ruis bought the property in 2016, though he temporarily halted his plans to replace the building with a multi-use development after an initial backlash. Ruis said he’d part with the building for the same $1.6 million he paid to acquire it and the FLWBC had worked to devise plans to preserve the structure. On January 4th, Ruis announced that any buyer would have to close the deal by January 10th. Though the FLWBC made an offer on the 8th, Ruis demanded that the group submit a larger and nonrefundable deposit by the following afternoon, Hyperallergic reported. The FLWBC appealed for an extra day; however, Ruis rejected the request last Wednesday and the building was destroyed within hours. The demolition triggered complaints that preservationists weren’t given sufficient forewarning, yet Ruis’s attorney maintained to The Daily Beast that the developer had already given them “plenty of time.”


09  Christie’s suspended an employee that U.S. investigators suspect of leaking classified information to the Chinese government.

(via the Wall Street Journal)

A former Central Intelligence Agency officer who has been serving as head of security at Christie’s in Hong Kong was suspended this week after being arrested at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport on Monday. The man, identified as Jerry Chun Shing Lee by the Wall Street Journal, was charged with unlawfully retaining classified information, and is suspected to have provided China with information that compromised a major network of U.S. informants in the country, leading to the systematic killing of several of them. Christie’s confirmed in a statement to the Wall Street Journal that Lee was an employee and had been suspended. “The allegations predate his employment with the company. Due to the ongoing nature of the investigation we have no additional comments,” an auction house spokesperson told the paper. Lee left the CIA in 2007; he had worked at the agency for over a decade. After temporarily leaving the country, Lee and his family settled in northern Virginia in 2012. He was recently allowed to travel to Hong Kong, even as the investigation into his activity ramped up. When FBI agents learned he would be returning to the U.S., they obtained a warrant for his arrest.


10  Two newly authenticated drawings by Vincent van Gogh are now on display at the Singer Laren museum in the Netherlands.

(via Smithsonian Magazine)

The Van Gogh Museum confirmed the authenticity of the two drawings that date back to Vincent van Gogh’s early years among the Impressionists in Paris on Tuesday. The works depict the famous French landmark, the hill of Montmartre. According Smithsonian Magazine, The Hill of Montmartre with Stone Quarry (1886) and The Hill of Montmartre (1886) reveal an important part of the artist’s artistic development, reflecting a “shift towards the more experimental style of the Impressionists” he met in Paris. The Hill of Montmartre with Stone Quarry, which was held by the artist’s sister-in-law until 1911, was eventually acquired by the Van Vlissingen Art Foundation in 2014. The foundation also authenticated the work. That led to a subsequent re-examination and authentication of The Hill of Montmartre, which had been removed from two of the artist’s catalogues raisonnés due to questions over its origin. The drawings, put on display as part of the “Impressionism & Beyond” exhibition on Tuesday at Singer Laren, will be on display until May 6th.

Cover Image: Courtesy of Christie’s