Brexit Casts Uncertainty on Art Market—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 The United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union Thursday, sending the pound tumbling and creating a climate of uncertainty that could impact the upcoming contemporary art auctions in London.
(via the New York Times)
Although the U.K. faces a two-year process to leave the E.U., markets reacted quickly, with the pound sterling plummeting and prime minister David Cameron, who championed remaining in the E.U., announcing his resignation. It’s difficult to say what impact the vote will have on next week’s contemporary auctions at Christie’s and Sotheby’s—despite speculation that Brexit fears may have dampened the Impressionist and modern sales earlier this week, a vote to exit was entirely unexpected. The rapid decline of the pound might cajole buyers whose dollars and euros now have additional purchasing power (at one point, the sterling dropped to lows not seen since the days of Margaret Thatcher). Art may also look like a relatively stable asset class given that global markets have been nothing but a sea of down arrows since the referendum results. Still, with relatively weak offerings in next week’s auctions and a climate of uncertainty, it’s also entirely possible the art market will suffer following the shocking result.
02 In the leadup to Brexit at the Impressionist and modern auctions in London this week, Sotheby’s exceeded expectations while Christie’s failed to meet its low estimate.
Tuesday’s Sotheby’s auction fell solidly between estimates with a final tally of £103.3 million—80 percent of which came from the sale of two major lots, Picasso’s Femme Assise (1909) and Modigliani’s Jeanne Hébuterne (au Foulard) (1919). At £43.3 million and £38.5 million, respectively, the paintings set records as the priciest works sold at Sotheby’s in London since 2010. It was a stronger showing than expected for the auction house, considering the uncertainty inspired by both the leadup to the Brexit vote and a cooling art market. Meanwhile, on Wednesday evening Christie’s managed a sell-through rate of just 64% and fell below its low estimate by more than £7 million. The auction was hampered by the withdrawal of three major works, including two works by Picasso and one by Magritte. The cover lot, Monet’s L’Ancienne rue de la Chaussée, Argenteuil (1872), didn’t receive a bid and was the only work with a Christie’s guarantee. Going forward, it could be that the Brexit vote creates more demand for this sector of the market, where the financial staying power of the works on offer is seen as more secure.
03 Amid a budget shortfall and fiscal restructuring at the Met, three high-level employees are leaving the institution.
(via the New York Times)
In April, the Met announced it would be taking steps to deal with its $10 million deficit to prevent the figure from ballooning to $40 million in the coming years. So far, the institution has instituted a 24-month restructuring plan that includes a hiring freeze and, if that proves insufficient to reduce costs, layoffs. The recent departures are by three upper-level staff members: Sree Sreenivasan, the first chief digital officer, Cythna Round, senior VP for marketing and external relations, and Susan Sellers, head of design. Round and Sellers both played key roles in the museum’s recent rebranding campaign. Beyond staff reductions, the Met will postpone its plans for expansion and will consider introducing a reduced exhibition calendar.
04 After an entire class dropped out in protest last May, the only MFA student in USC’s troubled Roski School of Art program has decided to leave the program before graduation.
In May 2015, the majority of the first-year MFA students left Roski, citing the program’s alleged “unethical treatment of its students.” Among the laundry list of grievances, the students noted a decrease in tuition subsidies and a general disregard for faculty and the arts community. In an open letter to Provost Michael Quick on Tuesday, the only MFA student to begin the program this year followed the former class of 2016’s example and dropped out. HaeAhn Kwon wrote that her first semester was “a shambles” and critiqued the general structure of the program. In a statement, Associate Vice Provost Robin Romans noted that the school had attempted to provide her with amenities to compensate for a lack of fellow classmates and also noted that a fully-enrolled MFA program would begin in the fall.
05 Artsy released new software this week that allows collectors to place real-time bids online during live sales, a feature to be incorporated at Phillips and Koller auctions held later this month.
(via The Art Newspaper)
The Phillips 20th-century and contemporary day sale will be held on June 28th; Koller’s post-war and contemporary auction is scheduled for June 25th. Users across the globe will now be able to place bids in real time, participating in both live auctions via the web. This is not the first time Artsy has collaborated with auction houses to organize sales, although previous partnerships were hosted exclusively online. In October, for example, the company executed a 23-lot sale with Sotheby’s focusing on works worth less than $50,000. These developments reflect a growing interest in the online art market—according to the fourth annual Hiscox report, online sales were up 24 percent last year, reaching a record high of $3.27 billion.
06 A year-long controversy around outgoing Tate Modern director Chris Dercon’s move to helm Berlin’s storied Volksbühne Theater reached a fever pitch on Monday.
(via artnet News)
Critics released an open letter protesting Dercon’s appointment, addressed to the city senate and German culture minister Monika Grütters and signed by nearly 200 actors, directors, and theater employees. The missive argued against Dercon’s plans to expand the theater’s program to include music, dance, and electronic art, a “polyglot” approach they fear will undermine the institution’s tight-knit community and identity as a bastion of avant-garde theater. “This is not a friendly takeover. It is an irreversible turning point and a break in the recent history of the theater,” explained one vehement passage. Grumblings from the German theater community began in the spring of last year, when rumors circulated that Tim Renner, Berlin’s state secretary of culture since 2014, was on the hunt for Frank Castorf’s predecessor. So far, there has been no response from the German government—or Dercon, who is set to begin his Volksbühne tenure next year.
07 African art continues its market ascendance, with Sotheby’s planning to host a 2017 auction in London comprised of modern and contemporary art from the continent.
(via The Art Newspaper)
The auction, which is slated for early next year, will be led by Hannah O’Leary, who was appointed as head of the auction house’s new modern and contemporary African art department. O’Leary arrives at Sotheby’s from Bonhams, where she held the same role for the past six years. (Until this news broke, Bonhams enjoyed a monopoly on African art auctions by major Western auction houses.) Like the sale, the new department will be based out of the Sotheby’s London branch. The announcement is further confirmation that art from the African continent is a “thriving” market, as managing director of Sotheby’s Europe Maarten ten Holder described it.
08 The Australian studio practice Rare Candy and several collaborators have withdrawn a work from the ninth Berlin Biennale over allegations that it failed to properly credit the authors.
(via artnet News)
In an open letter to e-flux, collective Rare Candy wrote that “together with our collaborators Alden Epp, Spencer Lai, Natasha Madden, Ander Rennick and Amber Wright, [we] have made the decision to reclaim our proposed work from Centre for Style’s Dress Rehearsal exhibition,” which is itself part of the Berlin Biennale. Among Rare Candy’s concerns is incorrect accreditation in “essentially every media outlet” due, the group says, to a failure of the fair to properly characterize the work and those who produced it. The letter also stated that the work (an installation of artifacts, objects, and a video) was taken from the biennale and brought back to Melbourne, where Rare Candy is based. This edition of the Berlin Biennale, curated by collective DIS, has not been without detractors and defenders. In a statement, DIS said, “Errors in representation and crediting were made, and we support Rare Candy's decision to remove the work from the Biennale.”
09 Stricter national regulations for Australian retirement funds that use art as an asset go into effect at the end of this month, sending the country’s art market into freefall.
(via the Australian Business Review)
The new rules are concerned with art in private retirement funds known formally as “self-managed superannuation funds” (or SMSFs). Starting June 30th, the art in SMSFs must be stored securely, insured, and consistently valued—a series of pricey hurdles that have incentivized many collectors to unload their art onto the market. Figures from the Australian Taxation Office show that in 2009, the total value of collectibles in SMSFs was $700 million, a number that dropped to $385 million in 2014 and is said to have fallen even further since. Insiders worry that this phenomenon has crippled the Australian art world, pointing to statistics that show there are currently fewer than 250 art galleries in the country, compared to 514 in 2000. Prices for Aboriginal art, which in particular benefited from SMSF collecting, have also been hit disproportionately hard.
10 A question of ownership has pitted the buyer of an Ad Reinhardt painting against the U.S. federal government.
(via the New York Post)
The U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) claims that the work was created in 1940 as part of the Works Progress Administration and, as such, is legally government property. The longtime owner, Myron Kaplan, purchased Abstraction #6 at Sotheby’s in 1997, where the catalog noted that it had been “acquired directly from the artist.” However, the government believes the painting hung in a Staten Island high school for decades until it was mistakenly thrown away during a renovation in the 1960s. An investigation by GSA into the work revealed a source who claimed their relative had rescued the work by Reinhardt from the trash. Now, the feds are calling for possession of the painting and, according to Kaplan, have threatened to bring the matter to the attention of the Attorney General’s office for criminal prosecution if he does not comply.
Cover image via Wikimedia Commons.