01 Energetic post-war and contemporary auctions in New York this week, including $98 million spent by a single Japanese billionaire, helped bolster confidence in what is seen as an uncertain art market.
The series of contemporary auctions began on Sunday, when Christie’s and Phillips together sold 76 lots totalling $124.7 million. Led by Maurizio Cattelan’s Him (2001), a sculpture of Hitler kneeling (sold for $17.2 million), the curated auction “Bound to Fail” at Christie’s made a total of $78.1 million. Although within the auction house’s target range, that figure was nine times less than it tallied at last May’s curated sale. Christie’s went on to sell 87% of the offerings at its Tuesday evening contemporary sale, during which billionaire Yusaku Maezawa snatched up five big-ticket works for a total of $81.3 million—including a Basquiat work that broke the artist’s auction record, selling for $57.3 million. Following a poor showing at Monday’s Impressionist and Modern auction, Sotheby’s recovered on Wednesday with a sale that fetched $242.2 million, far beyond the low estimate of $201.35 million. The house managed to sell 95% of the lots on offer, its highest sell-through rate since 2009. Like Christie’s, however, these results were a drastic decrease from the high points of last year’s sales.
02 New York’s week of spring auctions was also marked by decidedly subdued Impressionist and Modern sales.
On Monday evening, Sotheby’s kicked off the week with an Impressionist and Modern art auction that failed to reach its minimum presale estimate of $164.8 million. Compared to equivalent auctions in recent years, the house’s $144.5 million in total sales marked its worst showing since the 2009 recession. Along with a low sell-through rate of 66%, these results sparked despairing predictions about the state of the art market. Christie’s Impressionist and Modern sale on Wednesday evening, however, assuaged these fears somewhat. Clocking in at $141.5 million (above the low estimate of $134 million), 86% of the 51 lots on offer found a buyer. With collectors seemingly more reticent to test the market during an uncertain time and auction houses cutting back on guarantees (Christie’s only guaranteed one piece, a Picasso, at its sale this week), there was a distinct lack of mega-lots between the two auctions. Coupled with more successful post-war and contemporary sales this week, some have wondered if these results offer commentary on the performance of particular segments of the market rather than the sector as a whole. “Contemporary is now the market barometer,” art adviser Todd Levin told the New York Times on Thursday.
03 The shortlist for the 2016 Turner Prize has been announced.
Michael Dean, Anthea Hamilton, Helen Marten, and Josephine Pryde are this year’s nominees for Britain’s most prestigious art award. Tate Britain, which administers the prize awarded to a UK artist younger than 50 in recognition of a show mounted in the past year, will host all four nominees in an exhibition slated to begin September 27th. The winner, who will receive $38,500, will be announced in December; the other shortlisted artists will each receive $7,700. Hamilton has been nominated for “Lichen! Libido! Chastity!” at New York’s SculptureCenter; Dean for two exhibitions, in London ( “Sic Glyphs” at South London Gallery) and Amsterdam (“Qualities of Violence” at de Appel arts center); Marten for “Lunar Nibs” at the 56th Venice Biennale and “Eucalyptus Let Us In” at New York’s Greene Naftali; and Pryde for “lapses in Thinking By the person i Am” at CCA Wattis in San Francisco.
04 Online auction houses Auctionata and Paddle8 announced on Thursday that they would merge, a major consolidation in the rapidly expanding online art market.
Rumors of the pending merger had been circulating the art world for months. However, details of the arrangement with regard to financials—and what the newly formed entity will be called—remain sparse. Reportedly, the two companies have yet to decide whether they will set up their home base in New York (Paddle8’s hometown and the center of the global art market) or Berlin (Auctionata’s hometown, known more for its wealth of artists than wealthy collectors). Auctionata founder and CEO Alexander Zacke will helm the joint firm, with Alexander Gilkes serving as chairman and chief innovation officer. Gilkes’s Paddle8 co-founders Osman Khan and Aditya Julka will also remain on the executive team. According to the announcement, the newly-formed auction house will be among the top 10 globally, outside of mainland China, and will focus on the middle market—objects and artworks under $500k. Consumer preference for online auctions over marketplace models that offer a buy-now option has waned in the past year, according to a recent Hiscox report. But these auction houses are banking on a merger that allows them to pool their complementary strengths: Paddle8’s particularly strong brand and emphasis on contemporary art, in contrast to the more collectibles-focused Auctionata.
05 The New Museum announced that it will double its exhibition space by expanding into a next-door building after raising $43 million.
(via the New York Times)
The significant sum amounts to a little over half of the $80 million goal set by the institution for its current capital campaign. Along with tripling the New Museum’s endowment and financing the expansion—which will see the museum adding gallery space to an adjacent Bowery building it already owns—the money will also be channeled towards more cutting-edge programs like the institution’s business incubator New INC and its think tank Ideas City, which just concluded in Detroit. The New Museum’s expansion is particularly interesting given that, while it is hardly alone in adding exhibition space, most museums have been doing so only after building massive, multi-million-dollar new spaces. By taking advantage of an already existing and convenient space, the New Museum, which does not have a permanent collection, will be able to spare expense and time all while adding some 42,000 square feet of room for art.
06 Former Sotheby’s world-wide head of contemporary art Cheyenne Westphal is heading to Phillips to take on the role of chairperson.
(via the Wall Street Journal)
Westphal, who departed Sotheby’s in March, will serve as Phillips’s new chairperson based in London starting in the spring of 2017. The departure of the 48-year-old from Sotheby’s shocked some, given that high-level exits are rare in the auction world. The surprise was compounded by the fact that Westphal’s leaving came as Sotheby’s experienced a string of high-profile staff departures. During her 26 years at the company, Westphal landed major consignments and focused singularly on contemporary art, which went from a small-ticket afterthought to a multi-billion-dollar marketplace over her tenure. The hire is a boon to Phillips, which is looking for every edge in a competitive auction landscape. “Phillips has a lot of momentum. It’s growing, and I think I can bring something to the equation,” Westphal told the Wall Street Journal, with the paper hinting that Sotheby’s acquisition of Art Agency, Partners may have prompted her exit.
07 François Morellet, a major figure in abstraction and concrete art, died on Wednesday—just a few days after his 90th birthday.
Parisian gallerist Kamel Mennour confirmed the French artist’s passing to Le Monde. Morellet is known primarily as a major figure of geometric abstraction and Concrete Art, working across mediums including painting, sculpture, and light-based art. Though he began working in the 1950s, the artist has explained that he had to wait decades before his neon works became in-demand enough to sell. Morellet was a central player in the founding of the significant Paris collective of the 1960s Groupe de Recherche d’Art Visuel (GRAV). Some 60 years after his practice began, Morellet received a major retrospective at the Center Pompidou in Paris, cementing his place in the country as one of the key artists of his generation.
08 Several members of an Egyptian performance group are facing criminal charges in the country after critiquing president Abdel Fattah el-Sisi.
(via The Art Newspaper)
The group, known as Awlad el-Shawarea (Sweet Children), consists of six members and was born out of the political and cultural scene that flourished following the 2011 uprisings in Egypt. The arrests come after the group released several video clips critical of el-Sisi and his supporters. Four of the members arrested, who are all aged between 19 and 25, face charges of insulting state institutions and inciting street protests and terrorism. A fifth member, though charged with insulting state institutions and inciting street protests, will not face terrorism charges. A sixth member remains free. It is not immediately clear why only some members face charges or why those charges differ. Recently, Egyptian authorities have reportedly grown increasingly hostile to criticism, repressing numerous artists, writers, and activists.
09 Following a lawsuit and countersuit, Stefan Simchowitz and Jonathan Ellis King have settled their legal disputes with artist Ibrahim Mahama.
(via The Art Newspaper)
The battle between Simchowitz and King, on the one hand, and Mahama, on the other, dates back to June of last year, when both dealers sued the artist after he invalidated his own authorship of a series of his jute sack pieces owned by the dealers, potentially worth $4.5 million. That case, in which the dealers sought to have Mahama reauthenticate the work, was dismissed on May 4th. By then, Mahama had countersued the dealers in an attempt to get an injunction preventing them from selling any of the work from the series in question, while also alleging they both violated the 1990 Visual Artists Rights Act and had “mutilated” his art by cutting up the sacks into hundreds of pieces to be sold individually without permission. The exact terms of the settlement, which brings the countersuit to an end, are undisclosed, though the entirety of the lawsuit was dismissed in perpetuity, with both sides paying their own legal fees.
10 In the country’s continuing quest for the return of the Parthenon marbles, Greece may look to the United Nations.
(via the Guardian)
The revelation comes near the 200th anniversary of the marbles’ “captivity” in London, where they were spirited by Lord Elgin, and then bought by Parliament in 1816. According to Greece’s culture minister, Aristides Baltas, the nation is actively trying to “develop alliances which we hope would eventually lead to an international body like the United Nations to come with us against the British Museum,” where the marbles are currently kept. If their claim is validated by a body like the UN, the nation may bring a legal suit against the British Museum—though this is a risky strategy that could backfire. Unlike restitution arguments that hinge on the idea that the marbles should be seen in the context of the Parthenon and not that of a “universal” institution like the British Museum, any international suit brought by Greece would deal with raw legalities surrounding how the marbles were acquired by Elgin. Though a legal brief leaked to the Guardian lays out a strong case in Greece’s favor, should the country lose, it will likely forever doom any restitution claims.
—Abigail Cain, Alexander Forbes, Isaac Kaplan
Cover image courtesy of Sotheby’s.