01 This week’s post-war and contemporary auctions in New York were stronger than some expected, but still represent a drop in sales year-over-year for Sotheby’s and Christie’s.
Christie’s kicked off the week with a Tuesday evening auction totalling $277.5 million, easily surpassing the low estimate of $216 million but still falling below the high estimate of $296 million. The sell-through rate hit 89%, with Willem de Kooning’s Untitled XXV (1977) beating the artist’s previous auction record with a hammer price of $59 million. Compared to last November’s sale at Christie’s, which netted $331.8 million, this auction represented a 16% decrease in sales by value. Sotheby’s, too, boasted a respectable post-war and contemporary sale on Thursday evening with a $276.6 million sales by the end of the night—a result that fell squarely between the estimates of $206–302 million and represented a slight drop from last November’s total of $295 million. Only 4 of 64 works were unable to find a buyer. Gerhard Richter’s A.B., Still (1986) marked the top lot, selling for $34 million. On Wednesday night, Phillips achieved its highest-ever result for a 20th-century and contemporary art evening sale, with sales totaling $111 million. The auction house also bucked the general downward trend in sales, beating its sale last November by some $44 million.
02 The Impressionist and modern auctions this week also produced respectable results, with a rare Monet haystack selling for a record $81.4 million at Christie’s.
Monet’s Meule (1891) was estimated to sell for $45 million, and instead went for almost twice that, beating the record of $80.4 million set for the artist in 2008 by his water lily work from 1919, Le Bassin aux Nymphéas. The work contributed significantly to the evening’s overall results for Christie’s: a sell-through rate of 81% for a total of $246.3 million, well above the sale’s low estimate of $202 million. The result is a 69% jump from last year and the house’s highest total for an Impressionist and modern sale since 2014. Granted, that excludes 2015’s curated “The Artist’s Muse” sale, which brought in almost $500 million; Christie’s opted against a curated sale this season, opting instead for a selling exhibition of high-value works in Hong Kong. At Sotheby’s, the top lot—Edvard Munch’s 1902 painting Girls on the Bridge—went to its third-party guarantor for $54.5 million after failing to attract any additional bidding. The Sotheby’s sale brought in $157.7 million in total, almost $15 million above its low estimate, and achieved an 81% sell through rate. The total is a decrease from last year’s equivalent auction, which fetched $306.7 million and featured five additional lots. Across both the Impressionist and modern and the post-war and contemporary sales, the art market continues to suffer from a lack of supply, due to uncertainty in the macro-economy over the past 18 months. However, with Brexit and the U.S. presidential election now settled, pundits and some auction house executives have suggested an art market rebound is soon to come.
03 New York’s Whitney Museum of American Art announced the artists who will be featured in its 2017 Whitney Biennial.
(via the New York Times)
On March 17, the Whitney will open its first Whitney Biennial—the preeminent survey of the state of contemporary art in the U.S.—since moving to its Meatpacking District building. Coming after the the show skipped a year so curators could adjust to the museum’s new home, the biennial features a diverse roster of 63 artists and a thematic focus on the role of the individual in turbulent times. The heterogenous group of artists chosen by Whitney associate curator Christopher Y. Lew and independent curator Mia Locks span race, gender, sexual orientation, age, geography, and medium. There are nearly as many women as men; many artists are from outside of the U.S.; the oldest artist, Jo Baer, was born in 1929 and the youngest, Casey Gollan, in 1991; and there is a strong contingent of artists working in technology. Preparations for the biennial ran parallel to the 2016 U.S. presidential campaigns (something which hasn’t occurred in two decades), all but confirming that the divisive election, and the questions it raised about the nation, will figure prominently. The emerging and established artists included span Deana Lawson, GCC, Jessi Reaves, Raúl de Nieves, Larry Bell, Aliza Nisenbaum, Dana Schutz, Anicka Yi, and Jordan Wolfson, among others.
04 The authenticity of a recently discovered sketchbook that allegedly belonged to Vincent van Gogh is being disputed by the Van Gogh Museum.
During a press conference on Tuesday, van Gogh scholars Bogomila Welsh-Ovcharov and Ronald Pickvance announced the release of Welsh-Ovcharov’s new book, Vincent van Gogh: The Lost Arles Sketchbook, which is based on a 126-year-old sketchbook, filled with 65 drawings, they declare to be an authentic work by the artist. This has sparked a controversy with experts at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam—keeper of the world’s largest collection of the artist’s work—asserting that the book is not authentic. According to the scholars, the sketchbook was created during one of the artist’s most prolific periods, in Arles, France (during which he painted Starry Night and Vincent’s Bedroom in Arles). A senior researcher at the museum noted that the institution looked into the sketchbook’s authenticity in 2008, 2012, and 2013—and on all three occasions had declared it to be a forgery due to iconography, style, technique, and provenance.
05 Anselm Kiefer has called for the cancellation of his first exhibition in China, on the grounds that he never gave consent for the show.
(via The Art Newspaper)
Kiefer issued a statement on Wednesday requesting that the exhibition, slated to open on November 19th at Central Academy of Fine Arts (CAFA) in Beijing, be cancelled. The artist explained that he was not involved nor consulted regarding the exhibition, which reportedly includes 87 of his works. “Throughout my career I have been heavily involved in all my major international exhibitions and it is a matter of deep regret and frustration that the organisers of my first show in China have seen fit to exclude me from this process,” Kiefer said, adding that the Chinese audience is important to him. Since Kiefer’s initial statement Wednesday, CAFA has responded stating that, while they admire and respect Kiefer, they will be moving forward with the exhibition and are within their legal rights to do so. The museum noted that it was the German organizers involved in the exhibit, the Bell Art Center and the Ludwig Museum Koblenz, who communicated with Keifer. Reaction to the call to cancel the show has been mixed but White Cube, Kiefer’s London gallery, supported the artist’s claim that he did not endorse the show, stating that it is “expressly against the artist’s wishes.”
06 A painting by Frida Kahlo, rediscovered after 60 years, is estimated to sell for as much as $2 million at auction next week.
For six decades, the whereabouts of Kahlo’s 1929 work Niña Con Collar remained unknown. The only evidence that the oil-on-canvas portrait had even existed was a black-and-white photograph taken by Lola Álvarez Bravo in the artist’s catalogue raisonné from 1988. Now, the work has resurfaced at Sotheby’s and is slated to go to auction next week as part of the house’s Latin America: Modern Art sale, with an estimate of $1.5–2 million. Niña Con Collar has remained with a single owner, one of the artist’s former assistants, since Diego Rivera gifted her the painting in 1955 (the year following Kahlo’s death at age 47). The assistant, now residing in California, reached out to the Mexico City branch of Sotheby’s this year in order to sell the piece. Several works listed in Kahlo’s catalogue raisonné are still missing, including the significant painting The Wounded Table (1940), which was lost en route to Moscow in the 1950s. So even as Niña Con Collar returns to public view in New York beginning Nov. 19th, head of Latin American Art for Sotheby’s Axel Stein noted that “there is more of this mystery.”
07 Photographer Eric McNatt has sued the appropriation artist Richard Prince alleging copyright infringement.
(via the Fashion Law)
The suit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of of New York on Wednesday, with McNatt claiming that Prince, without permission, “copied and reproduced” one of the photographer’s images for a work that appeared in the artist’s “New Portraits” Instagram exhibition. According to the claim, Prince posted McNatt’s image of Sonic Youth frontwoman Kim Gordon on Instagram and accompanied it with three captions. Prince then printed out this Instagram post as a discrete work of art that both exhibited as part of a show at Blum & Poe and was included in a book related to the exhibition (the claim names Blum & Poe, as well the commercial online art platform Ocula, as defendants in addition to Prince). The suit seeks injunctive relief halting the sale of the allegedly infringing work and the book featuring it, along with statutory or actual damages. Appropriation art and copyright is often a legally tricky area for artists, though they do have strong protections under “fair use” statute. This latest suit is not the first time Prince has been sued for copyright infringement. The artist initially lost a major case to the photographer Patrick Cariou after Prince created works that featuring modified versions of Cariou’s work. An appeals court reversed that ruling and the parties settled out of court.
08 The grandson of Alphonse Mucha is suing the city of Prague to prevent the artist’s famous paintings from traveling through Asia.
(via The Art Newspaper)
A major artist of the Art Nouveau movement, the Czech-born Mucha created “Slav Epic,” a series of 20 massive paintings depicting events of Czech history, over the course of 18 years, and presented it as a gift to the city of Prague in 1928, stipulating that the city build a gallery to house it. Such a gallery has yet to be constructed. In addition, Prague’s government made plans earlier this year to send “Slav Epic” on a two-year tour of institutions in Japan and China, and potentially the U.S. and South Korea. Alarmed by the facts that the works will leave the country and could possibly endure damage during travel, the artist’s grandson filed a lawsuit to prevent the international tour in April and claimed ownership of “Slav Epic,” asserting that the city did not hold up its end of original agreement. “He gave it to the city of Prague on condition that it build a pavilion in which it could be exhibited to the public,” said John Mucha, referring to his grandfather, “But the city has not fulfilled that condition.” The case will go to court in January 2017. The lease on the current site of the paintings at Veletrzní Palác ends in December; this site has also been criticized as inappropriate, given that Jews were held there during World War II before being sent to concentration camps.
09 The Armory Show has announced that the fair’s 2017 Focus section will feature a curated selection of solo presentations by artists for the first time centered on a theme rather than a geographical region.
(via The Armory Show)
After seven years of exploring art made in different geographic regions around the world, The Armory Show’s Focus section will adopt a new approach for its 2017 edition. Titled “What Is To Be Done?,” the section will showcase solo presentations by 12 contemporary artists—selected by Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) associate curator of contemporary art Jarrett Gregory—who are addressing urgent social and cultural issues of our time. Artists featured will include the Congolese collective Cercle d’Art des Travailleurs de Plantations Congolaises (CATPC), whose sculptures challenge colonialism; American-born Pakistani artist Amna Asghar, whose work explores identity; and Belgian artist Johan Grimonprez, whose film will look at the global arms trade; among other projects by Deana Lawson, Ibrahim Mahama, Teresa Margolles, Senga Nengudi, Tuan Andrew Nguyen, Roman Opalka, Mathilde Rosier, Koki Tanaka, and Anna Titova. The shift to is one of several changes to the storied Manhattan fair instated by its new executive director, Benjamin Genocchio, who was appointed last year.
10 Several ancient sites have been destroyed amid the fight to oust ISIS from Mosul.
(via National Geographic)
The archeological remains from two ancient Mesopotamian cities have been destroyed in the battle, according to researchers from the American Schools of Oriental Research Cultural Heritage Initiatives (ASOR CHI). Satellite images have revealed the leveling of the iconic ziggurat of Nimrud, a mud-brick tower built nearly 2,900 years ago in the ancient Neo-Assyrian capital located south of Mosul. The ziggurat is considered to be one of Nimrud’s most remarkable sacred structures. The destruction is thought to have been caused by the Islamic State sometime between the end of August and the beginning of October this year. As ISIS continues to intentionally target cultural artifacts and ancient sites for destruction, Kurdish Peshmerga forces have accidentally done damage themselves. While digging trenches and fortifications near Mosul sometime between mid-October and early November, the Peshmerga uncovered remains from the ancient city of Dur-Sharrukin before realizing they had already bulldozed through parts of the historical site.
Cover image: Photo courtesy of Sotheby’s.