At auction in Hongkong
Despite what Sotheby’s is shouting from the rooftops, the Hong Kong sale from 5 October 2023 of a small part of the collection from the Long Museum in Shanghai – China’s most famous private museum – which acted as a test for the international market, was not a success (See the report about the Long museum auction here). These auctions, featuring 39 lots, brought in 69.5 million dollars contrary to the 100 million expected. The star artwork was a portrait of Paulette Jourdain by Modigliani which sold for 34.8 million against an estimate of 45 million dollars. In 2015 the painting was acquired for 38.9 million dollars.
In recent years China, including Hong Kong, was considered to be one of the great and promising platforms for the consumption of art. These figures signal a decline in interest for this field locally.
At a more global level the massive terrorist attack in Israel on 7 October has hugely dampened spirits, creating a mood of international insecurity that could also affect the market.
London’s double fair
It’s within this context that London’s double fair, Frieze, opened on 11 October. In Regent’s Park, for the twentieth anniversary of the show, two tents were erected to house Frieze London (composed of 160 galleries showcasing contemporary art) and Frieze Masters (composed of 130 galleries displaying works from all eras) (See last year report about Frieze here).
Corrias and Carpenters
London follows the frenetic pace of its art week with the inauguration of a significant number of galleries who have moved into bigger or better placed spaces, such as London’s Pilar Corrias in the heart of Mayfair, or the French Carpenters Workshop, who are great specialists in design, and have based themselves in Notting Hill at a former garage measuring 4000m2 that has been lavishly transformed.
Much has been said of Brexit’s ill effects on the art market and Paris’s growing power since then, but the English capital retains a certain vitality even amid a general climate of upheaval. “The gallery landscape is changing but London is a city with a very strong artistic ecosystem, linked to the DNA of the fair itself,” explains Eva Langret, director of Frieze London. In this spirit, this year she has asked established artists to invite lesser-known artists to exhibit. There are eight booths dedicated to them.
One of the stars of the English scene is Tracey Emin (born in 1963), who addresses in her creations her private life and traumas. One of her large-scale canvases depicting a sketched female body in red monochrome titled “I kept moving” was sold in the early hours of the fair for 1.2 million pounds at White Cube. The Belgian gallerist Xavier Hufkens also parted with a painting by Tracey Emin for 900,000 pounds.
It was also Tracey Emin who recommended that the Frieze organizers showcase Vanessa Raw (born in 1984), who practices a very sensual kind of painting from a female perspective. Her work, which has never been exhibited until now, is made up of large dreamlike landscapes featuring nude, frolicking female figures (on sale for between 16,000 and 26,000 pounds at the Carl Freedman gallery).
This year one of the most successful booths at Frieze London is that of the Tim Taylor gallery. Its owner, Timothy Taylor, has faith in the British market. “I don’t think it is slowing down. We are simply seeing a change of generation among the gallerists, accompanied by a renewed, also younger, audience.” His space is wallpapered with no less than 2537 little original drawings pinned to the walls.
They were made compulsively by the New York artist Eddie Martinez (born in 1977). These are not on sale but serve as a setting for larger, framed works. Presented between 10,000 and 40,000 dollars, the majority were sold on the first day. The painter who works between abstract and figurative can perhaps be seen as an heir to the combined styles of Jean-Michel Basquiat and Jean Dubuffet, plus a touch of cubism. At auction in 2019 one of his works sold for 1.8 million euros. “Artists shouldn’t take into account the prices on the secondary market,” emphasizes the gallerist.
This year Frieze Masters is of a particularly remarkable calibre. As its director Nathan Clements-Gillespie explains, a number of works presented are linked to London’s rich museum landscape. The Tate Modern is staging an exceptional retrospective dedicated to the American painter who moved through figuration and abstraction, Philip Guston (1913-1980).
It is the multinational Hauser&Wirth gallery that is representing Guston’s estate. At their booth, they are exhibiting an ensemble of drawings and paintings on sale for up to 8 million dollars. From the first day an excellent drawing in black and white from 1968, showing a figure who he typically like to mock, a guy wearing a Ku Klux Klan mask, was sold for 600,000 dollars. (See an interview of the daughter of Philip Guston here).
Another multinational gallery, Pace, is presenting a figurative painting by Guston is the artist’s characteristic shades of red, pink and black, depicting a still life, which is in fact a pitcher (on sale for 1.3 million dollars). At auction the record price for Guston, 24.3 million dollars, was obtained in 2021 for a large figurative canvas from 1976. The importance of the American artist in the history of the second half of the 20th century is under review, and on the up.
At the Tate Modern, in the huge hall of the former power station, there are three monumental artworks on show by El Anatsui, an artist from Ghana (born in 1944) discovered at the Venice Biennale in 2007. He is known for using raw materials such as collected bottle tops, which he assembles to create what look like giant curtains. They produce colourful, glittering effects. In other words, how to transform humble objects into precious artworks…
His London exhibition is a showcase of a renewal of his style. Over time, these XXL installations made by many hands in his studio have taken on considerable value. At Frieze Masters his New York gallerist, Jack Shainman, has staged a mini retrospective presenting his old works in carved wood, but also his large-format metal pieces (on sale for 2.2 million dollars).
In a more academic vein, the National Gallery in London is presenting a remarkable retrospective by Frans Hals (1582-1662), the genius Dutch portraitist who was rediscovered in the mid-19th century by the French art historian Théophile Thoré-Burger. Contrary to all expectations, Frieze Masters is presenting a work by Hals at the booth of the Amsterdam dealer Salomon Lilian. It is a portrait of a man on sale for 10 million euros.
28 million for a Rembrandt
But the most expensive canvas at the fair, at 28 million euros, is most likely the one that can be found at the space of the Zurich-based David Koetser: a young Rembrandt. The painting was made in collaboration with Gerrit Dou around 1628, at the time when they both lived in Leiden. It depicts a very dramatized scene from the Old Testament in which a father and his son, Tobias, meet. It is vested with a long pedigree of exhibitions and has belonged to an American collection since the 1970s. It seems to be of a more accomplished aesthetic than another Rembrandt, recently rediscovered, presented by Sotheby’s in London in December 2023 with an estimate of 12 million euros.
Today it is clear that we cannot predict the state of the art market in two months’ time, but contrary to appearances works by the star of the Dutch golden age relatively rarely come up for sale…
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