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|Jitters before New York's art 'gigaweek'|
An exceedingly rare witness to a critical period in Bacons life and career, Pope is estimated to sell for $6/8 Million. Courtesy Sotheby's.
by Scott Reyburn
NEW YORK (NYT NEWS SERVICE ).- New Yorks biannual billion-dollar gigaweek of sales, whose latest series started Monday, is the glittering pinnacle of the auction market for Impressionist, modern and contemporary art. But is instability in the wider world taking off some of that shine?
The weeks various auctions at Christies, Phillips and Sothebys (which in June returned to private ownership) are estimated to raise at least $1.2 billion. But the worlds wealthy will have to be in a free-spending mood to match the $2 billion raised in May at the equivalent spring sales, when Jeff Koons stainless steel Rabbit sculpture fetched $91.1 million, an auction high for any work by a living artist. This time around, there are few museum-quality works by the most famous artists to tempt billionaires no painting or sculpture is estimated to sell for more than $45 million.
First, there isnt a major estate this cycle doesnt have a Rockefeller, said Diana Wierbicki, global head of art law at Withers Bergman LLP, referring to Christies 2018 record-setting auction of the Peggy and David Rockefeller collection. Second, she pointed out, sellers and buyers are confronting the global economic uncertainty from a looming presidential election in the United States, riots in Hong Kong and a Brexit-traumatized Britain.
And owners who could sell are thinking twice about offering trophy works at auction because the 2017 federal tax law removed art from the assets eligible for 1031 exchanges the strategy that allows investors to defer paying capital gains tax on property when it is sold, as long as a similar property is purchased for the same amount. Now people are asking, Does it make sense to sell if Im facing a federal capital gains tax of 28%? Wierbicki said.
A report by the French database Artprice that global auction sales were down 17.4% in the first half of 2019, as well as the closure in July of Pace gallerys branch in Beijing, have also sobered the mood.
Yet there could be a silver lining for buyers with a more modest amount to spend on younger artists and representative pieces by established names.
For most buyers, theres comfort in a season lacking superlatives, said Doug Woodham, managing partner at Art Fiduciary Advisors, based in New York. Inexplicable prices can diminish the confidence of some collectors.
This week about 2,050 works will come under the hammer at the three auction houses, the biggest such offering in New York since November 2015, according to data supplied by Artnet.
These are low risk auctions. There wont be the fireworks weve seen in the past, warned Helly Nahmad, a New York gallerist specializing in high-end Impressionist, modern and contemporary art.
Here is a selection of works from the coming week that might ignite bidding.
Ever keen to give a fresh twist to its 20th Century Week series, Christies will hold a day sale of sculpture and design inspired by animals. La Ménagerie, the 31-lot auction, will include this singular welded brass and copper Hippopotame I which unfolds to reveal a sink, vanity, and full bathtub. It was made by François-Xavier Lalanne, husband of fellow French designer Claude Lalanne.
The quirky creations of Les Lalanne, melding art and design, have since the 1960s been collected by such influential tastemakers as Gunter Sachs, Yves Saint Laurent, Peter Marino and Tom Ford. Last month at Sothebys in Paris, the Lalannes private collection proved a $100 million sellout. Christies hippo bath, made in 1969, was acquired by its East Coast owner at auction in 2006 for $169,000. It is now estimated at $1 million to $1.5 million.
For many, the one out-and-out trophy of the season is David Hockneys rediscovered acrylic on canvas, Sur la Terrasse, offered at Christies Wednesday night postwar and contemporary auction. The $25 million to $45 million estimate makes it the most highly valued lot of the week. (At the time of writing, it hadnt been guaranteed.) The luminous, 9-foot-high composition, suffused with sunlight and a melancholy sense of a fading relationship, depicts Hockneys then-lover, Peter Schlesinger, on the balcony of the couples room at the Hotel La Mamounia in Marrakesh in 1971. They broke up later that year.
This little-known work has emerged from an unnamed European private collection and was last exhibited in public in 1973. The $90.3 million achieved at Christies last November for Hockneys 1972 Portrait of an Artist (Pool With Two Figures) which also featured Schlesinger has encouraged owners to part with major works by Britains most expensive living artist at auction.
I knew of its existence, but this is the first time Ive seen it, said Offer Waterman, a London-based dealer in modern and contemporary art, who in 2015 sold Peter on the Balcony, a crayon-on-paper study for the latest Hockney trophy. Obviously its a very ambitious painting, Waterman added. Theres no question its a great work.
Earlier Wednesday, Phillips will hold its day sale of contemporary art, which tends to be the weeks clearest indicator of which younger artists are most in demand. It will include a 5-foot-high panel painting from 2014 by Harlem-based artist Derek Fordjour. A nocturne showing two male figures standing at the edge of a circus ring, the painting had been acquired directly from the artist and is estimated to sell for between $50,000 to $70,000. That valuation reflects the $40,000 to $90,000 asked for Fordjours latest paintings at a sellout show at the Josh Lilley gallery in London during Frieze Week.
Many buyers are looking to auctions to acquire Fordjours works, and resale secondary market prices are rising steeply. Last month, a 2017 painting sold at Phillips in London for $169,000. The auctions reflect where the speculation is, said Candace Worth, an art adviser based in New York. There is a clutch of younger artists that have become flash points, added Worth, who singled out Fordjour, Julie Curtiss, Tschabalala Self and Loie Hollowell.
Sothebys 51-lot evening sale of contemporary art contains impressive large-scale abstracts by Mark Rothko and Willem de Kooning that are each estimated to raise at least $25 million. The auction also includes a full-length Francis Bacon Pope painting from about 1958, sold by the Brooklyn Museum in order to support museum collections. The work had been donated to the museum in 1981 by American businesswoman and collector Olga H. Knoepke. It is certain to sell for at least $6 million, courtesy of a guarantee from Sothebys.
According to the catalog, the painting was made in Tangier during his violent love affair with ex-fighter pilot Peter Lacy. Most of the paintings from that chaotic period were destroyed, but this was one of six given by the artist to his friend Nicolas Brusilowski, on the understanding that the canvas would be reused.
Brusilowski did not paint over them, but instead preserved them, Sothebys catalog entry said, adding that this Brooklyn Museum gift is included in the artists catalogue raisonné.
However, Sothebys did not mention that Martin Harrison, in his complete catalog of Bacons works, quotes from a letter the artist wrote in 1982 to the Brooklyn Museum. It was a throw-out and it depresses me he did not destroy the image as he undertook and that it has years later found its way onto the art market and I would prefer if it were not exhibited, wrote Bacon.
Sothebys relatively modest seven-figure estimate seems to confirm the artists assessment. At their best, Bacons Velasquez-inspired Pope paintings are among his most celebrated works. In 2007, another full-length example sold at Sothebys for $52.7 million.
Back in July, as protests continued to disrupt Hong Kong, Sothebys managed to produce a remarkable auction result. Knife Behind Back, an unusually large, characteristically stylized painting of a menacing-looking young girl in a red dress by Japanese artist Yoshitomo Nara sold for $25 million. The acrylic on canvas, from 2000, sold for more than five times the artists previous auction high.
It was an extreme symptom of the buildup of interest in his art over the last year, said Robert Manley, deputy chairman and worldwide co-head of 20th Century & Contemporary Art at Phillips. Hes always been quite popular and you just cant get them, added Manley, who pointed out that the six highest auction prices for paintings by the cartoon-influenced Nara have all been achieved this year.
On Thursday, Phillips evening contemporary sale will include a painting by Nara from the same date, titled Little Thinker, showing the same girl with dark bobbed hair, wearing the same white-collared dress.
The Phillips painting is less than half the size of the Hong Kong record-breaker, but with demand for Nara riding high, the $3 million low estimate could quite quickly attract incendiary bidding.
© 2019 The New York Times Company
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