by Madeleine O’Dea | Source: Art+Auction
The year 2011 delivered three seemingly incredible statistics that confirmed the status of China as a major power in the global art world.
New tastes, new names, and new modes of operating are in play, and no one seriously interested in the art market can afford to ignore the scene any longer. A glance at the numbers tells us that for now, the Asia story is really the story of China. In 2011, China accounted for 41.4% of the world auction market, while the remainder of Asia added only another 1.6% to that total. Particularly noteworthy is the degree to which the Asian Market is driven by auctions. In the USA and Europe, galleries and dealers control a considerable slice of the action, but collectors in Asia seem to prefer to conduct their transactions through an auction house. “People are confident in the auction room,” observes Colin Sheaf, the chairman of Bonhams Asia. “It provides a very public forum, giving you confidence about not just the authenticity of what you are buying but also the level at which you are buying.”
Hong Kong is the world’s third-largest auction market after New York and London. With rock-bottom taxes, zero tariffs on art and most other goods, a well-regarded legal system, and unmatched infrastructure, from banking to transport to communications, the city is a magnet for buyers from across the region.
In 1973 Sotheby’s became the first house to hold auctions in Hong Kong. It would be a decade before Christie’s arrived, opening an office in 1984 and holding its first sales two years later. “Our first auction in Hong Kong realised US$1.8 million with two sales, and we were terribly pleased,” recalls François Curiel, the head of Christie’s Asia. “Fast-forward to 2011: We sold more than US$904 million in Asia with 27 auctions. So within 25 years, we increased our turnover by a factor of more than 500.” Last year Sotheby’s did US$1 billion of business in Hong Kong, scoring a win for the year over its old rival. Sotheby’s also attracted most of the regional limelight with a glamorous series of sales from prestige collections. These set new records and staked a strong claim to three key areas of the Hong Kong market: Chinese contemporary, Chinese ceramics, and so-called fine Chinese painting—traditional ink-on-paper works created in the modern period.
However, the highest price for a Chinese painting was paid not in Hong Kong but on the mainland, where QiBaishi’s A long Life, A Peaceful World, 1946, sold in May 2011 for US$65 million in Beijing. The record indicates the serious challenge from the mainland houses. Hong Kong remains powerful: together Christie’s and Sotheby’s realised almost US$2 billion there last year, and that does not include figures from the raft of smaller houses from Japan, Korea, Taiwan, and Singapore that also did good business in the Harbor City. But Hong Kong is increasingly being tested by the freewheeling auction scene on the main-land, where thousands of houses, not just a handful, are hungry for a piece of the action.
The dynamics of the Chinese mainland auction scene would be familiar to any experienced observer of China’s commercial sector in general. A vigorous and wildly profitable business is dominated by two commercial giants, Guardian and Poly, the former operating on the private business model of Christie’s and Sotheby’s, the latter a classic practitioner of Chinese state capitalism that can draw on the massive resources of a government-owned parent group that enjoys powerful connections. The total annual sales of the Chinese “big two” are more than double those of their nearest rivals, Beijing Hanhai and Beijing Council, whose results are nevertheless sufficiently solid to earn them a place in the Conseil des Ventes top 10. Beyond Beijing, some smaller, serious houses have recently become established in Shanghai and Hangzhou. Farther afield the market is a barely regulated free-for-all, rife with tales of fakery and sharp practice.
Guardian is the mainland’s leading fine-art auction house by revenue, having wrested that position from Poly last year with fine-art sales of US$901.8 million, just ahead of its competitor’s $901.6 million. The house was cofounded in 1993 by Wang Yannan, the daughter of Zhao Ziyang, former general secretary of the Chinese Communist Party, and Chen Dongsheng. A widely respected figure, Wang still heads Guardian. In 1993 the rules of the post Mao economy were being written, and no one was even sure if selling art and cultural relics at auction was legal. Recalling those days, Wang laughs and quotes a Chinese adage that the ignorant have no fear. “The auctions were an immediate success,” she says, “and much beyond our imagination. We were discovering a new market, a younger generation who had never owned an artwork. They couldn’t believe that you could actually get such things with money.”
Guardian thrived by tapping into this yearning to own a piece of China’s cultural heritage. Using Christie’s and Sotheby’s as models, the house built a reputation for reliability and ethical behavior. Having claimed 7.8% of the world’s auction sales revenue in 2011, Guardian is enjoying considerable success.
Poly was founded in 2005 and has followed a markedly different path in its rapid rise to the top of the Chinese auction market. As a state-owned company with extensive resources, Poly has aggressively pursued market share, offering clients liberal financing as well as lending against the value of their collections, holding them as collateral, often to be consigned to sale later. Poly is an arm of the Poly Culture Group, which in turn is a subsidiary of the vast China Poly Group Corporation, one of the most powerful state-owned enterprises to have grown out of China’s policy of encouraging government bodies to trade for profit. Poly was originally an offshoot of the People’s Liberation Army, and defense-related industries remain its commercial backbone. The Poly Culture Group draws on a huge network of influence and connections and is an avid buyer on its own behalf, displaying its art collection in the Poly Museum in Beijing. The group has spearheaded a campaign to repatriate cultural treasures taken from China, particularly works looted from Beijing’s Old Summer Palace by French and British troops in 1860.
Poly experienced stunning success at its debut auction, taking in US$70 million in the fall of 2005. Its growth since then has been phenomenal, and the house has brought a number of prestige collections and lots to auction. When Baron Guy Ullens consigned a scroll by the Song Dynasty Emperor Huizong to raise money for his Ullens Center for Contemporary Art in Beijing in 2009, he chose Poly, in a shrewd political move. Both Poly and Guardian have conducted appraisal weekends in various cities in the West, but they are now aiming to enhance their ability to compete for consignments by opening permanent offices. Guardian inaugurated its premises on Park Avenue last December, and Poly’s New York office opened in March. The two are considering UK locations as well.
There are thousands of houses that operate on the fringes of the market and contribute to what one senior Western auction house executive describes as the “smoke and mirrors” aspect of the Chinese art market story. Auctions in mainland China are poorly regulated. In the absence of a developed legal framework, the major houses are working through their professional body, the Chinese Association of Auctioneers, to strengthen codes of conduct. One curious feature of the sector is the high rate of nonpayment. Last year a survey by the auctioneers association found that an astonishing 58% of lots fetching more than US$1.6 million at auction in 2010 had never been paid for, representing some US$884.5 million in unrealised revenue. Many of these failed transactions may have been phantom sales intended to juice value, while others are thought to represent collusion between consignor and buyer to create fake collateral for commercial loans. It’s hard to see how such scams can work without the knowledge of the auction house.
Clouding the picture further are the self-styled art investment funds that both drive and feed on price rises. Fund buyers are active in Hong Kong salesrooms as well as on the mainland, hunting for bargains that can be resold in short order and undoubtedly contributing to market distortion. Another investment vehicle that enjoys a little more respectability but has an equally distorting effect on prices is the “cultural equity exchange,” which offers fractional ownership of packaged art assets.
Among some auction professionals, a market correction is not seen as a bad development. Toward the end of last year, Guardian cofounder Chen Dongsheng predicted a 40% reduction in the market over the course of 2012. There is a general belief that if some of the heat can be taken out of the Chinese mainland market, a lot of the corruption will evaporate, leaving the field to the more reputable houses, dealers, and collectors.
One of the encouraging signs of the last few years is the emergence of principled collectors in China who are committed to their areas of interest. Auction house specialists Pola Antebi, of Christie’s, and Nicolas Chow, of Sotheby’s, note these collectors tend to have more refined tastes than most of the speculators who have been driving the prices of showier pieces of Qing Dynasty decorative arts to new levels.
Meanwhile, those presiding over the hottest Chinese sector—fine Chinese modern painting—are sanguine. Cheung of Sotheby’s observes that with the runaway growth in this sector, even a 40% correction will leave longer-term investors in good shape. Kevin Ching, the CEO of Sotheby’s Asia, thinks the slackening market is anything but a signal to pull back. “Even if we were to have a massive downturn, we still need to invest. China is going to be such an incredibly important market for us.” In fact, Sotheby’s expanded its premises in Hong Kong in April and plans to take on more staff in Asia as well. Curiel, of Christie’s, is also bullish. “I feel that we have only seen the tip of the iceberg in the growth of the China market. Asia is still an emerging market, and it will take some time to mature.” Both Christie’s and Sotheby’s are keeping a close watch on their mainland competitors, with the result that these age-old Western rivals see each other in a different light. “One thing that has happened over the last 10 years is that we have both realised we cannot just see each other as competitors. However aggressively we go up against each other, we have always competed in the same environment, playing the game by the same rules. We now often have competitors from a totally different environment playing by a different game plan, different rules. That’s the big change.”
The question for mainland operators is whether the game they play is so different that it will hurt them in the long term. Chow, international head of Chinese ceramics and works of art for Sotheby’s, detects a shift. “Recently, I’ve heard from a few clients who have said, ‘normally this is something I would plan to consign in [mainland] China, but now I want to sell through you because I am really afraid of nonpayments.’” When interviewed for this article, the heads of both Guardian and Poly made a point of saying that they wish to learn from the Western big two. As they move to open offices in the West and go up against Christie’s and Sotheby’s more directly for the best consignments, they may find that a level playing field will end up benefiting them as well.
Is there any prospect that collector tastes in Asia will shift to deliver what Sheaf of Bonhams calls the Holy Grail—the sale of Western art to the Asian market? The evidence suggests that the quest will be a long one. Dealers like to imagine the scale of the payday when Chinese collectors routinely buy Western art, but the occasional stories of Asians making top-end purchases in New York or London a few years back or a Gerhard Richter changing hands in Beijing stubbornly refuse to become a trend. The only regional house to publicly test the waters is Korea’s Seoul Auction, which has been holding dedicated sales of Western modern and contemporary art in Hong Kong since 2008 with underwhelming results. Marc Chagall’s Bestiaire et musique, 1969, fetched a creditable US$4.15 million in October 2010, but in November 2011, 20 of 49 lots were bought, including the Jeff Koons cover lot, Smooth Egg with Bow, 1994–2008, and works by Andy Warhol and Candida Höfer. Sotheby’s toured one selling exhibition of Impressionist and modern works to China in 2010 and says it plans to organise more. But the house has declined to release the results from the first foray.
Rather than Western art, a more likely area of growth may be seen in the rise of Southeast Asian modern and contemporary art. According to Artprice’s 2011 survey, Indonesia’s art auction market expanded 39% last year, while Singapore registered a healthy 22% growth. Indonesia is the key market to watch here, powered by impressive GDP growth and the rise of newly rich collectors eager to acquire both Southeast Asian modern masters and, increasingly, the region’s contemporary names.
Despite the emergence of new markets, China looks set to dominate the auction scene far into the future. The variety, depth, and value of its key markets and the sheer scale of the potential collector base suggest that China will be at the head of Asia’s challenge to the historical Western dominance of the fine-art auction rooms of the world.
by Brice Pedroletti and Michel Guerrin | Source: Le Monde
Sotheby’s Asia, which is headquartered in Hong Kong, recently auctioned a Chinese painting from the imperial era. Bidding had reached the tidy sum of US$320,000 and Kevin Ching, the company’s CEO, was on the phone to a client on the mainland. All of a sudden his client made a much higher bid. Ching checked there was no mistake then passed it on to the auctioneer. “It’s part of the process. The Chinese are growing up and getting rich,” says this former corporate lawyer. “We have exuberant customers. They can be very impatient. Even at an auction, they don’t want to waste time.”
In this field, as in others, the Chinese are redrawing the maps. According to Artprice, a specialist in art market information, the volume of sales, just for fine art, at public auctions in mainland China has rocketed in barely 10 years to reach 41% of the global market in 2011: the biggest share in the world.
When a sale of Chinese art is held in Hong Kong, London or Paris the room is full of Chinese buyers. They are taking a keen interest in watches, jewellery and wine, too. A revolution is in progress. “It’s the biggest thing in the art world in 20 years. We have moved from a standoff between the USA and Europe, to a three-cornered confrontation, making it a truly global market,” says Guillaume Cerutti, head of Sotheby’s France.
In 2011, two Chinese artists topped the annual ranking of auction revenue established by Artprice, with about US$530 million for Zhang Daqian (1899-1983), a traditionalist painter and a very gifted forger who spent much of his life in exile, and US$465 million for Qi Baishi (1864-1957), who was favoured by the Communist leadership. Andy Warhol was relegated to third place.
Turning to the 10 most expensive works by living artists in 2011, we find three Chinese alongside Damien Hirst and Jeff Koons. A recent work by traditionalist painter Cui Ruzhuo fetched US$16 million at Christie’s Hong Kong. Hot on his heels come two contemporary art stars, Zhang Xiaogang and Zeng Fanzhi.
The main reason the art market in China is booming is because there are more and more dollar millionaires – 1.1 million in 2011, according to the Boston Consulting Group. But this poses a challenge for Christie’s and Sotheby’s, which have dominated the world market for years. It is a godsend too. The two auction houses are not allowed to organise sales in the People’s Republic, but they have cornered the Hong Kong market, a key centre for Chinese art. Buyers from the mainland now account for 40% of sales by Sotheby’s Asia, up from 4% barely five years ago.
The two companies pride themselves on their expertise, which enables them to control “all the top quality Chinese art”, says Ching.
Although they cannot sell in mainland China, the two companies can exhibit in leading hotels in Beijing and Shanghai, tempting buyers to attend auctions elsewhere. Sotheby’s has just staged its first show in Chengdu and now produces its websites and print catalogues in Mandarin Chinese, as does Christie’s. “For the past two years we have had a Chinese concierge and staff who speak the language to take care of Chinese clients visiting London or New York,” says François Curiel, head of Christie’s Hong Kong.
The new interest in their art displayed by prosperous Chinese has introduced them to other fields. “There is a huge reserve of collectors, and therefore buyers,” Curiel adds. “On their travels they learn about people like the Rothschilds or Rockefellers, and the museums and foundations they founded. They will follow suit, developing an eye for art, taking an interest in art nouveau, photography, furniture and ultimately contemporary European and American art.”
A few rich Chinese artists have been among the first to buy western art. One of them recently contacted French galleries with the idea of building up a collection to explain the development of western painting from the 19th century to Cubism. In Hangzhou, south-west of Shanghai, the China Academy of Art is preparing to host a permanent collection of objects and drawings from Germany’s Bauhaus, acquired in Germany last year for US$72 million.
The market for Chinese art is so huge and diverse that in China it is attracting investors disappointed by other sectors such as the stock market or property investments.
Seven of the world’s largest auction houses are in China. Poly International, the largest rival to Sotheby’s or Christie’s, started trading in 2005. The oldest one, Guardian Auctions, based in Beijing, opened in 1993. A year later CEO Wang Yannan travelled to New York in search of foreign buyers, only to realise that its clients were closer to home. “We still travel abroad, but to find works to take home,” she says.
Last autumn there was a dip in prices fetched at auction. “It’s a good sign,” Wang says. “Things were going too fast. For the past five years profits have doubled annually.”
by Adam Davidson | Source: The New York Times
When Edvard Munch’s iconic painting The Scream went for about US$120 million and became the most expensive artwork ever sold at auction, it seemed like we had reached the climax of a fine-art bubble. After all, from 2003 to 2007, the fine-art market grew even faster than subprime housing. And then it kept on growing, pausing only momentarily during the crisis before hurtling even further upward. Eleven of the 20 highest prices ever paid at auction have occurred since 2008, when the global economy all but collapsed.
Many economists say that art can’t be in a bubble because, frankly, it’s not much of an investment in the first place. Unlike stocks, an artwork’s price reflects numerous nonfinancial intangibles, like the pleasure of owning a painting or, perhaps more important, its ability to signal the owner’s vast wealth and erudition. While stocks can provide an ongoing payment stream and are traded in public markets, art collectors must pay to protect their investments. It’s also much harder for collectors to resell expensive art. Not only is the market opaque, but few artists have real long-term value. Sergey Skaterschikov, who publishes an influential art-investment report, says that no painting bought for US$30 million or more has ever been resold at a profit.
Artwork itself may be a lousy investment, but selling it can be pretty profitable. Because each piece of fine art is unique and can’t be owned by anybody else, it does a more powerful and subtle job of signaling wealth than virtually any other luxury good. High prices are, quite literally, central to the signal. You’re spending US$120 million, in part, to show that you can blow US$120 million on something that can’t possibly be worth that much in any marketplace.
Art is often valuable precisely because it isn’t a sensible way to make money. And perhaps as a result, it has become even more valuable of late. Benjamin Mandel, an economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, has been studying the art market because, he says, “it’s a great way to study asset price valuations.” Mandel read reports suggesting that the market was growing at an unsustainable clip. For one thing, prices have gone up far faster than global GDP.
But then Mandel realised that we had been looking at the market incorrectly. Fine art, he said, is not really part of the overall global economy. Instead, it’s part of the economy of a small subset of the super-superrich, whom some economists call Ultra High Net Worth Individuals. And their economy, unlike ours, is booming. In that alternate world, fine art as a percentage of the economy has stayed stable over the last decade, in part because a flood of new UHNWI’s in China, India and other developing nations has entered the art-buying market with great enthusiasm. In 2003, the sales at Christie’s Hong Kong totaled US$98 million. Last year, they were US$836 million.
The art market is a proxy for the fate of the superrich themselves. Investors who believe that incomes and wealth will return to a more equitable state should ignore art and put their money into investments that grow alongside the overall economy, like telecoms and steel. For those who believe that the very, very rich will continue to grow at a pace that outstrips the rest of us, it seems like there’s no better investment than art.
So how can a thirsty outsider get in on this market’s profits, short of opening a gallery or becoming an expert adviser? That’s the supposed role of art investment funds, like the Fine Art Fund. Fund managers remove the pleasures and ego-stroking that distort the investment principles of art ownership by collecting money — the minimum investment at the Fine Art Fund is US$500,000 — from individuals, much like a hedge fund or asset management firm does. These assets then serve to create something of a virtual art gallery. Managers use art expertise and close industry connections to try to buy art cheaply, sell it high and return the profit to their investors.
In this sense, the current art market seems a lot like the Gold Rush. In the late 1840s, there were tons of people who wanted to find gold, but it was mainly the middlemen, who sold the pickaxes and gold pans, who made money. And right now, the world is going to need a lot more pickaxe salesmen — advisers, consultants, gallerists, buyers. One confident art-fund manager told me that his pitch is simple: there are only around 3,000 top-quality items sold each year and more than 3,000 people want them. The number of buyers is growing faster than the amount of art.
The pitch is great, except that many art funds have collapsed. That’s because art isn’t gold, or any other commodity in which units can be evaluated objectively. The value of any artist’s work is determined by an insider world of cultural arbiters who coordinate with one another. They know long before the rest of us which new artist is going to have a big show, who is going to be trashed in a review or whose piece was just sold privately for a small fortune.
Because the art market isn’t regulated like financial securities, insider dealing is generally not illegal. In fact, being a truly influential insider is so rewarding that the slots are zealously guarded. Larry Gagosian, perhaps the world’s most influential gallery owner, needs a nearly impossible combination of skills — deep art knowledge, master salesmanship, charm, ruthlessness, financial savvy and the respect of the artists themselves — to maintain his edge and root out competition. When you start a consulting service or invest in an art fund, you are an outsider seeking to make money in a shadowy market filled with brilliant insiders just like him. No wonder it rarely works.
by Naman P. Ahuja | Source: The Hindu
Last week’s headlines on the arrest of an art dealer who allegedly smuggled Indian artefacts abroad raise important issues about the preservation and protection of our heritage. Is heritage something that belongs to the land of India or to the people who identify with it? If it is the latter, then the vast numbers of Indians living in the United States, UK, Canada and elsewhere in the world may well make a strong case for the right to own the sacred images which they may have inherited from their grandmother’s puja rooms, which, currently classified as antiquities, can only be ‘smuggled’ abroad. Or, should those who come originally from areas outside modern ‘India’ seek permission from Pakistan to own the images in our puja rooms? None of this even raises the matter of people who are not of South Asian origin and who wish to own Indian art. If, on the other hand, heritage is bound to the land of the Republic, then its erudite citizens must ask why so few smugglers of their heritage have been brought to book.
Catching one person every eight to ten years is in fact reflective not of the success, but of the failure of the present laws. Actually, a vast network have channelled Indian art out of the country. This is irrespective of the fact that those links in the chain that operate in India have been dealing in antiquities which, since the promulgation of the Antiquities and Art Treasures Act of 1972, may only be traded by licensed vendors and owned by those who have registered them with the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI). And of the ones who have traded them abroad, we have managed to arrest few of the smugglers, although thousands of art works have actually left India’s shores. Perhaps the larger question then is not how we can increase policing of the borders, but focus instead on why so many Indian art treasures continue to leave the country? Are there no takers for them among liberalised India’s many millionaires?
The crux of my argument is that apart from the need to develop more professional and larger cadres of art historians, conservators and archaeologists to man our sites and museums so that heritage can be safeguarded and maintained, policymakers must equally urgently think about what measures can be brought in to encourage the collection of antiquities and retention of artefacts in India.
The urge to collect art is as ancient an impulse as is the urge to make art; a strong and strongly regulated domestic market for Indian antiquities is the best means to curtail the illegal export of art. If art fairs, auctions and dealing in Indian antiquities are incentivised in India, a domestic market will be encouraged so that the only markets that presently thrive, that is, the markets abroad, are stemmed. A beginning has been made in this regard with the issuing of licences for recent public sales of art to a handful of dealers, but much more needs to be done in this regard for it to percolate to middle India.
That there are many Indians who are willing to buy art is amply shown by the unprecedented rise of the Indian market for modern and contemporary art. As this market has grown more transparent, it has elicited more buyers, sellers and artists, and has been growing exponentially. Meanwhile, the market for antiquities has been shrouded in mystery with covert dealings, money laundering and the illicit trade in national heritage. While there are no systematic figures for what this market nets every year (which is itself part of a wider problem) conservative estimates for the sale of just contemporary art in the Indian metropolises alone were well over Rs. 500 crores annually between 2000- 2010 and, according to some figures, the projected worth of the Indian art market in 2006, was Rs. 2000 crores.
That slump has largely lifted now, but none of these published figures factors in the value of antiquities. Nor can they account for the illegal trade. All that can be said is that the commodity market in the grey area usually reflects sales figures which are much higher than the legal market. Since the year 2000, Indian art has appreciated a staggering 10 per cent faster annually than the stock market. Yet significant aspects of this market need careful examination, lest it be reduced to a bubble which, on account of ineffective policy, soon bursts.
The paradox is that laws made to protect heritage have now become self-defeating. It is illegal, at present, for an individual with a keen eye who happens to spot a historical object to acquire it unless he can first verify that the vendor is licensed. The first links in the chain, however, have no legal means to sell the objects they find, setting off a cascade of illegal activities.
Should Indians wish to own antiquities, they must register them with the ASI. Registration, collectors across India claim, is a cumbersome process. The extensive paperwork apart, the law demands that changes in the ownership of registered items must be notified to the ASI, that the ASI should be permitted to enter your home to inspect the registered items every three years. Furthermore, if the state wishes, it may compulsorily acquire an antiquity in a private owner’s hands. All of this is a disincentive for Indians to build collections of antiquities.
The methods of compensation when the Government decides to invoke Section 19(2) of the Act and compulsorily acquire an antiquity are blatantly unfair because the owner of the artwork is forced to surrender it at a price established by Government appointed nominees who are, at best, ill-equipped and not adequately conversant in art prices and at worst, acting at the behest of vested interests.
Compensation laws and compulsory acquisition invariably bring to mind the all too famous case of 1979 when the trustees of the Nizam of Hyderabad’s jewels were forced to accept arbitration under a compromise agreement with the Government of India to sell the art for Rs.218 crores – a figure very much below real value in the international market. Considering movable property like jewellery forms part of women’s traditional wealth, considering also that many tribal and nomadic communities may have a communitarian sense of land but value their material possessions highly and the fact that artefacts, paintings and jewels can command prices in the same league as land, a comparison with a similar situation with the Land Acquisition Act is appropriate. After all, a painting by Amrita Shergil achieved Rs. 6.9 crores in a public auction in Delhi in March 2006. And while the abuses and failings of the Land Acquisition Act, we all know, have come under severe scrutiny, art, which is of the same value and importance, seems yet to be a matter that Parliament will find time to debate on.
As part of the endeavour to create a legitimate domestic market, we will have to create the knowledge base that will allow proper assessment of objects and we will have to spend great effort in preserving and protecting our archaeological sites. And it goes without saying that in addition to a robust domestic market we also need first-rate public collections in well-tended museums. Museums and private collections are not at odds with each other; across the world the generosity of private collectors has been the mainstay of museums.
The preservation of culture has always depended on both private and public collecting. In a country where the pace of development and population growth are heralded as one of the highest in the world, one wonders if the knock on effect of these realities is being factored into the staffing needs for the ASI?
Rather than recognising the deep root of why Indian artefacts continue to get exported, policy-makers remain content with the level of petty policing of ‘smugglers’. The biggest casualty over the past two generations however, has been of the loss of the knowledge base about Indian art history. This significant crisis in the discipline has meant there are few trained people today to fill the many vacant posts in our museums. Without the museums and teachers, the even bigger casualty of course, is the extent of indifference and visual illiteracy that has spread across the country; where heritage seems not to matter in any tempered civilisational discourse, but is mobilised for the worst kind of jingoism or right-wing agendas.
Smugglers may peddle in heritage, but the inaction of our policymakers threatens to destroy it forever.
Source: News Track India
A curious dichotomy has gripped the art auction market with a sudden boom in sales at record prices even as economies in Europe, the USA and India log a slump in growth. A new generation of buyers is opening up its purse strings to acquire rare and high quality works. A quality consciousness rarely seen before is driving art auction markets worldwide as new segments of buyers - collectors and private archives - have emerged.
Art market analysts say the phenomenon is a consequence of the caution imposed on buyers after the price bubble in the investment driven market burst post the 2008 economic slowdown. It resulted in a steep crash in art prices by as much as 30% in developing countries like India.
A bulk of the over-hyped new art that was doing repeated auction rounds on the pretext of emerging talent was flushed out of the market in the deluge of depreciating prices and ensuing price corrections. When “the markets showed signs of resurgence in late 2010, prices of art by the masters had remained largely unscathed in the two years of the economic chaos”, said a Mumbai based art critic, who did not want to be named. ”The old masters, modernists and contemporary pioneers are still commanding steady prices in the auction market. In hindsight, nothing has really changed in the echelons, which is controlled by the masters,” the analyst told IANS.
According to Alex Bell, co-chairman of Sotheby’s Old Masters Paintings Worldwide, these are exciting times for the old masters and the British painting markets.
At an auction of Old Masters’ and British Paintings in London which realised £32,268,650, the top lot was a 350-year-old historic naval scene, The Surrender of the Royal Prince During the Four Days Battle of 1st-4th June, 1666, by Willem van de Velde (the younger) which sold for £5.3 million. A drawing of the grand canal of Venice by 18th century Italian master Canaletto, acquired from a private collection, sold for nearly £2 million, a spokesperson for Sotheby’s said.
Bell said Sotheby’s has been seeing strong prices in extremely dynamic sales in which collectors “were prepared to go head-to-head for the very best works. The auction market was also attracting an encouraging number of new clients and strong participation from new markets,” Bell said.
In a dramatic bidding on the telephone June 20, Sotheby’s sold a 1927 European classic, Peinture (Etoile Bleue) by Spanish artist Joan Mirò for £23 million. Helen Newman, chairman of Sotheby’s Impressionist and Modern Art Department in Europe, said the sale reinforced the unprecedented demand for the best examples of 20th century art. ”The masterpiece by Mirò not only shattered the previous record for the artist set four months ago but made more than three times it achieved five years ago,” Newman said.
The South Asian modern and contemporary art segment continues to be ruled by a club of 20 elite, which includes masters like Tyeb Mehta, S. H. Raza, F. N. Souza, Manjit Bawa, M. F. Husain, Ram Kumar and Anjolie Ela Menon and historic legends like Jamini Roy, the Tagore brothers (Abanindranath and Rabindranath), Nanadalal Bose and old Bengal masters, experts say. Two early 20th century artists - S. H. Raza and V. S. Gaitonde - created a new auction record June 22 at Saffronart when their art sold for US$585,000 and US$527,500 respectively.
According to Hugo Weihe, Christie’s international director of Asian Art, the collectors’ base for South Asian is expanding with “bids from collectors, institutions and dealers from Southeast Asia, India and the Middle East to Europe and the US at strong prices in auctions”.
At an auction of South Asian modern and contemporary art in Christie’s June 11, a painting from the “Mahishasura” series by Tyeb Mehta sold for £1,385,250, setting a record. ”I had predicted two years ago the hype will die out and only those who have proven themselves will survive. It is about demand and supply. When you don’t get quality art, rare and historically rare art in the market, prices automatically rise,” Kolkata-based auctioneer Vikram Bachhawat told IANS.
Heritage artists are naturally in demand and buyers are ready to pay any amount, he added.
by Alissa de Carbonnel | Source: Reuters
Russian billionaires are famous for being big buyers of contemporary art, bolstering sales in capitals across the West, but at home it’s a different story. Dejected by Vladimir Putin’s return to power, many of Russia’s glitterati have left, turning their backs on a fledgling modern art market that may now have to seek help from the state - the people who scared off its potential patrons.
“These collectors who left en masse, they are people who saw that not only is there a suffocating situation but that it will continue for a minimum of six years,” gallery owner Marat Gelman said, referring to Putin’s return to the Kremlin for a third term. “They are not seeing their future in Russia.”
Gelman was at the forefront of a movement to pioneer Moscow’s first contemporary galleries in the 1990s, setting up his Gelman gallery alongside the Aidan and XL galleries to cater to the rich and famous seeking trophies of their wealth. But those trailblazers now say their regulars have largely left Russia, leaving their luxury market in the hands of rich bureaucrats, who neither want to draw attention to their wealth or spend on art that is often critical of the Kremlin. “When the richest people are bureaucrats - deputy ministers, the children of governors, the wives of mayors - then these people are ashamed of their wealth,” Gelman said. “They would rather buy some expensive yacht far from everyone.”
Each of the three trendsetting galleries is changing in its own way to respond to plummeting sales but they joined forces last month to communicate their message: to survive, modern art in Russia needs state support. “We cannot stay silent. Russian art needs help,” said Yelena Selina, whose XL Gallery is a stalwart of the Frieze, Art Basel, Fiac and Miami Basel international art fairs. ”Huge amounts of (state) money are being spent on creating a positive image of Russia. Modern art is a great calling card.”
But her decision and that of Gelman gallery to move to a non-commercial format met with scepticism from other artists who said the state would do little more than sap the oxygen from a milieu that strives to be provocative.
President Dmitry Medvedev’s decision to step aside for Putin after just one term crushed the hopes of many entrepreneurs and art collectors who had invested in his promise to modernise the economy, fight corruption, and allow the opposition more say. For many who left, it drew back the curtain on his image as a Western-leaning reformer to show Putin pulling the string.
Viktor Bondarenko, one of the country’s top collectors of contemporary and other Russian art, said that while he had not joined the stampede out of Russia, he had lost faith in reforms and sent his three children abroad. ”Modern art is the hope of the country in modernisation and innovation,” he said.
Roughly 1.25 million Russians have left the country in recent years, according to data released last year by the state Audit Chamber, which tracks migration via tax revenues.
It comes as a shock to Moscow’s globetrotting elite that Moscow’s once-thriving galleries are losing money while in the West, stuck in an economic downturn, sales are healthy.
Aidan Salakhova of Aidan Gallery says she made about half as much last year compared to sales in 2003, when the launch of the Moscow Biennale of Contemporary Art put the city on the cultural map and galleries mushroomed - many launched as vanity projects by the girlfriends and wives of Russian oligarchs. Salakhova said her total profit last year after expenses was US$60,000 - a paltry sum in the billion-dollar sector.
Gallery owners say wealthy Russians are increasingly snubbing homegrown artists for more established Western names, both as a surer investment and a status symbol abroad. ”It’s no secret, all the collectors have left. Their children, the next generation of potential collectors, are at school in London … to socialise they are buying famous Western artists,” Selina said. “The market here is frozen because of the unclear political situation.”
Sales have also been hurt by an upsurge in political art, inspired by and feeding into a wave of mass street protests against Putin’s 12-year rule. The shift has sparked controversy after a top Russian art prize was awarded to a non-commercial project last year. Radical art collective Voina (War) won the US$13,600 Innovation Prize by the state National Centre for Contemporary Art for a painting of a giant phallus on a cantilever bridge in St. Petersburg that rose to face the offices of the Federal Security Services, successor to the KGB. The group’s leaders were jailed last year for another street protest but bailed out by British street artist Banksy.
“What can you expect from the state when in the best of scenarios some secretary of a deputy, deputy minister of culture attends the Art Moscow opening?” asked Pierre-Christian Brochet, a French publisher and collector of modern Russian art. ”There is a respect for modern art in the West, here I have never seen any sign of that support that you are hoping for,” he told gallery owners during a round table held at Vinzavod.
by Phoebe Taplin | Source: Russia Beyond the Headlines
What is the latest must-have for Russia’s oligarchs? Not one painting, but an entire collection of Russian art. A new generation of collectors has emerged, with a focus on traditional areas of the market. For some, quantity of paintings is almost as important as quality.
On April 24 2012, Ivan Aivazovsky’s View of Constantinople and the Bosphorus sold for more than US$5.2 million, breaking yet another record in the booming world of Russian art.
Aivazovsky, born in 1817 to a poor Armenian family in the Crimea, became known for his luminous seascapes, encompassing moonlit shipwrecks, flaming sea battles or fishermen at dawn. Tsar Nicholas I appointed him official artist of the Russian Navy and he made eight trips to Turkey in the second half of the 19th century. The 1856 View of Constantinople, with its watery path of golden light and harbour-side mosque in the setting sun, is a classic of the genre that made the painter famous. Its sale, after a lively bidding war, for nearly three times the estimated price to an anonymous buyer on the telephone, suggests the market is still buoyant and collectors have money to indulge their passions.
Ivan Samarine recalls “pulling that painting out of a cupboard in Helsinki back in 1995 and thinking ‘wow.’” Samarine is one of the foremost experts on Russian art. Together with the late John Stuart, he ran the Russian department at Sotheby’s and created the Russian Art Consultancy, building up the market internationally. He wrote an illustrated book about Aivazovsky, Seas, Cities and Dreams. Samarine describes the record-breaking painting, which was valued at around US$400,000 back in the 90s, as “arguably the most beautiful Aivazovsky in private hands.”
Collectors have spent US$702 million on Russian art at Sotheby’s auction house in the last 5 years. Joanna Vickery, Sotheby’s Senior Director and London head of Russian art talks about the “enormous financial muscle” of Russian collectors and says: “Russia has experienced a re-awakening of collecting over the past decade which is almost unparalleled.” These new enthusiasts are “business people, oligarchs, and others who have become wealthy in post-soviet Russia. Most are highly-cultured, knowledgeable and well-educated, and live both in Russia and abroad.”
Vickery attributes the recent string of broken records, especially for 19th century Russian artists, partly to the on-going financial turmoil, observing “people seem to prefer to focus their resources on traditional areas of the market.” The avant-garde continues to be “in massive demand and is likely to only gain in popularity,” Vickery predicts, adding: “remember Russians such as Malevich, Kandinsky and Goncharova were among the art pioneers of the 20th century which has left a golden legacy for today’s collectors.”
In 2010, Christie’s sold a painting by avant-garde artist Natalia Goncharova for nearly US$11 million, making it the most expensive work by a female artist ever to be sold at auction. There is competition not only for larger pieces; Macdougall mentions last December’s record price for a work by the artist and Ballets Russes designer Leon Bakst, which also set a new high for a Russian work on paper. It sold for more than 20 times the estimate.
William Macdougall founded Macdougall’s auction house, specialists in Russian art, in 2004. “When two collectors really want a work,” Macdougall said, “there is no obvious limit.” The top end of the art market has been surprisingly resilient to the crisis, bouncing back since April 2009 despite the Lehman Brothers’ bankruptcy a few months earlier. The Sotheby’s summer sale in 2009 saw four new records set.
Some critics argue that accessible artists like Aivazovsky and Kustodiev are an easy choice for those with more cash than taste. There are also rumors of collectors buying in bulk with an eye to quantity as well as quality. Amassing huge art collections is nothing new in Russia. Samarine points out that Catherine the Great set an example for today’s oligarchs and billionaires to aspire to when she bought up art to create the galleries that still form the basis of the world-famous State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg.
Russian tycoon and Chelsea FC owner Roman Abramovich was included the list of 2010’s Top Ten world’s most active art collectors by ARTnews magazine, published on June 22 2011. Former Chukotka Governor Abramovich certainly has a nose for contemporary art, having spent millions on paintings by Francis Bacon and Lucian Freud.
Roman Abramovich, who since 2008 has been buying the world’s most expensive artists and helping with Moscow’s Garage Center for Contemporary Culture, is on the list together with several Americans: investment banker Leon Black with his wife Debra; philanthropists Edythe L. and Eli Broad; hedge fund manager and the founder of SAC Capital Advisors Steven A. Cohen and his wife Alexandra; and US businessman, board member of the Hirshhorn Museum and the National Gallery of Art, Mitchell Rales. Major European collectors who also made it into the Top Ten are: the owner of a major luxury goods conglomerate LVMH Bernard Arnault and his wife Helene; and PPR retail company owner Francois Pinault. Other countries are represented by Saudi Sheikh Saud bin Mohammad bin Ali al-Thani, and Hong Kong billionaire Joseph Lau.
Another Russian, oligarch Oleg Baibakov, who founded the Baibakov Art Projects gallery of modern art headed by his daughter Maria, was included in the extended version of the Top 200 most active art collectors.
Also on the bigger list are: Ukrainian businessman Viktor Pinchuk; composer Andrew Lloyd Webber; artist Damien Hirst; advertiser Charles Saatchi; fashion designer couple Miuccia Prada and Patrizio Bertelli; and Prince of Liechtenstein Hans-Adam II with his wife Maria.
Journalists from ARTnews interviewed collectors, art dealers, auctioneers, directors of museums, curators and advisers from 22 countries to make the 20th list of its kind. The interviewees were also asked about the state of the market following the credit crunch. “As things get better, people with wealth come back into the art market and it gets better faster than the overall economy. And when things deteriorate, our business deteriorates even faster than the global economy. It’s faster on the way up and faster on the way down,” Sotheby’s CEO William Ruprecht was quoted as saying.