Autumn Fairs Are a Barometer of the Art Market, Yazzy's at

Van de Weghe Fine Art, New York "The Golfer (John D. Rockefeller as a Golfer)," 1927, by Alexander Calder Over the next two weeks, the post-summer contemporary art fairs, Frieze in London and FIAC in Paris, will provide a fresh reality check on the health of contemporary art according to the New York Times.

Results at the two fairs, together with contemporary art sales this week by Christie’s, Sotheby’s and Phillips de Pury & Co. — expected, on the basis of pre-sale estimates, to be down about 80 percent from equivalent sales last year — could put a brake on a cautious return of optimism to the art market.

With 164 participating art galleries, Frieze is betting on the appeal of novelty with a new section titled Frame, where 29 galleries less than six years old will showcase emerging talent from “less well-known territories, ranging from Australia to Lithuania,” according to organizers of the fair.

“Applications to the new Frame section were so strong we were able to almost double the anticipated size of the section,” the fair co-directors, Amanda Sharp and Matthew Slotover, said in a press statement ahead of the opening.

Still, putting that into context, for this seventh edition of the annual fair, Frieze counts 24 newcomers against 40 dropouts. The ice in the contemporary art market has not quite thawed.

That has been reflected in the current round of contemporary art auctions. Opening “teaser” sales in New York brought in a tepid $4.4 million for Christie’s during a Sept. 23 sale and $5.5 million for Sotheby’s a day later, well below last year’s already weak takings — $6.5 million and $10.5 million, respectively.

The combined low estimates for larger sales in London this week, at £20.8 million, or about $33 million, are a fifth of the low estimate last year of £107 million for the equivalent sales, according to figures published by the two houses.

Ever alert to Zeitgeist, the Frieze organizers have captured the ambient humility in an opening debate questioning whether contemporary art is “elitist, confusing and irrelevant,” and “peddled by unskilled charlatans conning the general public.”

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Art experts find possible new da Vinci: Yazzy's at

Experts believe they have identified a new Leonardo da Vinci — in part by examining a fingerprint on the canvas according to the Associated Press.

Peter Paul Biro, a Montreal-based forensic art expert, said Tuesday a fingerprint on what was presumed to be a 19th-century German painting of a young woman has convinced art experts that it's actually a da Vinci.

Biro said Canadian-born art collector Peter Silverman bought "La Bella Principessa" at auction in 1997 for about $19,000. One London art dealer now says it's worth over $150 million.

If experts are correct, it will be the first major work by da Vinci to be identified in 100 years.

Biro said the print of an index or middle finger was found on the painting and that it matched a fingerprint from da Vinci's St Jerome in the Vatican. Biro examined 3-D images of the painting taken by the Luminere Technology laboratory in Paris. The lab used a special 3-D digital scanner to show successive layers of the work.

"Leonardo used his hands liberally and frequently as part of his painting technique. His fingerprints are found on many of his works," Biro said. "I was able to make use of multispectral images to make a little smudge a very readable fingerprint."

Technical, stylistic and material composition evidence also point to it being a da Vinci. Biro said there's strong consensus among art experts that it is a da Vinci painting.

"I would say it is priceless. There aren't that many Leonardo's in existence," Biro said. He said he had heard that one London dealer felt it could be worth 100 million British pounds (more than $150 million).

Asked what Silverman's reaction was when he found out about the fingerprint, Biro said: "There was already a fairly good consensus about the piece before I was asked to consult on this case. Peter's reaction was that the fingerprint was the icing on the cake. Those were his words."



Recap: Christie’s Scraps Plans for Art-Investment Fund, Loan Division; Yazzy's at

(Bloomberg) -- Christie’s International has scrapped plans to start an art-investment fund and a lending division, according to two people involved with the projects. The move is another sign that the global economic slump is hurting the once-booming art market.

At least seven employees working on Christie’s financial projects have been fired or have left the London-based auction house since December, the people said.

Christie’s spokesman Toby Usnik wouldn’t comment on the status of the investment fund or lending operation. He said “a handful of employees in financial services” have left the company this year, though he wouldn’t give specific numbers.

The auction house, owned by French billionaire Francois Pinault, reported a 35 percent sales decline in the first half of 2009. Christie’s announced “significant staff reductions” in January and another round of cutbacks in June without disclosing specific figures or names.

“Christie’s retrenchment, and the continued paring down of financial officers and staff is symptomatic of the state of the art market,” said Peter R. Stern of McLaughlin & Stern LLP, a lawyer who specializes in art issues. “These actions are necessary if the auction houses want to survive.”

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Recap-Madoff Investor’s Art Dealer Got $26.5 Million in Rothko Sale, Yazzy's at

J. Ezra Merkin, whose Ascot Partners LP invested billions with convicted Ponzi schemer Bernard Madoff, sold his Mark Rothko-packed art collection for $310 million last month to a still-unknown buyer, according to court filings According to Bloomberg News.

The sale generated $37.5 million in fees and left art dealers also puzzling over the identity of Merkin’s agent, named in court documents as “TLIA, LLC.”

That mysterious entity received $26.5 million for its role in the transaction.

According to the Commercial Recording Division for the State of Connecticut, TLIA, LLC is registered to 83-year-old retired art collector and adviser Ben Heller. Heller, reached by phone at home, declined to comment.

PaceWildenstein, the gallery representing the Rothko estate, received $11 million as agent for the anonymous buyer. Andrea Glimcher, a gallery spokeswoman, declined to comment.

Art dealers and advisers were reluctant to carp, but conceded that the commissions seemed steep.

“On the face of it, without having all the facts, it does seem high,” said art adviser Liz Klein. “The seller’s fee does seem high, compared with what Pace made.”

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Saving a Folk Artist’s Paradise ,Yazzy's at

Erik S. Lesser for The New York Times
The rundown World’s Folk Art Church in Pennville, Ga., built by the folk artist Howard Finster.

According to the New York Times, To understand how Howard Finster, a Baptist preacher and bicycle repairman, became one of the most notable folk artists in the world, it is worth a visit to where it all started: the tiny white wooden house in this hamlet, tucked into the state’s northwestern corner.

It was in the Howard Finster Vision House, a name it has acquired since his death in 2001, that Mr. Finster said he was directed by God to stop repairing bicycles and paint “sermon art.” And it was here, years later, that he made a “garden of paradise,” a sprawling art environment he lovingly tended for 30 years that many consider to be his greatest work.

In these Paradise Gardens, as they are now called, Mr. Finster salvaged and transformed everyday objects into whimsical statues, mosaics and playhouses. He collected and saved so much junk for his art projects at one point that he had to make a deal to appease his wife, Pauline. She could have the front half of the house and its tidy front porch, if he could have the back of the house and its garden.

Today it is Mr. Finster’s legacy that seems divided, almost along those same boundaries.

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