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Oct162009

Autumn Fairs Are a Barometer of the Art Market, Yazzy's at www.williamverdult.com

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.”


Those, meanwhile, who believe that the contemporary art market will remain in correction mode for the near future are busily exploring alternative — and perhaps more fruitful — options, which often means taking a step or two back in time.

“Modern art has held up well during this financial crisis,” said Stéphane Custot, co-organizer of the Pavilion of Art and Design, a French-managed design fair running in parallel with Frieze in Berkeley Square in London. The 20th century Modern period “passed the market test with flying colors at the Yves Saint Laurent sale last February, and again at the Modern and Impressionists sales last spring,” he said.

In the past, the Berkeley Square show has focused on 20th century decorative arts and contemporary design, but this year it has opted for a strategic shift into the Modern and classic contemporary niches.

“We decided midsummer to invite Modern art galleries,” said Mr. Custot, whose Hopkins-Custot gallery in Paris specializes in the 20th century. “By September, we had signed on 20 dealers.”

Pavilion exhibitors are looking to tap into what Mr. Custot called “palpable collector’s appetite for the Picasso-Miró-Léger period.”


Prices for modern artists like Calder, Magritte and Miró, according to Mimo Vedovi of the Galerie Vedovi in Brussels, “have continued to climb just as those for many contemporary artists have taken a nose dive. You just need to look at this week’s auction estimates.”

A first-time Pavilion exhibitor, Christophe Van de Weghe, of Van de Weghe Fine Art in New York, said that “too many cutting-edge contemporary artists have lost enormous value. Buyers now want blue-chip works. They would rather spend more money for a bigger name that will still be around in 50 years.”

Mr. Van de Weghe will be showing works by Cy Twombly and Andy Warhol, while Mr. Vedovi is bringing a Lucio Fontana and a René Magritte “not seen on the market in a long time.”

Even FIAC, the Foire Internationale d’Art Contemporain that opens next Thursday, has opted for a Modern slant. The highlight of the fair at the Grand Palais, the main location for the event, will be a specially designed “Modern section” dedicated to a museum-quality group show of 25 early 20th century works brought together by leading dealers — including Gagosian, PaceWildenstein and Acquavella — who are not otherwise participating in the fair’s contemporary section.

“The Modern section is part of the balance we seek between the historical and the most forward-looking art, without forgetting that ‘modern art’ has its foundations in Paris,” said Martin Bethenod, general director of FIAC.

Jennifer Flay, the FIAC artistic director, added that “The idea for this show came from the dealers themselves. Given the rarity of iconic works on the market, to mount a consequential collection of Modern works is difficult.”

Daniel Malingue, a Modern art specialist in Paris, was the driving force behind FIAC’s modern section, an unprecedented collaborative effort that he sees as both a show of force by the world’s top dealers and an innovative marketing strategy.

“We have brought together dealers who are showing the nectar of their stock,” Mr. Malingue said during an interview as a spokesman for the group.

“With the crisis, sellers are shunning the auction houses,” he said. “We will show that galleries can mount an international-scale event of exceptional quality, and that we can sell without the risk of buy-ins.”


PaceWildenstein, which has been absent from FIAC for years, has decided to making a reappearance, in the Modern section, with a “Stabile-Mobile” by Alexander Calder and a painting by Piet Mondrian.

“The Modern section is raising the profile of FIAC,” said Arne Glimcher, founder and chairman of PaceWildenstein, from New York.

“There are plenty of modern art collectors right now in Europe, with more energy and curiosity than in the U.S.,” Mr. Glimcher said.

Mr. Custot also struck a note of optimism. “I am not worried about the future of the art market,” he said. “There will always be those with a passion for buying art.”

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