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Thursday, 08 August 2013 20:07

Sotheby’s Profits Rise in Second Quarter

The international auction house Sotheby’s reported that their second-quarter profits rose 7 percent, thanks in part to a $6.8 million net income tax benefit recognized by the company. Sotheby’s said that second-quarter profits reached $91.7 million, or $1.33 a share, up from last year’s profit of $85.4 million, or $1.24 a share. Expenses rose 2 percent to $171.6 million for the auction house.

Bill Ruprecht, Chairman, President and CEO of Sotheby’s, said, “Our business and the market for quality art at the high end continue to be strong. We saw significant sales growth in Impressionist, Modern and Contemporary Art and posted the best results in the market in the vast majority of key sales this spring. We continue to see fierce competition for high-end consignments and as a result, lower auction commission margins.”

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Thursday, 13 June 2013 12:01

Police Bust International Forgery Ring

German police arrested two people and raided 28 locations in an effort to halt a multi-million dollar international forgery ring responsible for selling fake paintings they claimed were by Russian avant-garde artists including Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944). Apartments, business premises, and art galleries in Wiesbaden, Mainz, Suttgart, Munich, and Hamburg were searched by police officers. Over 1,000 items were seized including supposed forgeries and sales documents. Additional searches were carried out in Switzerland and Israel.

The forgers are believed to have sold over 400 works ranging in price from $1,332 to over $1 million since 2005, accruing more than $2.7 million. The two men who were arrested are believed to be the leaders of an international group of six counterfeiters. Private collectors in Germany and Spain acquired most of the fakes sold by the forgery ring.

Confidence in the German art market has been unstable since it was shaken by the largest forgery scandal to date in 2011. Art forger Wolfang Betrachhi was sentences to six years in jail after admitting to painting copies of works by Fernard Leger (1881-1955) and Max Ernst (1891-1976) and then selling them as masterpieces to unwitting collectors.  

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In honor of the 150th anniversary of the Norwegian artist’s birth, two museums in Oslo, Norway will organize the most comprehensive exhibit of Edvard Munch’s (1863-1944) work to date. Munch 150, which is currently on view at the National Gallery and the Munch Museum, includes the artist’s most recognizable works including The Scream, Vampire, and The Dance of Life.

The exhibition spans Munch’s extensive career from his earlier works to his death in 1944. The National Gallery’s show focuses on the artist’s formative years from 1882 to 1903 and the Munch Museum is handling his more mature works, created during the last 40 years of life.

Munch is revered for his visceral works that expertly capture the human condition but his home country did not readily accept him as a distinguished artist. In 1940, just days after the Nazis invaded Oslo, Munch bequeathed his entire oeuvre to the city in order to protect it. After the war, his works were placed in a nondescript building in the city, rarely visited, and poorly guarded.

Since then, Munch has become regarded as a highly important artist; exhibitions have been held across the globe to celebrate the 150th anniversary of his birth and a version of The Scream, the only one in private hands, recently sold at auction for a record $119.9 million, securing his role as a powerful presence in the art market. In addition, Oslo authorities agreed to built a new Munch Museum in a more distinguished building, which is expected to open in 2018.

Munch 150, which includes 270 paintings and drawings, will be on view through October 13, 2013.

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Sotheby’s American Art auction, which took place today, May 22, 2013 in New York, garnered upward of $28 million, surpassing the sale’s high estimate of $24.4 million. Out of the 62 lots offered, 83.9% sold and 93.8% sold by value. This was the third consecutive American art sale at Sotheby’s to exceed its high estimate.

The auction’s top lot was the highly anticipated John Singer Sargent (1856-1925) painting Marionettes (1907), which achieved $5.2 million (estimate: $5 million-$7 million). Best known for his portraits of members of high society, Marionettes is a departure from Sargent’s usual subjects. The painting depicts men from Philadelphia’s large Italian American community performing Sicilian puppet theater at the turn of the 20th century. When Sargent created the work, he was well established and considered to be the preeminent portrait painter of his time. The painting was part of Sargent’s personal collection for over 20 years and was passed down through the artist’s family to the owner who offered the work at Sotheby’s.

Proving the enduring strength of Norman Rockwell (1894-1978) in the American art market, six paintings by the artist sold together for $6.5 million, garnering double their overall high estimate of $3 million. Another work by Rockwell, He’s Going to Be Taller than Dad, was the object of seven bidders desire. The domestic scene of a young boy and his dog sold for $2.6 million, far exceeding its high estimate of $700,000.

At the sale, auction records were set for the modern painter Milton Avery (1885-1965), California landscape painter William Keith (1838-1911), and portraitist Irving Ramsey Wiles (1861-1948).

American art sales continue tomorrow, May 23, 2013 at Christie’s in New York.

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After a whirlwind of auctions last week in New York, which included a historic $495 million post-war sale at Christie’s, Phillips’ Contemporary Art Evening Sale on May 16, 2013 seemed quite subdued. The boutique auction house’s sale garnered $78.6 million and sold 81% by lot and 88% by value.

The highlight of the night was Andy Warhol’s (1928-1987) Pop Art masterpiece, Four Marilyns (1962), which sold for $38.2 million. The sale confirmed that Warhol remains a powerful presence in the art market. During the auction two other Warhol works were sold -- Flowers (1964), which brought $2.4 million and Marilyn Monroe (Marilyn) (1967), which sold for upward of $2 million. Other major sales that night included Jean-Michel Basquiat’s (1960-1988) Untitled (1961), which garnered over $4 million and Roy Lichtenstein’s (1923-1997) Still Life (1972), which also sold for upward of $4 million.

Phillips has undergone a number of changes in the past year. Following the departure of Chairman Simon de Pury in December 2012, the company changed its name from Phillips de Pury & Co. to Phillips. In February 2013, the auction house revealed 10,000-square-feet of new gallery space at the company’s headquarters on Park Avenue in Manhattan. The expansion was an attempt to compete with the major auction houses such as Sotheby’s and Christie’s.

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Wednesday, 10 April 2013 18:29

Christie’s Takes on Mainland China

On Tuesday, April 9, 2013, Christie’s announced that they have been granted a license allowing them to hold independent auctions in Mainland China, making them the first international auction house to do so. The company’s inaugural sale will be held autumn 2013 in Shanghai. Christie’s has been building its relationship with China since 1994 when the auction house set up a representative office in Shanghai.

China’s art market continues to grow at a rapid pace, making it an ideal location for international auction houses. The sale of art and antiques in China garnered $13.7 billion in 2012, making it the second largest market in the world behind the United States. The country’s strong buyer base has been active in Christie’s global auction centers in New York, London, Hong Kong, and Paris. In fact, the number of clients from Mainland China bidding at Christie’s international auctions has doubled since 2008. Christie’s presence in Shanghai will allow the auction house to sell directly to China’s growing number of wealthy buyers.  

China’s auction market is currently dominated by the country’s own Beijing Poly International and China Guardian. Sotheby’s joined forces with the state-owned Beijing GeHua Cultural Development Group last year to hold auctions in China. Sotheby’s own 80% of its venture with Beijing Gehua.

Christie’s recently granted license, which is good for the next 30 years, allows the auction house to hold sales anywhere in China, but prohibits the company from selling anything created before 1949. Christie’s plans to sell wine, jewelry, watches, contemporary Chinese paintings, and international modern paintings starting this fall.

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In 1979 when Jean-Michel Basquiat (1960-1988) was still an unknown graffiti artist, he shared an apartment with his girlfriend, Alexis Adler, in Manhattan’s East Village. Typical of his street art roots, Basquiat covered the space in murals, his signature scrawled crowns, and other artistic markings. The couple split up a year later, shortly before Basquiat rocketed to art stardom. Sadly, his life and career were cut tragically short by a drug overdose in 1988.

Adler, who now works as an embryologist at New York University, eventually purchased the apartment she once shared with Basquiat and never painted over his work. She also held on to the artist’s notebooks, postcards, painted clothes, photographs, and drawings. After three decades, Adler has begun consulting with advisors in regard to her unparalleled collection of Basquiat ephemera. It has been rumored that she is looking to release a book on her never-before-seen collection, which could entail an exhibition and sale, but has not been confirmed by Adler.      

After his death, Basquiat remained a major figure in the art market and he continues to be the subject of highly anticipated exhibitions. Adler’s holdings will no doubt be a welcomed addition to the Basquiat market presence. In an attempt to ready herself for the frenzy that will undoubtedly ensue, Adler has hired Stephen Torton, Basquiat’s former assistant, to represent her in any future sales. Lisa Rosen of Fine Art Restoration is responsible for refurbishing and removing a wall from the apartment that contains a full Basquiat mural and Sur Rodney Sur, the former director of the Gracie Mansion gallery, has already catalogued the 65-plus items in the collection.

Also included in Adler’s remarkable collection is a script for a play written by Basquiat and rolls of 35mm film documenting the artist at work as well as candidly going about his day. The collection offers a rare glimpse of the artist on the brink of unprecedented fame.

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The European Fine Art Foundation, organizers of the venerable European Fine Art Fair (TEFAF), which is held annually in Maastricht, Netherlands, have been discussing launching a new art fair in China with the help of Sotheby’s. While it may seem like an unusual pairing, TEFAF and Sotheby’s are looking to join forces in order to tap into China’s thriving art and antiques market, which raised $13.7 billion in 2012.

Last year, Sotheby’s entered into a ten-year joint venture with China’s state-owned media corporation, Beijing GeHua Cultural Development Group. The collaboration will allow Sotheby’s to utilize the free port that GeHua is developing with the Tianzhu Free Trade Zone in Beijing. The port will serve as a tax-advantaged storage location, which is ideal for foreigners looking to buy high-priced artworks overseas. Sotheby’s is the first international auction house to establish itself in Mainland China.

If TEFAF and Sotheby’s decide to move forward with the fair, TEFAF Beijing will launch in 2014. TEFAF Maastricht, the world’s biggest art and antiques fair, is currently taking place in the Netherlands and will wrap up on Sunday, March 24, 2013.    

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Thursday, 14 March 2013 15:24

Twombly Foundation Involved in Multiple Lawsuits

When the influential American painter Cy Twombly (1928-2011) passed away two years ago, he left the bulk of his artwork and millions of dollars in cash to the Cy Twombly Foundation of New York. The wealth of money and art passed from a trust to the foundation, which is devoted to protecting and promoting Twombly’s legacy. The Cy Twombly Foundation now finds itself embroiled in a lawsuit that was filed on Wednesday, March 13, 2013 in a Delaware state court.

The lawsuit claims that Thomas H. Saliba, one of the four individuals in charge of the foundation, took over $300,000 in unauthorized fees for investment services and assisted another foundation director, attorney Ralph E. Lerner, in pocketing funds. The claim was filed by Nicola Del Roscia, Twombly’s companion and the foundation’s president, and Julie Sylvester, a curator, Twombly expert, and the foundation’s vice president. Roscia and Sylvester also assert that Lerner and Saliba inflated the value of Twombly’s works in order to pad commissions for their own financial gain. Lerner and Saliba have refused to disclose their trustee commissions, making it impossible to determine the extent of their wrongdoing.

The recent lawsuit comes a month after Lerner asked the same Delaware court to appoint Twombly’s son, Alessandro, as a fifth board member in order to break the stalemate over the dispute. Roscia and Sylvester stated in recent court filings that Lerner’s request was an attempt to outmaneuver them. Roscia and Sylvester claim that Lerner hoped to bring Alessandro, the third trustee of Twombly’s trust, on board to help cover up Saliba’s wrongdoing.

While Twombly is a powerful force in the art market, highly inflating the prices of his work could prove dangerous for the foundation by creating confusion about the true value of his art and in turn destabilizing the Twombly market.

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Thursday, 14 March 2013 14:30

U.S. Regains Top Art Market Standing

China’s art market experienced a substantial boom in 2011, bumping the United States out of its top spot and ultimately becoming the world’s principal market for art and antiques. In 2012, amid the uncertain global economy, China’s growth began to slow and its art and antiques market shrank by almost a quarter. This deceleration allowed the U.S. to regain its title as the world’s most significant art market.

The power shift was announced as part of the highly anticipated TEFAF Art Market Report compiled by Dr. Clare McAndrew. McAndrew, a cultural economist who specializes in the fine and decorative art market, is the founder of Arts Economics, a company commissioned by The European Fine Art Foundation to provide a yearly analysis of the worldwide art market. The report coincides with the beginning of TEFAF Maastricht, the Foundation’s annual art fair, which begins March 15, 2013 in the Netherlands and runs through March 24, 2013.

Slowing economic growth and a lack of high quality, high priced items on the market are to blame for China’s slip to the second most influential art market. While auction sales dropped by 30% in China, U.S. sale figures were up 5% to $18.4 billion. In 2012, buyers opted to minimize financial risk by buying works by well-known artists at the top end of the market with Post-War and Contemporary art performing the strongest.

Dr. McAndrew will present her findings at the TEFAF Art Symposium on Friday, March 15, 2013 in Maastricht.

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