In recent art news, the gap between small galleries and large galleries is widening at a steady pace as a number of small to midsize art galleries have closed their doors since 2012 to present and the numbers are remarkable.  Small to midsize galleries have “long struggled to compete in a field increasingly dominated by mega-galleries with multiple locations, like Gagosian, David Zwirner and Hauser & Wirth.”  This recent trend towards an “intensely commercial and competitive art market has resulted in a critical mass of galleries folding, moving or merging.”

According to Editor-In-Chief Sarah Douglas of Artnews, “[i]n the three years between July 2012 and June 2015, there were only a handful of notable closures—around six. By contrast, the two years between July 2015 and June 2017 saw 25—and 18 of those happened in the past year alone.”  A rundown of some of the significant closures, from 2012 to the present, include as follows:

May–June 2017

Envoy, New York

On Stellar Rays, New York

Acme, Los Angeles

CRG Gallery, New York

January–April 2017

Ibid, London

Vilma Gold, London

Sandra Gering Inc., New York

Limoncello, London

Andrea Rosen, New York

Feuer/Mesler, New York

Susanne Hillberry Gallery, Detroit

Murray Guy, New York

September–December 2016

Mike Weiss Gallery, New York

Mark Moore Gallery, Los Angeles

Young Art, Los Angeles

Kansas, New York

June–August 2016

Lisa Cooley, New York

Robert Miller Gallery, New York

Tracy Williams, Ltd., New York

Rosamund Felsen Gallery, New York

January-May 2016

Clifton Benevento, New York

Thomas Duncan Gallery, Los Angeles

Laurel Gitlen, New York

2015

Mixed Greens, New York

Joe Sheftel, New York

Wallspace, New York

McKee Gallery, New York

2012–14

Churner & Churner, New York

Harris Lieberman, New York

Nicole Klagsbrun, New York

Donald Young Gallery, Chicago

Margo Leavin Gallery, Los Angeles

Some of the reasons behind this widening of the divide between small and large galleries are high-priced real estate in gallery neighborhoods, such as Chelsea, and the rapid expansion of expensive art fairs, where art collectors now tend to do most of their browsing and buying of art. Instead of visiting smaller galleries, collectors are setting their sights on market-tested “trophy works” offered by the major dealers.  Collectors are also buying art through social media (e.g., Instagram) or other online images without even viewing the work in person.  Collectors appear to be less willing to bet on the emerging artists represented by the small to midsize galleries.

For many small to midsize gallery owners, running an art gallery is simply not a sustainable business in the current market hence the steady stream of closures highlighted above.

 

In recent art news, known art fraudster Vincent Lopreto, who previously served time in prison for selling forged Damien Hirst prints, was charged in a Manhattan courtroom yesterday for selling nearly half a million dollars worth of counterfeit Damien Hirst prints over a two year period. Lopreto pleaded not guilty. Two other individuals, Marco Saverino and Paul Motta, have been charged in the alleged art fraud scheme as well. Those individuals are being held out of state.

Lopreto was arrested in New Orleans last week following a recent sting operation by undercover New York police officers, who bought a couple of Lopreto’s counterfeit Damien Hirst prints. Lopreto and the other defendants were selling the fake art work for between $3,000 to $14,000 for each print. Authorities claim that Lopreto had been advertising the “limited edition” prints online with alleged fake certificates of authenticity and purchase receipts.

Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance said in a statement that this case of fraud “went beyond plain imitation” as the defendants had deceived “a multitude of buyers into purchasing counterfeit art that was falsely passed off as genuine.”

If convicted, Lopreto could receive a sentence of up to 20 years in prison.

A Jackson Pollock painting possibly worth over $15 Million was found in a garage in Arizona among other knick-knacks and memorabilia. The painting was located because the homeowner was downsizing and moving to a retirement facility. During the move, a friend spotted a signed L.A. Lakers poster believed to be of value, which prompted review of other items in the garage. The sports poster was determined to be only worth $300 (actually not a bad value for a modern-day poster, which generally does not retain value). In contrast to the poster, the Pollack was taken back to the auction gallery for further examination. After feverishly researching the provenance in an effort to determine how the Pollack could end up in Arizona (where regional southwestern art is king), the appraiser/auctioneer involved, Josh Levin of J. Levine Auction & Appraisal, found a link from the Arizona owner to his half-sister, Jenifer Gordon Cosgriff, who was a New York Socialite.  After tireless research, it has been determined that the painting is a missing Pollack gouache. In regard to authentication, the auction gallery indicates that the forensic report states that “no pigments or binding media introduced in the late 1950s and 1960s have been detected.” Reports indicate that since  the painting was removed from storage it has been restored.  The painting will go to the auction block next week in Scottsdale, AZ with a reported starting bid of $5 Million.

In recent art world news, premier international art fair Art Basel opens later this week on Thursday, June 15, 2017 and runs through the entire weekend in Basel, Switzerland.  In this art collectors’ paradise, modern and contemporary art works will be showcased by nearly 300 galleries from 34 countries.  The world’s leading galleries will exhibit the works of over 4,000 artists and an intensive program of art talks will be offered each day.  Cultural institutions in Basel and the surrounding area will offer exhibitions and events during Art Basel 2017.

Art Basel’s conversations program will feature 23 talks by prominent art world authorities. According to Art Basel’s website, “[t]he series begins on Wednesday, June 14 with the Premiere Artist Talk devoted to Annette Messager and moderated by Dr. Maria Balshaw, Director of Tate, United Kingdom.  Among the other leading artists, gallerists, collectors, art historians, curators, museum directors and critics from across the world, speakers include artist Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster in dialogue with Kasper König, Artistic Director of Skulptur Projekte Münster 2017, and moderated by Hans Ulrich Obrist; artists Candice Breitz and Zanele Muholi who will discuss how young African artists can build recognition for their work; and artist Vadim Zkharov in conversation with Margarita Tupitsyn, Independent Scholar, Critic and Curator, who will present a political discussion on Russian Conceptualism.”

All conversations panels will be live streamed on Art Basel’s YouTube channel and on its website.

Art Basel is being held at Swiss exhibition site Messe Basel, featuring a hall designed by international architects Herzog & de Meuron of Basel.

Art collectors can get a preview of the art works that will be on display at Art Basel 2017 by accessing the online art catalog.

 

 

In recent art world news, Christie’s in New York announced this week that it will auction off 2,000 items from the estate of the late David Rockefeller, who was the last living grandson of American industrialist John D. Rockefeller until his passing earlier this year at 101, and his late wife, Peggy Rockefeller, who passed away in 1996.

Rockefeller was a passionate supporter of the arts throughout his long life and possessed a keen eye for art.  He bought a Mark Rothko painting in 1960 for $10,000 that was later sold at auction in 2007 for $72 million.

The Rockefeller estate may break the record for most valuable collection ever sold at auction with estimates in the $700 million range.  The collection of the late fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent and his partner, Pierre Bergé, set the previous record when it was sold at Christie’s in Paris in 2009 for nearly $500 million.

The auction of the Rockefeller estate will benefit various charities long supported by the Rockefellers, including the Museum of Modern Art, Harvard University, the Council on Foreign Relations, and the Rockefeller Fund.

Christie’s will auction off the estate in Spring 2018 in a number of auctions to be announced at a later date.  The estate includes American decorative arts, Chinese export porcelain, European ceramics, furniture, Impressionist and modern works, and silver.

 

In recent art world news, a prized painting, “La Punta Della Dogana e San Giorgio Maggiore” (1739-40) by the artist Michele Marieschi, has become the focus of a 70-year restitution effort by the Graf family and its heirs that is now being resolved on an ambivalent note.

Back in 1937, Vienna, a couple named Heinrich and Anna Maria Graf purchased a scenic 18th-century oil painting of the Grand Canal in Venice with the Punta Della Dogana in the background.  The Graf family considered the prized painting to be the highlight of their treasured art collection.  The next year, after Austria was annexed by Germany, the Grafs along with their young twin daughters, Erika and Eva, fled the country.  In 1942, by the time the family settled in New York, all the family’s possessions had been looted by the Nazis.

The prized painting will be part of an upcoming old masters auction in July at Sotheby’s in London as a restitution settlement reached between the heirs and a trust on behalf of the now deceased owner.  Sotheby’s has estimated the painting’s value in the range of $650,000 to $905,000.  Though treasured by the Graf family, the painting is not widely considered to be a significant work.

This painful and circuitous history reflects how looted artworks that have been in private hands for decades are coming to market after settlement agreements with the rightful owners, in a way that tries to address their tainted past.  These agreements may not result in the return of the paintings to the heirs, but the compromise does provide at least a form of resolution and some compensation to the heirs, and brings the artworks out of hiding.”

The heirs of the Graf family were not able to have the painting returned to them because the deceased owner and the trust declined to return the artwork.  Instead, an agreement was reached between the parties that includes sharing of the proceeds from the Sotheby’s sale.

The Graf family had been actively searching for the painting since 1946 around the time Heinrich Graf submitted a claim for the work in Austria.  Decades later, in 1998, the two daughters with the assistance of the Art Loss Register, a database of lost and stolen art that also offers search services, posted an ad in The Art Newspaper seeking information on the painting.

In 2013, after the death of the owner of the painting, the artwork fell into a trust.  In 2015, the trust reached out to Art Recovery International, which specializes in the mediation of restitution claims.  It was around this time that negotiations with the Graf heirs began.  The estate of the deceased owner and the Graf family reached the restitution agreement in December.

For further information on this intriguing story, see “After Decades, A ‘Bittersweet’ Resolution Over Lost Art[,]” published online by The New York Times on May 28, 2017.

In recent art news, a vibrant painting of a skull, “Untitled” (1982), by the late artist Jean-Michel Basquiat sold for $110.5 million at Sotheby’s last Thursday evening and earned the distinction of becoming the sixth most expensive work ever sold at auction.  With last week’s sale, only ten other works have surpassed the $100 million mark.

The buyer of the Basquiat painting was Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa who identified himself as the successful bidder through a recent post on his social media account.  In his post, Maezawa said “I am happy to announce that I just won this masterpiece” and added “[w]hen I first encountered this painting, I was struck with so much excitement and gratitude for my love of art.  I want to share that experience with as many people as possible.”

Incidentally, it was Maezawa who set the previous auction high for Basquiat in which he paid $57.3 million for the late artist’s 1982 painting of a horned devil at Christie’s last year.

This latest Basquiat acquisition by Maezawa is intended for a planned museum in his hometown of Chiba, Japan.  Maezawa said in a statement that “[b]ut before then I wish to loan this piece—which has been unseen by the public for more than 30 years—to institutions and exhibitions around the world.”

It remains to be seen as to whether one art collector makes a market as it will take another significant Basquiat work to test the sustainability of this $100 million level.

It was reported that Basquiat’s “Untitled” painting set a number of records last Thursday night at Sotheby’s postwar and contemporary auction of which include “for a work by any American artist, for a work by an African-American artist[,] and as the first work created since 1980 to make over $100 million.”

Last year, according to Artprice, Basquiat became the highest-grossing American artist at auction, generating over $170 million in sales from 80 works, and the artist’s auction high has increased an impressive tenfold in the last 15 years.

Sotheby’s auction last week fetched a total of $319 million against a low estimate of $211 million with 96 percent of the 50 lots sold in which 60 percent of the lots reached prices above their estimates.  Contributing to its success, Sotheby’s had a number of works in the “middle range around $5 million to $10 million” that were attractive to the market.

 

In recent art world news, recent restitution efforts of the Netherlands for returning looted art have come under scrutiny.  Some international critics assert that Dutch policies for restitution of looted art have become stricter once again.

Following World War II marked a “period in Dutch history when a cold cynicism toward Holocaust survivors meant that thousands of masterly works were rescued from the Nazis only to end up as Dutch national property” in which many of the works were displayed in Dutch museums.  The Allies returned about 8,000 to 9,000 works of art that had been found in Germany to the Netherlands.  This represented less than half of the works reported missing by the Holocaust survivor claimants.  By the early 1950s, the Dutch government announced that the restitution process had been completed and had stopped accepting claims – only about 500 to 1,000 works had been returned to their rightful owners at the time.

The Netherlands was once ridiculed for its obtuse efforts at recovery of looted works, but in the late 1990s the country embraced “progressive and pioneering efforts that have led it to be considered a model for enlightened restitution.”  While there were efforts in some European countries after the war to compensate victims of Nazi looting, new scholarship and media coverage in the 1990s persuaded other countries to review their own restitution policies in an effort to improve the restitution process.

In recent years, the country’s restitution policy requires the government panel that determines restitution cases to balance the interests of national museums against the claims by Holocaust survivors or their heirs.  In particular, the policy requires the panel to weigh “the significance of the work to public art collections” against the emotional attachment of the claimant.

As a recent example of the effect of the policy, in 2013, a claim for the Bernardo Strozzi painting entitled “Christ and the Samaritan Woman,” filed by the heirs of a German-Jewish refugee, was rejected because the work was important to the Dutch museum that displayed it.

According to Anne Webber, chairwoman of the Commission for Looted Art in Europe, “[t]he balance-of-interests test means that even if a claimant submits a claim to the restitution committee for a work of art, and even if the panel finds that the claim is good, is right, the claimants don’t automatically get their painting back, nor do they get any remedy.”

Last fall the Dutch culture minister had outlined some planned changes to the country’s current restitution policy, including term limits for members of the restitution panel and the establishment of a “World War II Expertise Center, a centralized contact point for information and research that will open this autumn, as part of the NIOD Institute for War, Holocaust and Genocide Studies in Amsterdam.”

The lapses of the Dutch restitution process after World War II and the Dutch efforts to address them are the subjects of a new exhibition entitled “Looted Art—Before, During and After WWII,” which recently opened on May 12, 2017 at the medieval Bergkerk cathedral in Deventer, The Netherlands.

In recent art news, the Metropolitan Museum of Art (“The Met”) announced earlier this week that it is planning the largest exhibition of Michelangelo works in its history set to open later this year.

The exhibition will be entitled “Michelangelo:  Divine Draftsman and Designer,” and will include 150 drawings, three marble sculptures, the artist’s earliest known painting (“The Torment of Saint Anthony”), and other works, curated from 54 public and private art collections throughout the United States and Europe.  A substantial body of complementary works by other artists will be included for comparison and context.  According to The Met’s website, the “exhibition will examine Michelangelo’s rich legacy as a supreme draftsman and designer.”

The Met presently has three works by Michelangelo, two of which are drawings (“Studies for the Libyan Sibyl,” and “Design for the Tomb of Pope Julius II della Rovere”) and the third, a sculpture entitled “Young Archer,” which is on loan from the French government.  Due to their sensitivity to light, the two drawings are typically not exhibited, but they will be included in the upcoming exhibition.

The anticipated exhibition is scheduled to open November 13, 2017 and will run through February 12, 2018.  The Met’s Curator of Italian and Spanish drawings, Carmen C. Bambach, a specialist in Italian Renaissance art, is organizing the exhibition.

For further information on The Met’s upcoming Michelangelo exhibition, see Exhibition Overview on The Met’s website.

In recent art news, Trinity Church in Lower Manhattan is being sued by a sculptor for relocating his bronze sculpture of the stump and root system of a very large sycamore tree entitled “The Trinity Root” that was formally installed on the church grounds.

In September 2005, the 18-foot-tall work was installed by sculptor Steve Tobin in the church courtyard in the same location where the original 70-year old sycamore tree stood until it was damaged and ripped out of the ground by the seismic impact of the collapse of the twin towers of the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001.

In late 2015, the sculptor discovered that the church had relocated the sculpture to a church-owned site in Connecticut without his consent.  The sculptor had received photographs from the church showing the sculpture with “significant damage” after being told that the sculpture had arrived to the new location in good condition.

The recently filed lawsuit in the Federal District Court in Manhattan alleges that the church violated a law known as the Visual Artists Rights Act (VARA) that gives visual artists rights over their works even when no longer owed by them.  The sculptor’s attorney said that the law “prohibits the removal of sculptures” created to be permanently installed at a specific site.  “This is about the solemn promise the church gave to Steve Tobin when he offered to create that sculpture” and “[h]e offered to create it if the church would give it a permanent place in the courtyard.  The church agreed.”

According to the lawsuit, after the church’s new leader was installed in 2015, he moved “to send ‘The Trinity Root’ away because he did not want non[-]parishioners and ‘hordes of strangers’ to continue to crowd the church’s courtyard.”

The church released the following statement:  “While we have no comment on this litigation, Trinity is pleased to have the sculpture at Trinity’s retreat center, where it will be among a collection of planned sites that will encourage prayerful reflection, remembrance and spiritual transformation.”

For additional information in connection with this suit, see “Fate Of The ‘Trinity Root’ 9.11 Memorial By Steve Tobin To Be Decided In Federal District Court.”