In recent art world news, Sotheby’s announced that England-based street artist Banksy’s iconic Girl With Balloon (2006), which infamously shredded itself moments after being sold at auction in London earlier this month, has been officially sold to an unidentified art collector who has decided to go through with the purchase.  Sotheby’s added that the partially shredded work is actually a new work, entitled Love Is In The Bin (2018), and such new work will be added to the buyer’s art collection.  Banksy’s authentication body, Pest Control, has issued a certificate for the new work.

Banksy’s Girl With Balloon was shredded (by a shredder built into the frame) via remote control by a person in the salesroom immediately after being sold at auction for $1.4 million.  This has sparked a debate as to whether the destruction was staged and whether the auction house was involved in the artist’s prank.  Banksy’s longtime agent, Steven Lazarides, said the artist likely had not cooperated with Sotheby’s as “[h]e’s not going to collude with an institution.”

Sotheby’s head of contemporary art, Europe, Alex Branczik, said in a statement that “Banksy didn’t destroy an artwork in the auction, he created one.”  Branczik called the destruction of the work a “surprise” and added that Love Is In The Bin is “the first artwork in history to have been created live during an auction.”

The auction house had recently shown Love Is In The Bin at its London galleries.  Sotheby’s concluded its media release with the following statement:

Banksy has a history with pranking art establishments, having previously pulled stunts in the Louvre, Tate Britain, the British Museum, the Museum of Modern Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Natural History Museum.  Sotheby’s now joins that long and distinguished list.”

In recent art world news, over the summer art dealer David Killen purchased a storage locker in New Jersey containing 200 works of art for $15,000 after hearing about it and taking a cursory look before completing the sale.  This was nothing out of the ordinary for the art dealer as every month he purchases hundreds of art prints, antiques and kitschy knickknacks to sell at his New York City based auction house, David Killen Gallery, in Chelsea.  After the delivery arrived, some of the notable items included a tube labeled “WARHOL” (though no artworks were inside), and three boxes labeled “DE KOONING” that produced six paintings on paper, some of which were stuck together.  The de Kooning works were “tantalizing:  the gestural sweeps of oil, the yellowed newsprint underneath, the stalled state between a sketch and a perfectly realized composition.”

Killen did some research and looked up Lawrence Castagna, who was the former assistant to the late Dutch artist Willem de Kooning, and as it turned out, to the art conservator and restorer Orrin Riley, who was the founder of the conservation department at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and had passed away in 1986.  Castagna believed that the de Kooning paintings may have been in Riley’s restoration studio.  “Sometimes works languished in the restoration studio after the insurance companies that had paid claims on the damaged works decided it wasn’t worth the cost to fix them.”  As improbable as that may appear, given the current value of de Kooning works, Killen theorizes that is how the six de Koonings ended up in storage.

Killen had offered the works to Sotheby’s, however, the auction house was deterred due to the provenance issues.  The Willem de Kooning Foundation does not authenticate works, and the university professor consulted by Killen who considered the works legitimate asked to remain anonymous.

In view of these hurdles, the art dealer is auctioning off the works himself.  Though given the caveats, Killen is uncertain as to how much the works will ultimately sell for—$10,000 or $10 million?  Killen’s hope is that serious prospective buyers attend the auction along with their experts and have the experts confirm that the works are authentic so the buyers will consummate the sale.

The Willem de Kooning auction is scheduled for October 14, November 11, and December 9, at the David Killen Gallery in New York.

 

 

41680881 – trench fountain in the garden at the huntington botanical gardens in los angeles

In recent art world news, a mystery is unraveling at The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens (“The Huntington”) right here in the Los Angeles area (in San Marino to be exact).  It involves a sharply dressed young preteen who has been in public view throughout all his life, but whose true identity remains unclear.  This is the tale of “The Blue Boy” (circa 1770), the late artist Thomas Gainsborough’s 18th-century portrait of a rosy-cheeked young boy dapperly dressed in a blue satin suit.  His identity is unknown, but the painting is considered one of the most iconic and beloved in The Huntington’s collection.  The Huntington is about to embark on the most ambitious restoration of the nearly 250 year old masterpiece in almost a century with much of the conservation work to take place in public view in connection with a year-long exhibition set to open September 22 entitled “Project Blue Boy.”

Before the conservation process gets underway, The Huntington’s art conservator and curator, Christina O’Connell and Melinda McCurdy, respectively, are conducting extensive technical analysis on the painting.  Specifically, they are “using high-tech imaging techniques to scrutinize the painting’s surface, deconstruct the materials Gainsborough used and study the makeup of the canvas itself and its structural backing.”  This will enable them to assess the artwork’s needs and plan their conservation approach in restoration of the masterpiece.  The art detectives are also discovering some clues along the way, such as studying earlier Gainsborough sketches beneath the painting’s surface only visible with X-rays and breaking down the chemical composition of the artist’s pigments.  This will be helpful in answering broader questions about how the late artist worked and the life of the painting after it left his studio.

“The Blue Boy” painting has been conserved six times since being acquired by The Huntington in 1921.  Henry E. Huntington purchased the painting for a record-breaking sum of $728,000 at the time.  Because the masterpiece is so treasured by visitors, the museum’s priority each time was to keep disruptions to a minimum throughout its display life.  As such, previous conservations have been quick, temporary fixes primarily involving touching up worn or thinned out original paint instead of removing old varnish layers and applying new ones to maintain the work appearing bright.  With this current conservation, “The Blue Boy” will receive a “comprehensive aesthetic and structural overhaul.”

During the first few months of the upcoming exhibition, the painting will lie on a flat table or be set on an easel in a temporary conservation studio at one end of the gallery as O’Connell works on it.  An adjacent exhibition will provide history about Gainsborough and “The Blue Boy” along with details about the art conservation field.  In addition, hand tools, paint samples, a schematic of the painting’s material layers, and digital X-rays of the artwork will be on display.

The more laborious structural work of the conservation process, such as repairing the wooden stretcher of the canvas and reattaching the lining canvas, will occur privately over the following few months in the art conservator’s lab.  After which, the artwork will return to the public lab for final conservation.

In early 2020, the newly restored masterpiece will be returned to its prominent location in the Thornton Portrait Gallery at the museum.  In the interim, the art detectives will continue to study the painting throughout the entire exhibition and perhaps make some more intriguing discoveries along the way.

For further information on this innovative conservation process in public view at The Huntington, see “‘Blue Boy’ revisited:  The Huntington is saving its 18th-century masterpiece—and you get to watch,” published online by the Los Angeles Times on September 14, 2018.

 

 

In recent art world news, more than 85 works from Barney Ebsworth’s art collection will be on the auction block in November at Christie’s in New York.  The late travel entrepreneur’s collection is estimated at over $300 million.  The auction house’s fall auction will highlight American art featuring works by Edward Hopper, Jackson Pollock, and Willem de Kooning. According to Christie’s, Ebsworth’s art trove is regarded as the “greatest collection of American modernism ever to come to market.”

Ebsworth, who passed away this past April, is from a generation whose art collections are coming to the art market among a significant shift in wealth dynamics.  In a study by UBS Group AG, it was found that “[b]illionaires 70 or older will transfer $2.4 trillion to heirs and charities in the next 20 years.”  The Ebsworth collection is said to be at least the third significant estate sale scheduled for this upcoming fall auction season, among those assembled by the late food titan Harry “Hunk” Anderson and the late Museum of Modern Art trustee David Teiger.

Featured artist Hopper’s well known “Chop Suey” (1929) painting portraying two women in a restaurant, is expected to sell for about $70 million, surpassing the artist’s current auction record of $40.5 million set in 2013.  De Kooning’s “Women as Landscape” (1955) is estimated at $60 million, and Pollock’s “Composition With Red Strokes” (1950) is estimated at $50 million.

It will be interesting to see if the above estimates of the featured works will be surpassed in the upcoming auction sale this November.

 

In recent art world news, investing in fine art has been typically limited to the very affluent, but startup Masterworks is seeking to bring about some change to the art market through the use of blockchain technology in which everyone can invest in fine art.  Masterworks and its affiliated entities have developed an inaugural fine art platform that will allow the general public to invest in fine works of art.

The following is a brief summary of how the fine art platform works.  “Masterworks purchases artwork they deem to be undervalued, and then offers qualified investors the opportunity to purchase shares in a special purpose entity (limited liability company) that owns the specific work of art.  Share ownership is maintained by a transfer agent and recorded on the Ethereum blockchain.  The Ethereum blockchain is an open source, distributed computing protocol which enables users to record transactions securely and immutably.”

“Once the Securities Exchange Commission qualifies the exempt offering, the shares will be issued pursuant to a Regulation A+ (of Title IV of the JOBS Act) offering, which allows private companies to raise up to $50 million and enables the general public as well as accredited investors to participate.”  According to the company, this represents the first tokenized security offered under Regulation A of the JOBS Act.

The first painting set to be securitized is Andy Warhol’s “1 Colored Marilyn (Reversal Series),” which originates from a series of oil and silkscreen paintings completed by the late artist between 1979-1986.  Masterworks will offer 99,825 shares priced at $20 for each share.  The second painting to be securitized is Claude Monet’s “Coup de Vent” (1881).  Both paintings are stored in a facility in Delaware, but are likely to be relocated to a gallery in New York in the near future.

The startup paid $1.8 million for the Warhol and $6.3 million for the Monet.  The artwork will be offered on the platform at an aggregate amount that is 10% more than what Masterworks paid.  The added 10% is said to cover various costs, including administrative, storage and other costs.  After the offering, Masterworks may decide to sell the Warhol to a purchaser for value.  Under such circumstances, all of the shareholders would be paid their fractional amount of 100% of the proceeds, less a fee of 20% of the profits, which is directed to Masterworks.

Masterworks intends to purchase additional artwork for sale on its platform in the near future.  In view of the newly developed fine art platform, “[n]o longer will art owners need to sell a whole piece of artwork to a single buyer.”  Instead, the company will be able to sell fractionalized shares of artwork to a number of investors throughout the world.  The fine art platform will provide art owners the added benefit of “being able to retain possession of their art, even as they sell off parts of their collections (or even part of a single piece of artwork) to groups of individuals.”  In addition, institutional investors, such as art museums and the like, “will likely also take notice and invest in tokenized art securities to diversify their portfolios.”

This innovative development of the use of tokenized art securities in the art market is set to shift the paradigm for investing in fine art. Tokenized art securities provide a way for a vast new group of investors to actively participate in the art market that is now open to all.

In recent art world news, Sotheby’s reported a $57.3 million net income in the second quarter of this year in a recent earnings call earlier this week.  This figure represents a decrease of $19.6 million or about 26% in comparison to the same period last year when the auction house reported that it had $76.9 million in net income.

Sotheby’s attributed the decline in part to a change in its auction calendar as some sales in Hong Kong occurred in the first quarter instead of the second quarter.  The auction house also attributed the decline to a decrease in its auction commission margin.

While consolidated sales increased 22 percent to $3.5 billion, which represents some of the highest amounts in Sotheby’s history, there was a decline in its auction commission margin.  This was due to a competitive environment for high-value lots that resulted in “a higher level of auction commissions shared with consignors” under such circumstances.

Notwithstanding the above, sales in Asia remained strong as aggregate auction sales for the first half of the year totaled $488 million, representing a 15 percent increase in 2018.

Although the tone of the earnings call was downcast and the financial results were lower than expected, the auction house’s management and board are “excited as ever about the company’s prospects going forward.”

It is certainly nice to see the earnings call end on an optimistic note in view of the disappointing second quarter financial results.

 

 

In recent art world news, forty years after a 1967 painting by modernist painter Robert Motherwell had vanished, last week the “Untitled” work (now valued at $1 million) was returned to the foundation dedicated to the preservation of the artist’s legacy.  The painting is among dozens that were lost and believed to have been stolen when Motherwell had hired a moving company to relocate his artworks from one storage facility to another in 1978.  The Motherwell painting was discovered in an upstate New York garage by the son of a former employee of the moving company.

The person who returned the painting has not been identified by federal investigators who helped arrange the return of the work to the Dedalus Foundation.  Foundation officials said that the person was helping his mother sort through some belongings last October when he came across the painting and after inspecting same he noticed the artist’s name in faint pencil on the back of the orange, crimson, blue and black canvas.

The person conducted an online search for information about the artist and subsequently approached the foundation regarding the discovered painting.  The foundation matched up photos of the discovered work to photos of the stolen painting and concluded it was the same work.  The foundation then contacted the FBI and investigators in the art crimes unit established that the person’s father, who passed away in the 1990s, had in fact worked at the Manhattan-based moving company at the time the Motherwell works went missing.

The discovered painting has a few mold stains that can be removed, but the work is said to be in “good shape and had been stored correctly, upright and wrapped in plastic.”

After Motherwell passed away in 1991, nearly all of his paintings were deeded to the foundation.

Geoffrey S. Berman, the United States attorney for the Southern District of New York, who unveiled the painting at a news conference last week in Manhattan where the foundation took possession of the large 69-by-92 inch work said:

Today, dozens of works by Motherwell remain missing.  We hope that they remain in the same condition as this piece, and that anyone encountering these pieces in the market brings them to the attention of law enforcement.”

It was reported that authorities do not believe the son knew the painting had been stolen, but it did appear that the work had been purposely taken.  The foundation said that the back of the painting had marks where warehouse labels had been torn off.

According to Katy Rogers, director of the Robert Motherwell catalogue raisonné project, the person who had approached the foundation regarding the discovered painting had hoped to sell the work if it was authentic, but agreed to return it upon learning of the circumstances under which the painting had gone missing.

Motherwell was a 20th-century American painter, printmaker, and editor, who played a significant role in the Abstract Expressionist movement.  The late artist is well known as a member of the New York School, which also includes acclaimed artists Willem de Kooning, Jackson Pollock, and Mark Rothko.

The foundation will circulate the discovered painting in connection with its educational programs.

In recent art world news, the technology augmented reality (the cousin of virtual reality) has been making headlines in the media these days. Simply defined, augmented reality (AR) technology superimposes a computer-generated image on a user’s view of the real world hence providing a composite view.  It has been widely reported that AR technology promises to transform how we learn and interact with the real world and now this includes the art world.

Many already know that art has been a relative latecomer to the digital revolution in recent years. People become accustomed to associating the value of art to seeing such art in person.  As such, art galleries and museums still rely on special exhibitions for a significant share of their revenue.

ArtFinder, a London-based e-commerce start-up, has built an IMDb-type searchable digital catalog containing hundreds of thousands of artworks in the form of paintings, sculptures, and art-related media.  The site also includes “essays on artists, artworks and artistic movements, making it a useful (and free) reference resource for art discovery, while social features open up new opportunities for enjoying art.  It allows you to virtually collect and share your favourite artworks, and as users build up a profile that reflects their particular tastes, the system also generates further recommendations of what they might like.”

ArtFinder’s co-founder Chris Thorpe believes that “this element of recommendations, when combined with geo-location, adds a crucial element of serendipity to art discovery and keeps that physical connection to the real world which is so crucial to connecting emotionally with a piece of artwork.”

Artivive, a Viennese start-up recently founded in 2017, offers an easy to use AR tool that allows artists to create new dimensions of art by linking classical with digital art.  Artivive’s AR tool also enables museums an innovative way for visitors to interact with exhibits in which the visitors use their smartphones or tablets to experience the layer of AR.  Artivive aims to become the “go-to solution for artists, galleries and creators and change the way art is created and consumed while building a community and movement around augmented reality art.”

Artivive’s CEO Codin Popescu believes that the “experiential element will always be central to how people enjoy and relate to artworks.” Specifically, Popescu believes that the key is “to use immersive technologies such as Augmented Reality to seamlessly add digital elements to those existing and well-loved experiences, making them richer and more accessible in the process.”

Prior to AR tools such as the type offered by Artivive, for artists to create in AR they had to develop their own isolated solutions, which required resources and technical skills, but today with the latest AR technology artists can take visitors on a journey in time and enhance art with illustrations or discuss how such art was made.  For museums, galleries and other art institutions, AR technology offers a new and innovative way for visitors to interact with exhibits.

It has been frequently reported that the art business needs to find ways of engaging the next generation of buyers.  AR technology may be just what the art business needs as it has certainly transformed how we experience art today.

For further information on the application of this dynamic, innovative technology to art, see “Augmented Reality Will Reinvent How We Experience Art,” recently published online by Forbes on June 20, 2018.

 

 

 

 

In recent art world news, developer Silverstein Properties asked street artists to decorate an empty floor of one of its office buildings at the World Trade Center site in Lower Manhattan a couple years ago.  Presently, in partnership with the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which owns a significant portion of the site of the World Trade Center, the developer has provided artists a public place close by to showcase their artistic work.  A collection of corrugated metal sheds make up the artists’ new canvas, infusing Lower Manhattan with a 5Pointz street art vibe.

This new canvas of corrugated metal sheds is on the site bounded by Greenwich, Vesey and Church Streets and the Oculus transportation hub, and stores mechanical equipment that will service at some point 2 World Trade Center, which is currently on hold while the developer seeks to locate an anchor tenant.  The solicitation of artists to enliven the metal shed exteriors is hoped to provide the area with a more finished appearance.

The selected artists each received $1,000 for paint along with a $2,000 honorarium.  To date six murals are completed or nearly completed and two additional murals are expected.  The murals will be on display for at least a year.

Working at the World Trade Center site, where the twin towers [once] stood until the Sept. 11 terrorist attack, carries an emotional gravity, and artists grapple with the enormity of that loss.  But many spoke of a determination to balance the loss with art that lifts the spirit.”

For a summary of each selected artist and photos of the works for this innovative street art mural project, see “Bringing a 5Pointz Vibe to Lower Manhattan,” published online by The New York Times on June 1, 2018.

 

In recent art world news, a buyer of a painting recently identified as having been confiscated by the Nazis in 1940 from a Jewish collector in Paris is asking Christie’s to refund the purchase price paid a decade ago for the tainted work.  Christie’s has maintained that it is committed to ensuring that Nazi looted artworks from World War II are not offered for sale.

The buyer, Alain Dreyfus, a Swiss-based art dealer, who purchased the painting by Impressionist landscape painter Alfred Sisley titled “First Day of Spring in Moret” (1889) at a Christie’s auction in New York in 2008, believes the auction house did not thoroughly examine the work’s provenance before offering it for sale.  Dreyfus paid $338,500 for the painting and is asking Christie’s to refund him the purchase price in addition to an annual interest rate of eight percent.  Dreyfus has reportedly said that he is willing to return the painting to the heirs of Alfred Lindon, the collector from whom the work was seized.

Christie’s has said that it had reviewed all databases, catalogues and resources available at the time and did not find anything to indicate that the painting was ever in the collection of Lindon.

An investigation by Toronto-based art recovery company Mondex Corporation revealed that Lindon had placed the Sisley painting along with the rest of his collection in a bank safe before fleeing Paris when the Nazis invaded the city.  The artworks were later seized and stored at the Jeu de Paume for processing.  As a result of Mondex’s investigative efforts, records evidenced that the Sisley painting had been in the possession of Hermann Goering at some point.  Goering was the Reichsmarschall who was “heavily involved in the Nazi art seizures.”

Dreyfus believes Christie’s would have discovered the painting’s tainted history had the auction house conducted an in-depth review of the work’s provenance.  The Lindon heirs share the buyer’s view and are seeking the return of the painting after its provenance and Nazi seizure were discovered by Mondex.

Christie’s has further said that its commitment to the identification of stolen artworks is “evident in the fact that it routinely checks individual works consigned for sale against more than a dozen databases.”  However, prior to the sale of the painting in 2008, only four databases were “available and routinely checked” and there was no evidence in the auction house’s review to suggest that the provenance gap was meaningful.

Mondex believes differently as its founder wrote in an e-mail to the international director of restitution of Christie’s that the auction house “could have consulted a directory of looted items published in France in 1947, which stated that several Sisley paintings, including three ‘Spring’ scenes, were stolen from there.”  Mondex’s founder further wrote that the auction house “could have checked a collection of Nazi documents maintained by the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, which indicated that a Sisley ‘Spring’ painting had been stolen.”  Mondex’s founder noted that further research at the archives “could have shown that the Lindons were the owners of a stolen painting with the same dimensions, signature and date as the one to be auctioned.”

Christie’s countered that one of the databases used by Mondex did not become digitized until about two years after the 2008 auction sale.  Nevertheless, Dreyfus believes that the auction house is obligated to reimburse him for the Nazi-tainted painting.  Dreyfus has said that Christie’s has not responded to his request for a refund of the purchase price.

Christie’s has issued the following statement on the matter:  “The matter is now between the current owner and the heirs and is now in a legal process.  Christie’s stands by its position that we did our due diligence appropriately in 2008, at the time of the sale.”

It appears that the Sisley painting will be returned to the Lindon heirs in due course, however, it remains to be seen whether Dreyfus will be issued a refund for the purchase price paid for the tainted painting.