In recent art world news, British artist David Hockney’s iconic painting “Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures)” (1972) set an auction sale record for a living artist when it sold for an astonishing $90.3 million in mid-November at Christie’s in New York.  Previously, American artist Jeff Koons’ steel sculpture “Balloon Dog (Orange)” (1994-2000) held the auction sale record for a living artist when it sold for $58.4 million in November 2013 at Christie’s in New York.

The masterwork blends two of Hockney’s overriding themes from the late 1960s and 1970s, “the glittering abstraction of the pool from his swimming pool landscapes and the emotional complexity of his double portraits.”  It appears at first that the painting depicts the idyllic Los Angeles moment, but the scene is actually in the south of France, not the Hollywood Hills, and the pool is from British filmmaker Tony Richardson’s villa there.

According to Christie’s, the sale of Hockney’s painting generated much advance excitement.  The auction house was packed, despite a New York snowstorm, with art collectors, advisors, dealers and media filling both the main sale room and an overflow room as 600 people seated and 60 more standing watched the iconic work go up on the auction block.  Christie’s estimated that the painting would sell for about $80 million.  A bidding war went on for over nine minutes (considered very long in auction terms) until the painting was sold.  The auction house won’t reveal the identity of the winning bidder.

Earlier this year, in May, Hockney’s “Pacific Coast Highway and Santa Monica” (1990) sold at Sotheby’s in New York for $28.5 million, which set a new personal auction record for the artist at the time.  The recent $90.3 million sale more than triples the artist’s record.  “Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures)” is an older and seminal work, which accounts for the much higher sum it fetched.

It will be interesting to see if any future sales of Hockney works will surpass the artist’s new impressive auction sale record for a living artist.

 

In recent art world news, as an update to our recent post on the fall sale of American works from the $300 million Barney Ebsworth collection, the highly anticipated sale of American modern art occurred earlier this week and fetched $317.8 million at Christie’s New York.  A number of artist records were set at Tuesday evening’s auction, including one for Edward Hopper’s masterpiece “Chop Suey” (1929), which sold for $91.9 million (with buyer’s premium) and more than doubled the artist’s previous record.

All of the 42 lots offered for sale were backed either by auction house guarantees or third party guarantees in which third parties receive a financial incentive for assuming the risk.  The divide consisted of 34 lots backed by Christie’s and eight by third parties.  Of the 37 lots sold (five lots failed to sell), 20 fetched more than $1 million—of those, six sold for more than $10 million and three surpassed $50 million (in addition to Edward Hopper’s “Chop Suey”, Willem de Kooning’s “Woman as Landscape” (1954-55) sold for $68.9 million and Jackson Pollock’s “Composition with Red Strokes” (1950) sold for $55.4 million).

The sale prices of the three featured works by Hopper, de Kooning, and Pollock, set forth above exceeded the earlier reported estimates ($70 million, $60 million, and $50 million) for each respective work.

 

 

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, 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.

 

 

 

 

In recent art world news, popular social media site Instagram has been having a significant effect on the art world since its launch in 2010.  The photo and video sharing app has evolved into the cornerstone of the art world becoming a home to many in the industry, including artists, art collectors, auction houses, curators, galleries, and museums.  Many artists are using Instagram to promote, discover and sell art.

Many emerging artists see the photo and video sharing app as a democratizer, helping artists who might not have representation from the most prestigious galleries or degrees from the most exclusive art schools get their work in front of big audiences.”

Before the arrival of social media, emerging artists had a more difficult time getting their work out there and being noticed.  In the past, under the traditional route, artists would contact local galleries and hope for a favorable outcome.  To promote a bigger following, artists faced numerous hurdles, such as securing representation at prestigious galleries, exhibiting around the world, and participating in premier art festivals.

With the arrival of social media, artists started using various services such as Facebook, Flickr, Tumblr, and Twitter to highlight their work, attract audiences around the world, and advocate on their own behalf.  Instagram, however, is said to have the biggest impact on the art industry.  Remarkably, Instagram is on track to achieve a billion monthly active users in 2018.

The coalescence of tech, demographics and changing buying habits also plays a role in making Instagram the tool of choice for art professionals.  In the Venn diagram of people who use Instagram and people who are discovering and willing to buy art online, the overlap is increasing.”

According to research from Pew, about a third of online adults in the United States use Instagram and among those aged 18-29, the app’s usage increases up to 59%.  Online art marketplace Invaluable, in its 2017 survey, found that nearly 56% of consumers in the United States aged 18-24 said they would purchase art online and 45% said social media is the primary way they find art.

Although art sales from the big auction houses from the likes of Christie’s and Sotheby’s are well documented, there isn’t much data on private art sales, and it’s difficult to say whether direct sales via Instagram are taking away gallery sales.  Though it has been reported that auction houses and galleries are seeing their own sales gain traction as their work is discovered on Instagram.

Major galleries and museums have even benefited from use of the app by cultivating tremendous followings on Instagram.  Museums use Instagram to promote upcoming exhibitions, provide followers an inside look at their operations, and make art more accessible.  The Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) views its Instagram page “as something of a virtual gallery that allows followers to feel like they’re seeing an exhibition, even if they’re not in Los Angeles.”  Smaller galleries, on the other hand, use Instagram to discover new artists.

Some artists have said that Instagram can be distracting, particularly when artists get wrapped up in seeing how many “likes” or comments their work receives as compared to others.  Some are concerned that “an overreliance on Instagram could discourage people from attending art shows and shift the enjoyment of art from an in-person experience to something that happens over a phone.”

As with any technology, there are going to be pros and cons, but it certainly appears that Instagram has had a mostly positive effect on the art world.

 

 

In recent art world news, following strong sales in 2017, the international auction houses are said to be “feeling bullish” once again.  Last Friday, Christie’s announced that it had sold about £5.1 billion or $7.3 billion of art and collectibles worldwide (up 26 percent from 2016) in 2017.  Phillips saw a similar improvement over 2016 sales with auction and private sales of $708.8 million (up 25 percent from 2016) in 2017.  As both auction houses are privately held, neither one disclosed a profit or loss.  Publicly traded Sotheby’s will disclose its financial results for 2017 at month’s end.

The $450.3 million fetched in November for Leonardo da Vinci’s “Salvator Mundi” helped propel Christie’s auction sales by 38 percent along with 65 lots that sold for more than £10 million.  Many of the auction house’s lots were supported by financial guarantees.  The strong sales signify that the art market is surging.

Auction houses among the likes of Christie’s, Sotheby’s and Phillips have high overheads with business models that haven’t changed much since the 18th-century.  A primary challenge is that they keep up with the upward trajectory growth of global wealth and earn money from it.  Each auction house has its own unique strategy in doing so.

In particular, Phillips’ key selling category is 20th-century and contemporary art that raised $421.8 million at auction last year (or 60 percent of the annual total).  Phillips complements its art auctions with sales of 20th– and 21st-century design, photography and prints, and generates further revenue by sales of watches and jewelry.  Phillips has held just two online-only auctions in collaboration with Artsy last year.

In contrast, Christie’s attracts new buyers through its own well-established program of online-only auctions.  Last year, Christie’s held 85 digital sales of luxury goods and lower-value collectibles fetching £55.9 million or about $80 million.  Although this accounted for only one percent of annual total sales, it represented 37 percent of the auction house’s new buyers.

Last December, Sotheby’s announced that it had sold $4.7 billion of art and collectibles at auction in 2017 (up 13.1 percent from 2016).  While this was below Christie’s auction sales of $6.6 billion, Sotheby’s has diversified into other areas, including financial services, art advice and managing artist estates, and image recognition technology.  Sotheby’s upcoming financial results for 2017 will disclose the amount of its revenue derived from such 21st-century business models.

But for the moment, the 18th-century model of live auctions continues to do nicely [for the auction houses], tracking global economic growth.”

It remains to be seen as to how technology is going to change things, but it would seem that it could streamline and add efficiency to the art buying process and attract a greater reach of new buyers, particularly the future generation of art buyers and collectors.

 

In recent art world news, one may think that the digital revolution has provided some “much-needed transparency” to the art market with the sale of artwork now being bought online as regularly as books and music.  However, according to last year’s Hiscox Online Art Trade Report (publication of the 2018 edition is forthcoming in April), it is estimated that online platforms accounted for about $3.75 billion of sales in 2016 (up 15% from 2015), which represents just an 8.4 percent share (up from 7.4% in 2015) of the overall art market.

Despite the low overall art market share for online platforms, the art world’s digital sector has seen new developments.  In particular, just last week it was announced that online auction house Paddle8 had merged with Swiss tech company The Native, and would develop an auction that accepts virtual currency (i.e., bitcoin).  Also, last week Sotheby’s announced that it had acquired Thread Genius, an artificial intelligence (AI) startup company specializing in developing identification software by using algorithms to identify objects and suggest images of similar objects.

While the music and publishing industries have been transformed by retailing via an online platform, this has not been the case for the art market, which has been slower to move in such direction.  Some in the art world have made the well taken point that artwork is unique and much more expensive than mass-produced books and music.  A high price tag of six figures and up has the effect of deterring digital impulse purchases.  Indeed, online art sales tend to be dominated by artwork priced below $5,000.

Prices remain a major hurdle for the expansion of the digital art trade, not just because they are often so high, but because of their lack of availability.  Consumers looking to buy, say, a shirt online can browse numerous fashion websites where thousands of items are clearly labeled and priced.  But all too often, prices on art dealers’ websites—and in their galleries and booths at fairs—are ‘on application,’ a process that can be both laborious and forbidding.”

Unsurprisingly, from the perspective of the consumer, dedicated online-only art auctions having transparent price structures benefit from a definite edge over dealer transactions in the digital space.  Since last May, in an effort to aid transparency, Christie’s website has included results from its online-only art auctions, which had an average lot price of $7,305 (up from $6,047 in 2016).  This information is not provided by competitors such as Sotheby’s and Paddle8.

Although results achieved for resold artworks can be accessed via subscription websites such as Artnet and Artprice, the “primary market” prices charged by galleries for new artworks by contemporary artists remain private with “many dealers regarding them as trade secrets available only to insiders.”

A new app started in 2016 named Magnus seeks to disrupt the art market and make it more transparent.  In use, the smartphone user simply aims their device at a particular artwork in a gallery or fair and visual recognition technology rapidly provides auction and dealer prices for the specific artist.  In such way, it is said that Magnus works for art as Shazam, the mainstream song-identifying app, works for music.  The new app’s database stores about 10 million prices, which are compiled through crowdsourcing, and 10 percent of which are from the primary market.  The app is said to be especially strong at art fairs with estimates that it identified around 80 percent of the prices at events such as Art Basel.

It will be interesting to see how the art market engages the next generation of art collectors and buyers.  The recent developments in the digital space described above seem like a solid start.

 

 

Some in the art world may not know that the 500-year old masterpiece painting Salvator Mundi (“Savior of the World”) by Leonardo da Vinci that recently sold for nearly half a billion dollars is imperfect.  The work with a shady history was damaged and heavily repainted and then restored.  At least one well regarded Leonardo da Vinci expert went on record stating that he doesn’t believe the acclaimed artist was the primary artist behind the work.  The painting was owned by King Charles I in the 17th century, disappeared from records from 1763 to 1900, resurfaced again in 1958, and sold for under $10,000 in 2005.  Less than 10 years later, Russian billionaire Dmitry Rybolovlev brought the work to the market after purchasing it for $127.5 million in 2013.

Before the recent November 15, 2017 sale of the painting at Christie’s in New York, it was reported that Nica Rieppi, Principal Investigator at Art Analysis & Research, and her scientific team spent four years using the latest technology and a number of art books in authenticating the da Vinci work.  The painting was meticulously analyzed down to a microscopic level in which the team took miniscule samples to determine the pigments, materials and techniques used in creating it.  Technical imaging with x-rays, infrared and ultraviolet technology was also used by the team to assess how the painting developed with each stroke.

According to Rieppi, science is becoming more important than ever in the growing “high-stakes world of multimillion-dollar fine art sales” and the purpose is to “get inside the head of the artist.”

The masterpiece painting is a depiction of Christ draped in a blue robe holding one hand in prayer and a crystal sphere in the other and is said to be one of less than 20 paintings known to be created by the Italian master.

A significant clue in establishing the authenticity of the work derived from the composition of the paint.  The scientific team, through microscopic sampling, detected the use of lapis lazuli, a very rare pigment considered more expensive than gold in Italy at the time, in “extraordinarily high quality” throughout the blue in Christ’s robe in the painting.  The pigment was imported from the Middle East and the material was “so expensive and only available to someone of a master and stature as Leonardo,” explained Rieppi.

A further clue as to the authenticity of the work was the use of complex and sophisticated layering by the artist.  Through the use of a powerful microscope, the scientific team discovered monochromatic layers that were applied to the canvas before the addition of the pigment.  This included the use of a warm brown color on Christ’s robe along with transparent washes throughout the painting.  Such details are said to be consistent with da Vinci’s technique in the unfinished work The Adoration of Magi.  Rieppi believes there is no doubt that anyone other than da Vinci could have created the work due to the uniqueness of the painting at a microscopic level.

The complex history of the painting left many in the art world perplexed as to its provenance with some outright doubtful.  In particular, Jacques Frank, an art historian and da Vinci specialist who had examined the work, said to the media that “[t]he composition doesn’t come from Leonardo. He preferred twisted movement. It’s a good studio work with a little Leonardo at best, and it’s very damaged.”

At the outset of authenticating the work, Rieppi and her scientific team approached the project with “doubt and skepticism” in view of the questionable history of the painting.  However, the materials lined up and the techniques aligned to a point in which it became clear to Rieppi and her team about the origin and identity of the da Vinci masterpiece.

As for where Rieppi sees things heading in the art market, the authenticator believes that “[s]cience is allowing us to move toward evidence-based connoisseurship.”

 

 

 

 

In recent art world news, a painting by Leonardo da Vinci, Salvator Mundi (circa 1500) sold for $450.3 million on Wednesday evening at Christie’s postwar and contemporary art auction.  The sale of the rare masterpiece painting made history as the most expensive art market transaction of all time.  The work is believed to be the last painting by the renowned Renaissance artist in private hands.  Alex Rotter, Christie’s co-chairman of postwar and contemporary art for the Americas, represented the unidentified winning bidder on the phone after a nearly 20-minute bidding session that included five bidders (four on the phone and one in the room).

The previous highest art market transaction was recorded back in 2015 with the $300 million sale of Willem de Kooning’s Interchange (1955) purchased by Kenneth Griffin from David Geffen.

The Leonardo da Vinci lot accounted for more than half of the total sales at the evening auction, which came to an impressive $788.9 million.  The auction had a “respectable” sell-through rate of 84 percent.

After Wednesday evening’s history making sale at Christie’s, this begs the question from the art world as to whether there is no longer a ceiling in the sale of valuable works of art.  For thoughtful commentary on this, see “After Leonardo’s Sky-High Sale, the Art World Asks, Is There Still a Ceiling?” published online by the New York Times on November 16, 2017.

 

In recent art world news, a never before auctioned work, Contraste de forms (1913), by French artist Fernand Léger is to lead Christie’s Impressionist and Modern Art evening auction in New York this fall.  The vibrant abstract painting is estimated to sell for $65 million, which would be a new record for the artist if sold.  The work has been in the family of art collector Hans Arnhold since the 1950s and has never been auctioned.  The previous record for a Léger work was set with the sale of La femme en bleu (study) (1912-13) for $39.2 million in New York in 2008.

The work is considered among the greatest Léger works still in private hands with its bold intensity.  According to Conor Jordan, deputy chairman of Impressionist and Modern Art at Christie’s,

[e]xecuted just months before the First World War, Contraste de forms, with its groundbreaking abstract conception and its thrillingly preserved physical state, is without question a major work of Modern Art.”

The Anna-Maria and Stephen Kellen Foundation consigned the groundbreaking work with the proceeds to go toward supporting the non-profit’s philanthropic mission.  Anna-Maria Arnhold Kellen was the daughter of Hans Arnhold.

As for the work’s provenance, the painting was initially acquired by prominent Parisian dealer Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler after its completion.  Hans Arnhold purchased it from Galerie Rosengart in Lucerne, Switzerland in 1956.  The work was passed on to Arnhold’s daughter and her husband, who was a New York banker, and remained in the family until the death of Anna-Maria Kellen in April 2017 at the age of 98.

Christie’s Impressionist and Modern Art evening auction is set for November 13, 2017 at the auction house’s New York City headquarters.