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Kobel's Art Weekly

Stable Diffusion, Prompt: Portrait of the singer Prince in the style of Andy Warhol
Stable Diffusion, Prompt: Portrait of the singer Prince in the style of Andy Warhol
Stefan Kobel

Stefan Kobel

Kobel's Art Weekly 21 2023

The rather sluggish course of the New York auction week summarises Barbara Kutscher in the Handelsblatt: "Bidders only grabbed important works fresh from the market and the very special. As Alex Rotter, Christie's head of the 20/21 department, stated on 11 May: "We are confronted with a more difficult market situation, economically, politically, in every respect". Low interest rates, which had long fuelled the market, are now at their highest level in 16 years. In Sotheby's subsequent 'Modern Evening' auction, 23 of 40 lots sold did not even reach the lower estimate. But that's always the one chance for collectors to buy a little cheaper."

Tim Schneider shares similar observations at Artnet: "For market watchers anxious after Wednesday night's underwhelming evening auctions at Christie's and Phillips, Thursday night's auctions at Sotheby's brought modest relief, at best. A slew of withdrawals and a smattering of passed lots clashed with a surplus of workmanlike sales-and, occasionally, some genuinely energetic bidding-at key points in the night's festivities on York Avenue. Overall, the results lent credence to the notion of an art market in transition, if not correction."

Anne Reimers analyses the New York results for the FAZ: "The cooling of some market segments, which could already be observed at the spring auctions in London, continued this week in New York. Top works around a hundred million dollars were missing. New artist records and strong prices for rare, market-fresh or still undervalued material were nevertheless reported. Sales rates remained high, and not only because lots with little chance of success were withdrawn: Consignors were prepared to lower their expectations. Instead of declines, there were therefore several hammer prices well below the negotiated estimates - especially for the great men of Abstract Expressionism."

The macroeconomic influences on the auction market are discussed by Zachary Small in the New York Times: "'Buyers in the postwar and contemporary art market were comfortable borrowing against their assets when they had access to capital at a cheap rate,' said Doug Woodham, an art adviser who was previously an executive at Christie's, explaining that rising interest rates might triple the margins for a collector. 'It is making people feel more hesitant to bid.' Brooke Lampley, Sotheby's chairman and worldwide head of global fine art sales, said that she had heard similar concerns from buyers. Money isn't free right now,' she said. 'That plays a role in how people are spending their money and thinking about allocating their assets.'"

Eight-figure auction results are not only achieved with art, as can be seen from an agency report by AFP: "The so-called Codex Sassoon from the late ninth or early tenth century AD achieved a price of 38.1 million dollars, as the auction house Sotheby's announced on Wednesday in New York. This makes it the most expensive handwritten manuscript ever sold at auction. The Bible was auctioned by former US diplomat Alfred Moses on behalf of a US non-governmental organisation that wants to donate the work to a museum in Tel Aviv."

At Frieze in New York, Holland Cotter for the New York Times perceived signs of a change of heart: "Collectively it confirms a reality the market has consistently ignored or suppressed: that much of the most imaginative and innovative work by anyone anywhere in the past half century has been by women. Is recognition growing? Is the art establishment making some corrective noises? It's good at doing that. What I can say is that a close, careful sweep through Frieze New York 2023 turns up treasures you probably wouldn't have found in such quantity just a few years ago."

Georg Imdahl opens his tour of Brussels galleries with the vita of new gallery owner Nicolaus Schafhausen for the FAZ: "The professional field of art may hold many career paths in store, but that of the Dusseldorf native, born in 1965, is unusual, at least not linear: Starting out as a self-taught artist, the young man opened a small gallery in Berlin, moved on with it to Cologne, showed the first exhibitions of Kai Althoff, Carsten Höller and Olafur Eliasson - and then tried his hand as a curator. Internationally, Schafhausen made a name for himself as director of the Frankfurt Kunstverein and Rotterdam's Witte de With, and finally as commissioner of the German pavilion in Venice."

I spoke with the Turin collector Patrizia Sandretto Re Rebaudengo for the Handelsblatt.

The US Supreme Court has handed down a ruling (PDF) in the plagiarism trial of photographer Lynn Goldsmith against the Warhol Foundation over a portrait of Prince based on a photograph, which is likely to influence the course of art history. A dpa report summarises: "It will not make our world poor if the Warhol Foundation gives the photographer part of the revenue from the use of her copyrighted work, Sotomayor wrote. Nor will the decision 'turn the lights out on Western civilisation'. She emphasised in the decision, which is replete with illustrations, a difference with other Warhol works such as the famous images of Campbell soup cans. There, the trademark's protected logo is depicted - but the purpose is different. When the company uses it, it is for advertising. In Warhol's case, it was an artistic commentary on consumerism."

Legal Tribune Online explains the judgement more precisely: "In the judgement, however, the majority of the Supreme Court judges followed the view that Warhol had not created anything 'fundamentally different and new' with his picture. Also, his portrait, like the photograph by Lynn Goldsmith, had commercial exploitation as its primary objective. This cancels out the 'fair use' protection. Warhol had thus proceeded no differently than, for example, a musician who included music by another artist in his song. A decision in favour of Warhol in this case would undermine copyright protection, warned Judge Sonia Sotomayor as rapporteur in the proceedings. She argued that this would open the way to copying photos with minor changes and selling them as one's own work." Appropriation art, however, is likely to be partially deprived of its basis.

The firm of New York art consultant Lisa Schiff seems to have ceased operations, reports Alex Greenberger at Artnews, and he reports on further accusations.

The burglars in the Green Vault in Dresden will go to prison, reports dpa: "For the three men, now 26, 27 and 29 years old, the criminal court imposed prison sentences of six years and three months, five years and ten months and six years and two months. A 24-year-old man received a juvenile sentence of four years and four months. The judges saw his twin brother as an accomplice, he got a five-year juvenile sentence - including an earlier conviction."

Christopher F. Schuetze followed the trial for the New York Times with slight disbelief: "During the trial, which lasted 15 months, the six defendants sometimes seemed like the crew of 'Ocean's Eleven' and at other times like 'Mr. Bean.' But it was not just the accused who at times appeared inept. The trial shed a light on a German justice system that failed - to an almost comical degree - when it came to stopping determined criminals.Despite a colourful history of crimes, the men were free to plan and execute their biggest heist. Most jarringly, two of the men on trial were previously found guilty for the theft of a giant golden coin worth $4 million from a Berlin museum. They were in court for that crime - but not in custody - when the crew carried out the Green Vault heist."

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