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Kobel's Art Weekly

not exactly Klimt but for free: Stablediffusion, prompt: portrait of a lady with a fan facing left in the style of Gustav Klimt
not exactly Klimt but for free: Stablediffusion, prompt: portrait of a lady with a fan facing left in the style of Gustav Klimt
Stefan Kobel

Stefan Kobel

Kobel's Art Weekly 27 2023

Record-breaking news are supposed to make up for a rather gloomy environment. Ursula Scheer reports for the FAZ the sensational acceptance of a bid for a work by Gustav Klimt at Sotheby's: "A bidder in the room had secured Gustav Klimt's last portrait, the 1917/18 portrait of a 'Lady with Fan', which a competitor had repeatedly tried to wrest from her by telephone. With fees, Klimt's painting costs 85.3 million pounds (about 99 million euros). This makes the painting the "most expensive work of art ever sold at auction in Europe".

Beyond that, however, the result was sobering, according to Kabir Jhala of The Art Newspaper: "But tonight's successes are largely those of the headline-grabbing Klimt, which kept a middling sale afloat: just two other eight-figure lots came to the block, both paintings carrying £8m to £12m estimates. [...] More than one in every three lots tonight was guaranteed. Just prior to the record-breaking Klimt, the sale suffered a slump that saw several works hammered below their low estimates, including a 2016 acrylic on PVC panel painting by Kerry James Marshall. Shortly after, two seven-figure oil paintings, one by Edvard Munch and the other by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, failed to find homes, contributing to a less-than-stellar 86% sell-through rate."

Otherwise, too, the London auctions were rather mediocre, Anne Reimers sums up in the FAZ: “Without the Klimt record at Sotheby's, it would have been more obvious: At the London summer auctions, the cooling off on the auction market that could already be observed at the beginning of the year continued - especially in the market segment for young artists. 'Blue chip' works are hard to land in the current economic climate and with high key interest rates worldwide, but market-fresh top quality continues to prevail. However, the high sales rates of 86 per cent at Sotheby's evening sale and 92 per cent at Christie's inspire confidence. To achieve them, hard work had to be done behind the scenes. [...] Christie's had already used up its powder in London in May and did not have a lot with an estimate in the double-digit million range on offer. European collectors dominated the bidding in an equally European offering. The evening auction fetched a total of 63.8 million pounds including buyer's premium with 61 lots, 13 of which were backed by externally financed guarantees - significantly less than the 181 million pounds Christie's had realised last June. In June 2021 it had been 119.3 million. At the current event, the advance expectation for 67 lots was £56.4 million to £82.8 million."

Christie's disappointing strategy for London is explained by Anny Shaw of The Art Newspaper: Art advisor Hugo "Nathan suggests American buyers in particular are 'spent out' after the 'weight of the New York auctions' last month. He adds: 'Christie's put all their eggs in the New York basket, they had vast sales in New York. There's an argument that they could have held something back for London, but I think everyone wanted to hurry. He notes how the global rise in interest rates have caused a contraction in the market, particularly in the first six months of this year. The conservative defensive strategy is to put everything into the big marquee auctions in New York, and also to go with guarantees,' Nathan adds. 'The thing is, when guarantees land with the guarantors, there are a lot fewer guarantors available the next season, and without the third-party guarantors, the auction houses struggle to get the material.'"

Stephanie Dieckvoss points to the competition between Asian bidders in the Handelsblatt: "Perhaps it was the affinity with Chinese themes, perhaps the desire to own Klimt's last masterpiece, the fascination with cross-cultural beauty or the hope of an attractive investment. In any case, the competition was between two Asians. As in the overall auction, Americans tended to hold back. Sotheby's confirmed after the auction that the buyer was a Hong Kong collector." Sounds like 1990, when Japanese buyers drove prices for French Impressionists to unprecedented heights, only to send the entire art market into a tailspin with the crash of the domestic economy.

Melanie Gerlis reminds us in The Art Newspaper that everything is finite, including the price increases for the heroes of post-war art: "Younger collectors are a growing proportion in the $1m-plus zone, and their inheritances will keep rolling in, but the question is what will they want to buy? One reason for selling the art in the first place is that collectors' children and grandchildren think differently to the preceding generations. An example that stood out from the latest Art Basel and UBS report is that dealers' share of sales of video art, for long a stubbornly slow market, grew substantially last year-from 1% to 5%. The market is unlikely to shake off its love of paintings any time soon, but a change of tack is plausible as the definition of art keeps expanding. It isn't so long ago that Old Masters were the top of the taste tree."

The old Dutch auction model is now being reintroduced by Sotheby's for NFTs, explains Shanti Escalante-De Mattei at Artnews: "But Sotheby's announced earlier this week that it would be beginning employing a Dutch auction model for its new Gen Art Program, NFT sales dedicated to generative artworks by blue-chip digital artists. In a Dutch auction, auctioneers introduce the highest price the piece will be sold for before decreasing the price in increments until a buyer bids or a set lowest price is reached."

Christiane Fricke compares the incursion of artificial intelligence into art in the Handelsblatt with the invention of photography in 1839: "Art, completely without artists: this exclamation could also refer to AI and originate from the year 2023. In terms of excitement potential, the invention of photography resembled that of the image-generating artificial intelligence. Back then, it was the realistic pictorial representation that artists no longer had a monopoly on. Today, it is artistic creativity itself that is seemingly effortlessly taken over by AI. But what is there to the accompanying predictions of doom for man-made art? Again, the invention of photography provides an indication. 'Less than two years after the daguerreotype was introduced, graphic artists could hardly save themselves from orders,' collector Hans Gummersbach clarifies when asked." The article is part of an 80-page special issue on AI, which can be downloaded as a PDF here.

has laid off about 15 percent of its workforce, reports Tessa Solomon at Artnews. However, according to Artsy CEO Mike Steib, the departure of 35 employees is by no means due to the company's economic difficulties: "For now I'll note that, though our business is stable and revenue has been growing, the broader economic headwinds and art market slow down were pushing profitability out of reach this year, which would have put our business and mission in jeopardy,' he wrote in the email."

In an interview with the online service boersengeflüster, Artnet's CEO Jacob Pabst is unusually open to external investors: "In your opinion, is Artnet's balance sheet strong enough to grow sustainably on its own or does it need a financially strong partner? Jacob Pabst: Artnet has been growing on its own for 35 years and can certainly continue to do so. With a financially strong partner who shares our vision for artnet and the art market, it would of course go much faster."

Not only are antiques more sustainable than new furniture, but they are also often cheaper, argues Sebastian Preuß in WELTKUNST: "For 3,000 to 4,000 euros, sometimes even for 1,500 or even 800 euros, you can buy pieces that once only a few could afford. By museum standards, these pieces may have one or two flaws, but they are full of individuality, charm and historical aura. Such furniture can accompany you your whole life, and unlike the pressboard products of today, it will outlast any move."

Boris Pofalla uses the example of the Astrup Fearnley Museet in Oslos in WeLT to show how private museums can actually make a contribution to society : "The private art collection with a (childless) patriarch at the helm is gradually becoming an institution that takes on the tasks of a public museum supported by the city or state."

An attentive Facebook user points out the interesting side job of Hans-Ulrich Obrist. From television one knows the notice "This movie contains product placements". The practice might also be worth considering for art exhibitions.

Elke Buhr of Monopol believes that the rather vague justification for the postponement of the Berlin Biennale points to a fundamental question that the art business must ask and answer: "This art business should urgently reflect on what it is actually looking for. The need to become more diverse and global and to allow new, different voices is absolutely honourable. But when do you react to buzzwords, when do you run after a chimera, what projections are you perhaps succumbing to? What contexts do you overlook, what knowledge do you lack, despite all the euphoria about global exchange? Is the balance between professionalism and experience and, one must call it that, identity politics slipping?" This applies not only to institutions, by the way, but also to the art market.

The Gallery Weekend Berlin has a new director in Antonia Ruder. The press release is available here (Dropbox-PDF) or in abridged form at Artmagazine or Monopol. Ruder was previously responsible for the GWB, among other things, at the main sponsor BMW and most recently was head of communications at the Schaubühne Berlin.

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