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Kobel's Art Weekly

Roman Abramovich's yacht; photo Keld Gydum via Wikimedia
Roman Abramovich's yacht; photo Keld Gydum via Wikimedia
Stefan Kobel

Stefan Kobel

Kobel's Art Weekly 39 2023

With its focus on art from North Africa and the Middle East, the Menart fair has established itself in Paris, which Werner Bloch visited for the Tagesspiegel: "But if you want to sniff out something new and discover perspectives beyond the traditional Western view, this is the place to be. 'Arab contemporary art has grown exponentially in importance in the last ten years,' says Laure d'Hauteville, the founder, director and manager of MENART. [...] Clearly, art and the art market in this region have a lot to do with politics. It is no coincidence that the French Ministry of Culture now supports MENART. In general, France seems to be closer to the region than Germany. In any case, the artist Morteza Khosravi has decided to no longer expose himself to the dangers in his home country. He is moving to Paris with his wife. The French embassy in Tehran has issued him a 'talent visa'."

The merger of Fine Art Paris and the Biennale to form the art and antiques fair FAB goes hand in hand with the withdrawal of the once overpowering Syndicat National des Antiquaires, I report for the Handelsblatt. For Tefaf, this could create a powerful competitor on the European mainland.

Art Basel (press release) has hired a Chief Growth Officer in Hayley Romer and a Chief Digital Officer in Craig Hepburn, introduced by Kabir Jhala in The Art Newspaper.

Charlotte Burns takes the latest setbacks for David Zwirner as an opportunity to examine the conditions under which the very small elite of the mega-galleries work for The Art Newspaper : "Art sales and real estate have only become more intertwined for dealers in the decades since. As the market has ballooned, so too has the bitter competition among dealers for the best supply of work. Sought-after artists are routinely offered opportunities by rivals for more space and more frequent exhibition opportunities, as well as better access to different international markets-and therefore, potentially, more money and career momentum. Knowing this, many dealers feel compelled to expand their empires, taking on more building space to protect their programmes from poaching (or to better position themselves as the poachers)."

95 percent of all NFT collections are now worthless, reports Jörn Brien at t3n: "According to this, there are currently 73,257 NFT collections, of which 69,795 - or a good 95 percent - are completely worthless. As a result, almost 23 million investors are said to have lost money. Another interesting fact is that 79 percent of all NFT collections were never sold in the first place. Due to this significant increase in supply, it will probably be difficult to revive the market in the future." The author, like Phil Rosen in Business Insider, refers to an investigation by NFT gaming specialist Vlad Hategan for the platform dappGambl. If only someone had warned us beforehand that the whole NFT spectacle was just a Ponzi scheme!

Roman Abramovich is said to own art worth around a billion dollars and to use offshore companies to smuggle his collection past the sanctions, several media outlets have discovered in a joint investigation. The ZDF magazine Frontal writes: "The leaked documents reveal not only the hitherto unknown dimensions of the collection, but also who is profiting from it despite the Russian sanctions. The Cypriot financial service provider MeritServus plays an important role in the opaque dealings. The firm managed dozens of Abramovich companies and was sanctioned by the British government for this reason. MeritServus possibly helped Abramovich to avoid sanctions - with a trick. [...] And now the trick comes into play: Just three days after this sanctions announcement, the trustees of the Ermis Trust changed the shares: Suddenly, according to the documents, Zhukova was 'irrevocably entitled' to 51 percent of the trust's distributions, Abramovich only to 49 percent. But sanctions generally only kick in if the sanctioned person has more than a 50 per cent stake in the asset." A more deatilled report is presented by Rob Davies and Jonathan Jones of the Guardian.

Swantje Karich and Marcus Woeller have collected the pros and cons of a restitution law, practical suggestions and indications of obstacles from three lawyers and art auctioneers each for the WeLT (paywall). The Berlin lawyer Peter Raue, for example, is sceptical: "It is neither coincidence nor inertia that a restitution law does not yet exist. And there won't be one any time soon. Too many regulations, especially under private law, would have to be amended or repealed. Questions of limitation, for example, may not only be changed for works that fall under the regulation of the Washington Declaration, that would be inadmissible. If the Commission's decisions were legally binding, they would have the force of a court judgement and would require legal review. However, I consider such a 'special court' to be problematic from a constitutional point of view. This is because the legislature would have to re-regulate many constitutionally secured positions of a court procedure - prohibition of retroactivity of laws, right to due process of law, granting of the right to be heard." However, the experts are unanimous in the view that the state and its institutions would have to stop making themselves a slender foot at the expense of heirs and owners.

The need for a binding and practicable regulation is shown by a recent case reported by Ursula Scheer in the FAZ: "In the end, everything went very quickly at Neumeister in Munich: 40,000 euros were bid for the beginning, a telephone bidder from abroad set 45,000 euros against it, and Frans Francken's baroque panel painting of Jesus at the 'Sermon on the Mount' was sold - within the estimate of 40,000 to 60,000 euros. Regardless of how briefly, glamorously and painlessly it went down in the moderately crowded auction room, the blow of the hammer must have caused everyone involved to breathe a sigh of relief. The painting, over which lies an indissoluble shadow of the Nazi past, has been mediated and, at least for the moment, freed from the art trade limbo in which it had hovered for years." This uncertainty also leads to unattractive excesses, Sabine Spindler found out for the Handelsblatt: "Katrin Stoll, [head of Neumeister], found the offer of two international institutions involved in Nazi-extracted art, whose business model is based on restitution issues, outrageous. 'They wanted to buy it out at a dumping price and market it themselves'".

Berlin's Senator for Culture Joe Chialo of the CDU wants to cancel the funding for project spaces of one million euros per year that his predecessor Klaus Lederer (Die Linke) had just established, Patrick Wildermann reports in the Tagesspiegel (paywall): "Since 2020, there has already been a two-year basic funding for project spaces and initiatives in Berlin, endowed with 800,000 euros. Not a lot of money given the breadth and diversity of the scene. Which is why Lederer's cultural administration decided to introduce an additional four-year concept funding for the years 2024 to 2027, as has long existed in the performing arts - for groups, artists and production venues. [...] In the afternoon, [CDU spokesperson Robin] Juhnke spoke of the 'administrative logic' to which such a draft budget is subject: 'What has only recently led to growth is the first thing to be cut again'." This will probably not be the last toad that the city's independent art scene will have to swallow in the face of Berlin's upcoming austerity measures, especially since the senator is considered less technically versed than his predecessor.

What happens when the federal government - bypassing the experts, to boot - stomps into culture with a lot of money is shown by Christiane Fricke in the Handelsblatt on the occasion of the presentation of the founding team of the German Photo Institute in Düsseldorf by Minister of State for Culture Claudia Roth: "Against this background, both expert opinions commissioned by Monika Grütters had expressed a preference for Essen. A recommendation that the budget committee pre-empted at the end of 2019 when it held out the prospect of 41.5 million euros for a German Photo Institute - with a preference for Düsseldorf - behind the back of the Minister of State for Culture. Amazing how things can be bent if you only work at it long enough. Common sense and trust in the culture of political decision-making fall by the wayside. At the time, the Bundestag had made the decision without the matter having been discussed in the cultural committee beforehand. It didn't help that the Taxpayers' Association complained about the lack of justification and that the city of Essen had the non-transparent procedure examined under constitutional law."

A week late, Kira Kramer, in an article marked as commentary for the FAZ, deals with the painting of the legendary TV painter Bob Ross, which a gallery in Minneapolis is putting up for sale for 9.85 million US dollars (rounded to 9.9 million in the FAZ). But instead of treating the asking price as a PR stunt, as not only colleagues but even the gallery owner himself have done before, she takes it seriously and crafts an accusation of elitism out of it: "Ross didn't just want to be the painter of the masses, he wanted the masses to learn to love painting. The price of his painting, which is now up for sale, is likely to have the opposite effect. At the price called, very few can afford to buy it."

The circumstances of the break-in at the East Asian Museum seem once again to confirm all kinds of prejudices about Cologne's slovenliness. Regine Müller has compiled hair-raising facts for the Handelsblatt: "When asked about the museum's security situation, art expert Christoph Bouillon is surprisingly clear: 'One may ask whether the insurer does not consider this to be gross negligence. After two attempted break-ins, the window is only boarded up?' There is still no trace of the stolen goods. It is safe to assume that it has long since left the country on its way to its potential customers. They are probably waiting for the delivery in Asia, Bouillon suspects: 'When I think who buys such porcelain at auctions? Ninety-eight per cent of them are Chinese collectors'."

semi-automatically translated


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