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Kobel's Art Weekly

Artgenève with background; photo Stefan Kobel
Artgenève with background; photo Stefan Kobel
Stefan Kobel

Stefan Kobel

Kobel's Art Weekly 5 2024

The circumstances surrounding the twelfth Artgèneve are unpleasant. It had been known for some time that its founding director Thomas Hug, who until then had been regarded as extremely successful, had been dismissed without notice last August. Shortly before Artgenève opened, numerous French-language media, including Sylvia Revello from Le Temps, reported on the background and accusations of forgery, fraud, mismanagement and theft against Hug. Claude Membrez, CEO of the exhibition company Palexpo, is quoted at length - the dismissed director is said to have lied, cheated and deceived. The whole thing allegedly first came to light in 2022, ten years after the art fair was launched. On 23 January, Jo Lawson-Tancred reported for Artnet in a summary of her European colleagues. One day later, Monopol followed with a longer article as part of its press review. Another day later, Lisa-Marie Berndt picked up the thread in the same medium. Sabine B. Vogel follows on 28 January in Die Presse from Vienna.

Apart from the reporting based on suspicion, including the venting of averments that should be substantiated, no one really seems to question the chronology of events. For ten years, nobody at Palexpo claims to have noticed anything, last summer charges were filed and just as the accused was launching a new event, everything came to light in the press. Not least in view of the poor performance of the Palexpo management - see the Motor Show - this smells a bit sour. I was in Geneva for Handelsblatt and Artmagazine.

The accounts are settled at the end, and according to Karen K. Ho at Artnews the balance for ART SG in Singapore is not so positive: "Even with all of these results, multiple galleries told ARTnews they had poor or no sales at ART SG, or that their experiences left a big question mark on whether they would return for future editions. One European booth only sold works to collectors prior to the fair and will have to ship everything back. 'This has been frustrating,' they said, asking to speak anonymously so they could speak candidly. 'I don't think we will come back. Another South Asian gallery reported that they only sold a work they had on display to a local collector in their home location. 'I don't think the art fair has been realistic enough about expectations.

Regine Müller apparently had a good time at Brafa for the Handelsblatt and the Tagesspiegel: "Brafa also indulges in luxury and pleasure, perhaps even more than Tefaf, whose stand prices are not only more than twice as high as those at Brafa, but the catering in Maastricht also commands top prices. In Brussels, on the other hand, long tables are set up in the aisles on the preview day, at which the galleries serve their customers in the evening. And snacks and champagne are generously offered during the preview." Everything as usual. However, there is one new feature to report: "In addition to the many regular guests, more than half of the 20 new exhibitors this year are specialists in old masters." Elsewhere, this segment has been on the decline for years. But the organisers seem to want to diversify even further, as Ursula Scheer found out for the FAZ: "The BRAFA management committee wants the range to be even greater, perhaps with street art and photography, and the number of participants is to increase to up to 150 - but no more than that. In Brussels, they know that abundance, taken to extremes, could turn into something less dreamlike. There is already enough to discover at BRAFA." The only thing missing is street art, which rounds off the fair's already weak contemporary segment. Lee Carter was in Brussels for Artnet.

Hong Kong's art market is apparently thriving, according to Reena Devi at Artnews: Despite recent speculation about Hong Kong's primacy waning as a major player in the art world over the past few years, mainly due to domestic political protests and Covid-19 restrictions, mega galleries and global auction houses continue to double down on the city. This week, Hauser & Wirth opened a new street-level gallery space in Hong Kong's central business district."

Scott Reyburn visited the first edition of Condo in London in four years for the New York Times: "Britain's economy is stagnant, the international art market is in a downturn and the wider world is weighed down with ongoing geopolitical crises in the Middle East, Ukraine and beyond. Yet, perhaps counter-intuitively, London's contemporary art gallery scene is expanding. This past weekend was the preview of the sixth edition of Condo London, a collaborative citywide exhibition featuring 27 invited international dealerships presenting exhibitions at 23 London contemporary galleries." Stephanie Dieckvoss explores newly opened galleries on a tour of London for the Handelsblatt.

Werner Remm tells the exciting story of the rediscovered "Portrait of Miss Lieser" by Gustav Klimt, the most expensive work of art ever offered at an auction house in Austria with an estimate of 30 to 50 million, in Artmagazine: "The work itself, a prime example of a late (unfinished) Klimt, now stands on its own in all its vibrant colourfulness. While Klimt research will once again be rewritten in this regard, Miss Lieser will be travelling to Switzerland, Great Britain and Hong Kong before it goes on sale in Vienna on 24 April with an estimated price of 30 - 50 million euros. Whether it will remain in Austria permanently afterwards is rather uncertain. An export licence has been granted by the Federal Monuments Office. It is possible that the lady will accept a lucrative position as an ambassador for foreign culture." Olga Kronsteiner praises the behaviour of the consignor and auction house in the Standard: "A restitution settlement of the exemplary kind, as the research in recent months has found no evidence of a seizure, confiscation or distress sale, but the circumstances of the whereabouts during the Nazi era, after the end of the Second World War and until the 1960s could not be clarified. A search for the painting by the descendants of the former owners was never documented." For English-speaking readers, there is a version by Jo Lawson-Tancred published the following day on Artnet.

Perhaps even more adventurous is the provenance of the "Blekkinks", a collection of Korwar sculptures from Indonesia, one of which is being auctioned at Lempertz in Brussels (on 31 January, not December, as erroneously noted in the article), as Ursula Scheer reports in the FAZ: "According to him, Henry Blekkink was born in Java in 1888, the son of a Dutch teacher. Just ten years later, his parents returned home with him, where his father died in 1900. Not much more is known about Henry Blekkink than that he moved from Utrecht to The Hague as an adult, never married and taught at a Christian school. His Korwar collection, which he is said to have kept in a display cabinet reserved especially for it, was inherited by a nephew. Shortly after his uncle's death, he unceremoniously wrapped the artworks in newspaper and packed them away. It was only after his own death that they were retrieved - and sold."

The out-of-court settlement of the copyright dispute between Richard Prince and two photographers is reported by Matt Stevens in the New York Times: "Matt Gaughan, Prince's studio manager, said that the artist 'adamantly refused to admit infringement' and had 'agreed to settle over eight years of costly litigation for a tiny fraction of what trial alone would cost'." Probably good for everyone involved. Less so for anyone interested in the limits of artistic freedom.

Gradually, all the NFT scams from the boom times are ending up in court. Tessa Salomon presents a case at Artnews. The new 45-minute series "NFT: Chaos in the art world" on Arte provides a crash course in NFTs.

Angelica Villa reports on new developments in Phillips' management at Artnews.

The property of former media mogul Louise Blouin was auctioned off by Sotheby's at a hammer price of 79 million US dollars net, after 150 million dollars had previously been demanded, reports Jennifer Gould in the New York Post.

Good news from a company from a neighbouring sector of the art market with certain overlaps, but with more turnover (alone) than the latter (in total)! The luxury goods group LVMH achieved a net profit of 15.2 billion euros last year on a turnover of over 86.2 billion euros, reports the Handelsblatt: "The business development was driven by the group's largest division by far, the fashion and leather goods business." I wonder if the point two in turnover and profit was produced by the merchandise designed by visual artists?

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