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Kobel's Art Weekly

For the last time at the World Heritage site: Art Rotterdam 2024; photo Stefan Kobel
For the last time at the World Heritage site: Art Rotterdam 2024; photo Stefan Kobel
Stefan Kobel

Stefan Kobel

Kobel's Art Weekly 6 2024

With its not entirely voluntary move to a new location from next March, Art Rotterdam also wants to become more attractive in terms of content. However, in the Tagesspiegel Nicole Büsing and Heiko Klaas also see dark clouds on the horizon regarding the future of the Mondriaan Fund's accompanying exhibition "Prospects": "The Netherlands still has an exemplary support system for young international artists. However, Eelco van der Lingen, the director of the Mondriaan Fund, is concerned. 'We are currently going through difficult times,' he says. 'The political climate is not an environment that brings great joy. Young artists give us hope, energy, new ideas and help us to develop. It's clear how important these young artists are and what value they add to events like Art Rotterdam.' His organisation is still supported by government funding. But given the clear shift to the right after the November 2023 election, the future is uncertain." I was in Rotterdam for Artmagazine.

Mallorca is to have an international art fair again, the island's president announced on the occasion of a museum opening, reports Clementine Kügler in the FAZ. According to rumours, the option was offered to several art fair organisers, but only one took it up. It remains to be seen whether the politician's indiscretion will actually help in the decision-making process.

The Indian art market seems to be picking up speed again after its long recovery phase from the 2008/9 financial crisis, according to reports from the India Art Fair, including one by Kabir Jahal in The Art Newspaper: "These changes are being remarked on by a number of art market pundits in the fair halls. 'Now is your time to sell a work by [20th-century painter] S.H. Raza-you can name your price. And so younger artists are becoming more expensive,' says Franck Barthelemy, a dealer based between Bangalore and Paris. This is echoed by one fair visitor who acquires art for the corporate and private collections of a 'big, industrialist family'. Speaking anonymously, she says that she has noticed a 'big jump even from last year' for mid-career Indian artists".

Dmitry Rybolovlev has lost his sensational case against Sotheby's in New York. Ursula Scheer summarises in the FAZ what it was all about: "At its core, the trial was once again about the accusation that Bouvier had acted as an art advisor to the oligarch, acting in his interests, and had gone behind the Russian's back as the owner of the artworks he had bought and thus as a dealer into his own pocket - with a hefty profit. [...] Most recently, Rybolovlev failed with a fraud claim against Bouvier in Geneva. The public prosecutor's office there had found 'no evidence of sufficient suspicion' against Bouvier. Bouvier was therefore acquitted in Switzerland. In New York, it was no longer about Bouvier, but about the role of Sotheby's in the transactions that had taken place via the auction house." In her report for the Handelsblatt, Barbara Kutscher lets both sides have their say: "Rybolowlev's lawyer explained after the judgement was announced: 'With this case, we have achieved our goal of shining a light on the lack of transparency that plagues the art market. This secrecy made it difficult to prove complex aiding and abetting fraud. This judgement only underlines the need for reforms to be implemented outside the courtroom. The auction house wrote in a statement: 'Today's verdict reaffirms Sotheby's long-standing commitment to upholding the highest standards of integrity, ethics and professionalism in all aspects of the art market. We thank the jury for its verdict, which fully exonerates Sotheby's of any alleged misconduct." Legally, Sotheby's is in the clear. However, Graham Bowley's account in the New York Times of the company's practices, which have been the subject of the proceedings, might make people with less experience of the art market shake their heads.

The Dorotheum auctioned off furniture from the collection of former Tefaf dealer Otto Mitzlaff. Sabine Spindler summarises the sobering result in the Handelsblatt: "The auction at Dorotheum confirms the current situation: the furniture market is a buyers' market across the board. The perfectly proportioned Empire bench from around 1800 realised 6500 euros, which is very moderate for this elegant piece of mahogany furniture with discreet brass edges and sweeping sabre legs. What is more painful for the furniture connoisseur von Mitzlaff is that the examples with master names and furniture-historical weight did not find new owners." Even museum furniture is now sometimes cheaper than new items in furniture stores.

Barbara Kutscher tries to read trends from Sotheby's annual figures, which are now only of limited significance due to privatisation, for the Handelsblatt: "In a difficult global political and economic environment, the house has maintained its stability and is even expanding. The old adage that investors invest in tangible goods in times of crisis is probably true. The continuing increase in new customers from Asia and the Middle East as well as the droves of 'millennials' and 'Generation Z' at least speak in favour of this. Above all, the appetite for the consumption of luxury goods continues to grow globally. This is supported by the relatively young luxury goods division, which the company has established as a separate department. It now generates sales of 2.2 billion dollars from auctions, which is more than 25 per cent of total sales." In addition, the financing business and private sales have grown strongly. The company is thus continuing to diversify from an art auction house to an all-round service provider for wealthy individuals. Ursula Scheer also looked at the figures for the FAZ: "According to [CEO Charles F.] Stuart, the diversification of the offering and cross-over sales platforms, where objects of different genres are for sale, have proven to be a success. A transfer of wealth is underway and younger clients are increasingly entering the market. Generation X already accounts for more than 40 per cent of bidders at Sotheby's on items worth over a million dollars; millennials are active in both newly established categories and traditional, high-calibre auctions and are interested in cultural heritage."

At the same time, Sotheby's is opening up the price war in terms of fees, reports Susanne Schreiber in the Handelsblatt: "The 1 per cent administration fee charged on all transactions is no longer applicable. The buyer has to pay a combined fee of 20 per cent up to the hammer price of 6 million dollars and 10 per cent for values above that. The hammer price is the net price. This is around a quarter cheaper than before, emphasises 'Sotheby's'."

Judd Tully's report from the New York Old Masters auctions for The Art Newspaper confirms that the auction houses urgently need to come up with something: "Christie's Old Masters Part One sale, staged on Wednesday (31 January), limped to $10.9m ($13.8m with fees) against pre-sale expectations of $18m to $27.2m. (All pre-sale estimates exclude fees.) The equivalent sale in 2023 made $44.2 million with fees, about triple the premium-inclusive total realised in this year's auction. Six of the 78 works were withdrawn before the action began at Christie's, including Niccolo di Pietro Gerini's multi-panel Scenes from the Passion of Christ, which carried an estimate of $1.2m to $1.8m. Of the 72 lots that crossed the block, 30 were bought in, making the sell-through rate an unsettling 58%."

Susanne Schreiber and Christian Herchenröder offer tips for newcomers to the confusing world of art auctions in a loose series in the Handelsblatt: "In German auctions, some of these obfuscation strategies have become established, which are opaque to the layman but obvious to the insider. In one house, the consignor number is given as a fictitious bidder number if an important lot falls through, i.e. receives no bid. The consignor numbers can usually be found in small print at the back of the catalogue. The system of bidder numbers often differs from that of the consignors."

A monumental wall painting in the Deutsches Hygiene Museum Dresden is recognised as an early work by Gerhard Richter following its rediscovery, reports dpa: "'This time he agreed', said the director of the Gerhard Richter Archive, Dietmar Elger. It certainly has to do with the context, 'but it's also a different time'. Richter, who turns 92 on 9 February, is more relaxed. He does not consider his early work to be part of his actual oeuvre, which began in 1962. 'It doesn't have the art-historical significance,' explained Elger. In the 1990s, it was difficult for many to separate the two." The fact that artists themselves are given the power of art-historical interpretation over their work is thanks to an art market that prioritises commerce over science and a policy that drives this very science and its institutions into dependence on economic actors. For years, by the way, someone has been peddling a whole slew of Richter's early works, but he can't sell them because Richter refuses to recognise them. The easiest thing would be for Richter to buy the collection and destroy it.

The resignation of Vittorio Sgarbi from his post as state secretary is reported by dpa: "The trained art historian is suspected in particular of having illegally acquired a 17th century painting. There are also allegations that he paid dearly for lectures when he was already a member of the government." This would fit in with his business behaviour over the last few decades.

A suspect is said to have confessed to the murder of New York gallery owner Brent Sikkema in Rio de Janeiro, reports Adam Schrader on Artnet, citing Brazilian media: "a 30-year-old Cuban national, was arrested just days after the 75-year-old New York gallerist was found dead in his flat in Rio's affluent neighbourhood of Jardim Botânico. Sikkema's death shocked the art world, spurring heartfelt messages of remembrance. Prevez's lawyer Greg Andrade revealed that his client had confessed and alleged the crime was masterminded by another person in an interview with the O Globo newspaper. Edna de Castro, another attorney for Prevez, told Folha de São Paulo that he might have been drugged before the killing."

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