A summary of last week’s art news, minus the Met’s Rose Period Picasso fiasco, because that’s hardly news at this point…
Demand and short supply prevailed at the Sotheby’s and Christie’s old masters sales this week. The $109 million that changed hands at Christie’s set a new record for a single old masters auction and established new price highs for the artists Rembrandt, Raphael and Domenichino. Sotheby’s old master’s sales totaled $74 million, well situated in the pre-sale estimate of $54-75 million. Sotheby’s most buzzed items included “Portrait of a Woman, Called ‘La Belle Ferronniere,’ ” once thought to be authored by Leonardo da Vinci. It sold for $1.5 million—triple the $500,000 estimate.
These outcomes support the prediction that high quality conservative art will fare better during a recession. The old masters, the impressionists and the modernists are an inflation hedge, while acquisitions by recent superstars have become risky investments.
In a survey of 25 museums, The Art Newspaper notes that endowments are recovering, and the Met reports that its income is at pre-recession levels. But California closings (Claremont Museum of Art and the Fresno Metropolitan Museum) and cautionary moves, such as the Los Angeles County Museum sending 17 pieces through Sotheby’s last week, indicate that institutional art budgets remain shaky.
All is not lost in our most leveraged state. On Wednesday the Getty Foundation announced that it will award $3.1 million in grants to 26 California institutions to help fund next fall’s bevy of exhibits, “Pacific Standard Time: Art in L.A. 1945-1980.” This gift doubles the previously announced commitment.
Does the Man Make the Art?
No, concluded art historians at a secret meeting in New York. Comprised of representatives from the Met, the National Gallery and Columbia University among others, the panel met to discuss 74 questionable Degas casts discovered in a Parisian foundry. The resulting bronzes, on display at the Herakleidon Museum in Athens, are selling at roughly $2 million on the secondary market. Despite leaking their suspicions to Art News, the experts have decided not to pursue authenticity challenges and the associated lawsuits.
Yes, declared a French court, handing a leading Modigliani expert two years and a $70,000 fine for forgery. Christian Parisot, who has been oft quoted in scholarly debates surrounding fake Modiglianis, has been convicted of creating and exhibiting sketches attributed to Modigliani’s young mistress, Jeanne Hebuterne.
Tracey Emin and Damien Hirst will join other U.K. artists and members of the public in destroying their most detested pieces at South London Gallery. A 1900 sq. ft. room has become a huge Art Bin where artists dump what they consider failed work. The exhibit opened Thursday and goes through March.
Pilfered Artifacts and Nazis in the News
An article in the latest Journal of Art Crimes claims that 911 hijacker Mohamed Atta tried to hock Afghan antiquities to pay for flying lessons. In recent years the Afghan government has released an itemized list of missing art to help locate stolen objects on the international market.
To discourage pilfering of earthquake-demolished museums and historical sites, the U.N.’s Irina Bokova called for a ban on the trade of Haitian artifacts. Crisis-related lootings in Iraq and Afghanistan and continued disputes over WWII displacements represent long-term repercussions of such pilfering.
Just this week a Berlin court ruled that Peter Sachs, the son of a Jewish poster collector named Hans Sachs, is forbidden from reclaiming his father’s posters, now on display at the government-owned German Historical Museum. The court named Sachs the legal owner of the posters, taken from his father by Nazis and now worth at least $6 million, but ruled that they must stay where they are.
Another German Museum, the Folkwang, unveiled its new glass and concrete design by British starchitect David Chipperfield, just in time for its March contemporary art showcase. The collection includes Chagalls, Matisses, Picassos and Gauguins that will be shown together for the first time since the Nazis declared them “degenerate” and forced removal in 1936.
And a final Nazi-related dispute: the heirs of Jaromir Czernin petitioned Austria’s Kunsthistorisches Museum for the return of a priceless Vermeer entitled “The Art of Painting” that they maintain was sold to Hitler under duress.
On Thursday a New York judge revealed that Shepard Fairey will undergo criminal investigation for misleading the Associated Press as to the image he used to create his Obama HOPE poster.
Frank Gehry was awarded his first golf-related commission, the Clubhouse at Abu Dhabi’s Saadiyat Beach Golf Club, slated for completion in 2013. According to Gehry, “The design is intended to be an ephemeral mirage floating above the greens”—which means the world can look forward to another giant bowl of silver meringue.
Armenian architects Nersisyan Artur and Vardanyan Vardan (the latter recently noted for designing the Emblem Structure for Dubai’s Za’abeel’s Park) have revealed their new design for a hotel and business complex in Yerevan. They should title the design “Floating the Recession.” Not only does it promise to be expensive, it visually and dimensionally references Noah’s Ark, as detailed in the Old Testament.