Previous Posts: March 2013

Death of the galleries

March 30 2013

Image of Death of the galleries

Picture: Faygate, via Flickr

Interesting take on the decline of contemporary art galleries from Jerry Saltz in The New York Times. He says the ramifications aren't just economic, but artistic:

Christie’s, in partnership with a company called Y&S, now provides “a venue for emerging artists not yet represented by galleries” and “creates a bridge between young artists and a young audience.” Translation: “We’re cutting out dealers. Come on down. Make a killing.” Thus, unrepresented artists go straight to auction. Work that is sold this way exists only in collector circles. No other artist gets to see it, engage with it, think about it. The public functions of the gallery space and its proprietors—curation, juxtaposition, ­development—are bypassed and eliminated. All these people supposedly want to help artists, and they probably think they are doing so. But they’re engaged in something else, and it makes being around art less special. Too many of the buyers keep their purchases in storage, in crates, awaiting resale. Mediocre Chinese photorealism has become a tradeable packaged good.

Simon Schama at the new Rijksmuseum

March 30 2013

Image of Simon Schama at the new Rijksmuseum

Picture: Wikipedia

Simon Schama has an interesting essay in the FT on the soon to open Rijksmuseum (shut for ten years!), which henceforth is to be known as 'The Museum of the Netherlands'. He tells us that the museum is to have a new display ethos, with galleries including numerous objects from a related period, from paintings to cutlery, rather like the V&A:

What has been done with the museum is less a restoration with some fancy contemporary design than the inauguration of a curatorial revolution. When you see those early Rembrandts or the great mannerist “Massacre of the Innocents” of Cornelis van Haarlem with its ballet of twisting rumps, you will also encounter, as would those who would first have seen them, the silver, weapons and cabinets that were the furniture of the culture that made those pictures possible. You will enter the historical world of the Netherlands at a particular moment. And, because the objects are housed in frameless, edgeless displays in which the glass is of a stunning invisibility, nothing in one’s field of vision separates images from artefacts.

The new displays mean that:

History and art have their natural companionship restored, for – although historians condescendingly suppose images to be “soft” evidence of the past, and art historians suspect historians of obtuse philistinism – the truth is, as Huizinga knew, they need each other to reconstruct the reality of lost worlds. History without the eloquence of images is blind; art without the testimony of texts is deaf.

Too true.

This Easter, I am wearing...

March 30 2013

Image of This Easter, I am wearing...

Picture: BG

Happy Easter everyone!

Update - a reader writes:

hahahahah omg that shirt is great!! 

More on Mahon's £10m 'Caravaggio'

March 29 2013

Image of More on Mahon's £10m 'Caravaggio'

Picture: TAN

The Art Newspaper has an interesting update on Sir Denis Mahon's 2006 'Caravaggio' discovery. Regular readers will remember that Sir Denis bought it at Sotheby's, where it was called 'after Caravaggio', and Sotheby's are now being sued by the then vendor. I'm reliably informed that the picture isn't in fact by Caravaggio, but a competent copy.

However, TAN reports that the picture was jointly owned by Sir Denis and Orietta Adam, his close friend, and valued for insurance and export licence purposes at £10m. Which makes one wonder what sort of inheritance tax liability was levied on Sir Denis' half-share, whoever he left it to. 40% of £5m is quite a hit, especially if the picture is indeed a copy worth not much more than the £50,000 he paid for it. 

In the Prado gift shop...

March 29 2013

Image of In the Prado gift shop...

Picture: BG

...a possible clue as to why the museum was so keen to over-hype their curious copy of the Mona Lisa.


March 29 2013

Image of Yesterday...

Picture: BG

Apologies for the lack of service yesterday, I went to the Prado for a final visit to the excellent exhibition, 'The Young Van Dyck', along with Philip Mould. Above is a photo of Philip beside a fine study [Private Collection] for 'Suffer Little Children Come unto Me' [National Gallery of Canada], which he discovered in 1993 in a minor auction in London. The study's inclusion in the exhibition was a nice endorsement of how the trade can advance art history.

I'm hoping to have a fuller review of the exhibition here soon. If you haven't yet been, you have two days to go!

TEFAF joins Sotheby's in China

March 27 2013

Image of TEFAF joins Sotheby's in China

Picture: The Economist/AFP

Like most art dealers and auction houses, TEFAF [The European Fine Art Fair, at Maastricht] has for some time been trying to 'get more Chinese' to come and sample its wares. Now, however, they've decided to have a TEFAF fair in China itself, and in collaboration with Sotheby's. Not so long ago, TEFAF members used to resist vigorously any involvement with the main auction houses. But the new partnership is a sign of how things have changed, and the increasing dominance of auctioneers. More details on TEFAF Beijing in the Antiques Trade Gazette here

Meanwhile, China Daily has an interesting take on a recent selling exhibition at Sotheby's New York of Chinese art, seeing it as a move by the auction house into dealer territory:

The art work with fixed prices rather than being offered in the traditional auction is an attempt by Sotheby's to gain new business at time its auction revenue has declined. It's also a move into an area traditionally run by private art galleries: sales exhibitions. And it's drawing criticism from some gallery owners who deal primarily in Asian art.

"This will be an uphill battle," said Martha Sutherland, principal of M. Sutherland Fine Arts gallery. "We are in the bespoke business and we offer the personal touch." [...]

In 2012, Sotheby's reported total revenue of $768.5 million, which included auction and private sales. That was a decline of $63.3 million, or 8 percent, from 2011. The decrease was mainly caused by a $79.4 million, or 11 percent, drop in auction-commission revenue. Private sales were a record $906.5 million, an 11 percent increase from $814.6 million in 2011.

Henry Howard-Sneyd, Sotheby's vice-chairman of, Asian art, said the auction house doesn't see its move into sales exhibitions as a threat to galleries.

"There are new galleries being formed and galleries closing down all the time," he said. "It's a constant cycle. I think Sotheby's is being one of those new faces in that market place. It's just part of the ongoing innovation and creativity of the contemporary art market. "

Finally, in the Old Master world, dealer Johnny Van Haeften (in an interview with Art History Abroad) also sees increasing auction house dominance, and says the future is bleak for Old Master dealers:

Auction houses are doing so many private treaty sales now; what sort of impact do you think that has on dealers?

I think it’s one of the greatest threats to the dealing world.  Christie’s and Sotheby’s have both announced that 20% of their turnover comes from private sales, which is quite scary.

Do you think it’s affected the quality of their auctions?

Certainly the quality of the sales has reduced considerably, as has the quantity.  The availability of pictures is diminishing, and it’s difficult for us to compete with them.  There is an attraction that Christie’s and Sotheby’s offer – they say, ‘if you sell with us, it will be totally discreet and private and it won’t go to auction’, but if you go through a gallery, that would happen anyway.  I suppose their main argument is that they have access to more clients.

What about the future of Old Master dealers?

I think it’s fairly bleak.  As the availability declines, the cost price gets higher.  But I think there will always be Old Master dealers and there will always be people who prefer to buy from dealers – as soon as they realise that at auction the price can only go up and at galleries it can only go down.  We’ve noticed already this year, that buyers are starting to come back to galleries, because the intensity of the pressure to make up your mind by a certain time is not present in a gallery – you have a little bit longer, you can try it out in your home and you don’t have to take a risk, like a dealer buying a very dirty picture that doesn’t clean well and then being stuck with it.  There always has been huge competition between the dealers and the auction houses, and there always will be.

As I've said before, there is only one way dealers can continue to compete with auction houses, given that we cannot out spend them or out market them, and that is to out think them. That's what makes it such fun.

A woman? Mon Dieu!

March 27 2013

Image of A woman? Mon Dieu!

Picture: Telegraph

They're having a row in France over the Louvre's new director. 

Newly found Reni makes CHF 1.2m

March 27 2013

Image of Newly found Reni makes CHF 1.2m

Picture: Gallerie Koller

A re-discovered Assumption by Guido Reni has been sold in Switzerland for CHF1.22m, against a CHF 120,000 reserve. More details here


March 27 2013

Image of Really?

Picture: CNN

CNN reports that the Gagosian Gallery is to have an exhibition of George W. Bush's paintings. Hard to believe. Still, Gagosian had to make up for the loss of Hirst and Koons somehow.

TEFAF 2013 review

March 26 2013

Read all about it over at Tribune de l'Art.

Vermeer and Music at the NG

March 26 2013

Image of Vermeer and Music at the NG

Picture: National Gallery

The National Gallery has released details of their summer exhibition, Vermeer and Music. Details here

Hot, in a 17th Century way

March 26 2013

Image of Hot, in a 17th Century way

Picture: Royal Collection, Frances Stuart by Sir Peter Lely

Buzzfeed has posted an art historically essential guide to the 13 hottest portraits of Restoration England. Nell Gwynn is number one.

The selection misses out my favourite, and the undoubted beauty of her age, Frances Stuart, Duchess of Richmond. She also did it for Pepys, who wrote, on 13th July 1663:

into the Queen’s presence, where all the ladies walked, talking and fiddling with their hats and feathers, and changing and trying one another’s by one another’s heads, and laughing. But it was the finest sight to me, considering their great beautys and dress, that ever I did see in all my life. But, above all, Mrs. Stewart in this dress, with her hat cocked and a red plume, with her sweet eye, little Roman nose, and excellent taille, is now the greatest beauty I ever saw, I think, in my life; and, if ever woman can, do exceed my Lady Castlemaine, at least in this dress nor do I wonder if the King changes, which I verily believe is the reason of his coldness to my Lady Castlemaine.

Logos in the Fitzwilliam

March 26 2013

Image of Logos in the Fitzwilliam

Picture: BG

In 2009 the Fitzwilliam turned down an £80,000 grant from the ArtFund, because it would have meant displaying a small ArtFund logo on the label next to the painting. Daft. I was in the Fitzwilliam yesterday to film a sequence for 'Fake or Fortune?', and was pleased to see that everyone has now calmed down a bit: the ArtFund logo above is part of a prominent display to welcome the Fitzwilliam's triumphant acquisition of Poussin's Extreme Unction.

Update - a reader writes:

The Fitz wasn't being so daft about the Art Fund logo. It was a horrid luminous pink with a heart and there was no consultation, just a diktat that museums had to use it on every label instead of the text acknowledgement that had been the rule before. It really did shout in a very insensitive way when placed next to works of art. Now the logo has been simplified, the heart has gone and one is allowed to use it in black.

Rescuing looted art (ctd.)

March 26 2013

Image of Rescuing looted art (ctd.)

Picture: AP

Seven pictures, including four from the Louvre and the above Gandolfi, will be returned by the French Government to the heirs of Robert Neumann, an Austrian Jew who fled the Nazis in the 1930s. More details here

Faking Renoir

March 26 2013

Image of Faking Renoir

Picture: New York Times

John Anderson in The New York Times has an interesting piece on how artist Guy Ribes faked a bathc of Renoirs for a forthcoming film on the French master:

To call Mr. Ribes a colorful character is putting it mildly. Born in a brothel to a prostitute mother and a gangster father, he’s a former member of the French Foreign Legion and a lifelong devotee of the great painters. Although he created and sold his own work early on, he also provided paintings “inspired” by the masters to a criminal art ring that sold the paintings as genuine.

Rather than copy known work Mr. Ribes would create work that simulated style, paintings that might have been done by Picasso or Chagall or Renoir and, say, languished in a private collection before being made available to gullible buyers. For this Mr. Ribes, at the age of 61, was sentenced to three years in prison, getting out in December 2010.

“I was in a rather precarious situation when this project was proposed to me,” Mr. Ribes said by phone from Paris, referring to his post-prison finances. Mr. Bourdos hired him in May 2011 and put him in a studio next to his office, and Mr. Ribes worked for six months on the paintings that appear in the film — not just re-creations of existing Renoirs but also paintings he might have done.

The art event of the year

March 26 2013

Image of The art event of the year


I can't wait for this.

How to publicise an art class

March 25 2013

Video: via & Dr Ben Harvey

Speedy work at TEFAF

March 25 2013

Image of Speedy work at TEFAF

Picture: Lawrence Steigrad Fine Arts

In Maastricht, New York art dealer Lawrence Steigrad has sold the above The Women's Speed-skating Race on the Westersingel in Leeuwarden, January 21st, 1809, by Nicolaas Baur, to the Rijksmuseum. The picture will be on display in time for the Rijksmuseum's re-opening (at last, hooray) on April 13th.

AHN still blocked in Buckinghamshire

March 25 2013

Image of AHN still blocked in Buckinghamshire


A reader tells me that Buckinghamshire County Council is still blocking AHN. At least this time the reason given is 'profanity', not porn.

Another effective use of taxpayer's money.

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