Monday, October 01, 2007




Despite growing economic ills, notably in the real-estate sector, plenty of dough seems to be sloshing around in the art market this September 2007. Some examples:

* Christie’s New York sale of a collection of 107 lots of mid-20th-century design on Sept. 26, 2007, was 99 percent sold, for a total of $5,068,438. The top lot was a desk and swivel-chair set from ca. 1935 by Parisian designer Paul Dupré-Lafon (1900-70), which sold for $601,000, three times the presale high estimate of $200,000.

At the same sale, a pair of vaguely Surrealist-styled bronze andirons, designed in 1936 by Alberto Giacometti, sold for $385,000 (est. $180,000-$220,000), while a suite of eight oak side chairs designed in 1953 by Carlo Mollino for the Casa del Sole sold for $289,000 (est. $130,000-$180,000). That’s $36,125 each.

* Sotheby’s New York’s "Asia Week" sales, Sept. 18-21, 2007, totaled $61,931,226. The super-hot property continues to be Zhang Xiaogang (b. 1958), maker of the haunting "Bloodline" portraits of communist cadres, whose auction record now stands at $3,065,000, paid for the admittedly hyper-historical Chapter of a New Century -- Birth of the People’s Republic of China (1992).

New auction records were also set for works by Fang Lijun ($1,721,000), Liu Ye ($1,385,000), Cai Guo-Qiang ($1,273,000), Liu Dan ($713,000), Ai Weiwei ($675,000) and Su Xinping ($493,000).

The top lot in the sale of art from India and Pakistan on Sept. 21 was Atul Dodiya’s Father (2002), a painting done on metal roller shutters with an image that seems influenced by Neo Rauch (!), which sold for $601,000 (est. $230,000-$280,000), a record for the artist at auction.

* Christie’s corresponding Asia Week sales, Sept. 18-22, 2007, totaled $44,316,701 -- a lower total than Sotheby’s in large part because Christie’s holds its contemporary Asian art sales in Hong Kong (the next sale is scheduled for Nov. 25).

Among the top lots were a 12th-century gilt-bronze figure of Acuoye Guanyin from the Dali Kingdom, which sold for $1,945,000 (est. $400,000-$600,000) to an unnamed European institution, and a 10th- to 11th-century gilt bronze figure of Buddha from Western Tibet, which was won for $657,000 (est. $80,000-$100,000) by an American private buyer.

* Last but not least, two big-ticket auction sales were pre-empted when collectors from the newly capitalist states of Russia and China stepped in to buy the works and donate them to their native countries.

Russian billionaire Alisher Usmanov paid more than $72 million for the entire 450-lot collection of cellist Mstislav Rostropovich, which was slated to go on the auction block at Sotheby's London on Sept. 18-19, 2007. The trove ranged from portraits of Russian royalty, Russian genre scenes and landscapes -- including a group of 20 works by 19th-century "Itinerant" painter Ilya Repin -- to costume designs and historical etchings. A director of the state-controlled gas monopoly OAO Gazprom, Usmanov was urged by the Russian government to purchase the material for the state, according to press reports.

And Chinese casino billionaire Stanley Ho paid $8.84 million -- a third above the presale estimate -- for a Qing Dynasty (17th century) bronze horse head that was slated to hit the auction block in October at Sotheby’s Hong Kong. Cast by Jesuit missionaries for the zodiac fountain of the baroque Palace of the Haiyantang, the sculpture was looted in 1860 by British and French troops. The whereabouts of only seven of the original 12 figures, which have animal heads and human bodies dressed in long robes, are currently known. Ho plans to donate it to the People’s Republic.

Celebrated theater director and artist Robert Wilson gives his fans a look inside his lair with the forthcoming "Robert Wilson Loft Sale" at Phillips, de Pury & Co. on Sept. 30, 2007. The material had been stored in Wilson’s 6,000-square-foot loft at 67 Vestry Street in Tribeca, where he lived since 1973. According to the New York Post, real-estate mogul (and art collector) Aby Rosen bought the building, presumably as a site for a new luxury condo tower, and asked Wilson to vacate.

The sale includes designer furniture, art pottery and folk art, masks from Asia and Africa, a trove of toys and dolls, and a few of his own works as well as works by contemporary artists (Seydou Keita, Mark Kostabi, Pat Steir, Malik Sidibe). The complete auction can be viewed here.


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