Monday, March 31, 2008

French Architect Jean Nouvel receives 2008 Pritzker Prize for a Lifetime of Achievement

French Architect Jean Nouvel receives 2008 Pritzker Prize for a Lifetime of Achievement


Torre Agbar designed by Jean Nouvel

LOS ANGELES, CA.-French architect Jean Nouvel has been awarded the 2008 Pritzker Prize, the highest honor for architecture, for his creative experimentation and buildings that speak to their surroundings, the Pritzker jury said on Sunday.

Mr. Nouvel is saluted for a lifetime of achievement. In a phone interview to the Christian Science Monitor, he said, "I have designed everything except an airport and a cathedral. I challenge myself to give each project a distinctive look."

The sponsoring Pritzker family's Hyatt Foundation of Chicago announced its 32nd laureate today. Nouvel will receive a bronze medallion and a $100,000 grant in a June 2 ceremony at the Library of Congress in Washington.

Nouvel was born in Fumel, SW France. While still at school he worked for a firm of architects, and in 1975 started his own practice and entered a number of competitions. In his designs he strives for a new language, unfettered by adherence to any particular school or style, and his work is characterized by harmony between building and setting.

Since he opened his office, Nouvel has worked to create a stylistic language separate from that of modernism and post-modernism. Rejecting the strict obedience to Le Corbusier that had stifled much of modern architecture, Nouvel initiates each project with his mind cleared of any preconceived ideas. Although he may borrow from traditional forms, he creates a building that stretches beyond traditional constraints.

In 1987, he had his international breakthrough as an architect with the Institut du Monde Arabe in Paris and received the Grand Prix d'Architecture. His designs, from architecture through exhibition designs to furniture designs, are characterised by an interplay of transparency, light and shadow.

Friday, March 28, 2008

National Gallery Seeks Information On Cupid Complaining to Venus by Lucas Cranach

National Gallery Seeks Information On Cupid Complaining to Venus by Lucas Cranach


Cupid Complaining to Venus by Lucas Cranach the Elder (about 1525). Oil on wood, 81.3 x 54.6 cm. Cupid complains to Venus that he has been stung by bees. He holds in his hand the honeycomb that has been stolen from them. The Latin verses in the upper right point up the moral message in this picture that life’s brief pleasure is mixed with pain.

LONDON.-The National Gallery seeks further information in response to a recent discovery about the provenance of its painting Cupid Complaining to Venus by Lucas Cranach the Elder.

In the light of new information, the National Gallery believes that Cupid Complaining to Venus was once part of Adolf Hitler’s private collection.

We are very grateful to Dr Birgit Schwartz, who has been carrying out research on Hitler’s art collecting, for bringing to our attention new information that greatly contributes to our search to fill gaps in the provenance of this painting. The National Gallery believes that Dr Schwartz’s identification of the painting in a photograph of Hitler’s private gallery is correct. The photograph is in an album that is part of Hitler’s former library of 1200 volumes, now in the Library of Congress in Washington. Although Cranach and his workshop made many versions of his compositions, they were rarely exact replicas. The Latin inscription in the National Gallery Cupid Complaining to Venus is placed directly against the background, rather than on a white cartellino. This inscription and other distinctive features of the London painting are clearly visible in the photograph.

The National Gallery bought Cupid Complaining to Venus in 1963 from the New York dealers E & A Silbermann. This firm stated at the time that it came to them from the sale of the collection of Emil Goldschmidt from Frankfurt – which was auctioned by Rudolph Lepke in Berlin on 27 April 1909. The Cranach painting was listed as Lot 48 at this auction. E & A Silbermann told the National Gallery in 1963 that Cupid Complaining to Venus was sold to them by ‘family descendants’ of the buyer at the 1909 auction. Recently the Gallery learnt that the painting was actually acquired in 1945 by Mrs Patricia Lochridge Hartwell (1916–1998), then an American war correspondent in Nazi Germany. A relative of Mrs Hartwell informed the National Gallery that in 1945 she was allowed to take the painting from a warehouse full of art then controlled by US forces in Southern Germany. Mrs Hartwell eventually took the painting back home to the USA.

The provenance gap that now exists is therefore between 1909 and 1945. We also now know that the painting was in Hitler’s possession at some stage during this period. The National Gallery now wishes to establish how and when Cranach’s Cupid complaining to Venus came to be in Hitler’s collection. The National Gallery is continuing its investigations to find this out. Any information from the public would be gratefully received.

Part of the Gallery's normal work is to investigate the provenance of its paintings. In light of concerns that some works of art may have been improperly acquired during 1933–45, the National Gallery, along with museums elsewhere, has paid particular attention to the whereabouts of its paintings during those years.
In March 1999 The Art Newspaper,in cooperation with the National Gallery, published a list of the Gallery’s paintings, the whereabouts of which during all or part of the years 1933 to 1945 was not known. Cupid complaining to Venus was included on the list. Since 1999 research has continued, and the list, which can be found on the Gallery’s website, is updated from time to time as new information emerges.

The National Gallery wishes to learn as much as possible about the provenance of the Cranach painting as part of its ongoing provenance researches. Anyone who may have further information on the precise whereabouts of this painting at any time during the period 1909–1945 is asked to contact the National Gallery by letter to Libraries and Archives Department, The National Gallery, Trafalgar Square, London, WC2N 5DN; or email

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Sotheby's To Auction Francis Bacon's Triptych, Estimated at Around $70 Million

Sotheby's To Auction Francis Bacon's Triptych, Estimated at Around $70 Million


Francis Bacon, Triptych, 1976, Oil and pastel on canvas in three parts, Each: 78 x 58 in. 198 x 147.5 cm. Executed in 1976. Est. in the region of $70 million. © Sotheby's Images.

NEW YORK.- On the evening of May 14, 2008, Sotheby’s sale of Contemporary Art in New York will feature a masterpiece of the 20th century, Francis Bacon’s Triptych, 1976, the most important work by the artist in private hands. A masterwork of the first order, the potent concentration of imagery in Triptych, 1976, provokes a wide range of possible interpretations in a painting which matches the tragic grandeur of Aeschylus. Triptych, 1976, was the centrepiece of the artist’s most important show of new work of the 1970s, held at the Galerie Claude Bernard in Paris in 1977, which closely documented Bacon’s unease and restless mind during that time. One of only three large-format triptychs in the Bernard exhibition, it was illustrated on the cover of the catalogue. Acquired by the present owner at that time, it has been included in all the major surveys of the artist’s work to date, including the Tate Gallery, London, in 1985; Museo d’Arte Moderna, Lugano, in 1993; and the Musée National d’Art Moderne Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, in 1996. In the catalogue from the Museo d’Arte Moderna exhibition, Francis Bacon, 1993, Michael Peppiatt says, “Triptych, 1976, surely ranks among the greatest of Bacon’s paintings” (p. 106). The work is being offered from a Private European Collection and is estimated to bring in the region of $70 million.

Tobias Meyer, Sotheby’s Worldwide Head of Contemporary Art, said: “This is undoubtedly the most important Bacon in private hands. It has been with the same collection ever since it was acquired from the Bernard show over thirty years ago, and it is a masterpiece of the 20th century. The world has been waiting for a great triptych, and this is it.”

Dense with symbolism, the three panels in Triptych, 1976, are filled with a complex, highly charged allegory and supreme paint-handling which shows Bacon’s imagination at its highest pitch. While living and working in Paris, Bacon produced one of his most powerful paintings on the subject and a masterpiece within his oeuvre. This was the climax of one of the most sustained and productive periods in his career, following the incredible success of his 1971 retrospective at the Grand Palais in Paris.

In Triptych, 1976, Bacon draws on Ancient Greek mythology to express his personal tragedy. In the central panel Bacon alludes to the legend of Prometheus, who as a punishment from Zeus is bound to a rock where his liver is perpetually devoured by an eagle. It is also a modern day interpretation of Aeschylus’ famous trilogy The Orestia. To avenge the death of his father at the hands of his mother, Orestes commits matricide and is plagued by the three Furies, the manifestation of guilt. Here, in the central panel, the human form is plagued by three hybrid biomorphic vultures, symbolic of Bacon’s inner demons. At the zenith of his mature career, Bacon revisits the same Greek text that inspired Three Studies for Figures at the Base of the Crucifixion, 1944, a painting which announced his debut on the world stage. A parallel to that early masterpiece, the present work reveals in a single composition the entire range of Bacon’s iconography over three decades of painting. In either side panel, two ominous portraits, like propaganda posters, bear witness to the scene taking place, raised up on structures reminiscent of the rails used for movie-cameras. In the foreground, an imbroglio of human forms – half-dressed, half-naked – exhibit some the best paint-handling witnessed anywhere in Bacon’s oeuvre, contrasted against areas of bare canvas, Letraset and thick pools of white oil. In the right, two heads and a row of teeth emerge from the conflation of anatomical forms and flesh-coloured shadows.

Sotheby’s set the record for a work by Francis Bacon at auction when Study for Innocent X, 1962, sold in New York for $52.7 million. Sotheby’s also holds five of the top six prices for Bacon: in addition to Study for Innocent X, significant prices were achieved for Second Version of Study for Bullfight No. 1, 1969 ($45,961,000 at Sotheby’s New York); Self Portrait, 1978 ($43 million at Sotheby’s London); Study of Nude with Figure in a Mirror, 1969 ($39.8 million at Sotheby’s New York); and Self Portrait, 1969 ($33.1 million at Sotheby’s New York).

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Looking for Owners: Custody, Research, and Restitution of Art Stolen in France Opens

Looking for Owners: Custody, Research, and Restitution of Art Stolen in France Opens


Gustave Courbet,The Bathers, 1858, Oil on canvas, Musée d’Orsay, Paris. Photo: René Lewandowski.

JERUSALEM.- The Israel Museum, Jerusalem, presents Looking for Owners: Custody, Research, and Restitution of Art Stolen in France during World War II, an exhibition tracing the story of works of art looted by Nazi forces in France during the Second World War. Organized by the French Ministry of Culture and Communication, the French Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs, the Direction des musées de France and the Réunion des musées nationaux, in collaboration with The Israel Museum, this landmark exhibition draws from the collection of works of art in France known as Musées Nationaux Récupération (MNR).

On view through June 3, 2008, Looking for Owners brings together more than fifty paintings to explore the complex history behind the MNR holdings, with specific focus on the progress over the last ten years in tracing rightful ownership. The exhibition features the work of major European artists, including Eugène Delacroix, Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, Claude Monet, and Georges Seurat.

Approximately 60,000 objects that were taken from France and brought to Germany during World War II, either through looting or commercial transactions, were repatriated to France after the war. Of these, 2,000 objects that could not be restituted due to a lack of clear ownership history or because they had not been looted, were given in custody to the French National Museums. Today they are stored or exhibited in museums throughout France, including the Louvre, Musée d'Orsay, and Centre Georges-Pompidou, and the French government continues active provenance research and restitution efforts. To help illuminate this ongoing process, the Mattéoli Commission, formed in 1997 by then-Prime Minister Alain Juppé to study the matter of Jewish property restitution in France, recommended an exhibition of MNR works at the Israel Museum at the appropriate time.

“There has been much misunderstanding about the history of works taken during World War II and the efforts relating to their recovery following the war,” said James S. Snyder, Anne and Jerome Fisher Director of the Israel Museum. “This is an unprecedented opportunity to present the history of MNR for our audience in Israel, together with the ongoing research that has been done to help advance the process of restitution in France.”

Looking for Owners features fifty-three works from the MNR collection presented in several categories, including: works looted from unknown owners, works stolen from Jewish families that were returned following the war and subsequently re-gifted to or purchased by the State; unprovenanced works; works involved in transactions with the Nazis; and works bought in the French art market by German museums and private individuals during the war.

The Looting of Art during World War II - Before the beginning of World War II, Adolf Hitler declared his wish to transform his hometown of Linz, Austria, into the Third Reich’s art capital, where all of the treasures of Europe would be exhibited. As a means to this end, Hitler recruited leading art experts to compile a secret “wish list” of works of art by so-called Aryan masters or works that had left German collections after the year 1500, to be “repatriated” to Germany. Plundering of public and private property, and especially of Jewish property, began in 1938 and reached a climax with the Final Solution. Major art collections were confiscated systematically throughout Europe, accompanied by other forms of looting, which included theft of works by Nazi soldiers and officers to give as gifts or for their own private collections, as well as forced sales of inventories from prominent art dealers.

At the end of the war a staggering volume of artworks, books, archival materials, and other cultural artifacts was discovered in hiding places throughout Germany and Austria – in depots, salt mines, castles, museum storerooms, and even private homes – and the arduous task of locating rightful owners and returning treasures to their owners or legitimate heirs began. Looking for Owners reflects aspects of this ongoing effort.

An online list of the MNR collection was posted in November 1996 by the Museums Department of the French Ministry of Culture and Communication ( In 2004, the Réunion des Musées Nationaux published a catalogue of MNR paintings. In conjunction with Looking for Owners, an illustrated catalogue will be published in French and English.

Looking for Owners: Custody, Research, and Restitution of Art Stolen in France during World War II is organized by the French Ministry of Culture and Communication, the French Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs, the Direction des musées de France and the Réunion des musées nationaux, in collaboration with The Israel Museum. It is curated by Isabelle le Masne de Chermont, Curator-at-large at the Museums Department; Vincent Pomarède, Head of the Paintings Department at the Louvre; Laurence Sigal, Director of the Musée d’art et d’histoire du Judaïsme in Paris; and Didier Schulmann, Curator-at-large at the Musée national d’art moderne (Centre Georges-Pompidou); in collaboration with Shlomit Steinberg, Hans Dichand Curator of European Art at the Israel Museum.

The exhibition is made possible through the generosity of: Ingeborg and Ira Leon Rennert, New York; and the donors to the Israel Museum’s 2008 Exhibition Fund: Melva Bucksbaum and Raymond J. Learsy, Aspen, Colorado; Ruth and Leon Davidoff, Paris and Mexico City; Hanno D. Mott, New York; and the Nash Family Foundation, New York.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Le dessin contemporain

Le dessin contemporain

Au printemps, Paris multiplie les rendez-vous pour mettre le dessin contemporain à l´honneur et le dépoussiére de son image de médium secondaire. En France, il doit notamment ses lettres de noblesse à l´instauration d´un Prix de dessin par la Fondation Daniel et Florence Guerlain, à la création du label “Paris Capitale du dessin” par le Salon du Dessin Contemporain qui fête son deuxième anniversaire du 10 au 14 avril et à la naissance de la Slick dessin qui a lieu aux même dates. Pourtant, les maisons de ventes ne profitent pas de l´effervescence générée par ces rendez-vous pour donner plus de place au genre dans leurs vacations : seuls les traditionnelles ventes de dessins anciens et modernes seront orchestrées pendant la période du Salon.

Le dessin contemporain n´a pas besoin de vacation spécialisée pour avoir la cote. Sa progression reste certes en deçà de celle de l´art contemporain tous médiums confondus (dont l´indice des prix à progressé de près de 70% entre janvier 2007 et janvier 2008) mais flirte avec les +52% en 2007 pour les artistes nés après 1945. Face à la forte appréciation d´un art contemporain soutenu par une demande accrue, le dessin, généralement plus abordable que la peinture et la sculpture, devient un domaine de substitution.

Effectivement, il offre la possibilité aux amateurs d´acquérir des artistes déjà consacrés par le marché des enchères à moins de 3 000 euros comme Damien Hirst, Jeff Koons, Vanessa Beecroft, Yoshitomo Nara, Takashi Murakami, Enzo Cucchi, Gary Hume, Cecily Brown ou Robert Combas….
Damien HIRST par exemple, habitué des enchères millionnaires (il signait 17 coups de marteau millionnaires en dollars en 2007 pour des peintures et installations) déploie au feutre, au crayon ou à l´encre une imagerie ambivalente, telle l´association d´une colombe et d´un crâne humain sur une feuille de 15,3 x 10,2 cm, Dove & Skull acquis en salle pour moins de 4 200 euros en octobre dernier (Christie's-South-Kensington, 24 oct. 2007).

Toujours dans cette gamme de prix, les nippons Yoshitomo Nara, Takashi Murakami et Aya Takano sont certes abordables mais pas toujours pour des travaux aboutis : une belle aquarelle ou une gouache de Yoshitomo NARA s´échange par exemple entre 10 000 et 20 000 euros. Sa cote a rapidement flambé : lors de sa première introduction aux enchères en 2000, un amateur éclairé (ou chanceux) fit l´acquisition de la feuille gouachée No Pain No Gain pour l´équivalent de 2 000 euros (1 900 dollars Chez Christie´s). En 2007, il fallait doubler la mise pour emporter un travail au crayon deux fois plus petit (Untitled, The Market, Tokyo, 25 oct. 2007).
La Nippone Aya TAKANO à l´esthétique Kawaii fut introduite récemment aux enchères (en 2004), ses toiles n´atteignent pas les prix d´un Murakami ou d´un Nara et ses dessins demeurent abordables : l´ensemble de quatre aquarelles «With Delicated Mad Hands» par exemple, changeait de main pour moins de 7 000 euros au marteau chez Christie´s Hong-Kong en novembre 2007. Un mois plus tard , à Londres cette fois, son dessin aquarellé Megu Plays on the Traffic Signs se négociait l´équivalent de 1 500 euros à Londres (Christie's-South-Kensington, 1 100 livres).

Du coté de l´Asie toujours, le boom du marché chinois fit émerger des dessins. Parmi les plus cotés, les rares feuilles de Zhang Xiaogang et Yue Minjun s´échangent déjà entre 40 000 et 150 000 euros en moyenne. Au cœur de la déferlante chinoise, l´amateur peut trouver entre 1 000 et 6 000 euros des aquarelles de Ye LIU, de Wei GUO ou de Zhengjie FENG, des fusains ou de petits travaux à la poudre de Cai Guo-Qiang.

Quelques figures majeures du marché français, François Boisrond, Jean-Charles Blais, Robert Combas, Fabrice Hyber, Hervé Di Rosa, Philippe Cognée sont régulièrement proposées en salles entre 1 000 et 5 000 euros.
Enfin, parmi les artistes émergents, récemment exposés ou médiatisés mais encore novices en ventes publiques, citons Philippe MAYAUX dont l´univers kitsch et ambivalent lui valu le prix Marcel Duchamp en 2006, Silvia BÄCHLI, lauréate du prix du dessin contemporain de la fondation Guerlain en mars 2007, Jean-Luc VERNA qui mixe culture rock, pop et gothique, Isabelle LÉVÉNEZ qui confère à l´enfance la saveur d´un conte tragique… leurs rares œuvres soumises à enchères ne trouvent pas toujours leur public malgré des prix attractifs : de quelques centaines d´euros pour une feuille de Silvia Bächli, à 4 000 euros pour une gouache de Philippe Mayaux (Cornette de Saint-Cyr, octobre 2007).

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Le TOP 10 des artistes

Le TOP 10 des artistes


Chaque année, Artprice établit le classement des artistes selon leur chiffre d´affaires en ventes publiques avec une première marche du podium invariablement réservée à Pablo Picasso depuis près de 10 ans. Il en est autrement en 2007 : le chantre de l´art moderne est détrôné par le pape du Pop art Andy Warhol. Second en 2006, il s´offre la première place ! Plus qu´un artiste qui en déclasse un autre, il s´agit d´un véritable tournant dans le monde des enchères. Après avoir vibré aux noms des impressionnistes tels Auguste Renoir ou Claude Monet dans les années 1990, puis à ceux des modernes tels Pablo Picasso ou Gustave Klimt au début des années 2000, désormais le marché couronne des contemporains.

En 2006, seuls le Pop art et l´expressionnisme abstrait américain comptaient parmi les mouvements élus du classement avec Warhol, Lichtenstein et Willem de Kooning. En 2007, le panel artistique s´est élargi avec l´arrivée de Francis Bacon, Mark Rothko et Jean-Michel Basquiat. En l´absence d´œuvre maîtresses proposées à la dispersion en 2007, Gustave Klimt et Egon Schiele sortent du classement.

En 2007, le produit des ventes des 10 premiers artistes s´élève à plus de 1,8 milliard de dollars, soit une hausse de +50% par rapport au chiffre enregistré l´année précédente ! Cette progression spectaculaire est notamment portée par les performances des produits des ventes d´Andy Warhol et de Francis Bacon qui dégagent à eux seuls 400 millions de dollars de plus qu´en 2006 ! Les prix ont flambé et le ticket d´entrée dans le Top 10 a progressé de 44,8% par rapport à 2006 : pour faire partie des 10 élus, l´artiste doit afficher un score minimum de 86 millions de dollars d´œuvres adjugées en 2007, contre 59 millions en 2006.

1 – Andy WARHOL : 420 M$

Andy Warhol enterine son statut d´artiste star du marché en passant de la troisième à la première place du classement, fort de près de 220 millions de chiffre d´affaire de plus que l´année précédente et d´un indice des prix en progression de plus de +450% sur 10 ans. En 2006, Warhol décrochait déjà 43 enchères millionnaires, soit 8 de plus que la star du marché Pablo Picasso… plus frénétique encore, l´année 2007 fut le théâtre de 74 adjudications millionnaires pour des œuvres datées des années 60 aux années 80. Son record demeura pendant 8 ans l´enchère de 15,75 millions de dollars pour Orange Marylin, jusqu´au coup de marteau de 64 millions de dollars en mai 2007 pour Green Car Crash (Green Burning Car I) chez Christie´s New York. L´œuvre pulvérisait la fourchette d´estimation de 25 millions -35 millions de dollars. Cette inflation est propice à la revente et génère de belles plus-values en un bref laps de temps. Ainsi, l´acteur Hugh Grant se défaisait de Liz en novembre 2007, un portrait d´Elizabeth Taylor réalisé en 1963 pour 21 millions de dollars chez Christie´s, alors que l´oeuvre avait été acquise 3,25 millions de dollars à peine 6 ans plus tôt et qu´en 2005, une Liz de la même série partait pour 11,25 millions de dollars chez Sotheby´s.

2 – Pablo PICASSO : 319 M$

En 2007, la plus belle enchère de Picasso fut signée par Femme accroupie au costume turc (Jacqueline) à hauteur de 27,5 millions de dollars, une belle somme certes, mais loin des 93 millions de dollars décrochés en 2004 pour Le Garçon à la Pipe, un rare chef-d´œuvre de la période rose (1905). Son résultat le plus marquant en 2007 n´est pas le fait d´une toile mais d´un bronze intitulé Tête de Femme, Dora Maar. Adjugé 26 millions de dollars lors des vacations de novembre chez Sotheby´s NY, elle devint la sculpture la plus chère du marché. La Tête de Femme est la première sculpture de Picasso adjugée plus de 10 millions de dollars, portant à 9 les enchères supérieures à ce seuil sur l´année (contre 6 en 2006) et illustrant le formidable élan de la sculpture moderne, un secteur plus dynamique que la peinture de la même période, dont l´indice des prix a progressé de plus de 100 % en 10 ans. Malgré 45 enchères millionnaires sur douze mois, soit 10 de plus que l´année précédente, le chiffre d´affaires annuel de Picasso n´a pas augmenté mais au contraire régressé de 20 millions de dollars. Aucun nuage à guetter cependant : rappelons qu´en 2006, son chiffre d´affaires avait progressé de +116%, porté notamment par l´enchère spectaculaire de 85 millions de dollars pour Dora Maar au chat. Ainsi, cette seconde position dans le Top 10 ne réflète aucun essoufflement de sa cote: les avalanches millionnaires pleuvent plus que jamais mais son chiffre d´affaire est soumis à la raréfaction des œuvres mythiques.

3 – Francis BACON : 245 M$

Les corps tourmentés peints par Bacon ne font pas peur ! Bien au contraire, les collectionneurs s´enflamment pour l´intensité de ses œuvres, à tel point que sa cote a largement triplé en 10 ans ! En 2007, il est propulsé sur la troisième marche du podium de ce Top 10 alors qu´il était en 19ème position seulement en 2006 avec un chiffre d´affaires annuel de 200 millions de dollars de moins que cette année ! Cette progression spectaculaire est scandée de sept coups de marteau exceptionnels : sept toiles adjugées plus de 10 millions de dollars chacune entre février et décembre 2007, dont un record à 47 millions de dollars pour «Study from Innocent X», décroché le 15 mai 2007 chez Sotheby´s NY. Six mois après ce sommet, sa Second version of study for bullfight N°1 de 1969 confirmait la flambée des prix avec un coup de marteau de 41 millions de dollars (Sotheby´s NY). L´effervescence autour de l´œuvre de Francis Bacon incite quelques collectionneurs à se séparer de leurs œuvres. De fait, le flux de peintures se densifie avec treize huiles sur toile proposées en salles en 2007, alors qu´on en comptait entre deux et sept soumises annuellement aux enchères entre 1997 et 2006.

4 – Mark ROTHKO : 207 M$

L´arrivée de Mark Rothko dans le Top 10 conforte l´hégémonie de l´art américain dans ce classement et illustre la robustesse des prix de l´art d´après guerre. En effet, son White Center créé en 1950 est devenu en un coup de marteau l´œuvre post-war la plus chère du marché des enchères et la plus forte adjudication de l´année 2007 ! White Center a décroché 65 millions de dollars en mai chez Sotheby´s, devançant le record de Warhol d´un million. Cette enchère historique déclasse largement son précédent sommet de 20 millions de dollars décroché en novembre 2005 chez Christie´s par un « champ coloré » réalisé en hommage à Matisse (1954). Plus que jamais, l´année 2007 vit valser les millions : six œuvres de Rothko se sont envolées à plus de 10 millions de dollars en moins d´un an (entre mai et novembre 2007), contre quatre seulement entre 2000 à 2005. Les œuvres les plus prisées et les plus chères sont les grands formats des années 50, des espaces méditatifs vivement colorés. Cependant, l´accélération de la ronde millionnaire entraîne dans la danse des œuvres auparavant moins cotées comme les travaux sur papier ou comme les Untitled noirs et gris de 1969. Pour la première fois en 2007, un Untitled de la veine sombre décrochait d´ailleurs plus de 10 millions de dollars (14 novembre, Sotheby´s).

5 – Claude MONET : 165 M$

Chantre de l´impressionnisme français, Claude Monet est un habitué du classement. Rappelons qu´en 2004, il occupait la seconde position du Top 10 derrière Picasso grâce à un produit des ventes annuel de 80 millions de dollars. En 2007, deux jours de vacations londoniennes ont suffit pour dépasser ce score. En effet, les 18 et 19 juin Sotheby´s et Christie´s présentaient des œuvres majeures et dégageaient près de 45 millions de livres, soit 84 millions de dollars, uniquement grâce aux toiles de Monet. Point d´orgue de ces vacations estivales : Waterloo Bridge, temps couvert (1904) a été adjugé 16 millions de livres (31,7 millions de dollars) le 18 juin 2007 chez Christie´s à un collectionneur américain, décuplant le prix payé par son ancien propriétaire 17 ans auparavant. Le lendemain, Sotheby´s répondait en adjugeant à 16,5 millions de livres des Nymphéas, réalisés la même année que Waterloo Bridge. Claude Monet reste une valeur sûre et a bénéficié de la bonne santé du marché avec vingt-sept œuvres millionnaires en 2007 contre seize l´année précédente. Mieux : il a signé plus d´enchères millionnaires sur l´année qu´en 1990, au sommet de la précédente bulle spéculative (vingt-trois adjudications millionnaires enregistrées en 1990).

6 – Henri MATISSE : 114 M$

En 2007, trois œuvres majeures furent appelées à déclasser le record établi pour Matisse : deux tableaux d´odalisques et une Danseuse dans le fauteuil, sol en damier. L´année précédente, Matisse avait atteint un nouveau sommet à hauteur de 16,5 millions de dollars pour Nu couché dos chez Sotheby´s NY. Un an plus tard, le même auctioneer espérait frapper le marteau plus haut avec l´Odalisque grise et jaune de 1925, pour laquelle on attendait jusqu´à 20 millions de dollars. La toile a tout de même rapporté 13,1 millions de dollars sans atteindre son estimation basse. L'Odalisque, harmonie bleue présentée chez Christie´s en octobre 2007 a au contraire fait valser les enchères jusqu´à 30 millions de dollars, soit dix millions au-delà de son estimation optimiste ! Les deux odaliques et la danseuse ont dégagé en trois coups de marteau un chiffre d´affaires supérieur aux 59,7 millions de dollars enregistrés en 2006 pour 12 huiles sur toiles, quatre sculptures et une soixantaine de dessins ! De fait, il grimpe de trois places dans le Top 10 et dégage son plus fort chiffre d´affaires annuel.

7 – Jean-Michel BASQUIAT : 102 M$

L´artiste le plus jeune du classement est aussi celui dont la progression est la plus dynamique : en 2007, sa production a été valorisée de plus de 480% sur les dix dernières années. La présence de Basquiat dans le Top 10 n´est pas une première, puisqu´il s´était déjà hissé en 9ème position en 2005 avec un produit des ventes de plus de 35 millions de dollars, dont 11 adjudications millionnaires. Le score exceptionnel de 2007 est par contre plus surprenant : ses œuvres ont généré deux fois plus d´enchères millionnaires et un produit des ventes annuel trois fois supérieur à 2006 ! Face à cette flambée des prix, les tentations de revente sont fortes. L´œuvre Warrior par exemple, acquise en novembre 2005 pour 1,6 million de dollars chez Sotheby´s s´arrachait l´équivalent de 5 millions de dollars en 2007 (2,5 millions de livres, Sotheby´s Londres) ! Point d´orgue des enchères millionnaires de 2007 : une technique mixte de 1981 a pulvérisé le record de l´artiste en passant pour la première fois la barre des 10 millions de dollars ! Initialement estimée entre 6 millions et 8 millions de dollars, l´œuvre a décroché 13 millions de dollars le 15 mai chez Sotheby´s NY. Les ventes d´automne ont confirmé l´ascension sans précédent de Basquiat avec une enchère gagnante de 10,5 millions de dollars pour la grande Electric Chair chez Sotheby´s NY.

8 – Fernand LÉGER : 92 M$

Absent du classement l´année dernière, Fernand Léger retrouve la 8ème place du Top 10, qui était déjà la sienne en 2005. Le succès de ses œuvres lors des ventes new-yorkaises de mai et de novembre a permis de dégager le plus important chiffre d´affaires jamais enregistré pour l´artiste. Point de mire des vacations des ventes de mai : Les usines (1918), un thème phare de l´artiste traité dans une gamme chromatique privilégiant les couleurs primaires et leurs complémentaires a explosé sa fourchette d´estimation, 5 millions à 7 millions de dollars, pour partir à 12,75 millions de dollars chez Sotheby´s. Six mois plus tard, Christie´s adjugeait la superbe «Esquisse pour le tableau definitif», étude pour les constructeurs de 1950 pour 10,5 millions de dollars. Le même jour, toujours chez Christie´s, un dessin gouaché en noir et blanc sur papier beige, de pleine période cubiste (1913) a déclenché une belle surenchère pour s´envoler à 4,2 millions de dollars. Ce Dessin pour contraste de formes (Composition II) signait alors le record pour un dessin de Léger.

9 – Marc CHAGALL : 89 M$

Marc Chagall est certes déclassé de trois places par rapport à 2006 mais son chiffre d´affaires annuel se maintient malgré un choix considérablement tari. En effet, soixante-douze toiles furent proposées en 2007 contre une centaine l´année précédente. Chagall fut pourtant un artiste productif et s´impose comme le deuxième artiste le plus vendu aux enchères après Pablo Picasso, notamment grâce aux nombreuses estampes qu´il réalisa. Ses multiples représentent plus de 85% du volume de transactions de Chagall et pas loin de 400 furent soumis aux enchères sur la seule année 2007. C´est une adjudication exceptionnelle à plus de 10 millions de dollars qui lui permet de conserver sa place dans la Top 10 cette année. Son plus beau coup de marteau annuel est tombé en mai pour une scène de cirque de plus de trois mètres d´envergure, adjugée 12,25 millions de dollars chez Sotheby´s NY. Il n´a pas suffit cependant a déclasser un record ancien de dix-sept ans signé par le même auctioneer pour Anniversaire (1923), au pic de la bulle spéculative de 1990 (13,5 millions de dollars). Si le marché de l'artiste est de plus en plus dépourvu d' œuvres phares, il est loin d´être en sommeil : son indice des prix affiche une hausse de près de 80% entre janvier 2000 et fin 2007.

10 – Paul CÉZANNE : 87 M$

L´année 2006 marquait le centenaire de la mort de Paul Cézanne, 2007 propulse son produit des ventes annuel de plus de 50%. Cézanne, considéré par Picasso comme le père de l´art moderne, fut absent du Top 10 ces dernières années du fait de la raréfaction de pièces majeures susceptibles de décrocher des millions de dollars. Entre 2002 et 2006, son produit de ventes annuel fut systématiquement inférieur à 43 millions de dollars (la moitié du CA de 2007) alors qu´un seul chef d´œuvre du maître peut exploser ce montant. Ce fut le cas en mai 1999 lors d´une vacation Sotheby´s : une nature morte de 1893-1894 intitulée Rideau, cruchon et compotier, provenant de la collection Whitney s´arrachait 55 millions de dollars! Cette enchère est le record de Cézanne depuis mais d´autres natures mortes furent multimillionnaires plus récemment. Lors des ventes de 2006 par exemple, Sotheby´s proposait une magnifique Nature morte aux fruits et pot de gingembre, œuvre de maturité réalisée vers 1895, adjugée 33 millions de dollars. Aucune œuvre de cette qualité ne fut soumise aux enchères en 2007 : la toile la plus chère fut également une nature morte, mais moins bien datée (1877) et moins aboutie. Intitulée Compotier et assiette de biscuits, elle décrochait tout de même 11,25 millions de dollars le 6 novembre chez Christie´s NY.

Friday, March 14, 2008




Cai Guo-Qiang: "I Want to Believe," Feb. 22-Mar. 28, 2008, at the Guggenheim Museum, 1071 Fifth Avenue, New York City, 10128

Cai Guo-Qiang’s work is highly political, hugely ambitious in scale and concept, and guaranteed to please a crowd. Showmanship is his game, and his retrospective at the Guggenheim Museum makes the most of it, featuring installations of leaping wolves, writhing tigers, a ship pierced by arrows and a five-story cascade of automobiles. And, of course, he’s the artist who is famous for his fireworks. If Christo is the granddad of this breed of artists, Cai is one of the slickest of its current generation.

Cai, who has had a New York studio since 1995, was early in the Chinese New Wave game. He first studied stage design at the Shanghai Drama Institute, emerging in the early 1980s as part of the experimental art world that developed after the Cultural Revolution. He then spent several years in Japan, where he mastered the use of gunpowder to make his signature drawings and outdoor fireworks displays. He really gained global renown in 1999, when he won the Golden Lion at the 48th Venice Biennale for his Rent Collection Courtyard, an installation of dozens of life-sized clay figures showing peasants paying tribute to their feudal lord. He was also the curator of Venice’s Chinese Pavilion in 2005.

Tough-minded and focused, the 50-year-old native of the Chinese port town of Quanzhou is now an international art star, equally at home in major museums, international art fairs and biennials, and the big-time mass media. Witness the fact that he is the impresario of the visual and special effects for the 2008 Beijing Olympics this summer, along with movie director Zhang Yimou. Cai’s fireworks expertise, ironically, is U.S.-made -- the renowned Fireworks by Grucci, the top U.S. company in the field and the artist’s longtime collaborator, is producing his computer-controlled Olympics fireworks extravaganza.

No actual fireworks art is scheduled at the Guggenheim, but Cai’s retrospective has been expertly timed to wring maximum advantage out of all the Olympic hoopla. In the latest example of the "synergy" between the Gugg’s exhibition program and the museum’s global ambitions -- the specialty of outgoing Guggenheim Foundation head Thomas Krens -- the show travels to the Beijing Museum during the games and then to the Guggenheim Bilbao.

The Guggenheim’s new Asian art curator, Alexandra Monroe, makes grandiose curatorial claims for the show in her catalogue essay. She pretty much goes cosmically and dialectically overboard, describing Cai "an artist of the global system. . . [whose] art operates in a framework of contemporary art lineage that links Joseph Beuys and Yves Klein to Arte Povera in Italy and Mono-ha in Japan and to younger artists like Matthew Barney." The curators present Cai as an artist whose "protean" ideas sound impressively profound, ringing dialectical changes from creation/destruction and ying/yang to local/global and ephemeral/eternal.

Such outsize philosophical and moral claims for artworks always arouse suspicion. Here it’s a virtual influence buffet. Reads one wall label, "Cai Guo-Qiang draws freely from ancient mythology, military history, Taoist cosmology, extraterrestrial observations, Maoist revolutionary tactics, Buddhist philosophy, gunpowder related technology, Chinese medicine, and methods of terrorist violence. Cai’s art is a form of social energy, constantly mutable, linking what he refers to as ‘the seen and unseen worlds.’" Okay, got that?

Verbiage aside, what you actually see at the Guggenheim is a kind of madcap theatrical pageant invading the museum’s narrow ramps, downward-slanting runways that restrict and diffuse the effects of many of the pieces. Despite the curatorial claims of profundity, this is what a friend of mine called "Wow Art," a collection of the artist’s most flamboyant installation pieces as well as his nifty videos and a spate of gunpowder drawings.

The exhibition centerpiece, literally, is Inopportune: Stage One, a variant of a 2004 work that was installed at Mass MoCA in North Adams, Mass. In a stop-motion spectacle, nine white Chevrolet Metros cascade and tumble in mid-air, from the top ramp through the museum rotunda to the ground floor below. The autos are all pierced with ray-like rods dotted with electric lights that pulse with color. The word "inopportune" in the title refers to an "inopportune terrorist event," otherwise known as a car bomb.

At Mass MoCA, the work was installed horizontally in a darkened, airport hanger of a long gallery. It delivered a visceral shock, transforming an image of deadly violence into a seductive vision of terrifying beauty. The Guggenheim’s vertically spinning auto wreck is crowded, theatrically self-conscious and much tamer, yet it still retains the allure of images of destruction. But the "shock and awe" reaction wears off fast, leaving you to consider the engineering feat of suspending the cars over the atrium.

Other installations at the Guggenheim deliver a kind of cultural theme park experience. In Head On, which debuted at the Deutsche Guggenheim Berlin in 2006, a rather mangy pack of 99 stuffed wolves seem to leap up the ramp and arc over your head. The critters are on a collision course with a glass wall, supposedly meant to symbolize the Berlin Wall. According to the bombastic wall labels, the wolves are on an "allegorical pathway of self destruction, representing the human fallibility of following collective ideology and society’s fate to repeat mistakes."

No tigers were harmed in Inopportune: Stage Two, a group of arrow-pierced stuffed tigers that writhe and twist in a frozen trajectory of death, since the skins in question are painted sheepskin. A modern version of a 12th-century Chinese folk tale often depicted in traditional scroll painting, it’s pure theater. Another legend is interpreted in Cai’s Borrowing Your Enemy’s Arrows. In a side gallery is an actual antique Chinese fishing boat, bristling with arrows and a fluttering Chinese flag that hangs overhead. The piece is highly dramatic and a sly contemporary political allegory. It illustrates an ingenious military tactic, for which a general with few weapons sent out empty boats in the fog as decoys to draw enemy fire, gaining a whole new stock of arrows that can then be used against his opponents.

The Rent Collector’s Courtyard, situated mid-way up the Guggenheim ramps, is a variant of Cai’s Venice tour de force from 1999, which itself appropriated a 1960s propagandistic sculptural ensemble produced by teams of Chinese sculptors during the Cultural Revolution. Luridly dramatizing the evils perpetrated by a capitalist landlord, this Chinese Uncle Tom’s Cabin in clay is meant to decompose over the life of the current exhibition. It’s like a Seward Johnson art epidemic with political bite. However, this work is too controversial to make it to Beijing. It’s not politic to revisit the Cultural Revolution in such a public forum, even for Cai.

Compared to his hyper-emotional set pieces, Cai’s monochromatic gunpowder and ink drawings speak at a whisper. These ghosts of his explosive acts, their smoky trajectories redolent of traditional Chinese calligraphy, possess considerable charm. But the videos that show exactly how Cai laid out paths of gunpowder and then ignited the explosives are a lot more compelling than looking at the aftermaths. And the alcoves of the museum are not the optimal place to show these delicate memorials.

As Cai has become famous and had access to more elaborate resources, his work has gained grandeur and scale but lost its experimental edge. Most authentic are the videos of his early explosive performances. Their extemporaneous, risky quality is actually more heroic and radical than his glorious, increasingly spectacular public fireworks displays and his timed gunpowder rainbows. Nevertheless the videos of his many site-specific performance pieces are to my mind the most interesting things in the exhibition.

It’s mesmerizing to watch the progression of his 1993 Project to Extend the Great Wall of China by 10,000 Meters, a nighttime performance where a line of fire races across the black desert at the end of the wall in northwestern China, made for what he thought of an audience of "extraterrestrials" who would see it from outer space. Transient Rainbow, a beautiful computer-generated fireworks display that unfurled over the East River in New York in 2002, was the first pyrotechnical event after 9/11, and a supremely sensitive act of sheer celebration. The video of his exploding house in Shanghai records the merging of creation and destruction in a perpetually haunting pyrotechnical event.

The retrospective, which provides a very interesting overview of Cai’s worldwide achievements, is a theatrical event in its own right. And children will love it. Just don’t pay too much attention to those wall labels.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

La Figuration Narrative - Un mouvement français réhabilité

La Figuration Narrative - Un mouvement français réhabilité


Après le salon d´art contemporain Art Paris (du 3 au 7 avril), le Grand Palais accueillera pour trois mois une rétrospective très attendue sur la Figuration Narrative (Figuration narrative. Paris, 1960-1972, du 16 avril au 13 juillet), un mouvement français qui fit écho au Pop art américain dans les années 60.

La Figuration Narrative a redonné à la peinture figurative une place prépondérante dans l´art des années 60. En parallèle du pop art américain, en France, les travaux de Gudmundur Erro, Valerio Adami, Jacques Monory, Gérard Fromanger, Hervé Télémaque, Yvan Messac, Gérard Schlosser, Alain Jacquet ou Peter Klasen marquent un véritable à la peinture sur toile via une imagerie populaire. Après avoir été au plus bas entre 1994 et 1998, cela fait quelques mois que la cote de ces artistes a retrouvé son éclat de 1990. Mais en comparaison, de l'autre côté de l'Atlantique, celle de leur contemporains du pop art américain est déjà à +81% au dessus du niveau enregistré à l'époque, avec par exemple des progressions de +558% pour Andy Warhol, de +549% pour Roy Lichtenstein et de +746% pour Tom Wesselmann sur 10 ans. En France, l´artiste le plus porteur du groupe est Jacques MONORY dont la cote a bondi de plus de 500% en 10 ans ; arrivent ensuite Gérard FROMANGER (+ 353% entre 1997 et 2007), Valerio ADAMI (+231%), Gudmunson FERRO (+209%), Gérard SCHLOSSER (+204%) et Valerio ADAMI (+120%).

Jacques Monory, le plus porteur mais non le plus cher, signait un premier score d´exception en 2005 lors de la dispersion parisienne de la collection Patrice Trigano chez Christie´s. La voleuse no.3, une toile de plus de trois mètres, décrochait alors 50 000 euros. Deux ans plus tard, ce sont des toiles trois fois plus petites qui flirtaient avec ce score, comme l´illustre l´adjudication à 48 000 euros pour Meurtre N°VI le 20 octobre 2007 chez Cornette de Saint-Cyr. Le lendemain, Artcurial enregistrait un nouveau record avec «Dimanche matin», une toile de 1966 vendue 75 000 euros !

Autre point fort de la figuration narrative en 2007 : la vente Christie´s du 11 décembre proposait six pièces phares provenant de la collection d´Hervé Loevenbruck. L´œuvre star de la vente fut la toile « Comicscape » d´Erro (200 x 300 cm), saturée d´images empruntées à la bande dessinée. La toile décrochait 720 000 euros, bien au-delà de sa fourchette d´estimation de 300 000 - 400 000 euros ! Rappelons que six ans plus tôt, une œuvre de la même série des Scape, certes moins riche picturalement mais de même dimension, était accessible pour moins de 40 000 euros (oct. 2001 Cornette de Saint-Cyr, 250 000 francs).
Galvanisés par l´adjudication record d´Erro, les amateurs présents chez Christie´s le 11 décembre ont ensuite enchéri jusqu´à 305 000 euros sur le diptyque Portrait de famille de Télémaque, un nouveau record pour l´artiste, puis jusqu´à 140 000 euros pour une toile de Valerio Adami de 1969 : «Figura con valigia». Aucune œuvre d´Adami n´était partie si haut depuis 17 ans ! Comptez désormais entre 20 000 et 100 000 euros pour une acrylique de qualité de sa main. Les aquarelles ont aussi la cote : il est difficile d´en acquérir une aboutie pour moins de 10 000 euros, alors qu´on en trouvait aisément dans une fourchette de prix de 2 500 à 6 000 euros en 2005. Le 27 novembre dernier par exemple, le dessin «Gymnasium» doublait son estimation à Milan pour un coup de marteau à 14 000 euros (Christie´s).

Moins cotées, les huiles et acryliques de Gérard Shlosser, Peter Klasen ou Gérard Fromanger sont accessibles entre 5 000 et 8 000 euros en moyenne. Les toiles de Fromanger proposées entre octobre et décembre 2007 à Vienne et Paris, des œuvres de plus d´un mètre, furent adjugées entre 6 000 et 7 000 euros. Chez Klasen, on note une importante amplitude de prix en fonction de la date d´exécution, les collectionneurs privilégiant les œuvres historiques. Ainsi, une acrylique des années 60, d´une trentaine de centimètres, peut dépasser le seuil des 10 000 euros, tandis qu´une œuvre de dimension similaire réalisée 30 ans plus tard est accessible autour de 2 000 euros. Le 8 février dernier par exemple, Massol dispersait "Flammable solid", une acrylique et collage de 1995, pour 2 200 euros seulement.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Sotheby's To Offer The Estella Collection of Chinese Contemporary Art

Sotheby's To Offer The Estella Collection of Chinese Contemporary Art


Zhang Xiaogang, Bloodline: The Big Family No. 3 (1995). Est. $2.5/2.5 million (HK$ 19.5/27 million). © Sotheby's Images.

HONG KONG.- Sotheby’s is proud to present the Estella Collection, the largest and most important collection of Chinese Contemporary Art ever to appear at auction. This remarkable group of Chinese Contemporary Art documents social trends that arose out of the recent pivotal moments in Chinese history through the eyes of some of the most instantly recognizable names in a field which has attracted worldwide interest. The Collection, comprising over 200 works, includes seminal pieces by prominent artists such as Ai Weiwei, Zhang Xiaogang, Cai Guo-Qiang and Xu Bing, alongside those by emerging artists. The Estella Collection is significant for its unique embrace of the artistic medium ranging from the more traditional works on paper and paintings, to video installation, sculpture and photography. It has featured prominently in two acclaimed exhibitions at leading international museums and was published in the catalogue, China Onward: The Estella Collection – Chinese Contemporary Art, 1966-2006.

The sale of the Estella Collection will be held in two parts: approximately 110 works will be offered this April in Hong Kong during Sotheby’s spring sales; there will be a further offering at Sotheby’s in New York this autumn. The sale in Hong Kong is expected to achieve HK$65 -95 million (US$8-12 million).

Evelyn Lin, Head of the Contemporary Chinese Art Department, Sotheby’s China and Southeast Asia, said, “The Estella Collection’s content, size and value establish it as amongst the best collections of Chinese contemporary Art. This is an unparalleled opportunity for collectors, both new and established, to acquire works from a collection whose encyclopaedic presentation of artists has helped to reinterpret the history of Chinese contemporary art.”

The highlight of the Estella Collection is Zhang Xiaogang’s (b. 1958) Bloodline: The Big Family No.3. Considered the most significant example of the iconic Bloodline: The Big Family series, this oil on canvas was executed early on in Zhang’s career in 1995, one of a group of four paintings submitted for the centenary 46th Venice Biennale in 1995. Not only does the present work stand out as his first direct and profound response to the political and social tensions that lie at the very heart of the series – the central figure is depicted wearing a Mao badge – but the scale of this canvas, at 179 by 229 centimetres, marked Zhang’s first bold articulation of the Bloodline aesthetic. Belonging to the enigmatic Bloodline series, this work is recognized to be among the rarest and is estimated at HK$19.5-27 million.

Also on offer is a beautiful example of top Chinese avant-garde artist, Zeng Fanzhi’s (b. 1964) more recent artistic renditions. Chairman Mao with Us, executed in 2005, marks a pivotal moment of development in Zeng’s career in which he consciously moved away from the heavily expressionist style of his famous “Mask” series of the 1990s towards a greater innovative technique of assertive and chaotic array of linear lines, concentrating on landscape and figural compositions within. This large oil on canvas bears the vivid hallmarks of Zeng’s unique and very physical relationship with the medium: the tall wild grasses in the foreground, red and black, are energetic and rapid, and all but cover the faces of the figures. In addition, Chairman Mao with Us which is estimated at HK$2.7-4.3 million, represents just one of the many stylistic turns and phases of this gifted and talented artist and Sotheby’s is proud to offer a work of unique historical and artistic value.

The Estella Collection also includes installation art, Bat Project I, II, III: Memorandum realized by Huang Yong Ping (b. 1954), among China’s most influential avant-garde artists and one of the founders of the Xiamen Dada movement. Bat Project I, II, III: Memorandum highlights themes of surveillance, espionage and documentation through the visual device of an exposed roll of film upon which images and documents, drawn from the historic Bat Project, are shown. Named after the U.S. Navy’s spy-plane, “the bat”, shot down over the South China Sea in April 2001, the Bat Project initially began as a massive 1:1 re-creation of the fuselage and tail of the downed airplane. Bat Project II – featuring the plane’ cockpit and right wing - and Bat Project III – the left wing – along with the original Bat Project were excluded from exhibitions due to the sensitive nature of the subject and it was not until Bat Project IV in 2005 that the installation in its entirety could be presented. This latter project featured a skeletal cockpit filled with hundreds of taxidermic bats – symbols of fortune in Chinese tradition – and a documentary display charting the project’s course.

Huang Yong Ping’s present installation, a reminder of the enigmatic mechanics of political power is estimated at HK$1.2-2 million. The cover lot of this sale is Lin Tianmao’s (b. 1961) beautiful, almost ethereal sculpture, Initiator (est. HK$550,000-700,000). Executed in 2007, the Initiator bears witness to the artist’s central interest in the use of thread as well as her more recent practice of incorporating the female figure into scenes of a mythical nature. The sculpture depicts a nude woman standing before a large, somewhat unsightly and oversized frog; the frog holds a long expanse of hair that falls from the woman’s head and body as though it were a veil. In spite of the beauty of the woman juxtaposed against the ugliness of the frog, the two are unified by a delicate white, silk floral pattern which covers the skin of both, as well as the strange strands of ‘hair’ that join them. The fairy-tale imagery clearly associated with Lin’s work calls upon the viewer to define for himself the moral significance that is invested in the piece.

The Collection also features a number of innovative video installations. These include Wang Jianwei’s (b. 1958) video Spider (2004), estimated at HK$50,000- 120,000. It decries the corporate culture that informs modern society. Individuality and The Self are reduced to the anonymous, undifferentiated tool of corporate structures; in the video, actors dressed in identical masks and bodysuits are choreographed around an uninspiring modern office space, menacing in both their lack of emotion and of will.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

The changing face of China's art scene

The sign outside the 798 art district
A former factory is being developed in Beijing's contemporary art district

At Beijing's premier art district - known as 798 - workmen carrying tools are as busy as artists wielding brushes.

They are building shops, cafes and, of course, galleries at a former factory complex that has come to symbolise China's contemporary art scene.

Modern, Chinese art burst onto the international scene several years ago and its worldwide popularity is reflected in the bustle of 798.

But it is not just a story about art. It is also a story about how artists, gallery owners and auction houses are cashing in on the boom.

Profit motive

Sotheby's was the first auction house to hold a sale solely dedicated to contemporary Chinese art, in Hong Kong in 2004.

Sales figures over the last few years reveal just how hot the market has become.

Sotheby's sold just $2.9m (£1.5) worth of modern, Chinese art through its Hong Kong office in 2004, but that figure rose to $69.9m last year.

And the profile of those buying the art has changed: in 2004 it was 80% foreigners, but now, as the Chinese economy booms, 80% are from China.

Evelyn Lin, head of contemporary Chinese art at Sotheby's in Hong Kong, said prices are still relatively affordable.

Buying contemporary Chinese art could be about pure appreciation, but it's also very much about making money
Brian Wallace, Red Gate Gallery

That has attracted investors; people who are more interested in making a quick profit than in buying a piece of artwork.

But Ms Lin said investing in art was a dangerous game to play, and has led many people to pay over the odds for mediocre work.

"We do not recommend people buy pictures for investment," she said. "It's not like purchasing stock where you can research a company's background."

Australian Brian Wallace, who set up the first contemporary art gallery in Beijing in 1991, agrees the profit motive is helping drive the market.

"(Buying contemporary Chinese art) could be about pure appreciation, but it's also very much about making money," said the man who runs Red Gate Gallery.

Mr Wallace, whose wares are displayed in one of Beijing's last remaining ancient watchtowers, also criticised some established Chinese artists.

"I think some of them should step back and think about what they are doing, rather than churning out things for the market," he said.

Record sale

But recent prices at auctions across the world show just how tempting it must be for these established artists to cash in on their fame.

Chinese artist Zhang Xiaogang's painting Big Family No. 1
Contemporary Chinese art is getting increasing attention internationally

A painting entitled Execution by Yue Minjun was sold by Sotheby's at a London auction last year for nearly £3m ($5.9m).

The picture - which features four laughing men dressed in only underpants - was supposedly inspired by the Tiananmen killings in 1989.

At the time, it was the most expensive piece of contemporary Chinese art sold at a sale.

Other, less established figures have also associated themselves with this booming market.

New York City artist Eric Lee, whose parents were both born in China, decided to work in Beijing for part of the year to give his career a boost.

"It was a strategic move because right now the contemporary Chinese art scene is getting a lot of attention," the 37-year-old told the BBC.

"Some of my friends joked that I'd have more New York galleries knocking on my door in Beijing than in New York."

And that is just how it turned out. Mr Lee said he noticed interest in his work increase when he added his Beijing address to his business card.

Social changes

Despite the hype, China appears to have a number of highly talented artists at present.

Artist Chen Jie
Chen Jie is part of China's new generation of artists

Since the country embarked on an economic reform process in 1978, society has undergone fundamental changes that have reshaped society.

These changes provide plenty of inspiration for artists such as 27-year-old Chen Jie, one of a new generation hoping to make their mark.

Mr Chen sold his first painting to a South Korean collector three years ago and now makes a reasonable living from his art.

One of his pictures, entitled Fresh Goods, is in on sale for $6000.

As he showed off some of his latest work, Mr Chen said it was art, not money, that motivated him.

That might be so, but many in the business - like the gallery that markets his work - are also in it for the money.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

The Vision Which Nurtures Contemporary Art In Print

The Vision Which Nurtures Contemporary Art In Print


Damien Hirst, Methamphetamine, 2004. Estimate: £20,000-25,000. © Christie's Images Ltd. 2008.

LONDON.-Damien Hirst, Peter Doig and the Chapman brothers are amongst the leading contemporary artists who started their printmaking careers with The Paragon Press. On Thursday, 3 April, Christie’s will offer over 120 key contemporary works from Paragon’s archives.

The roll call of artists whose work will be included ranges from Anish Kapoor, Marc Quinn, Gary Hume, Grayson Perry and Chris Ofili to Richard Long, Rachel Whiteread, Damien Hirst, Peter Doig and the Chapman brothers, amongst many others. The majority of the collection consists of rare artist’s proofs, publisher’s proofs and small editions that sold out almost immediately. Several of the artists have personalised their works, with hand colouring, specifically for this sale. With estimates ranging from £500 to £40,000 this is an unprecedented opportunity for both established and new collectors, as well as institutions and museums to acquire some of the most significant contemporary works in print produced in recent years. The collection is expected to realise in excess of £650,000.

The Paragon Press was founded in 1986 by Charles Booth-Clibborn and has grown to be one of the most influential contemporary art publishers. Richard Lloyd and Murray Macaulay, Christie’s Print specialists: “Over the past 21 years The Paragon Press has added significantly to the richness and variety of contemporary printmaking. Booth-Clibborn has imbued Paragon with an inspirational, nurturing ethos which is rare; continually investing time, money and belief in contemporary artists which enables them the freedom to explore the medium of print, in many cases for the first time. This has resulted in artists such as Hirst creating a large body of prints which have evolved into a major part of their oeuvre.”

Charles Booth-Clibborn notes “When artists try their hand at printmaking they invariably love it and don’t see any difference or hierarchy between their prints or work in other media. This is a very important point as many artists have made their greatest and most significant works and images through the medium of print. From Dürer and Rembrandt to Picasso and Matisse through to Warhol and Hamilton as well as today the Chapmans and Perry, artists’ creations in the medium of print represent the height of their achievement.” Grayson Perry’s pair of woodcut portraits Mr and Mrs Perry, 2006 (£4,000-6,000), are, intriguingly, printed onto wall paper.

Crossing a wide spectrum of themes, the sale provides the opportunity for people to engage at various levels, with single prints as well as complete portfolios being offered, by both individual artists and mixed groups.

Damien Hirst’s complete portfolios such as The Last Supper (estimate: £30,000-40,000) are also available as single lots, such as Chicken, 1999 (estimate: £2,500-3,500). Other portfolios include In a Spin, Volume I (estimate: £25,000-35,000) and In a Spin, Volume II (estimate: £30,000-40,000); single works from Spin which have been drawn on by Hirst include In a Spin (skull), 2002 (estimate: £6,000-8,000) and Spinning Around (arm), 2002 (estimate: £3,000-4,000), adding a further dimension of expression to these rare works.

Further complete portfolios comprise Marc Quinn’s Winter Garden, 2004 (estimate: £8,000-12,000). Portfolios of artist’s proofs such as the Chapman brothers’ Etchasketchathon, 2005 (estimate: £10,000-15,000) and The Disasters of War (estimate: £30,000-40,000), Anish Kapoor’s 15 Etchings, 1995 (estimate: £15,000-25,000), Richard Long’s Rock Drawings, 1994 (estimate: £3,000-4,000), Richard Deacon’s Show and Tell, 1996 (estimate: £3,000-4,000) and Iranian artist Shirazeh Houshiary’s Round Dance, 1992 (estimate: £3,500-4,500), are some of the other single artist portfolios to be offered. Dynamic mixed portfolios include LONDON, Group Portfolio, 1992 (estimate: £5,000-7,000) featuring Damien Hirst, Rachel Whiteread, Marc Quinn and Gavin Turk and Other Men’s Flowers (estimate: £4,000-6,000) including Tracy Emin and Gary Hume.

Striking single works include Marc Quinn’s unique Hand Painted Marble, 2006 (estimate: £3,000-4,000), Hand Painted Winter Garden (estimate: £3,000-4,000), and Hand Painted Self. Peter Doig’s Big Sur, from 100 Years Ago 2000/01 (estimate: £4,000-6,000), Damien Hirst’s Methamphetamine, 2004 (estimate: £20,000-25,000) and Pyronin Y, 2005 (estimate: £10,000-15,000), Grayson Perry’s two remarkable and challenging large-scale works Map of an Englishman (estimate: £25,000-35,000) and Print for a Politician (estimate: £15,000-20,000) are amongst the wide array of other exciting works to be seized, treasured and celebrated.

This auction, a first for Paragon, is in aid of securing larger and improved premises where various elements can be brought together under one roof, allowing for the storage and display of past and future projects in a better environment. This reflects Booth-Clibborn’s commitment to investing in not just the present but the future of printmaking.

“While continuing to give the artists creative independence, I would like The Paragon Press to be the initiator of works that are intellectually and visually compelling and which will be seen in twenty, fifty or one hundred year’s time as being part of the memory, part of the evidence, of art made in our period,” concludes the inspirational Booth-Clibborn.

Christie's London sale of Old Master, Modern and Contemporary Prints on Wednesday, 2 April 2008 will offer a stellar array of over 500 superb works by artists spanning the centuries, from Rembrandt and Dürer to Picasso, Chagall, Miro and Matisse, as well as Warhol, Lichtenstein and Hockney. One of the leading highlights is Lichtenstein's seductively alluring work Roommates, 1994, which is estimated to fetch between £60,000 and £80,000. Estimates range from £1,500 to £150,000 and the sale is expected to realise in excess of £3million. For more information please visit for the full online catalogue or contact Christie’s Press Office.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Renoir At The Theatre - Looking at 'La Loge' at The Courtauld Institute of Art in London


Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841-1919) La Loge (The Theatre Box) (detail), 1874Oil on canvas, 80 x 63.5 cmThe Courtauld Gallery, London.

LONDON.-Pierre-Auguste Renoir’s La Loge (The Theatre Box), 1874, is one of the masterpieces of Impressionism and a major highlight of The Courtauld Gallery’s collection. Its depiction of an elegant couple on display in a loge, or box at the theatre, epitomises the Impressionists’ interest in the spectacle of modern life. In celebration of The Courtauld Institute of Art’s 75th anniversary the exhibition Renoir at the Theatre: Looking at ‘La Loge’, on view through 25 May 2008, unites La Loge for the first time with Renoir’s other treatments of the subject and loge paintings by contemporaries, including Mary Cassatt and Edgar Degas. Concentrating on the early years of Impressionism during the 1870s, the exhibition explores how these artists used the loge to capture the excitement and changing nature of fashionable Parisian society.

La Loge was Renoir’s principal exhibit in the first Impressionist exhibition in Paris in 1874. The complexity of its subject matter and its virtuoso technique helped to establish the artist’s reputation as one of the leaders of this radical new movement in French art. Renoir’s brother Edmond and Nini Lopez, a model from Montmartre known as ‘Fish-face’, posed for this ambitious composition. At the heart of the painting is the complex play of gazes enacted by these two figures seated in a theatre box. The elegantly dressed woman lowers her opera glasses, revealing herself to admirers in the theatre, whilst her male companion trains his gaze elsewhere in the audience. In turning away from the performance, Renoir focused instead upon the theatre as a social stage where status and relationships were on public display.

Theatre in Paris was a rapidly expanding industry during the 19th century, dominating the cultural life of the city. At the time of La Loge it was estimated that over 200,000 theatre tickets were sold every week in Paris. Theatres ranged from the popular variety act venues to the fashionable elegance of the great opera houses. The burgeoning wealth of the middle classes meant that the loges of the premier theatres were no longer the preserve of high society. From the 1830s onwards celebrated caricaturists such as Honoré Daumier (1808-79) and Paul Gavarni (1804-66) seized upon the theatre box as a rich theme for social satire. By the 1870s leering men with over-sized opera glasses, middle-aged women struggling to maintain their appeal, fathers parading their elegant daughters, and gauche visitors from the provinces had emerged as stock types in weekly magazines such as Le Petit Journal pour Rire (fig. 9). The interest in the theatre, and particularly the loge as a space for social display, was also harnessed by the booming fashion industry which catered to the aspirational and newly wealthy middle class. Lavishly produced journals such as La Mode Illustrée included fine hand-coloured engravings showing the latest fashions modelled by elegant ladies in theatre boxes (fig. 8). A rich selection of this little-known graphic material from contemporary Parisian journals will be on display in the exhibition.

As the first artist to make the theatre box a subject for modern painting, Renoir drew on this popular visual culture, which would also have shaped the context in which his paintings were viewed. At the time of the first Impressionist exhibition Renoir had been particularly concerned with the loge and, in addition to the Courtauld picture, produced two smaller canvases, both of which will be displayed in the exhibition (fig. 2). Renoir returned to the theme in two later canvases. At the Theatre, 1876-7, (National Gallery, London) takes an oblique view of a theatre box, setting a young woman and her companion off against the blurred mass of the audience (fig. 3). At the Concert, 1880, (The Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown) is one of Renoir’s most monumental treatments of the subject, (fig. 4). This work started as a portrait of the family of Monsieur Turquet, the under-secretary of state for the fine arts, posed in their opulent theatre box. Renoir subsequently altered the composition, painting out his male patron who was originally shown in the background, and transforming the image into a fashionable but anonymous genre scene.

Renoir at the Theatre will be the first exhibition to focus on this group of works. It will also display a number of important loge paintings by Renoir’s Impressionist contemporaries to explore alternative ways in which this subject was approached. Two major paintings by Mary Cassatt present contrasting views of women in their theatre boxes. Woman with a Pearl Necklace, 1879, (Philadelphia Museum of Art) shows a beautifully dressed woman in the sparkling interior of a theatre box as the passive recipient of admiring gazes (fig. 6). In the Loge, 1878, is a very different representation where a soberly attired woman assertively surveys the theatre through her opera glasses as an active participant in the play of gazes that surrounds her (fig. 5). In Degas’s treatments of the subject the artist explores different ‘snapshot’ viewpoints of the loge, as if capturing a fleeting glance. This is epitomised by his ambitious pastel La Loge, 1880 (private collection), in which the viewer is placed in the theatre stalls looking up at the head of a lone woman who emerges from the gilded surround of a loge, her pale face caught momentarily in a pool of light (fig. 7).

Renoir’s La Loge received enthusiastic reviews when it was first exhibited in Paris in 1874 and later that year it travelled to London for an exhibition organised by his dealer Durand-Ruel, making it one of the first major Impressionist paintings to be shown in this country. However, the painting did not sell at either exhibition and was bought inexpensively the following year by the minor dealer ‘Père’ Martin for 425 francs, providing Renoir with much needed funds to pay the rent. When Samuel Courtauld purchased it in 1925 the status of the painting had risen considerably along with the price which was now £22,600 and one of Courtauld’s most expensive acquisitions. Today La Loge is celebrated as one of the most important paintings of the Impressionist movement. This exhibition, which will be opened by H.E. Maurice Gourdault-Montagne, The Ambassador of France, will cast new light upon Renoir’s masterpiece and the spectacle of the Parisian theatre which it captures.