Monday, December 29, 2008


In the midst of a market that remained on a crazy price trend for a long time before to cool off towards the end of the year, five paintings fetched very high prices in 2008. Good thing for the houses that auctioned them off, four of them were overvalued while only one was on the money.

The absolute winner is Francis Bacon's Triptych executed in 1976 that was acquired in May by Russian trophy-hunter Roman Abramovich for upward of $ 86,2 million, making it the fourth most expensive painting to sell at auction, behind two Picassos and a Gustav Klimt. Abramovich, 42, qualified for the Sunday Times Rich List 2008, with an estimated fortune of £11.7 billion ($16 billion)(1).

Forbes magazine ranked him as the fifteenth richest person in the world. He was considered to be the second richest person currently living within the
United Kingdom in 2008. In my opinion, this price was grossly overvalued but if the auctioneers can find a foolish Russian nouveau-riche to increase their bottom-line, I do not see any reason to spoil their joy. This picture will never sell again at this price.

The second overvalued winner of the year is Claude Monet's rather gloomy
Le bassin aux Nymphéas executed in 1919 that fetched the price of $ 40.9 million in June. This oil on canvas measuring 39 1/2 by 79 1/8 inches was acquired by London based art advisor Tania Buckrell Pos of Arts & Management International who beat telephone competition for the dark abstraction, and the final sale price shattered the artist’s record. This painting had been owned by the the California industrialist philanthropist Norton Simon who in other times terrorized the people of Christie's.

The third winner of 2008 is Edward Munch's beautiful and awe inspiring Vampire Love & Pain executed in 1894 depicting a woman with long, flaming red tresses biting the neck of a submissive male. The picture made a record price of $38,162,500 in November in a market that had become definitely depressive. The wealth of oil-rich Norway has flung Munch’s star higher in the past few seasons, though this contest, with at least four suitors chasing the prize, eclipsed the previous mark of $30,841,00, set by "Girls on a Bridge" (1902) at Sotheby’s New York in May.

Edvard Munch ( 1863 – 1944) was a Norwegian Symbolist painter, print maker, and an important forerunner of expressionistic art. A macabre quality pervaded his early work. Munch came to Paris in 1889 and based his expressive style on Toulouse-Lautrec, Van Gogh and Gauguin.

The fourth winner of 2008 is the inevitable Englishman Jeff Koons whose Balloon Flower (Magenta) (1995–2000) - a nine-ton, high-chromium stainless steel monument from 1995/2000- that fetched the inflated and overvalued sum of £12,921,250 ($18 million)(1) in June and filled the pocket of the Dallas-based collector Howard Rachofsky.

Jeff Koons was born in York (Pennsylvania in 1955) and studied at the Art Institute of Chicago and the Maryland Institute of College Art. Koons has long been known as a good self-promoter who relies on shiny, kitschy images to gain public attention.

The chateau de Versailles (France) near Paris recently held a Koons exhibit that costed 1.9 million Euros, 800,000 of which went solely to the Split Rocker which is in the gardens and is a reference to Le Nôtre.

Last winner of the year, the nice Beggar’s Joys (1954–55) by Canadian-born Philip Guston (1913-1980) who was a notable painter and printmaker in the New York School, which included many of the Abstract Expressionists, such as Jackson Pollock and Willem De Kooning. This picture fetched only $10,162,500 versus an estimate of $14–18 million.

It is probable that Sotheby's overlooked the fact that Guston is unknown in Europe, at least in comparison to the pantheon of ex-colleagues such as de Kooning, Pollock, and Rothko. The work set a record for the under-appreciated American artist nevertheless.

In my opinion, this picture altough extremely nice and attractive was also grossly overvalued but it seems that Guston is a rising star as -in May 2005- his very similar "The Street" from 1956 made $7,296,000.

The work sold in the salesroom to San Francisco art adviser Mary Zlot, who is known to counsel Bay Area billionaires Charles Schwab and George Roberts.

(1) At 29th of December 2008 rate of exchange


Alison Elisabeth Taylor is a very original American painter who has a MFA (master of Fine Arts) from Columbia University but who is self-taught in the art of wood inlay called marquetry.

She was born in 1973 in Selma, Alabama and raised in Las Vegas, Nevada. She lives in New York city. Marquetry has a mixed history that is well-suited to her task. A princely luxury in medieval and renaissance times, it is, by now, more likely to be found in lower middle class homes of the kind inhabited by Ms. Taylor’s protagonists.

To make her works Alison E. Taylor makes first the drawings, then covers them with vellum, and maps out the puzzle-piece shapes she will cut from veneers. Some of her works contain more than 60 different types of wood. There is constantly an air of irony and social critic in her works that definitely draw the attention of the onlooker. Then there is the "finish" of the marquetry and the general impression is of a very elegant and electric atmosphere.

This work is a wood veneer, shellac 47 X 77 inches executed in 2007. Last Spring, for her second solo show at James Cohan Gallery in New York, she made her own freestanding room, paneled inside with marquetry looking like a homesteader's cabin. Some of her works sell for up to $150,000.

Friday, December 26, 2008


German painter Emil Hansen, aka Emil Nolde, was born near the German-Danish border in 1867. He adopted the name of his birth town as his artist name at a later date. Nolde completed an apprenticeship as a furniture designer and wood carver in Flensburg between 1884 and 1888 and then worked for various furniture factories in Munich, Karlsruhe and Berlin.

Nolde finally moved to Munich after deciding to become a painter, but the academy under Franz von Stuck dismissed him. He joined Adolf Hölzel in Dachau in 1899 to become his pupil and went to Paris in 1900 to increase his knowledge at the Académie Julien. Nolde studied the Neo-Impressionists Vincent van Gogh, Edvard Munch and James Ensor. He was briefly part of the Berliner secession movement.

In 1933, Nolde was the only major German expressionist to join the Nazi Party. Exhibited at the first exposition of Great German Art in 1937, he was however defamed during WW2 by the Nazis who eventually decided his art was "degenerated" and banned from exhibiting since 1941. Nolde spent the years 1939 to 1945 in Seebüll painting his 'unpainted paintings', more than 1000 small watercolours, which he took on in his oil paintings after 1945. He died in 1956.

In his last years, primarily watercolours with flower and landscape motifs from the neighbourhood of his house in Seebüll, where Nolde died on 13 April 1956, came into existence.This picture, an oil on canvas, recently went on post-auction sale for 70,000 EUR / 99,400 $.

In 2007, the portrait of some woman called Nadja executed in 1919 was sold for $2.87 million (€2.15 million) at an auction held by Ketterer Kunst in Munich. The canvas, which most optimistic estimate had been just €1.8 million went to a well-known private collector residing in Germany.

Owned by Dr. Ernst Rathenau from 1920s, Nadja mysteriously disappeared between October 1977 and September 1979. An anonymous art collector found the canvas in the attic in one of the Berlin houses in late 2006 after the suicide of his daughter. She had been probably involved in Nadja’s disappearance.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008


Irma Stern (1894 - 1966) was a major South African artist who achieved national and international recognition in her lifetime.

She was born in the Transvaal, of German-Jewish parents. Her father was interned in a concentration camp by the British during the
South African War because of his pro-Boer leanings. Irma and her younger brother, Rudi, were thus taken to Cape Town by their mother. After the war, the family returned to Germany and constant travel. This travel would influence Irma's work.

In 1913 Stern studied art in Germany at the Weimar Academy, in 1914 at the Levin-Funcke Studio and notably from 1917 with Max Pechstein, a founder of the Novembergruppe. Stern was associated with the German Expressionist painters of this period. She held her first exhibition in Berlin in 1919, the first of nearly one hundred solo exhibitions she was to hold in her lifetime. However, her first South African exhibition in Cape Town in 1922 she provoked controversy because of her modern art style. She returned to Germany, but decided to live in Cape Town in 1926. She became an established artist by the 1940s.

Stern's contribution to South African art was considerable and as a consequence a major retrospective exhibition of her work was put together in 1968. In 1971 the Irma Stern Museum was opened in her home, The Firs in Rosebank, as part of the University of Cape Town's collection.

This Malay Girl with Hibiscus an oil on canvas measuring 24 x 24in. (61 x 61cm.) executed in 1944 fetched
£301,250 ($460,009) last week at Christie's London.

Monday, December 22, 2008


No, contemporary art is not pornographic per se, it is only very willingly and complacently provocative in a manner than even the Cubists and the Surrealists were not.

And any artist or art amateur knows that the best way to be provocative and to draw attention -especially if you are talented, innovative and original- is to make your works border on pornography. He who can the most can the least. And if pornography is the picture which is being 'too close' whilst erotica is the picture which is 'leaving room for the imagination', then Jeff Koons' painting on the right is pornographic.

The "Red Butt" of the series Made in Heaven by Jeff Koons shows him in close action with his then wife Anna Ilona Staller also known as La Cicciolina. (the most intimate details were censored by me). Hungarian-born Italian porn-star, Staller married Koons in 1991 and left him two years later. A son was born of their short union in 1992 and in 2008 Staller filed suit against Koons for failing to pay child support. When you think that he is one of the richest painters in the world, it leaves you thinking....

Anyway, this artistico-pornographic picture - that will probably never hang in a museum -and was certainly not shown at any Koons retrospective- is a 90x60 in. silkscreen made in 1991 and is # one of an edition of one plus one artist's proof which no longer exists. In 2003, Christie's sold one of them for $369,000 after a bidding war involving 9 bidders. In May 2005, the same auction house sold it again for $520,000 . I do not know if Contemporary art is pornographic but I am sure it can be and that it sells very well.

Of course like some critic you can always justify pornography in the Art by writing something like : "Instead of a porno show, the effect is like that of Japanese erotic prints, where the degree of stylization is so exaggerated that the sexual acrobatics as such are quickly submerged in an all-engulfing artifice." (Robert Rosenblum in The Jeff Koons Handbook, Rizzoli, London, 1992, p.25). But you will fool nobody for yourself, not even the fools who bought it for what it is : a pornographic picture made by a very talented artist.

Saturday, December 20, 2008


Paintings, italian sport cars, watches, sculptures, the world of Fine Art is a vast world and one of my favorite category with Italian sport cars is the glass works, particularly the ones by French Emile Gallé factory.

Émile Gallé (1846 1904) was a French artist who worked in glass, and is considered to be one of the major forces in the French Art Nouveau movement.

Gallé was the son of a faience and furniture manufacturer and studied philosophy, botany, and drawing in his youth. He later learned glassmaking at Meisenthal (Lorraine, France) and came to work at his father's factory in Nancy after 1870. His early work was executed using clear glass decorated with enamel, but he soon turned to an original style featuring heavy, opaque glass carved or etched with plant motifs. His career took off after his work received praise at the Paris Exhibition of 1878.

Gallé revitalized the glass industry by establishing a workshop to mass produce his, and other artists', designs. The factory would employ 300 workers and artisans at its height, including the notable glassmaker Eugène Rosseau, and remained in operation until 1936.

Gallé was also a great and noble figure who was treasurer of the Nancy branch of the Ligue Française pour la Défense des Droits de l’Homme and in 1898 one of the first to become actively involved in the defence of Alfred Dreyfus. He also publicly condemned the Armenian genocide, defended the Romanian Jews and spoke up in defence of the Irish Catholics against Britain, supporting William O’Brien, one of the leaders of the Irish revolt. Gallé died of leukemia in 1904.

This wonderful work, property of a Houston collector, is
10 1/4 in. (26 cm) high and is a signed gallé, additionally engraved with the Biblical verses Matthew 5:4 and Isaiah 44:5 in Latin, wheel-carved marqueterie-sur-verre cameo glass and gilt-bronze.

Estimated between $30,000 and 50,000 , it fetched at Sotheby's New York in December 2008 the respectable height of $46,875 (buyer premium included)


If collectors are currently pouting Contemporary art, they literally snubbed this week end my favorite works of art, i.e. Ferraris, Lancias and other "miraviglie" sport cars from the 50s-90s by the best designers and makers of Italy.

The London auction house Bonhams that carved for itself a prestigious niche in the segment of collectible cars market was offering this week end in Gstaad, Switzerland, a nice bunch of some of the most beautiful Ferraris, Maseratis and Lancias one can dream of.

Unfortunately the bidding was not very agressive to say the least. Of the 34 prestigious sport cars offered only 13 passed the reserve price and sold, making a score of 62% of left over cars. More worrying the cars that sold were almost all low priced : 9 sold for less than 200,000 CHF ($181,000) while only a beautiful 1965 black Ferrari 275 GTS Spyder (picture at left) went for more than CHF 600,000 ($524,000) and a splendid 1961 Maserati 3500 GT Vignale Spyder full of history and completely redone (picture on top) fetched CHF 346,050 ($313,000).

But this was a minor disappointment : the "clou de la vente", supposedly a fantastic 1951 Ferrari 212 Export Spider V12 whose bodywork was styled and crafted by Carrozzeria Rocco Motto of Torino did not make its reserve. This unique piece of art used to belong to the enthusiastic Florentine amateur racing driver Piero Scotti. He took delivery of the car – unusually painted metallic grey - in the early Spring of 1951 and on April 28 that year he drove it in the XVIII Mille Miglia accompanied by Amos Ruspaggiari. The car’s start-time race number was ‘434’, and Scotti achieved astonishing success with it – returning to the starting point at Brescia after 1,000 miles’ hectic racing on the public roads of Italy to finish third overall.

The car ran in the 1987 Mille Miglia Retro, and in 1991 reappeared with it in the Rallye des 10,000 Virages. Appearances followed in the 1992 Tour de France Automobile and 1997 Monaco Historic Grand Prix meeting. The car was displayed during the Lyons Salon de l’Auto of 1999 and it was also exhibited at the Concours d’Elégance d' Automobiles Classiques Louis Vuitton at Bagatelle.

The estimate for this capo lavoro was between CHF 2.8 and 3.8 million ($2.5-3.5 million) but it did not reach the reserve and was left unsold on the stage. Onlookers and fans could not believed their eyes.

Another big disappointment was caused by the fate of one of the most elegant sport car of all times, the pretty Lancia Aurelia Spyder : this 1955 B24 model designed by Pinin Farina, the first car ever to employ a V6 engine, was launched at the 1950 Turin Motor Show. Only 240 B24 Spiders were manufactured during 1954/55, and today the model is one of the most sought-after of post-war Lancias. But this beautiful black exemple was left unsold on stage in spite of a moderate estimate of CHF 430 /530,000 ($390,000).

The Lancia Aurelia B24 Spider summed up 1950s Dolce Vita Italy perhaps better than any other motor car. Over the past seven years the equivalent of approximately €138,300 has been spent on this example and unfortunately the result which is simply stunning left indifferent the bidders. I wish I had enough money to bid on it. It is definitely the car I would have love to buy this weekend and to bring back to Texas for Christmas.

Thursday, December 18, 2008


Do you know where took place the most ridiculous bidding war of all times between three rich men ?

It was at Basel Art Fair in 2006 between Charles Saatchi, publicist and collector, Bernard Arnault, chairman of LVMH and Steve Cohen, manager of the hedge fund SAC Capital Partners.

The object of their lust ? Pieces of bronze-casted HUMAN EXCREMENT covered in 24-carat gold and contained in glass boxes supposed to be the symbols of an anti consumerist statement.

Eventually Steve Cohen snapped the coveted shit from the lust of the two others wealthy fools with a bid at

The golden shit was the work of sculptor
Terence Koh (here with K.Lagerfeld) who was born in 1977 in Beijing, was raised in Mississauga, Ontario, and lives in New York City. Also known as Asianpunkboy, Koh received his Bachelor degree from the Emily Carr Institute of Art and Design, Vancouver and his work often borders on pornography.

Basel art fair is one of the four biggest 205 art fairs in the world where dealers come together for several days to offer their best works as the prize of each individual booth is never under $40,000.

The big Four are to art what Cannes Festival is to movies industry : a place where you must be seen or you are a non-entity. The big #1 is the TEFAF (European Fine Art foundation fair) : held in March it is known as the
Maastrich Fair (Netherlands) under the patronage of French insurance Cy AXA. Founded in 1985, it exhibits art works for a global value estimated at $1 billion. It is 28,000 m2 (300,000 sq ft) which is roughly the size of four soccer fields. In 2008, 610 dealers applied to show and only 220 from 15 countries were accepted. No important art dealer wants to miss Maastricht where sales in 2007 had a value of some 790 million.

For Ben Janssens, Chairman of TEFAF’s Executive Committee, “there is no evidence that the jittery financial markets have discouraged art buyers and in fact the reverse seems to be true. Visitors said to me that they see no point in investing in stocks at the moment and prefer to put their money into art and antiques.”

The second is Art Basel (Switzerland) called "Olympics of the Art World" which draws during 6 days in June collectors and dealers to the Rhine city : this year 60,000 people attended the Fair and in 2009 circa 300 of the world's leading art galleries for Modern and contemporary art will display 20th- and 21st-century art works. Sponsored by Swiss Bank UBS, Art Basel is the mother of all fairs : in 2008, 900 galleries applied and only 290 were selected, over $2million were spent in advertising and dealers fees for the smallest stand started at 17,000.

A third Fair is Art Basel's spin-off, Art Basel Miami that begain in 2005 and is now the biggest fair in the world for Contemporary Art. It recently took place in December (3-6) : Art Basel Miami is the most important art show in the United States and has achieved world status for his blend of art, money and fashion. Critics call it the "All singing, all dancing art fair." This year, 250 leading galleries from North America, Latin America, Europe, Asia and Africa exhibited 20th and 21st century artworks by over 2,000 artists.
The 80-sq-meter booth costs $110,000. According to art dealers, the 2008 edition was not so bad. Or at least not as bad as expected. Basel Miami is capable to attract more than 2,000 VHNWI (very high net worth individuals).

The last of the big four is the most recent edition, London Frieze in Regent’s Park, held in October since 2004 which features more than 150 galleries from around the world. In order to increase the number of exhibitors and make the exhibit's fees more affordable, Frieze launched in 2008 a new section dedicated to solo artist presentations which is open to galleries who have been in existence for less than 6 years and present a regular programme of exhibitions. In 2006, 470 galleries applied for 152 spots.

Maastrich, the two basel-fairs and Frieze are branded the "must-see" fairs and they attract consignments that might have gone to Christie's or Sotheby's evening sales. It is more or less a virtuous circles in so far as each of them attracts the same collection of dealers, artists, curators and art advisors and journalists. It is a bit of a circus but no more than Cannes Festival and probably more interesting and educating although Art Basel Miami began this year to resemble to a huge gypsy circus with movies and rock stars, even Marilyn Manson had a stand to exhibit his works that were IMHO very good.

Below the big four, one has 20 "nice-to-see" fairs which gives opportunities to mainstream dealers to show their assets. The big four costs the stars dealers up to $100,000 each and any dealer who wants to attend them all will have to cough up half a million dollar or more. Booths at Maastricht are not given away : the total cost of exhibit -including shipping, hotel, food and so on- for a 80- sq.meter booth reaches
80,000 ($120,000).

Will the fair system prevent the auction houses to bury the art dealers as something of the past between the axe and the spinning wheel ? It is hard to tell but the affluence of applications to each of the big four obviously show that the competition is not yet a thing of the past and that dealers are still capable and agressive players on the art market, especially contemporary. And averybody knows that the art market is more and more made of contemporary works as the Old Masters and the Moderr Art works tend to dry up and make themselves rarer and rarer.


Sculpture is one of the Fine Arts which is sometimes disregarded by investors and collectors. But there are plenty of wonders in the realm of sculpture and very nice opportunities for an aspiring collector.

One is not obliged to look for a Degas, a Modigliani or a Rodin but at high level there are works of relatively unknown artists that can bring beauty and value to a collection.

The noble face of German art historian Johann Joachim Winckelmann (68 cms) is magnificently represented by this bust made by Salvator de Carlis in the XIXth century. It fetched the surprising sum of 75,150 in Amsterdam this week whereas it has been estimated around 9,000 by Sotheby's auctioneers.

Johann J. Winckelmann
( 1717 - 1768), a German art historian and archaeologist, was a pioneer Hellenist who first articulated the difference between Greek, Greco-Roman and Roman art. The prophet and founding hero of modern archaeology, Winckelmann was one of the founders of scientific archaeology.

This bust is then an homage to the works of this man who died tragically and rather stupidly : in 1768 Winckelmann was persuaded by his friend the sculptor Bartolomeo Cavaceppito to travel to Munich and Vienna, where he was received with honor by Empress Maria Theresa. On his way back, he was murdered at Trieste in a hotel bed by a fellow traveller, a man named Francesco Arcangeli, for medals that Maria Theresa had given him. Arcangeli had thought that he was only "un uomo di poco conto" ("a man of little account").

So little that his bust -two centuries later- reached almost 80,000 Euro.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008


If you have a serious look at an auction sale of Judaica artefacts or memorabilia you can have a very good surprise because those items are in high demand by the Jewish community on one hand and by learned collectors on the other. Judaica represents a wide and diverse area of collecting comprising three main categories: Hebrew manuscripts and books, ritual objects, and fine arts, including paintings and graphics.

Investing in good Judaica is rarely a risky business and you have the certitude that with time your investment will increase in value even moderately.
Sotheby's New York held this week an important Judaica sale of more than 160 lots of which some fetched incredible high prices, setting them on a par with the most expensive purchases of recent Contemporary art.

Although some might consider better to be a Jew than a Roman Catholic to buy a Judaica I strongly disagree. A Hebrew Bible is as good a collectible as a Roman Catholic Codex and a manuscript of Psalms is as valuable as the Collection of Rabelais writings.

For instance this beautiful
18th century Sefer Tehillim (Psalms) illuminated and decorated manuscript fetched the astronomical price of $92,500 for an
estimate of only 30,000/40,000. It has 113 leaves (4 7/8 x 3½ in.; 124 x 89 mm) including 103 leaves on vellum. Each title within full-page contains painted scene and there are 31 additional miniatures decorated in gouache, page frames and many initial words in liquid gold while the sectional titles are illuminated with floral decoration painted in yellow and red, occasional marginal drawings in gouache.
The work is a gift presented by a devoted son to his father-in-law, the Shtadlan Michel Segal and his wife Hannaleh in Hanover in 1734. The gift of the manuscript coincided with the Festival of Purim (1) and was sent in the tradition of mishloah manot and is dated: Friday, Purim [14 Adar II, 5]494 (=19 March 1734).

Another striking example is the fate of this 4-volume Biblica Rabbinica that belonged to Rabbi Moses Judah Belgrado (inscriptions of his father's death in 1667 and his wife's death on the final folio of volume 1).

In 1516 Daniel Bomberg, a wealthy Christian, was granted the privilege of publishing Hebrew books in Venice. Among the first works he printed was the
Mikra'ot Gedolot (Rabbinic Bible) a folio edition of the entire Bible with the leading commentaries. Pope Leo X gave his imprimatur for this book and Felix Pratensis, a monk who had been born a Jew, was the editor. Bomberg published the edition because of growing interest in the Hebrew language and the Bible among learned Christians. This very well preserved Bible fetched the incredible price of $134,500 this week at a auction sale at Sotheby's NYC for an estimate of only 50/70,000.

But the cherry on the cake was represented by the sale of this magnificent pair of early english parcel-gilt silver large baroque Torah Finials, made by William Spackman arounf 1719, of multi baluster form embossed and chased with bands of lobes alternating with stemmed bell flowers, pierced with arches framed by chased flowerheads against matted ground.

Early English torah finials are exceptionally rare. Of the few surviving however, eleven pairs are recorded with the mark of Abraham de Oliveyra, who was born in Amsterdam in 1657 and relocated to London in the 1690's. The other specialist maker was William Spackman, a gentile who followed Dutch prototypes. This pair of a height of 18in. (45.8cm) fetched $338,500 at Sotheby's NY for an estimate of $300,000 /500,000.

(1)Purim is a Jewish holiday that commemorates the deliverance of the Jewish people of the ancient Persian Empire from Haman's plot to annihilate them, as recorded in the Biblical Book of Esther.


This rather uninteresting picture by Englishman Roger Hilton (1911-1975) titled May '58, is an oil and charcoal on canvas measuring 20 x 24 in. (50.8 x 61 cm.)and was part of the collection of a wealthy Englishman who bought it in 1986 from the Redfern gallery in London (1).

In February and March 1958, Hilton's first retrospective was mounted at the Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA) in London. For the first time, the mature artistic nature of Hilton was on public display, in a powerful selection of works. The exhibition was a serious and important event which led to the Tate buying its first work by the artist, January 1957 .

Later that year, in July 1958, Hilton was selected to feature in a Critic's Choice exhibition at Tooth's Gallery : it was an eclectic mix, bringing together Francis Bacon, William Coldstream, Victor Pasmore and Roger Hilton making the latter famous. Roger Hilton was a pioneer of abstract art in post-war Britain. He was born in Northwood, London and studied at the Slade School of Fine Art, London and also in Paris. But he is always connected with St. Ives, and moved permanently to west Cornwall in 1965. By 1974 he was confined to bed as an invalid precipitated in part by alcoholism. His work became less abstract in his later years, often being based on the nude or images of animals.

His fame endured to this day as shows this banal oil/charcoal on convas that fetched this week at Christie's London the high sum of £32,450 ($49,551) beating its lower estimate by almost £8,000 .

(1) Note that the Redfern gallery represents the works by Sarah Armstrong-Jones, the daughter of the late Princess Margaret.
Lady Sarah attended the Camberwell School of Art and Middlesex Polytechnic and is a professional painter. She is also Vice President of the Royal Ballet, an appointment she accepted in 2004, following the example of her mother who was a patron of the Royal Ballet.


One would think that nobody is ready to go well beyond the estimate and the reserve price for a gloomy dim foggy view of Lancashire by English painter Theodore Major (1908-1999) titled Lancashire Scene.

Well just change your mind because this oil on canvas measuring 22 x 26 in. (55.9 x 66 cm.) and painted in the late 1940s fetched this week at Christie's London more than twice its lower estimate at
£20,000 ($30,540). Major was famous for his depiction of industrial scenes of the first half of the XXth century in all their gloomness and dreary perspective of dejected workers against a background of smoking chimneys, sinister industrial plants and dark smoggy skies.

Major had this year some help from his supporters : 2008 marks the centenary of his birth and has been celebrated with a large exhibition at Gallery Oldham and the launch of a fully illustrated biography of the artist. The present work was painted in the late 1940s when the family lived in Wigan (Lancashire). After moving to Appley Bridge in 1950, Major painted on board rather than canvas and relatively few works remain from the earlier period.


If you distrust or esteem that Contemporary Art market got nuts or unaffordable, you don't have to throw the towel regarding your aspiration to become a wise collector. You can buy for instance works by French "Orientalist" painter Germain Fabius Brest (1823-1900) whose pictures are still very much in demand.

Bouquet de tulipes et pivoines dans un intérieur ottoman -an oil on canvas measuring 24.02" x 19.92" in.- is part of the "tableaux orientalistes" category made by this artist from my home city of Marseille (France) ; it fetched this week at Christie's Paris the respectable sum of €20,000 vs. an estimate of 6,000 /8,000.

Fabius Brest learnt his art with famous painters like Émile Loubon in Marseille and Constant Troyon in Paris. Advised by Loubon who had lived in Palestine to visit The Middle East, Brest went to Turkey where he stayed 5 years until 1859. He came back from this region with a lot of landscape paintings. The Middle East and its architecture will stay a source of inspiration during his entire life. Some of his paintings (see upper pictures) are amazingly vivid and good and can be viewed at the Istanbul sanatevi (Istanbul art house) from which you can even buy on line very solid and promising art..

Monday, December 15, 2008


American artist Herb Williams, 36, from Nashville (TN.) was named Next Star Artist for the year 2008 by a jury of 15 international galleries of whom Saatchi, Galleri HK, Red Bubble and Art Culture Studio.

Williams think that artwork can be humorous and even downright fun, yet still be viable in the midst of what is considered “art” today.

Some of his influences are Jasper Johns, Magritte, Duchamp, Jeff Koons, Damien Hirst, Robert Rauschenburg, Banksy, and Ai Weiwei, all artists whom the reader of this blog is now familiar with.

In 1996 Williams obtained a
B.F.A. in Sculpture of the Birmingham Southern College (Alabama). Since then he exhibited in Florida, Tennessee, Alabama and twice in France in 2003 and 2005. His works have been bought by several private and public collections (Mayor Rudy Giuliani, Vanderbilt, Vogue).

Using cigar cutters and dog nail clippers, Williams cuts the crayons to create a mosaic-like artwork : this Obama's 3D-portrait is made of over 50,000 crayons of different colors in a very large canvass that took 4 months of hard work. His life-sized Johnny Cash sculpture used over 100,000 black crayons, and he used over a quarter million Crayolas to create a six-foot Marilyn Monroe portrait. Next September, his works will be exhibited in NYC's prestigious Rare Gallery in Chelsea. .

While the recent portrait of President-elect Obama fetches $25,000 from the Rymer Gallery, you can walk away with one of the artist's life-size high heel shoes for under $1,000


Annual sales of contemporary art at Sotheby’s and Christie’s flagship auctions in New York and London have dropped 17% in 2008, according to Bloomberg news agency. The significant drop from a total of $2.4 billion last year to just below $2 billion this year comes after two years of more than doubling in sales.

According to Christie's CEO Edward Dolman the London auction house is going to lower its estimates by 10% in the coming months. But if you listen to Tobias Meyer (1), auctioneer at Sotheyby's, the decline of Contemporary market is providing a lot of opportunities.

Tobias Meyer is Deputy Chairman, Europe at Sotheby's auction house, Head of Department, Worldwide Contemporary Art, and can be reached at Tel: +1 212 606 7254 or e-mailed to at

Sunday, December 14, 2008


One would have thought that His Excellency Damien Hirst, unchallendged Pope of Factory-Contemporary Art, would have been recession-proofed. Et bien non !!

My favorite informer in London told me that he laid off his studio-factory staff on Thursday 12 December : almost 80% of the nice artists who make the pills for Hirst's drug cabinet series were told their contracts were not being renewed.

Another three who make his butterfly paintings were also told they were surplus to any current requirements. Their salary is or was in the region of
£19,000 a year.

Not too generous for a man who is considered the richest artist on earth with his 130 million Pounds at 42.
Remember that in December 2004, The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living (picture) was sold by Saatchi to American collector Steve Cohen for $12 million (£6.5 million), in a deal negotiated by Hirst's New York agent, Gagosian. Steve Cohen, a Greenwich hedge fund manager, then donated the work to MoMA.

Hirst is used to making dollars by the hundred of thousands and it is certainly a sign of the times if this poor artist does not have any more money to pay his employees. Donations can be made at the Gagosian Gallery in New York city.


There are thousands of galleries and art dealers in the world. In the USA, there is an Art Dealers Association of America (ADAA, 575 Madison Avenue, New York, NY 10022) that gives a list of its 165 members and a very comprehensive Guide to Collectors that may be useful to an aspiring buyer.

To qualify for membership, a gallery must have been
in business for at least five years, have a reputation for honesty and integrity. You would not expect less. Note that the gallery of the flamboyant Larry Gagosian is not a member of the ADAA : "Gaga" does not embarrass himself with that sort of membership.

Among the expectations that a collector must have, the ADAA cites as a #1 Authenticity, followed by Quality, Rarity, Condition, Provenance and Value. Note that value is held in ultimate position and authenticity in #1. We would think that works by Hirst or Warhol or Tracey Emin or even Koons would respond to this criteria. Not at all. Warhol painted silkscreens by the dozens, Emin openly mocks authenticity, Hirst used to say that great artists are great negotiators and Koons does not care less about rarity that when he exhibits a plastic tortoise or a Puppy made of bushes.

However all the members of the ADAA would kill mother, sister and lover to have the chance to exhibit a Koons or a Hirst. It is one more case of "Do what I say but don't do what I do" theory. And when it comes to auctions, the ADAA tells you that for both sellers and buyers, auctions are a gamble in which control is ceded to fickle and sometimes irrational forces. Understood ?

Dealers, will tell you the ADAA, are able to give personal attention to buyers and sellers at all levels of the market, while auctioneers lavish much of their energy on multi-million-dollar lots. ADAA dealers have made a long-term commitment to the art and artists they represent, whereas auctioneers seldom look much further than the next sale. Capito ?

More, the ADAA warns you that pre-sale estimates published in auction catalogues are not necessarily predictive of final sales results or of fair value. Estimates are frequently the result of a negotiation between the auction-house and the consignor and may represent wishful thinking on both sides. Verstehen ?

Don't even believe that you made a bargain because you got a lot below its lower estimate. This is false. If a lot appears to be going cheaply, it may be that the estimate was too high. Possibly the work is in bad condition. Perhaps the attribution is doubtful and perhaps the auctioneer is a crook. Compris ?

In London you have the Society of Art Dealers (SAD) in
Ormond House, 3 Duke of York Street London, SW1Y 6JP that boasted of "around" 100 members and was founded in 1932. Do not expect a great help from this respectable association ; the Society has a better role to play than assisting you in the Art jungle : its vital role is to represent "the interests of its members in discussions with the government and other professional bodies on current issues concerning the art trade." Do not think though that there are discussions with the auction houses, they hate each other. Entendido ?

Once more note that the most powerful art dealer in England, Charles Saatchi, is not a member. SAD's artwoks database is very poor and does not mention a Koons or a Hirst but it gives you an exhaustive lists of galleries where you can buy Contemporary art.

In France you have the Syndicat des Antiquaires
and the Cie Nationale des Commissaires Priseurs, two very old institutions whose protectionist habits were shattered in the early 2000s when European regulations forced "art dealers" (antiquaires) and "commissaires priseurs" (auctioneers) to drop their monopolistic policies (Law of July 2000) opening the French art market to the competition of Sotheby's and Christie's. Those two organisations do not deal with the public needs and have a pure role of negociation and representation with public authorities. But there is no art dealers or galleries association like the ADAA or the SDA (2).

In Canada, there is a
Contemporary Art Galleries Association (AGAC) sprang from Montreal art dealers’ desire to ensure the recognition and viability of the contemporary art market. Founded in 1985, the AGAC is a non-profit organization whose function is to defend its members interests. Presently, the Association includes contemporary art galleries from Quebec and Ontario.

According to a book (1) recently published in the USA, the Superstar dealers are Gagosian gallery, Haunch of Venison, White Cube, Lisson Gallery, Sadie Coles, Victoria Miro, Hauser & Wirth, Maureen Paley, The Approach and Stephen Friedman gallery in London and Gagosian, PaceWildenstein, Marian Goodman, Paula Cooper, Gladstone, David Zwirner, Matthews Marks, Sonnabend, Luhring Augustine and Gavin Brown in New York. One could add Artcurial in Paris, the Galleria Colonna and the Doria Pamphili Galleria in Rome, the
Stella Art gallery in Moscow, the Opera City Art Gallery in Tokyo and a handful of galleries in Zurich, Mexico and Madrid.

A special mention must be made of the interactive Saatchi gallery established in 2006 which is only an on line gallery but it offers representation to 38,000 artists and has more than 70 million hits per day. Anybody can register his works on the famous Saatchi gallery.

Some sources advance that the average turn-over of that kind of very famous galleries in 2006 was around $650,000 and that they represent less than 1% of all contemporary artists. The majority of artists seek and settle for representation with less well-branded dealers. Somme 12,000 artists stroll the streets of London in search of a representing gallery and the figure is said to be 15,000 in New York.

Having said that it is hard to tell where to find the best deals and to clinch the juicest bargains : if you are beginning a serious collection and are really determined with some means I would advise to use the expertise of an art dealer. But do some serious shopping around in your city before to pick up one, ask questions and don't be afraid to look goofy. If you are really committed, it will show and the dealer will pay attention to you. If he/she does not and snubs you, just walk away, he/she has lost a good client.

On another hand if you just want to catch a nice piece of art now and then and are not interested in becoming a serious collector just go to auction houses anywhere in the world but look at their incoming sales and refrain from letting yourself caught in a stupid bidding war.

Once you are an experienced collector and know the art market, then you can drop your dealer and enjoy the thrill of the hammer especially when it is yielded by star auctioneer like Tobias Meyer of Sotheby's (3) (picture) and go to the big auction sales that draw the attention of the media and huge crowds... But never forget : Caveat emptor !!

(1) The $12 million stuffed shark by Don Thompson, Palgrave Macmillan 2008
(2) Curiously enough the opening of the French market coincided with the acquisition of Christie's by businessman François Pinault and of Phillips de Pury by his rival Bernard Arnault.
(3) Tobias Meyer is Deputy Chairman, Europe at Sotheby's auction house, Head of Department, Worldwide Contemporary Art, and can be reached at Tel: +1 212 606 7254 or e-mailed to at


This "Black Athlete" (1982) by Jean-Michel Basquiat, one of few standout artists at recent auctions, was available for $5.5 million at Van de Weghe's gallery's booth during the last Basel Miami Art Fair in December 2008.

To my knowledge it was unsold which is good because IMHO Basquiat like Koon's works are scam, fantasies that should not go beyond some thousands of dollars.

I think that one day in 20 or 30 years the Contemporary Art maket will become the Modern Art market and that prices will collapse. People will look at Basquiat's and Koon's works and will start saying to themselves :"our grandparents paid 5 million bucks for that piece of s...t ? My goodness ! They were out of their mind !"

Take my poll and let us know how much you would give for that picture by Jean Michel.


At the recent Basel Miami Fair, Switzerland's Galerie Gmurzynska was offering Pablo Picasso's "Fillette a Cheval" (Little girl on a horse) -executed in 1905/06- for $6 million.

The picture is a grim reddish drawing of a man standing by a horse ridden by a young girl. It is not particularly appealing nor well drawn. It is only a Picasso, one among dozens of thousands.

The gallery did not sell the Picasso and it is well understandable. Who is the fool ready to spit out such a monstruous sum for the joy of hanging on his/her wall a painting that looks like the work of a average gifted artist in his first year at l'Ecole des Beaux Arts ?

"You don't understand, answer the critics and the art dealers, it is a Picasso". So what ? The whole thing is horrible, the reddish background loos like a primer, the small girl seems to come from a diet at Dachau and the man -who looks to be a Doppelgänger of Chaplin- is touching his chest as though he was checking for a possible heart attack !! Six millions bucks ? Please make me a serious offer at $600,000 and I might consider a purchase.

The press commented about the Miami Fair saying that art dealers were generally happy and satisfied. Wow the lie !!! The press is always lenient to the Art dealers and ready to propagandize their says with celerity and complacency. The reality is that prices are down, seriously down, rebates as well above expectations, negociations last for even with some aggressivity and good pieces of great quality went but not always at the best prices (for the dealers), in short the ones who made good deals were the visitors who had not yet lost all their wealth on the stock markets.

Conclusion, it is what we can call a buyers' market but the press never likes this idea : those morons prefer to stand with the dealers when it is a sellers' market and ignore the general needs of the public. Why ? It should be the contrary.

Saturday, December 13, 2008


This Egyptian figure in greywacke wood of a kneeling man dating from around 600–342 B.C. measuring 35 cm. in height was sold in December 2008 by Sotheby's NYC for the astounding sum of $1.65 million vs. a higher estimate of $600,000.

According to press reports, the buyer was from Qatar and some think that the real owner will be Sheikh
Saud Al-Thani who is very fond of Egyptian antiquities.

Its provenance was very prestigious too : Henry Salt (1780-1827) collected in Egypt between 1824 and he said to have found the figure in the Temple of Bubastes, Lower Egypt. Then Sir Charles John Greville (1785-1836), Warwick Castle, Warwickshire, acquired it and the figure stayed in the Collections of the Earls of Warwick until this date.

It is doubtful however than the final owner is the Sheikh Saud Al Thani who burst onto the antiquities market in the late 1990s. He was buying Islamic, Egyptian and Roman antiquities for himself, but was also acting as president of Qatar’s National Council for Culture, Arts and the Heritage (NCCAH) to acquire material intended to furnish a new museum complex which would make Qatar the cultural capital of the Gulf .

Among his record-breaking antiquities purchases were the so-called Jenkins Venus, a second-century AD Roman statue bought at Christie’s London in June 2002 for £7.9 million, and the third-century AD Roman “cage cup”, bought for £2.3 million at the Sotheby’s London November 1997 sale of the British Rail Pension Fund’s collection of ancient glass.

In April 2005 the buying came to an end when Sheikh Saud was placed under house arrest in Qatar under suspicion of misusing public funds. He was replaced as president of the NCCAH by Mohammed Abdulraheem Kafoud .

The greywacke figure had been sold in Sotheby’s first-ever antiquities auction in 1835, for £60. At its one-session sale on Wednesday 10 December, 101 of 122 well-selected lots found buyers, all in all, the sale earned $8.9 million on an estimate of $4–6.9 million. It was in the current conditions of the Art market a very good night for Sotheby's of whom a director concluded that "nothing changed on the market, people want high quality stuff and good provenance."

(German grauwacke, signifying a grey, earthy rock) is a variety of sandstone generally characterized by its hardness, dark color, and poorly-sorted, angular grains of quartz, feldspar, and small rock fragments set in a compact, clay-fine matrix. It is a texturally-immature sedimentary rock generally found in Palaeozoic strata. The larger grains can be sand-to-gravel-sized, and matrix materials generally constitute more than 15% of the rock by volume.

Friday, December 12, 2008


Chinese artist Yingzhao Liu is one of the Asian artist whose works are remarkable by their finesse and clarity and whose prices are still affordable : sharpness and image resolution of every of his pictures make his works worth a moment of serious thinking when compared to most of the Contemporary productions.

Offered by a California gallery at $6800 this Peony and Lemon may be negotiable at $6000 in the current economic conditions. However Chinese artists are hot and IMHO a very good long term investment.

Liu was born in 1956 in Heilongjiang Province, China and he received a Bachelor of Art from Harbin Normal University in China, and went on to receive his Master of Fine Arts degree from Lu Xun Academy of Fine Arts, China.

In 1992, he became a lecturer in the Department of Oil Painting at TianJina Academy of Fine arts, and later a Professor at the Academy of Art Design, at TianJina Academy of Fine Arts. Yingzhao Liu has exhibited in American, China, Taiwan, Indonesia, Macau, England, and Japan. Numerous paintings have been auctioned off by Christie's in Hongkong.


At the end of the 50s, Francis Bacon was a total non-entity in the USA. In 1959 the famous Italian-born art dealer Leo Castelli started to sell his works at prices from $900 to $1500. In May 2008, nightmarish Francis Bacon painting Tryptich 1976 fetched record $86 million.

Triptych, 1976, consists of three panels depicting a headless human form surrounded by three vultures and flanked by two portraits of disfigured human faces.

If Castelli helped to make Bacon the icon the artist became on the Art market he made one considerable mistake : smart Leo did not keep any of the Bacon work for his own collection. He later admitted that it was his major error in a lifetime of art dealing. Did he not believed enough in the future of the Irish-English painter ?

However Castelli made another one and quite as big a mistake : before to represent Bacon he had rejected Andy Warhol in favor of his major artists like Jasper Johns and Roy Lichtenstein. He eventually sold Andy Warhol's soup can paintings.

Today Bacon sells for million of dollars and Leo Castelli who died in 1999 became -in spite of those early mistakes- so famous that people used to say that they had acquired a "Castelli" rather than a Johns or one his other gallery artists. Willem De Koonings proclaimed urbi et orbi that Castelli would sell for a fortune an empty can of beer.


Jeff Koon's most expensive work Hanging Heart sculpture fetched $ 25.7 million at a Sotheby's sale in New York in November 2007. The 9ft-tall sculpture was created in stainless steel and consists of a giant heart, weighing 3,500lbs (1,600kg), suspended from the ceiling by two delicate gilded strands and hovering 16 inches (40cm) from the floor. The sculpture took 10 years to complete and was bought by the NYC-based Gagosian Gallery.

Lawrence Gilbert "Larry" Gogosian is probably the most famous "branding" art dealer on the planet and is capable to sell and brand absolutely anything to anybody. With Maurice Saatchi he is one of the most sough-after dealers on the Contemporary art market and a work on display at his gallery is certain to fetch incredible heights when he decides to sell it or to go down the drain if he is determined to dump it and his maker.

Having said that art dealers and galleries have a precarious existence. If you look at a listing of major galleries of the late 90s you will notice that 50% of them have vanished without much attention paid to the fact. In spite of the huge scandal that blighted them at the end of the 90s until 2001, Sotheby's and Christie's are still there and more active than ever. In 10 years, considering the current economic trends, will there be any collector willing to pay more than $25.7 million for this heart ?

I doubt it and if you talk to some serious art dealers the most frequent opinion is a resounding "NO". Even the flamboyant and tough Larry Gagosian may be then history. Of the thousand artists who had serious gallery shows in New York city and London during the 1980s, only 20 were on offer at Sotheby's and Christie's in 2007. More 8 of 10 works purchased directly from an artist and half the works purchased at auction will never again resell at their purchase price.

In conclusion, high prices on the Contemporary art market are made up by branded dealers like Gagosian who promote their artists and by the very successful marketing job of auction houses like Sotheby's and Christie's. Buying Contemporary art at current prices is "the art of the fool and the very rich".

NB : Koons's works are exposed until the 4th of January 2009 at the Palais de Versailles, near Paris (France).