Sunday, November 30, 2008


"The auction house and the gallery have very different functions. It’s the galleries that develop the artists and that are wise to keep the artists’ best interest first and to sell the work responsibly. This isn’t true of the houses— they have no commitment at all to the art itself, and quality is not always their highest priority. I believe they certainly don’t have the artists’ best interest at heart, and they contribute heavily to the idea that art is just merchandise."

New York gallerist Marian Goodman



In a style comparable to Jackson Pollock's Abstract Expressionism, French Canadian artist Jean Paul Riopelle (1923-2002) painted a lot of abstract drips that reached high prices well before his death.

The artist’s record, $1.9 million, was set in 1989. But his prices suffered significantly in the recession of the early 1990s, and it is only in the past few years there has been significantly renewed interest in his work

Riopelle studied under Paul-Émile Borduas in the 1940s and was a member of Les Automatistes movement. He was one of the signers of the Refus global manifesto. In 1949 he moved to Paris and continued his career as an artist, where he commercialized on his image as a "wild Canadian". In 1949 he moved to Paris where he continued his career and capitalized on his image as a "wild Canadian".

In 1969 he was made a Companion of the
Order of Canada, and began to spend more time in Canada. He was specially recognized by UNESCO for his work. One of his largest compositions was originally intended for the Toronto airport, but is now in the Opéra Bastille in Paris.

This Sans titre picture is an oil on canvas and earned $1,6 million in November 2008 at an auction in Toronto (Canada).

Friday, November 28, 2008


Beauty is in the eye of the beholder so it can be everywhere even in a domestic appliance like this silver boiler (kettle) made by the famous French jeweler Jean Emile Puiforcat in about 1933.

Jean E. Puiforcat (1897-1945) was born into a Parisian silversmithing family and became a leading designer in the field in France between the two World Wars. After commencing an apprenticeship in the family firm he studied sculpture under Louis Lejeune. He set up as a silversmith in 1922, working in the fashionable Art Deco style, and showed in Jacques-Émile Ruhlmann's Pavilion of a Rich Collector at the 1925 Paris Exposition des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels.

Committed more to the abstract forms and restraint of Modernism than the more decorative aesthetic of the applied arts in France he joined the Union des Artistes Modernes (UAM) established in 1929. He was interested in mathematics and worked with geometrically inspired forms. An entire pavilion was dedicated to his work at the 1937 Paris Exposition des Arts et Techniques dans la Vie Moderne. With the rise of Fascism in Europe he settled in Mexico, where he opened a silversmithy in 1942. In Mexico, Puiforcat produced new models inspired by Mexican motifs and incorporating more flamboyant decorative details, such as studs and scalloped bands.

This silver kettle is 20 cm. high and weighs 2800 gr. It was estimated between 8,000 and 12,000 Euros and reached 10,000 at an auction in Paris.

Thursday, November 27, 2008


Art works' theft is one of the most popular form of crime. Interpol currently records 227 stolen art items during the last two months. This painting by Albert Marquet was stolen in Argentina and is still not recovered. It measures 54 x 46 cm. and is an oil on canvas.

Albert Marquet (1875 - 1947) was a painter and draughtsman who was a member of the Fauves early in his career and a close friend of Matisse. He eventually abandoned the Fauvist approach and adopted a naturalistic style.

He painted portraits and female nudes, but most of his output consisted of landscapes. He often painted scenes of Paris ports and bridges. After 1925, he worked mostly in watercolors.

Through his travels, he gained an international reputation. However, because of his shy demeanor, he preferred to remain out of the spotlight and refused all honors that were offered to him.

The two countries most affected by this phenomenon are France and Italy. The illicit trade in cultural objects is sustained by the demand from the arts market, the opening of borders, the improvement in transport systems and the political instability of certain countries.

Currently one of the most sought after stolen work of art is the Garcon au gilet rouge (right) by Paul Cezanne that was stolen in Switzerland. If by any chance you are aware of its shenanigans please contact Interpol by the mean of this form.

Cezanne (1839-1906) was a French artist and post impressionist painter whose work laid the foundations of the transition from the 19th century conception of artistic endeavour to a new and radically different world of art in the 20th century.

Cézanne can be said to form the bridge between late 19th century
Impressionism and the early 20th century's new line of artistic enquiry, Cubism.


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.

After less glamorous year in the 80s, today Jeff Koons' work records terrific sales. This is an interesting fact considering the world's economy is in a recession. At the May 14 Sotheby's sale Koons' work entitled Caterpillar Chains (seen above) from 2003 was purchased for $5,921,000.

It is not my goal in this blog to make or undo an artist but as an art amateur who loves beauty, colors and forms I can only say that I find this Caterpillar extremely ugly and that only a rich fool can accept to pay 6 million bucks for this "chenille en plastique".

Furthermore the problem with Jeff Koons's works in my humble opinion is that they arouse no emotion at all. Sure they are for most of them beautiful and aesthetically flawless but where is the emotion of the Impressionists, where is the humble feeling of the Old Masters, where is the revolt of the Modern Art, where is the mysticism of the abstract art ? There is nothing, just an artistic void that does not justify the million fetched by his works.

Is Koons's art a scam ? Difficult to put it right away in this category as his
paintings can be very good. This "Cheeky" at the Left is worth of Salvador Dali if only for its sexual connotation and ironical message. It was made in 2000
and it is confronting the viewer with collaged, disconnected images and high-key colors that are executed with photorealistic perfection. The ambiguity of the title Cheeky is what makes Koons' works so appealing to the viewer – is it sexual or childish, is it easy fun or is it ethereal?

The whole works of Koons enter in this dilemna and it is certainly the reason why it is fascinating so many people and fetche their astronomical prices. At the 11th of November 2008 evening sale at Sotheby's "Cheely' was bought for $4 million (buyer premium included), the low estimate but still a very high price. It is an oil on canvas and measures 108 x 79 1/2 in. ( 274.3 x 201.9 cm.).


This beautiful portrait of a lady was made by her husband the Belgo-Russian painter Leonid Frechkop (1897-1982).

Frechkop was born in Moscow where he studied painting at the Academy of Fine Art under C. Korovine, A. Arkhipov and N. Kassatkine until 1920. In 1922 the artist received the Prix de Rome.

Frechkop moved to Paris in the early 1920s and later settled in Brussels where many institutions have collected his work such as the Cabinet des Estampes. The Musée National d’Art Moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou and museums in Dinant and Ixelles have also collected Frechkop’s work.

Considered primarily a Belgian artist, Frechkop was influenced by the ideals of
Neue Sachlichkeit and Néo Réalisme. He was also largely influenced by the Italian Renaissance and the painter Hans Holbein. In 1983 and 1987 the Galerie L’Oeil in Brussels exhibited a small catalogue of the Frechkop’s work.

The artist is listed in many major publications of French and Belgian artists such as Benezit, Arto, Le Dictionnaire des Peintures Belges and Piron. Several significant oil paintings of female nudes by Frechkop have sold successfully at Christie’s Amsterdam since the artist’s death.

This picture is an
oil on canvas and measures 31½ x 27½ in. (80 x 69.7 cm.). It was estimated between $6,100 and $9,200 and went on auction in London for $ 8,054 in November 2008.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008


In Russia at the time this decoration was made -before 1898- pogroms were rife and peasants were starving to death but the friends of the stupid tzar who led his Empire to destruction and communism were rewarded with that sort of terrific medal.

This medal is representative of the Order of St Alexander Nevsky. The introduction of the Imperial Order of St. Alexander Nevsky was planned by Russian Emperor Peter I of Russia and was established in Russia by Catherine I of Russia on May 21, 1725 in memory of the deeds of Saint Alexander Nevsky in defending Russia against foreign invaders.

It was originally awarded to distinguished Russian citizens who had served their country with honor, mostly through political or military service. Tolstoy states in
Anna Karenina that the Order of St. Vladimir and Order of St. Andrew were higher honors. It was abolished in 1917 following the Bolshevik Revolution.

In 1942, the Soviet Union revive the order as a purely military decoration, and renamed it the Order of Alexander Nevsky.

It is a jewelled sash badge attributed to the workshop of Karl Hahn of St Petersburg. It measures 57.5mm (including suspension loop) x 52.5mm (about 2 inches) and is made in gold, circular and rose-cut diamonds and enamels, having the original obverse centre replaced with an unofficial medallion and surround of non-Christian pattern.

Estimated between 30,000—50,000 GBP, it was sold including buyer's premium for 63,650 GBP ($ 97,600) in London in Fall 2008.


The Italian Minister of Cultural Affairs, Sandro Bondi wishes to implement a new policy starting next year. First he wants to lease Italian works of Art to foreign museums on the model set up since 2000 by my cousin Bruno Racine, ex-head of the Beaubourg Museum in Paris.

He will start his new policy with leases to "America and to Arabia”. Alain Elkann, an advisor to the Minister who went to the United States a month ago to meet directors from eleven museums, in the role of travelling salesman, thus stated: “The model is the Louvre, who besides lending a part of its collection to Abou Dhabi passed an agreement with a museum in Atlanta, Georgia which will bring in 6 million dollars for the Parisian institution."

In order to carry out the “plan for museums and archeological sites”, a “Super manager” [sic] for museums, with full powers, has just been named by the Minister, without going through the usual screening and selection of applicants. The lucky winner is Mario Resca, 62, a friend of Silvio Berlusconi, head of McDonald’s Italy until 2007 and who has since directed a gambling casino. He of course has no knowledge or experience in museums or art history.

Mario thinks that museum works are “an oil field with zero cost” and that his role will be to “increase the value of this wealth.” Why not ? Of course all the well-thinkers of Italy and France are up in arms but it is well known that the Philistines never admitted that art is nothing else than a big market, for everybody, including the artists.


This panthere noire debout (black panther standing) made by Paul Jouve (1878 - 1973) around 1929 is a litho with gouache and gold leaf. Paul Jouve was a French animal painter and sculptor of great repute who was born in Fontainebleau (France) and studied as soon as 13 years of age at the Ecole des Arts Decoratifs and later at the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris.

He was commissioned to decorate the monumental door of the Universal Expo of 1900 in Paris and went to the famous villa
Abd-el-Tif in Algeria as a scholarship student.

He fathered a passion for Africa and Extreme Orient and illustrated with passion and immense talent the lives of the wild animals of the French empire especially in North Africa and South East Asia .

This litho measures 85 x 69 cm. (33½ x 27 1/8 in.) and was for a long time in the property of Mme Andrée Buron, fille du peintre Henri Buron (1880-1969). It was recently offered in auction in Paris (France) and estimated between €20,000 - €25,000 : it went for €34,100.
Paul Jouve's works are exposed at the Gallery Marcilhac in Nantes (France) and Felix Marcilhac wrote a splendid book about Jouve and his works.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008


If you like the Italian painter Giorgio De Chirico (1888-1978) to the point of buying his self-portrait, this carboncino e acquarello su cartone (carbon and watercolor on cardboard) with a Minerva in the background, made by the artist in 1966, can be a very very good investment.

De Chirico was an influential pre-Surrealist and then Surrealist Italian painter born in Volos, Greece, to a Genovese mother and a Sicilian father. He founded the scuola metafisica art movement.

After studying art in Athens and Florence, De Chirico moved to Germany in 1906 and entered the Academy of Fine Arts in Munich (the same one that rejected Adolf Hitler in 1907), where he read the writings of the philosophers Nietzsche and Arthur Schopenhauer, and studied the works of Arnold Böcklin and Max Klinger.

De Chirico met and married his first wife, the Russian Ballerina Raissa Gurievich in 1924, and together they moved to Paris. In 1928 he held his first exhibition in New York City and shortly afterwards, London. He wrote essays on art and other subjects, and in 1929 published a novel entitled Hebdomeros, the Metaphysician. In 1930 De Chirico met his second wife, Isabella Pakszwer Far, a Russian, with whom he would remain for the rest of his life. Together they moved to Italy in 1932, finally settling in Rome in 1944. In 1939 he adopted a neo-Baroque style influenced by Rubens.

He remained extremely prolific even as he approached his 90th year. In 1974 he was elected to the French Académie des Beaux-Arts. He died in Rome on November 20, 1978. Estimated between
€14,000 et €18,000, this self portrait although not particularly interesting or beautiful was sold on auction for €20,800 ($26,097) in Milan, Italy in November 2008.

Monday, November 24, 2008


For small budget collectors and fans of rock stars there are plenty of means to fulfill their love and start an interesting collection. For instance, they can buy prints or collages of their idols for not much money. This David Bowie Moonage Daydream Collage made by Mick Rock is a color, limited edition archival photographic print, signed and numbered 14/50. 20x24in.

Mick Rock is a photographer best known for his iconic shots of 1970s glam rock icons such as Queen, David Bowie, Mick Ronson, Lou Reed, Kevin Ayers, Iggy Pop and The Stooges, The Sex Pistols, The Ramones and Blondie. Born in London, he studied at Emanuel School before going on to study modern languages at Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge - it was here, at Cambridge in 1966, that he met and photographed Pink Floyd founder Syd Barrett, one of his first subjects.

His book Moonage Daydream: The Life and Times of Ziggy Stardust features a 15 000-word text by David Bowie, and hundreds of photos of Bowie in his Ziggy period.

This print was recently offered on auction in NYC and estimated between 1,500 and 2,000 dollars. It went for $ 1,250.

Sunday, November 23, 2008


Those flashy emeralds-brilliants earrings made by artist and jeweler Michele della Valle were sold in November 2008 for the modest sum of CHF 67,300 ($ 55,057) vs. an estimate of CHF 30,000-45,000.

Each of hoop design is set with two lines of graduated oval emeralds, each bordered by lines of brilliant-cut diamonds, mounted in white gold, signed MdV and numbered, fitted case.

Some people think the Art market is goind down the drain. Well not all the market as long as there are wealthy men to buy such expensive toys to their ladies. Personally I think that wearing such earring is nothing else than ostentatious and provocative. It is not art, it is display of fortune. And you must be a fool to pay 50,000 bucks just to show to your friends how rich you are.

Saturday, November 22, 2008


Fernando Botero Angulo (born 1932 in Medellín ) is a Colombian neo figurative artist, self-titled "the most Colombian of Colombian artists" early on, coming to prominence when he won the first prize at the Salón de Artistas Colombianos in 1959.

His work includes
still-life and landscapes, but Botero tends to primarily focus on situational portraiture. The "fat people" is what they are often called by critics and to my humble opinion it is also easier to paint or sculpt fat bodies with huge curves.

He traveled to study arts in France.
He is now a very expensive artist. This Venus sleeping signed and numbered 'Botero 4/6' and stamped with foundry mark (on the side of the base) is a bronze with dark brown patina and measures 45 x 151.7 x 58.4 cm. It was executed in 1990.

It was on auction in NYC in November 2008 with an estimated price of 400,000 - 600,000 dollars. It reached only $ 458,500.
which is probably due to the downward trend of the market since some time.

I personally own a Venus laying who

measures 8ins x 3 ins (picture
at right) sculpted by a Parisian artist whose initials are G.M. and who is on sale for 2,000 dollars. It was made in Paris in 2000 and it is made of wood. It is an excellent job and any person interested can contact me at sbofni at and ask for Michel.

Friday, November 21, 2008


If you ask art dealers and auctioneers about who are the most famous Contemporary artists, you have a good chance to obtain very different answers. For instance, Philippe Segalot (picture at left), the French art consultant and former manager of Christie's contemporary art departement, think that there are no more than 10 great artists in any one generation. And he adds that those ten will show their prices grow while the others will simply disappear like fog.

For Segalot, among the ten best he puts Koons, Basquiat, Gonzales-Torres, Hirst and Cattelan. The other five, you might have never heard of them and among the best of the 21st century Segalot ranks Murakami, Toymans, Barney and Gober. I personally have never heard of the last three but I am not an expert and not even a specialist. So who are those famous three whose works we should rush to buy ?

Luc Tuymans (born 1958) is a Belgian contemporary artist (autoportrait on the right), considered one of today's most influential painters. Shame on me I did not know that. Tuymans was born in Mortsel, Belgium (double shame I live 3 years in Brussels and I still do not know it) and began to study fine art at the Sint-Lukasinstituut in Brussels in 1976. He first exhibited in 1985 and his first U.S. exhibition was at The Renaissance Society in Chicago in 1995. Tuymans lives and works in Antwerp. Recently some of his work has been exhibited in "The Triumph of Painting" exhibition in the Saatchi Gallery in London. In May 1995, the David Zwirner gallery featured a two-person exhibition of paintings by Francis Picabia and Luc Tuymans. The Museum of Modern Art hold six works by Tuymans. In October 2008 one of his paintings sold by Christie's London fetched almost 47,000 GBP ($70,000).

Matthew Barney (born in 1967 in San Francisco, California ) is an American contemporary artist who gained fame by a film called Cremaster cycle, a sequence of five films, entitled Cremaster 1 to Cremaster 5, which create a self-enclosed aesthetic system.

The conceptual departure point for the cycle is the male cremaster muscle, and the films are filled with anatomical allusions to reproductive organs and the process of sexual differentiation. Some critics think he is simply a buffoon, notably with regard to his second film, Drawing Restraint 9. Others thik he is a genius. Barney could well be the most important American artist of his generation. He produces films and videos, most of which he performs in. He and his crew also make sculptures and objects for the films and turn out photographs, books and installations derived from the films.

The sculptures include dumbbells made out of tapioca, a weight bench made of petroleum jelly, a mirrored saddle and nylon chairs with backrests curved at the waist so that only contortionists could sit comfortably on them. Barney doesn't regard any of his works — the sculptures, the photographs, the books, the films — as subsidiary to any others.

To say the least Barney (photo on the right) is not easily understandable and is very often provocative : I do not know what to make of his works and I send the reader to the
Gladstone gallery where more of this achievements can be seen.

In 2006, his works were exhibited at the show "all in the present must be transformed: Matthew Barney and Joseph Beuys," held by Deutsche Guggenheim, Berlin. In November 2008, one of his works fetched $86,500 on action at Phillips De Pury in New York. He is acclaimed all over and his works are walked around the museums and galleries of the planet.

The third great artist of our fresh century is or may be Robert Gober,
an American sculptor, who was born in Connecticut, in 1954. He studied at Middlebury College, Vermont Tyler School of Art in Rome. He lives and works in New York City and is represented by the Matthew Marks Gallery.

His work is often related to domestic and familiar objects such as sinks, doors, and legs, and has themes of nature, sexuality, religion, and politics. The sculptures are meticulously handcrafted, even when they appear to just be a re-creation of a common sink.

His work is in many museum collections, including the Whitney Museum of American Art, The Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, the Menil Collection, the Tate Modern.

This hanging bulb is an enamel, beeswax and rope measuring 8 x 3 x 3in. (20 x 7.5 x 7.5cm.) and was executed in 1990. At auction in June 2008, it fetched £457,250 ($911,300) at Christie's London.

Author Don Thompson, after a comprehensive survey and study of the Art market, cites 25 major Contemporary artists : Jasper Johns, Andy Warhol, Gehrard Richter, Bruce Nauman, Roy Lichtenstein, Robert Rauchenberg,
Joseph Beuys, Ed Ruscha, Francis Bacon, Lucian Freud, Cy Twombly, Damien Hirst, Jeff Koons, Martin Kippenberger, Donald Judd, Willem de Kooning, Takashi Murakami, Peter Fischli, Richard Serra, Antoni Tapies, Maurizio Cattelan, Andreas Gurky, David Hockney, Rochard Diebenkorn and Jean Michel Basquiat. To tell the truth before to read his study (1) I had never heard of 9 of them.

(1) Don Thompson, The 12 million Stuffed Shark, 2008, Palgrave, Macmillan

Wednesday, November 19, 2008


This oil on canvas by Greek painter Constantin Volanakis (1837-1907) is an oil on canvas measuring 146 by 219cm. ( 57½ by 86¼in.) and was executed to celebrate the arrival in 1827 of the fledgling Greek navy and one of its commanders, Georgios Karaiskakis, on the shores of Faliro, near Piraeus, in preparation for the campaign to liberate Athens from Ottoman rule.

Volanakis was a Greek painter, one of the top of 19th century. Born to a rich family, he went to Trieste, Italy, in 1856 where he took up painting. He studied in the Munich Academy. Known as the bard of the Greek sea, he is one of the main representatives of the Munich School Greek artistic movement of the 19th century. He died in 1907. His works are today exhibited in major museums in Greece and abroad.

This picture fetched the high price of 1,609,250 GBP ($2,41 million) in November 2008 on auction at Sotheby's London. This level is justified by the fact that never before offered at auction, The Arrival of Karaiskakis at Faliro, is the most important work by the artist to appear on the international art market. Most historical works by Volanakis of this scale and importance are in museums, institutions and corporate collections, making this painting one of the few examples still in private hands.

Furthermore it illustrates the determination of the Greek people in their fight for independence and had remained for a very long time in the same hands. It was bought by an anonymous bidder and one can safely guess that he was a rich Greek collector.

Monday, November 17, 2008


Art is not only about paintings or sculptures. Art is everywhere, in the eye of the beholder but also it may be around his wrist or in this case in the front pocket of his jacket.

This fine and unique 18K gold openface keyless lever watch with enamel miniature after George Morland
(1763-1804) by Swiss maker L. Pellarin-Leroy and retailed by Cartier was made in 1969.

It is one of the kind and the enamel miniature on the watch is after 'The Check' by George Morland, a late 18th century British painter of sporting art. "The Check" is part of a series of four paintings entitled "Fox Hunting: Going Out, Going Into Cover, The Check and The Death". In hunting terms, the check refers to an interruption of the hunt, usually caused by the hounds losing the scent of the fox.

It was offered at an auction in Geneva in November 2008 and has been estimated between $25,000 and $42,000. The watch went for $ 52,686.

Saturday, November 15, 2008


Willem Claeszoon Heda (1594-c. 1680) was one of the earliest Dutch artists devoted exclusively to the painting of still life. He was born and died in Haarlem (Netherlands). He was a man of repute in his native city, filling all the offices of dignity and trust in the guild of Haarlem.

This painting entitled "The property of a Lady", painted in 1630, is an exquisite example of Heda's early refined banquet pieces. It is an oil on panel and was offered at Sotheby's Amsterdam in Novembrer 2008 with an estimate of 200-300,000. It went for the sum of 312,750 EUR (approx. $ 394,000) buyer's premium included.A confirmation that the Old Masters are still riding the current economic storm quite successfully.

Friday, November 14, 2008


This is doubtless an excellent picture and it reached recently an astronomical price although maybe a little overrated. It was painted in 1999 by American painter John Currin born in 1962 and is entitled "Nice'N Easy".

Currin was born in Boulder, Colorado, and grew up in Connecticut, where he privately studied painting with a renowned traditionally trained artist from Odessa (Ukraine), Lev Meshberg.

Later he went to Carnegie Mellon University in
Pittsburgh, where he obtained a BFA in 1984, and received a MFA from Yale University in 1986. John Currin's work draws upon a broad range of cultural influences that include Renaissance oil paintings, 1950s women's magazine advertisements, and contemporary politics.

He is known for his agressive, sarcastic painting of society and is considered by some as a pornographic painter of immense talent. Certain pictures are obviously pornographic but always showed a terrific perspective, a talent for colors and forms and their suggestiveness is never deceiving. The picture on the right will remind the readers of a more famous painter.

In the 1990s, Currin's ability to paint subjects of kitsch with technical facility met with critical and financial success, and by 2003 his paintings were selling "for prices in the high six figures". This "Nice'N Easy" sold for $ 5.45 million at Sotheby's New York Plaza in November 2008.


For African art amateurs, the period might be the right one. Prices are going down big time and rarely beat the estimate. This very lovely Kota reliquary figure from the Robert and Jean Shoenberg collection was sold on the 14th of November 2008 in New York, Rockefeller Plaza, for only $ 22,500 vs. an estimate of 30,000 - 40,000. A steal as would say my real estate agent.

This figure is mainly in brass and was initially property of Julius Carlebach, New York, since 1955. Personally I moderately like African and Oceanic Art and I have the greatest reserve as far as the provenance is concerned. In that case we know that this figure originated in Gabon and is a product of the famous Kota tribe.

The Kota tribe who comprises about 75,000 people created stylistically unique reliquary figures, called mbulu-ngulu, which are covered with a sheet of brass or copper. Like the Fang, the Kota keep the skulls and bones of ancestors in containers, which consist here of a basket surmounted by the carved figure. A mbulu-ngulu is a tomb figure of carved wood covered with a sheet of copper or brass, created by the Kota to protect the dead. Its traditional function, as a guardian figure standing against a wall, had a direct influence upon its form.

The Kota arrived in their current location in Gabon after completing a series of migrations that started to the northeast, possibly near Sudan. These migrations began in the 18th century and were underway when European contact was first made about 150 years later.

Having said that, on a purely investing viewpoint, such figures which are extremely rare are really a bargain at 22,500 dollars.
Christian missionaries who entered the area in the early 1900s converted many of the Kota peoples. As a result, many of the art objects associated with their traditional religion were destroyed, buried, or in some cases thrown down wells.


The market for Contemporary art, the most speculative segment of the art market (+108% since 2003), is taking full speed the aftermath of the current financial turmoil.

Wall St. troubles are spreading over Fifth Avenue. The results of the November sales in New York organised by Sotheby’s and Christie’s are a slap in the face of the auctioneers.

Only 66% of the lots offered during the two prestigious evening sales found buyers and the global sales reached $204 million vs. a pessimistic prevision of $ 429 million.

We are far from the heights reached in November 2007 that now looks like the market's peak. At the same evening sales in 2007, only 9% of the lots remained unsold and the total revenue amounted to $ 399 million, i.e. 20% above the combined low estimates. As at 15 November 2008, the prices of contemporary and post-war art have contracted by 36% compared with December 2007, returning in a few months, to their November 2006 level.

A Self-portrait by Francis Bacon, a Concetto Spaziale Festa sul Canal Grande by Lucio Fontana (picture above at left), a sculpture and a painting by Roy Lichtenstein, a nude by Lucian Freud and an oil painting by Brice Marden are among the lots that the bidders left in the hands of the auctioneers. Even more worrying, 10 of the 13 works by Damien Hirst offered last week were also bought in or is it ? I would rather consider the occurence as an evidence that the market came back to its senses. Vive la crise !


If you listen to professionals the art market is getting the full blow of the economic crisis we are currently in : "c'est horrible, ma chère Gladys, my Rothko sold for only 500,000 dollars yesterday." Effectively one Rothko belonging to David Rockfeller sold for 72 millions dollars last year and a very similar one just made half a million dollar this week at Christie's. And frankly the differences between the two works do not justify such a tremendous gap.

So is there a crisis or not ?
According to French art market expert Artprice, "le marché de l'art est ravagé par la crise". Oh my goodness ! Gladys is passing out and lets her Vuitton purse fall on the floor of the Art market exchange when she hears that. Her ankles swell terribly in her Prada shoes and her chauffeur Maurice, the nice black man from Haiti, rushed to her $70,000 Lexus to bring her back to her Manhattan mansion.

Artprice is convinced that the market is heading towards the levels of 2000 and that it is the worst crisis since 1990. Well I say "tant mieux" because there is no reason for the tech markets to be mauled by a speculative bubble and for the art market to be spared the same.

Having said that I have a simple question : which art market Artprice is talking about ? Rothko, De Kooning, Kelly and other overrated painters ? To my knowledge the Old Masters, famous or not, behaved extremely well this week in Amsterdam reaching prices well beyong the estimates. Even this little "pasticheur" of Jean Michel Basquiat, the Haitian artist who could not overcome an...overdose and draw a face, reached record prices with this atrocious "Boxeur" : the canvas (picture) painted in 1982 is a solid acrylic and oil paintstick on linen and reached this week the fabulous sum of $ 13.5 million.
Sincerely I am asking who is most ravaged by the crisis : the art market or the brains of the buyer of this boxing atrocity ?

And Artprice to whine that "important works by Cézanne, Van Gogh, Matisse, Monet and Modigliani were bought back." So sad !! Well there is no sadness to notice that people's gullibility has its limits and that the art market is like any other exchange a... market. It is that simple. So simple that works by artists like Calder, the inevitable mobile sculptor, went well beyond their estimates and Artprice did not whine when his "Untitled" (picture) was acquired this week by a "ravaged" man for almost $ 800,000 vs. a maximum estimate of $ 780,000.

All that to say that the market is becoming at last reasonable, that old values continue to behave and ignore the storm and that, as always, some overrated artists will continue to be overrated. Who said that the market is smart and wise and that the trees grow up to the sky ? Remember what John Meynard Keynes used to say about the markets :"we have a tendency to forget that the markets are made of a conglomerate of fools, idiots and gullible suckers who are the very same ones that we socialize with at our club."

In conclusion, Artprice wrote in his web letter that "
it is highly likely that between now and 2010 we will see an average price drop of 30 to 40%, taking valuations back to 2003-2004 levels." Only ? Personally I'd not be so optimistic.

Doyou think Basquiat is overrated

Thursday, November 13, 2008


It looks like a majijuana bush but it actually is a mango and it was drawn in 1959 by Ellsworth Kelly, an American painter and sculptor associated with hard-edged painting, color field painting and the minimalist school. His works demonstrate unassuming techniques that emphasize the simplicity of form. Kelly often employs bright colors to enhance his works. I personally think that the dear Kelly is totally overrated and that his works are not assuming at all as his techniques. I can do better as shows the picture below. Anyway this Mango plant went for $ 116,000 on auction in November 2008 in New York city.

The picture below named Ike - en souvenir of whom you know_ was painted by myself in October 2008 and is on sale if anybody is interested .


Willem De Kooning (1904 – 1997) who is widely recognized as the star of abstract expressionism entered the United States in 1926 as a stowaway on a British freighter. He was born in Rotterdam (NL) and supported himself as a house painter until moving to a studio in Manhattan in 1927.

He then started a very successful career and was accepted as a leader in abstract painting. Famous for his series of paintings called "Men" and for duplicating later on a series called "Women" de Kooning was not afraid of a certain deliberate vulgarity. It sold well anyway and in in 1983, a picture called Two Women fetched $1.2 million on auction (see previous posting).

Unfortunately it seems that his pictures do not weather the current economic storm too well because the last sale of his works recently showed a very sharp tendency to barely reached the same level than 25 years ago. In November 2008, two pictures offered in New York city were acquired well below the estimated of the auctioneer. The picture to the right called "Two figures in Devon" is an oil on paper laid down on canvas
painted in 1971 and measures 58 1/4 x 43 1/4 in. It went for $ 1.65 million vs. an estimate of 1.8/2.5 million. The one to the left called East Hampton VII painted in 1976 is also an oil on paper that measures 30 1/4 x 35 in. and was sold for 962,500 dollars vs. an estimate of 1.2/1.8 million.


Shall I tell you upfront how much this mobile executed circa 1939 by the inevitable Alex Calder (1898-1976) went for in November 2008 at an auction in New York city ? Yes I will : 782,500 dollars, i.e. the upper level of the estimate.

Everybody knows that Calder's works do not come up cheap but sometimes it is simply mind-boggling : the very same day an other mobile (picture below) went for $ 602,500 vs. an estimate of around 200,000.

"Untitled" standing mobile--painted sheet metal and wire measuring 6½ x 10 x 6 in. (16.5 x 25.4 x 15.2 cm.) was executed circa 1954 and was the property of the Estate of Baroness Marcella Korff, niece of the American sculptor Mary Callery born in New York City in 1903 and deceased in 1977.

Callery who lived in Paris for some time inspired many young collectors of her time and was the first owner of Picasso's 1932 masterpiece
Le Rêve, which she sold in August 1941 for $7,000 to Victor and Sally Ganz, a young New York couple who were starting to build a collection of their own. In 1997, Christie's sold Le Rêve from The Collection of Victor and Sally Ganz for $ 48,4 million.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008


Victor Vasarely was born in Hungary in 1906, he left Hungary and settled in Paris in 1930 working as a graphic artist and as a creative consultant at the advertising agencies Havas, Draeger and Devambez. He became a graphics designer and a poster artist during the 1930’s who combined patterns and organic images with each other.

In 1970, Vasarely opened his first dedicated museum with over 500 works in a renaissance palace in Gordes, Vaucluse (closed in 1996). A second major undertaking was the Vasarely Foundation in Aix en Provence, a museum housed in a distinct structure specially designed by Vasarely. It was inaugurated in 1976 by French president Giscard d'Estaing. Sadly the museum is now in a state of disrepair, several of the pieces on display have been damaged by water leaking from the ceiling.

He died in Paris in 1997 while his family got engulfed in a big feud about his inheritance and legacy who even involved the ex-dean of the Law School of Aix, Charles Debbasch. Considered as the father of the Op-Art, Vasarely developed his style of geometric abstract art. His works won him international renown as they received 4 prestigious prizes and he became a very expensive painter.

Sotheby's New York was holding a contemporary and modern sales in November 2008 that offered one Vasarely known as Vega-Tek, a tempera on canvas (139.1 by 139.1 cm.) signed, titled and dated 1968 on the reverse and owned by Sidney Janis Gallery, New York. The estimate indicated a target price of $ 120,000 to 180,000 and at the auction the picture went for only 122,500 dollars.

I have recently seen small paintings by Vasarely in the grand mansion Longue Vue in New Orleans owned by the immensely rich Stern family . It had several Vasarelys hanging on the wall in an Art room in an air of abandonment. The people who were visiting the house with us did not noticed or ignored who Vasarely was and our guide just skipped the subject, probably because he was afraid to tell people that over one millon dollars of abstract art were looking at them. When I told my wife that they were Vasarelys and probably worth a fortune, the guide rushed us out of the room with a very weary look. I couldn't avoid thinking it was bizarre considering the judicial affairs that have engulfed the Vasarely family since the death of the artist.

Having said that I am surprised that this Vega-Tex did not go for more. It is a beautiful Op-art piece and probably a very good investment.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008


Banksy is a well-known pseudo anonymous British graffiti artist. He is believed to be a native of Yate, near Bristol and to have been born in 1974, but there is substantial public uncertainty about his identity and personal and biographical details.

Banksy is a UK Guerrilla Street Artist who uses computer generated stencils which enables him to work faster, with the less likely possibility of being caught by the law. He has kept is ID a secret from most of us, but there are some who know who he is. Banksy started as a freehand graffiti artist 1992-1994 as one of Bristol's DryBreadZ Crew (DBZ), often assisting writers Kato and Tes. He was inspired by local artists and his work was part of the larger Bristol underground scene.

In August 2008, marking the third anniversary of Hurricane Katrina and the associated levee failure disaster, Banksy produced a series of works in
New Orleans, Louisiana, mostly on buildings derelict since the disaster. In February of the same year his Keep it Spotless (above) reached $1.7 million. Five years earlier his Keep it real was sold on auction in London for 800 Pounds. The success of this artist is phenomenal in spite or because of his satirical and somehow cynical approach to the art market and the art in general.

Some people think that under the pseudo of Banksy -very often written Bansky- the Bristol born artist Damien Hirst is in disguise.
Damien Steven Hirst (born 7 June 1965) is an English artist and the most prominent member of the group known as "Young British Artists" (or YBAs).

Hirst dominated the art scene in Britain during the 1990s and is internationally renowned. During the 1990s his career was closely linked with the collector Charles Saatchi.
In June 2007, Hirst gained the auction record for the most expensive work of art by a living artist — his Lullaby Spring, a 3 metre (10 ft) wide steel cabinet with 6,136 pills, sold for 19.2 million dollars to Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani, the Emir of Qatar.

In October 2007 his Rude Lord (above at right) made a year earlier fetched $ 550,000 on auction at Sotheby's. There is even a very active Bansky pool on Flickr that can been consulted here.

The Bankrobber Gallery at 52 Lonsdale Rd Notting Hill in London W11 2DE (phone 44 (0) 207 221 1883 offers paintings by Banksy, Damien Hirst, Peter Doherty, Gerald Jenkins and Russel Young.

Recently the secretive graffiti artist managed to erect three storeys of scaffolding behind a security fence despite being watched by a CCTV (City council TV) camera. Then, during darkness and hidden behind a sheet of polythene, he painted this comment on ‘Big Brother’ society. The message displayed in white paint was “One Nation Under CCTV”, ironically placed right next to a CCTV camera.

Under the message is a Stencil painted image of a young boy on a ladder painting the message while a Police officer is seen taking a photo from a distance with his dog on his side.

Finally Westminster City Council has ordered the 23ft-high (7m) mural to be removed from the building on Newman Street. Although t
he artist's sketches have sold for thousands of pounds at auctions, deputy leader of the council Robert Davis said keeping the mural would mean "condoning" graffiti. What an idiot ! Where has gone the British sense of humour ?

Monday, November 10, 2008


The last sale of Old Masters recently held in Amsterdam by Christie's was a huge satisfaction for both auctioneer and sellers and a clear sign that the Art market is not going down the drain as fast as some misinformed media have already reported.

Tendencies are definitely on the upside and sellers were extremely happy by the resilience of the market. Amsterdam Christie's was offering on the 10th of November 2008 a set of 67 Old Masters' paintings made by followers, attributed or circles and in most cases by Secundary Old Masters themselves : fortunately for the sellers, not one single of the pictures on offer went below the estimate.

The excess went up as much as 25% in most cases and as 250% in some others : for instance the highest price was reached by an oil on panel (52.4 x 84.1 cm.) made by Flemish master Pieter Claesz. (c. 1597-1660 Haarlem) representing some quinces, peaches, a sliced melon on a silver plate, a bread roll, a leg of ham on a pewter plate, a knife, a 'Roemer' of white wine, a stoneware jug and a basket of fruit, all on a table signed with monogram and dated 'A° Pc 1651' (picture). It was estimated between $ 90,000 and $ 128,000 and it reached $ 324,000. (picture on the left).

The second highest price was reached by a Study of three young women by the studio of Sir Peter Paul Rubens that went for
$ 121,000 vs. an estimate mimimum of $ 100,000. A beautiful oil on copper representing a gothic church interior with elegantly dressed figures signed and dated Henrick van Steenwijk 1578 that was estimated between 19,000 adn 25,000 dollars went for $ 47,399.

An oil on canvas (picture on the right) by Jan Fyt (Antwerp 1611-1661) representing mixed grapes, cherries and plums by a cauldron with figs, an apple, a partridge and four quails nearby that was estimated $64,052 - $89,673 went for $93,516 (buyer's premium included). This picture was confiscated by the Nazis during the War in 1941 and was sold to Dr. Hans Posse, ex Director of the Dresden Art Gallery, appointed Director of the Special Mission Linz by Hitler himself, for the planned Führer Museum in Linz (Austria) that was never constructed.

Sunday, November 9, 2008


One of the most expensive pictures in the world, l'Homme à la hache (The man with an axe), was painted in 1891 as an oil on canvas in the Pacific island of Moorea (Tahiti) by Paul Gauguin (1848-1903).

Gauguin's arrival in Tahiti, after a passage of 69 days, was not especially memorable. His ship dropped anchor in the port of Papeete during the dead of night, as per normal practice, to take advantage of the high tide. Stories in the local press had anticipated Gauguin's coming, for the artist carried a commission from the French government to paint the island and its people.

A young naval lieutenant named Jénot helped him get settled in town. The famous painter's presence quickly raised eyebrows--because of his longish hair, he was called taata-vahine ("man-woman"). Gauguin returned to France in August 1893, with only four francs in his pocket. He rented a room in Paris, and made use of a studio in the same building that the painter Alphonse Mucha had lent him. Gauguin convinced the dealer Paul Durand-Ruel to mount an exhibition of his new paintings. The show opened on 10 November, and consisted of 41 Tahitian paintings, plus some sculptures and three earlier Breton pictures, accounting for almost all of the work he had done in the South Seas and deemed important, including L'homme à la hache. Only eleven paintings were sold, and the show was not a financial success.

But in 2006, this picture got its revenge and reached new heights when it was sold for
$ 40,33 million in New York City. This particular sale by Chrisite's set nine new auction records, including for Gustav Klimt, Egon Schiele, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner and Paul Gauguin. Klimt’s Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer II sold for $87,936,000 (with premium), the third highest price for a painting at auction.

Saturday, November 8, 2008


Pablo Picasso did not paint only chefs d'oeuvre. This mandoline on a table painted in 1922 is rather a boring picture (81.6 x 100.1 cm.) that will bring me to sleep rather than to ecstasy. It was in the property of the late Evelyn Annenberg Hall - a long-time Trustee of the Museum of Modern Art (NYC)- and a famous art collector herself.

She had a weakness for the handsome Pablo of whom she acquired her first picture in 1940, an acquisition qualified of remarkable for the epoch. Mrs. Annenberg Hall passed away in 2005 at age 93 in her home in Manhattan, NYC. With her second husband, William Jaffe, a corporate lawyer, she assembled an outstanding private art collection that included European paintings, sculpture and antique furniture, Chinese porcelain, pre-Colombian artifacts and Renaissance drawings.

This Picasso's picture which was estimated by the autioneer between $3,500,000 - $4,500,000 barely reached 3,1 million includind buyer's premium.
The present still-life was painted during the winter of 1922 in the apartment on the fashionable rue La Boétie that Picasso shared with his wife, Olga Khokhlova, and their infant son, Paulo. Like the guitar, the mandolin is a recurrent motif throughout Picasso's work of the 1910s and 1920s. It appears in one of his most important cubist portraits, Fanny Tellier, a painting that some asserted would change the course of cubism.

Well this picture is not going to change the course of my life and has certainly not changed the course of the auction at which it was sold in November 2008.

Friday, November 7, 2008


Egon Schiele, 1890-1918, was a great Austrian artist, an a protégé of Gustav Klimt, and a major figurative painter of the early 20th century. In the autumn of 1918, the Spanish flu epidemic that claimed more than 20,000,000 lives in Europe reached Vienna. His wife Edith, who was six months pregnant, succumbed to the disease on 28 October : he died only three days after her. During the three days between their deaths, Schiele drew a few sketches of Edith; these were his last works.

The sketch on the right made in 1917 is a black Conté crayon on paper and represents his wife Edith laying on his side in a very suggestive position. Estimated before the sale between $150,000 and 200,000, the work went on auction at Christies NYC in November 2008 for $314,500 including buyer's premium. I personally think this picture is awful and I would never pay that amount of money to hang this horror on my walls. Désolé Egon !!

Having said that another crayon on paper,
gouache, watercolor by Schiele (left picture) was sold on the 6th of November 2008 for $ 1,594,500. It has been estimated before the sale between $700,000 and 1,000,000. Collectors know the price of the artist but still I have difficulty to understand how in such a period of economic difficulties such prices can be reached without being drawn to the floor one of those days.


I love Oskar Kokoschka (1886-1980) who was a great Austrian painter, the lover of the wife of Walter Gropius, boss of the Bauhaus, and a degenerate painter according to the Nazis.

But I usually prefer his full of colour canvasses on oil although it seems that a lot of people love OK for no reason except that he appears to be a sound investment.

However do not talk to me about art but about money when I learn that this sketch of Frau Stehender signed with initials 'OK'

- watercolor and pencil - on buff paper, 17¾ x 12½ in., executed in 1907 was sold today 7 of November at Christie's NYC for $ 74,500. It has been estimated prior to the sale between 40,000 and 60,000 dollars. Obviously the economic crisis we hear so much about has not yet reached the pockets of the wealthy collectors, or maybe they reached for safety before a general collapse of assets.

There are moments where I seriously wonder whether Hitler was not right to deem that sort of painting "entarte". Anyway the most entarte must be the people who are snobish enough to pay 74500 dollars for this obscenity. Hung that on the wall of your dining-room and none of your guests is any longer hungry. But don't tell them you paid 75 grants for it they would laugh their ass on the floor for good.