mercredi 27 février 2008

All eyes on Sotheby's

Gareth Harris, February 27, 2008

Earlier this month, Christie's failed to find buyers for one third of its contemporary art lots - so what can we expect from tonight's auction?

Heading for a record? ... Three Self Portraits, 1986, by Andy Warhol at Sotheby's. Photograph: Daniel Berehulak/Getty
In the past decade, contemporary art sales at auction have rocketed to record-breaking highs. And tonight's art auction at Sotheby's in London - packed with works by artworld darlings such as Warhol, Koons, Richter, Bacon and Freud - is likely to attract the big spenders, despite rumours of an art market slump.

Indeed the contemporary art market continues to bubble along nicely. The RED charity auctionin New York earlier this month entered the record books, raising £21m for HIV/Aids programmes in Africa (it's charity, I know, but a combined total of almost £10m for seven works by Hirst is still an eye-popping haul for one night).

There's also plenty of mileage in emerging markets, with the art world now shifting its collective gaze to India. Parallels can be drawn with the explosion in contemporary Chinese art, which has been largely fuelled by a buyers both in Asia and the west looking to make a quick buck. Speculators who swooped on the Chinese market have moved in on the Indian art scene and are now eyeing up artists from the subcontinent such as Jitish Kallat and Subodh Gupta.

So talk of the art bubble bursting, a debate which has dragged on since the threat of a predicted economic downturn loomed on the horizon last year, seems shortsighted. Art world insiders are confident about weathering a possible recession, saying that big-spending buyers are scooping up work with "spare pocket money". In other words, there are still plenty of collectors swilling around the market with vast amounts of disposable income. Auction house experts also argue that the market for art is more global than ever before which, they say, protects them from dependence on a single economy.

But (and this is a huge, neon-flashing, all-singing, all-dancing but), it looks like the market is slowing down - ever so slightly. New York dealers specialising in emerging artists say that clients are no longer willing to take a chance on younger art stars priced at $15,000 to $20,000. But more importantly, Christie's post-war and contemporary art evening auction held earlier this month in London, was a disappointment. It's true that the sale made £73m, the second highest tally on record. It's also impressive that a telephone bidder paid a new auction record of £7.3m for Gerhard Richter's Zwei Liebespaare painting.

However, 17 lots (one third of the catalogue) failed to find buyers, while the £26.3m paid by the US diamond dealer Andy Cohen for the star lot, Francis Bacon's Triptych (1974-77), was still only slightly up on the unpublished estimated price of £25m (a hefty fee, but commentators were expecting the work to fetch at least £30m).

Deep-pocketed punters may well shell out even more this evening for Bacon's Study of a Nude with Figure in a Mirror (1969), the centrepiece of Sotheby's new standalone week of contemporary sales. It comes under the hammer with an unpublished estimate of £18m along with five key works by Andy Warhol, including a superb triptych of self-portraits (Three Self Portraits, 1986) and a Jackie silkscreen. Sotheby's hope to coin more than £72m if all goes to plan.

But will the US credit crunch start to bite? Will the all-conquering hedge funders, who are mainly driving the market, feel so battered by the gloomy financial landscape that they turn away from contemporary art? Canny buyers are likely to avoid anything overpriced tonight at Sotheby's. Selectivity is the new strategy in a market that's less frenetic. A market correction may well be on the cards; this trickle could well become a flood.

lundi 25 février 2008

Auctions get popular in art circuit

The Economic Times, 25 Feb, 2008, Ashoke Nag, TNN

KOLKATA: Auctions are fast turning into the major avenue for collectors and investors to acquire artworks. Earlier, the prime source for picking up paintings and sculptures was the gallery circuit.

Now, with the spate of auctions gradually building up, a large spread of art pieces is being offered to collectors. Apart from overseas auction houses like Sotheby’s and Christie’s, Bonhams is staging auctions in London and Dubai. In step, together with the established domestic auctioneers like Osian’s and Saffronart, new auction outfits have also come up in recent times. These include Emami Chisel Art, Apparaoart, Asta Guru and Triveda.

“The auction houses abroad and at home are fielding a mix of modern and contemporary artworks. And, this is happening with increasing frequency. This is finding collectors choosing the auction route to acquire works of their liking. Earlier, they had to visit various galleries for selecting artworks.

Moreover, major works are no longer available in galleries as sellers prefer auctions to fetch the best prices. Top rung artists are also found to be going for auctions sometimes, rather than galleries, to offload their creations,” an art market source told ET. Museums, especially the international names, are learnt to be sourcing artworks from the auctions.

According to the source, these trends are common worldwide. This is a sign of a developing market, there are more secondary market transactions than primary market deals. In fact, the major portion of business generated by buying and selling in the Western masters is executed through auctions. Thus, in the international circuit, the volumes fuelled by the auctions could be clearly outstripping the turnover by galleries.

“Shows at galleries by the top artists have become events which are spaced out over time. They are not found to be happening all the time. And, when it comes to artists who have passed away, there is no alternative to retrospectives. In case of retrospectives, too, the best of works may not be always available.

The idea of buying cheap is probably being replaced by the concept of acquiring better and major works. That is probably creating a scenario where more and more auction houses are being formed to cater to this growing demand for quality works,” the source said. This is what often segregates one auction from another, because the selection of works can often sport the stamp of the auctioneer.

As the auctions grow, one could also stumble upon bargains at the sales as it happens overseas. In fact, even in India, those who have purchased works from the auctions earlier have benefited immensely. Thus, auctions can be value-buying and can become even more popular.

samedi 23 février 2008

It’s an auction-packed season

The Financial Express

Suman Tarafdar, Posted online: Saturday , February 23, 2008 IST

All that talk of the Indian art market on the downslide seems to be just that — talk. For, at the beginning of the Spring-summer auction season, almost every player, including the new ones, are anticipating a good season. So what if Sotheby’s failed to sell a Van Gogh in their most recent sale. Whether in terms of expanding frontiers, exploring new paradigms of art, or seeking out old masters, there is an eye at new records as major works of Indian art come up for sale in the season.
“The market is absolutely buoyant and India will be among the top three Markets in the next 10 years,” confidently asserts Meher Dadha who has set up one of India’s two newest auction houses, Bid & Hammer. It had its first, fairly successful, auction at the end of January in a new centre for art auctions in India, Bangalore, where MF Husain’s Shiva got the top price of Rs 39.73 lakh. The other new entrant to the arena, from another arena new to the art auction world — Kolkata, Vikram Bachawat, director, Emami Chisel Art Auction, agrees too. “We’ve had over 100 visitors register online for our auction, a very encouraging response,” he says. And the world’s leading auctioneers, Christie’s too is upbeat about the international prospects of Indian art. “In 2002, we sold $1.4 million worth, which by 2007 had climbed to $36 million,” says its international marketing director, Lisa King. The base prices have risen exponentially – for Chisel Art auction, the base price for Husain’s Safdar Hashmi is Rs 2-2.5 crore.
Christie’s, which holds the 2005 record for the highest price for an Indian work of art, hopes the upcoming auction on March 20 will top that record. “We have hopes of Ram Kumar’s 1975 Vagabond.” Given the rising prominence of Indian buyers, Christie’s is hosting previews in Mumbai and Delhi for the first time for a single auction, something it plans to do with increased frequency in a bid to reach out to more Indians. Osian’s founder-chairman, Neville Tuli agrees. “The market is extremely buoyant, full of promise and new ventures, structures, collaborations, exchange programmes. The public-private sector dialogues will improve radically once mutual trust and respect deepens and each recognises the role of the other and how much faster India can be built with co-operation.”
Art Mall, established in Delhi by Naren Bhiku Ram Jain, too plans auctions in future. “Just four or five auction houses are not sufficient for a country as large as India,” says Dadha, who admits that the task of setting up was far from easy — involving as it did experts, resources, logistics and clients and above all, a passion for the arts. Nina Pillai of Triveda Arts points to the key role Indian art auction houses can play in the upward movement of prices for Indian art, which are still well below those from top priced works from China or Japan, leave alone Europe or North America. “The majority of buyers for works by Indian artists are still NRIs, especially in London, New York and Dubai,” says King. “Though most Indian buyers are buying art from the region, they are also beginning to buy western contemporary art.” There is definitely a market as Christie’s sold a Husain painting for $ 4,41,600 at its auction last February, while Sotheby’s and Bonham’s too had considerable success with Indian art. Triveda plans auctions in Dubai and Hongkong. Khushii, an NGO, which has held earlier auctions in Delhi and Mumbai, will have an auction in Dubai.
Is it a coincidence or is there a new phase of corporate interest in the arts? While both the new auction houses have corporate backing, pharma giant Ranbaxy has already entered the art world through Religare, while HCL and Reliance are also said to be in advanced stages of entering the art world. “Auctions are a platform for the secondary market to trade in. It appears that many corporate houses are turning into patrons and investors and some are getting into the business itself, sensing the profits in the possible trade, says Sharan Apparao of Apparao Galleries, one of India’s oldest auction houses. “It will also give legitimacy and bring in more competition.” The art market has only begun to build its own credible infrastructure, but there is still a long way to go. Adds Tuli: “Many new organisations should spring up, in the hundreds I hope, and each will add to the pool of knowledge, competition and transparency.”
However, the recent turmoil on Dalal Street has not left the art world untouched. “The apprehension is whether the market will sustain its current run,” says Dadha, whose auction was held the day the market started its downward slide. “We still sold 46% of the works,” expressing confidence that the market will remain upbeat as he prepares for his next auction scheduled for June 6, in Bangalore again. “Liquidity is hit during times of turmoil, which affects auctions as well, says Pillai, whose Triveda Arts has its next auction scheduled this Wednesday. She, however, cautions against treating art as just investment. “Art is a tactile investment. There will be hiccups, but in the long run it is on an upward swing,” she says.
Pillai points to the facilities the Chinese government has provided in Beijing, saying that India too needs to increase its art infrastructure. She feels collectors must turn at least 10% of their portfolio to auctions. “It’s good to sell on a high,” she cheekily says. Gallerist Arun Vadehra points out the fact that the Indian art market is still just about 1% of the global market — valued at an estimated $400-$500 million of the global $50 billion market. “We should be able to reach around 6%,” he says. Artist SH Raza has a word of caution, saying “we should not overdo ourselves in a bid to raise prices.”
The more established auction houses express concern about transparency. “The onus is on the auction house to establish provenance,” says Dinesh Wazirani of Saffronart, whose Spring-Summer auction scheduled for March 12-13 has a massive 140 lots up for sale. “Holding an auction or two, and starting an auction house of repute and sustaining an auction house of repute are totally different things,” says Tuli. “It is easy to start things in India, very difficult to sustain it with passion, integrity, knowledge development and wealth generating capacity.” To boost transparency, Chisel Art has a lock-in period, according to which works of young artists need to be at least three years old, and those by senior artists, five. No artwork sold in an auction over the previous seven years is taken for the auction, and the provenance of each work is part of the information given to prospective bidders.
Auction houses are also looking beyond canvasses. “For our auction, the proportion of paintings and other forms was 50:50 and the sales too were in the same proportion,” says Dadha. “Niche areas need to be developed too, and our jewellery auction has done very well, says Wazirani. Christie’s too feels that the future could have categories like Indian film memorabilia joining their ‘Iconic’ sales in London and New York.
Looks like the blues of the second half of last year look to be left behind as the auctions hope to break new frontiers....

jeudi 21 février 2008

Modern Indian masters rule Asian art auctions

India Interacts, Published on February 21, 2008 by IANSViewed

Works of masters of modern Indian art like M.F. Husain, F.N. Souza, S.H. Raza, J. Swaminathan and Tyeb Mehta are dominating global auctions of Asian art this season - whether it is Christie's, Sotheby's or Bonhams. M.F. Husain's "The Battle of Ganga and Yamuna", estimated to rake in between $600,000 to $800,000 (Rs.32 million), was among the highlights of the preview of Christie's March 20 New York sale of modern and contemporary art from South Asia, unveiled in New Delhi Wednesday.

Also part of the sale are an untitled painting by Tyeb Mehta at $600,000- $800,000, Ram Kumar's "Vagabond", an untitled by F.N. Souza estimated at $350,000- $500,000, and a body of Tantric art by S.H. Raza, which could fetch around $500,000.

The piece de resistance of the Bonhams Dubai sale March 3-4 will be "The Elder" by Indian modernist F.N. Souza at an estimated $240,000-$300,000.

"We have a well-established reputation in sales of Indian and Pakistani art in London and we are expecting an encouraging response in Dubai. It is early days for the local art scene and it is difficult to predict the potential of the market. However, the opportunity for development is vast," said Claire Penhallurick, Bonham's director of Islamic and Indian art, in New York.

Bonhams Dubai is a joint venture between the Dubai-based Al Tajir family and the Bonhams Auction House, Britain.

The Sotheby's spring sale in New York March 19 will see Souza's "Head of a Man", estimated at $280,000 - $380,000, vie for attention with Husain's untitled painting of a nude and a horse whose bid price is $200,000-$300,000. It depicts a faceless rider, who tries to mount a rearing stallion.

An untitled work by avant garde artist Arpita Singh estimated at $200,000-$300,000 is also expected to generate interest, along with an untitled work by Raza at $100,00-$150,000 and a landscape by veteran artist Ram Kumar.

A historic gilt copper Buddha Vajrasana (seated Buddha) from Tibet belonging to the 14/15th century, estimated at $1.5 to $2.5 million, is also another artwork to watch out for in the Sotheby's spring sale, which is hosting several rare Buddhist sculptures from Tibet.

The sculpture is one of the largest and the most important early Tibetan gilt bronze figures of Sakyamuni Buddha outside Tibet.

The sale boasts of 156 paintings featuring Himalayan, Indian and Southeast Asian art, including 38 miniatures.

According to auction house Christie's, the spotlight is now on Asian art because of the resurgence in global interest in the continent.

"Indian art is placed prominently in the pan-Asian context. Buyers are slowly waking up to the fact that Indian classical art is good value for money. There are amazing things coming up in our March New York auctions," Hugo K. Weihe, international director of Asian Art, Christie's, told IANS.

It has a lot to with the renewed interest in Buddhism, Wiehe said. "Earlier, westerners collected Japanese and Chinese art that are mostly Buddhist in origin. But India is the motherland of the religion and there should be more awareness about Indian art," he said.

Contemporary young Indian artists are also "doing phenomenally well", said Jonathon Stone, Christrie's international business director. "Several new generation artists in their 40s and 50s like Atul Dodiya, T.V. Santosh and Subodh Gupta are commanding great prices in the auctions," he added.

The volume of transaction in terms of auction turnover of Indian art internationally has also been spectacular, said an industry source. In 2007, the global sale of Indian art at Christie's was $36 million.

The auction house has big plans for India and intends to increase the diversity of its collection in the country by including more categories from the far eastern and western countries for its Mumbai and Delhi auctions.

mercredi 20 février 2008

The Damien Hirst of Delhi

Tuesday February 20, 2007, The Guardian

India's economy is booming - and so is its art world. Its enfant terrible tells Randeep Ramesh about crazy prices and the uses of cow dung

Through the haze of frontier dust where New Delhi fades into scrub and grazing land lies the low-slung, white-walled home of the country's most coveted conceptual art. Inside the workshop, a sculpture of huge brass pots hangs from the ceiling. On the wall is a shimmering canvas of a stainless steel urn. Nearby sits a 5ft metal bucket. The works' creator is Subodh Gupta, the current darling of the booming Indian modern art market.
Like a subcontinental version of Marcel Duchamp, who exhibited a public urinal in the early 20th century, Gupta takes everyday objects as "ready-made art". Pots, pans and squat stools from his childhood all recall the artist's humble, rural roots.

"All these things were part of the way I grew up. They are used in the rituals and ceremonies that were part of my childhood. Indians either remember them from their youth, or they want to remember them."
Perhaps most striking to western eyes is his use of cow dung. The 42-year-old has made installations out of manure patties, kitchen fuel for millions of Indian country homes, and painted with dung à la Chris Ofili. In a nine-minute video, Pure, the artist stands covered in thick layer of bovine excreta that is slowly hosed off in a shower. Gupta says he wanted to play with meanings of "purity". "In Indian villages, cow shit is used for spiritual cleaning like an antiseptic. But this is not true of today's [Indian] cities. I wanted to show that."
Despite dwelling on domestic themes, the artist has become a mainstay of the big international art fairs and has exhibited in the Venice Biennale, London's Frieze and shows in Moscow, Miami, Lille and Japan. As a sculptor, painter, installation-maker and video producer, Gupta is seen as the enfant terrible of the Indian art scene, a Damien Hirst of New Delhi. Last year, his work Across Seven Seas, a room-sized airport conveyor belt cast in aluminium, topped with 30 metal suitcases and bundles, sold for £550,000 to a German collector at the Basel art fair.
Perhaps Gupta's most famous fan is François Pinault, the French billionaire and biggest shareholder in Christie's, who bought a one-tonne skull crafted out of aluminium pots and pans, after one of his curators spotted it in a remarkable show at Paris's Eglise Saint-Bernard church last October.
Gupta says the monumental work, entitled A Very Hungry God, was a "one-off, unique". "I cannot reproduce that. The kitchen stuff is a phase I am going through, but a piece like that is not going to be done again," he says.
The British public have got a chance to sample Gupta's art at Gateshead's Baltic gallery, with a newly installed sculpture of a "kitchen city", which sees a stainless-steel sushi belt transporting metal bowls around a landscape of cooking utensils. Built in Singapore for $100,000, the installation is so large it took five people to set it up.
Gupta is among a generation of young Indian artists whose commentary tells of a country on the move, fuelled by boiling economic growth and a more materialistic mindset. Despite reflecting these changes in their art, the new generation of painters and sculptors are themselves part of the boom.
Last September, Christie's modern Indian art auction saw record sales of almost $18m (£9.5m). The recent spurt in prices has seen even newcomers such as painter Surendran Nair picking up $250,000 for a work.
Just who is buying the art reveals a novel trend. Indian-born but foreign-based Indians, especially those who are self-made, see the new art as a way of reconfirming their ethnic identity and as an opportunity to move up into the rarefied world of elitist arts. The result is rapid inflation in art prices.
Rajiv Chaudhri, a New York-based Indian hedge-fund manager who stunned a crowd at Christie's in late 2005, by paying $1.6m for a painting by the 80-year-old Indian artist Tyeb Mehta. The work, Mahisasura, a 1997 rendering of the buffalo-demon of Hindu mythology, was the first time a contemporary Indian painting had crossed the million-dollar mark.
The new valuations are not just down to new Indian money and a wealthy Indian diaspora intent on rediscovering their heritage, but also to the internet. A number of online auctions have connected once-obscure artists with a hungry audience.
"The pioneer of this model is Saffron-, which runs weekend auctions for the NRI [non-resident Indian] community who buy with their ears, not their eyes," says Peter Nagy, who left New York for New Delhi a decade ago to start up Nature Morte art gallery.
"These guys come to India once or twice a year, but don't have time to buy art. So they sit in their computer rooms in New Jersey, pushing up prices in New Delhi. Right now, prices are going through the ceiling." burst on to the scene with a $1.5m sale of a work by Francis Newton Souza, one of the older generation of Indian painters, in December 2005.
What we are seeing, says Yamini Mehta, head of Christie's modern and contemporary Indian art division, is a pattern of sales similar to the other ancient, large-scale Asian culture: China. Chinese art grew from a curio item in auctions in the 80s to the point where Chinese painters now sell work routinely for half a million dollars.
"We are at the beginning of Indian art. Chinese art has been in western galleries for a long time," says Mehta. She points out that the Indian auctions a decade ago yielded just $800,000. "This year the figure is $42m. India is more diverse than China. But he prices are definitely following [the same] course."
Subodh Gupta owes his rise in part to Pierre Huber, a Geneva gallery-owner who spotted that Chinese work was the next big thing in contemporary art. He also saw the potential for Indian art and Gupta, and quickly signed up the young artist.
Mehta says what is remarkable about the Indian market is that you can still pick up bargains. "You cannot buy the best Picasso at the moment because it is in a private collection. But you can pick up a MF Hussain because private collectors are only just starting."
There are signs that a new crop of visual art museums is appearing in India's new metropolises, designed by Indian collectors who model themselves on cultural impresarios such as Charles Saatchi.
More than $500m is expected to flow into the market when the half-dozen private museums currently being built by India's new elite start acquiring work. These new centres will preserve and present Indian contemporary art projects.
In a warehouse on the edge of Delhi's southern rim is the Devi Foundation, which aims to replicate New York's temple of modern art, the Dia Foundation. The brainchild of mother-and-son team Lekha and Anupam Poddar, who also own designer hotels, the foundation aims to become India's main showcase for art.
Gupta's work litters the Poddars' collection: they own a life-sized, pink fibreglass statue of a grazing cow, and a huge globe made of milk cans. They have also commissioned a cow-dung painting.
"These are incredibly sophisticated people who have travelled all over the world and educated themselves about contemporary art in Europe and the US," says Nagy, who has also backed Gupta's creations. "They came back here and realised such a talent like Subodh was just doing the craziest shit. It is both visionary and a no-brainer".
• Subodh Gupta: Silk Route is at Baltic, Gateshead (0191-478 1922), until April 29.

dimanche 17 février 2008

Colour of Money

DNA, Labonita Ghosh, Sunday, February 17, 2008

After capital gains, it’s Sebi’s turn to try and regulate art. But the boom continues, says Labonita Ghosh
That Indian art is booming is well known, as is the fact that the art market has slowed down in recent months. Yet prices, especially of the old masters and the rising stars, continue to seek new and higher levels. In addition, a new class of international buyer is also emerging.
The high prices have inevitably attracted the attention of the government, which stepped in last year with a capital gains tax on profits made from the sale of an art work. Last week, the Securities Exchange Board of India (Sebi) passed a diktat saying art funds cannot be set up without obtaining a certificate of registration from it. If any art fund fails to comply, Sebi can take civil or criminal action against the funds or companies. Such funds, according to the Sebi, are “collective investment schemes” as defined under Section 11AA (2) of the Sebi Act, 1992, and only a certified company can launch or sponsor such a collective investment scheme.
The industry is still examining the implications of this. But on the whole, dealers, gallerists and others have welcomed the move, saying it will help “eliminate fraud and bring more credibility to the industry,” where accusations of price manipulation and such are rampant. It will eventually help evolve an independent valuation mechanism, though it is a moot point whether Sebi has the expertise to handle that.
All this comes when there are signs of a revival — of sorts — of the estimated $350 million art market. At an auction organised by Christie’s in Hong Kong recently, 13 world records were broken in one sale, 10 of them by contemporary Indian artists like TV Santhosh, Subodh Gupta and Riyas Komu. As Vinci Chang, head of sales of Asian Contemporary Art at Christie’s, Hong Kong, puts it, “Asian, particularly Indian art, is the hottest things among international collectors right now.”

While global interest is doing the art world a lot of good, it is a double-edged boon. The exacting standards of international buyers in London, New York and Hong Kong have finally brought the much-needed shake-out in art collecting and investment in India. The manic, indiscriminate buying – of both the good and questionable – as seen in the years between 2003 and 2006, has now been replaced with more cautious, informed purchases. This, on the other hand, say watchers, has led to a slowdown in art investment and buying.
According to Sharan Apparao, of Gallery Apparao, “there was too much of supply of certain artists,” while works by others “were being sold poorly at auctions”, driving down prices and driving away potential buyers. “In some ways, this [auction prices influencing the market] was the beginning of the slowdown.”
And slowdown, there has been. Prices of some artworks have dropped by about 20-30 per cent since 2006; while the A-listers still sell well, the rush for second and third-rung artists has dropped drastically. “The frenzied buying of a few years ago has halted,” says Ranjana Steinruecke of Galerie Mirchandani+ Steinrucke. It’s also telling that, two years after art funds were set up, the cumulative corpus stands at Rs250 crores — a mere fraction of what funds abroad handle.
Says Shireen Gandhy of Chemould Gallery, international interest has led to the short-term trader being separated from the serious investor. Adds dealer Ashish Balaram Nagpal: “The international market is on nobody’s side. Earlier anyone, the bored housewife, the part-time painter, could become an artist. Now only the best will make it.” Buyers have also become smart they will not touch anything that is not archived.
V Sanjay Kumar of the Yatra Art Fund refers to this as a “deepening” of the art market, with its estimated Rs2,000-crore turnover. All of this, says artist Chintan Upadhyay, has freed up artists to be more creative. “New genres are opening up and being appreciated,” he says. “But Indian art will rock the international scene only if collectors and investors risks, just as the artists do.”

mardi 12 février 2008

Boom goes the art

The Sidney Morning Herald, 12 february 2008

New wealth is redrawing the art world map, and the centres of its universe have moved to Russia, China, India and the Middle East

On a Wednesday evening in early May a middle-aged man wearing a blue blazer walked into Sotheby's in Manhattan, collected a bidding paddle and followed an usher to a seat near the back of the room. High rollers looking to indulge in some art are normally ensconced in private boxes or, at the very least, seated down the front where they can twitch discreetly at the auctioneer. But that didn't stop the mysterious man with a foreign accent from making vigorous use of paddle no. 1430 at the auction house's Impressionist and Modern Art sale.

First, he paid $US5 million ($6.5 million) for a Monet landscape, $US2 million over the estimate. Then he relentlessly waved off the bids of three US billionaires to land Picasso's 1941 portrait of his lover Dora Maar. It wasn't just the $US95 million price that stunned the room, even though it was almost twice the estimate and the second-highest amount ever paid for an artwork at auction. "He looked like he'd never been to a sale before," sniffed one observer.

Three days after the auction, The New York Times carried the man's picture under the headline 'Recognise This Man? The Art World Doesn't'. Months later, the art world is still guessing the identity of the novice collector. But the mystery buyer is generally believed to be Russian, given his accent, take-no-prisoners bidding style and the enormous amount of money he could spend on a painting.

Since the collapse of communism in the early 1990s, Russia's vast oil and gas assets have fashioned a new class of absurdly rich entrepreneurs. According to Forbes magazine, Russia is currently home to 33 billionaires who have a combined net worth of $US170 billion, up from $US91 billion in 2005. Having lavished their money on huge mansions, yachts and the odd sports club, the oligarchs are now turning their attention, and spending power, to that other signifier of mega wealth.

They're not alone. Art has long been a rich person's pastime and every age has its mega collectors. But in this era of astonishing wealth creation, there are more rich people than ever before: about 8.7 million people held assets of $US1 million or more in 2005, while the number of those with financial assets of more than $US30 million shot up to 85,400, according to the 10th annual world wealth report produced by consultants Capgemini and investment bank Merrill Lynch.

The world's wealthiest continue to grow richer: Forbes's annual ranking of the very richest people on the planet had a record 793 billionaires on its list this year. And more newly wealthy people are interested in buying art. The 2006 list of the world's top 200 collectors, published by the influential New York-based ARTnews, featured a multitude of entrepreneurs whose fortunes stem from financial services, IT or the emerging market economies of the East and Far East.
The result is a spike in art prices and an auction-room feeding frenzy not seen since the heady days of 1990 when Ryoei Saito set a world record, paying $US82.5 million for Van Gogh's Portrait of Dr Gachet. The Japanese industrialist suffered a reversal of fortune after buying the work, as speculative buying in the impressionists category, much of it by Japanese corporate buyers, caused prices to collapse. But the auction houses are confident that today's market will remain strong, with many art categories doing well and the geographic spread of buyers much wider than before.

While rich Russians, and their counterparts in China, India and the oil-rich nations of the Middle East, are fuelling an extraordinary boost in the prices for their national art, their wealthy collectors are also making their presence felt in other art categories. Jussi Pylkkanen, president of Christie's in Europe, says there are now four times as many fine-art buyers as during the 1980s boom. "Everyone is talking about the Russians, the state of the global economy and buyers from places such as Asia and the Middle East."
Like its rival Christie's, the boom has been good to Sotheby's. In August, the auction house, which is listed on the New York Stock Exchange, resurrected its dividend to shareholders, cancelled six years ago in the wake of a price-fixing scandal that nearly caused its collapse. In the first six months of this year, Sotheby's reported $US1.5 billion in global sales, a 52 per cent increase on the first half of 2005. But it has yet to catch up to Christie's, which recorded a 38 per cent rise in first-half-year sales to $US2.13 billion.

While the two auction houses together brought in more than $US1.1 billion at the autumn sales in New York, Christie's shattered the record for the highest-grossing single auction with its $US491 million sale of impressionist and modern art in November. A week later, it again made auction history, selling 64 works of contemporary art for almost $US240 million.
Cash, and lots of it, may have allowed nascent collectors to muscle their way to the top of art dealer and auction house lists. But the new class of super rich doesn't tend to play by the old rules of the rarefied world of art. While they are willing to pay a premium for artworks they want to possess, many of today's big buyers are less likely to see those works as purchases for life.
"There's less and less of that depth of connoisseurship, of people devoting their lives to collecting an æsthetic type of art that their families will pass down through the generations," says Patricia Kontos, Australian representative for Christie's in Melbourne. Even the term 'collector' has become a misnomer, according to Leonard Lauder, US cosmetics billionaire and doyen of New York's art establishment. "It's just a desire to possess the latest, to say, 'Look what I have on my walls'."

When Alexis de Tiesenhausen started working at Christie's in 1984, Russian painter Zinaida Serebriakova used to be known as 'the kiss of death'. "A work by her would barely fetch the reserve or it wouldn't sell," says the Frenchman, of White Russian extraction, who now heads the auction house's Russian department. "Ten years ago, her female nudes would fetch, at the most, £6,000. But in April this year, we sold one for £1.2 million. And why? Because everyone wants her now."
Russia's oligarchs have certainly had an impact on the prices of their native art. Last December, Christie's got $US2.9 million for a 1919 nude by Boris Kustodiev, seven times its top estimate and more than 85 times the sum paid when it last sold at Christie's in 1989. Such sales have helped turn a niche category into the world's fourth highest-grossing art market. At Sotheby's, auction totals for Russian art soared from $US7.6 million in 2000 to $US106.2 million last year - and sales had already reached $US111.9 million by June, 2006.

Rich Russians may be willing to spend big sums to reclaim their cultural heritage, but they are selective buyers, says de Tiesenhausen. "Talking about the right painter doesn't mean anything. It's the right date, the right condition and the importance of the work in the life of the artist that are extremely important for Russian collectors."
It's a lesson some dealers have yet to learn. By the time he died in 1985 at the age of 97, Marc Chagall was best known as the Russian painter who had oversupplied the world with whimsical images of floating lovers, roof-perched fiddlers and brightly hued chickens and goats. Unlike other early 20th century modernists, whose work matured with the years, Chagall reached his full potential at an early age. But no one seems to have told many of the international art dealers who participated in the third annual Moscow World Fine Art Fair in May this year.
Scores of late-period Chagall works were included in the s2 billion ($3.3 billion) worth of art, artefacts and jewellery on display in the Russian capital. Organisers seemed bemused by their ubiquity. "European dealers think any Chagall will do well here, but most of his work has remained unsold," said Sixtine Crutchfield, general manager of Art Culture Studio, the Geneva-based company that runs the fair.
A few dealers, at least, succeeded in avoiding the stereotypes. Benoît Sapiro, a Paris-based specialist in the Russian avant-garde, sold most of his stand on opening night - including a 1914 Chagall which went for s3 million. "Russians are spending up to buy back their patrimony, but they are not idiots," he says. "They are very hard businessmen and they negotiate a lot."

Collectors from the East and Far East once had to come to London or New York to bid for art to adorn their enormous homes. Now the market comes to them. Sotheby's recently opened an office in Moscow, while Christie's staged its first sale in Dubai - closing its salerooms in Australia at the same time. Says Kontos: "There is enormous growth potential in markets such as Beijing and Dubai and resources need to be utilised on expanding in those markets."
The new best friends of the international art market also include US industrialists and financiers. Steve Cohen, the Wall Street hedge fund billionaire, has reportedly spent about $US500 million on art in recent years and has a hit-list of works he wants to own. Last year, he paid $US12 million for Damien Hirst's The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living, also known as 'tiger shark in a glass tank of formaldehyde'. That the shark was rotting didn't stop Cohen forking out what was believed to be the highest price ever paid for the work of a living artist - until Kenneth Griffin, another hedge fund billionaire, trumped him by spending $US80 million on Jasper John's False Start earlier this year.
In 1987, entrepreneur Alan Bond set a new world record by buying Vincent Van Gogh's Irises for £27 million ($67 million). The amounts local entrepreneurs are prepared to spend on their national art now seem paltry in comparison. But high-profile paintings still trigger international-style bidding wars. In April, an unnamed industrialist, reported to be David Walsh of Tasmania's Moorilla Estate, saw off six other bidders, including the National Gallery of Victoria, to capture The Bar by John Brack for $3.15 million, an Australian record.
Mark Fraser, who heads up Sotheby's in Australia, likens such collectors to "big game hunters". "They want the big ... artworks that others will recognise as being important." But unlike 20 years ago, when "new money would throw their dollars at anything, people who buy now are well educated and they do their research. There's not that sense of nouveau-riche cringe. The truth is many of these IT guys would probably have ended up being low-grade clerks in previous eras. But in this era, the guys who had obsessive little hobbies have made a lot of money; they know enormous amounts about what they are doing and they are very, very smart."

In recent years, demand for new asset classes has extended to art - and some investors don't even seem to care if their paintings never leave the vaults in Switzerland's free ports. Philip Hoffman, a former Christie's director who now runs the London-based Fine Art Fund, says his clients "have no interest whatsoever in art. They're looking at paintings as a diversification of their investments."
While a host of similar funds has sprung up on both sides of the Atlantic, success has been blotchy at best. Unlike shares and bonds, paintings generate no income and transaction costs can be hefty, with auction houses typically charging a 20 per cent buyer's premium. Then there are storage costs and insurance to consider. But whatever the fees, the turnover in artworks continues to accelerate.
Says Fraser, "It used to be an auction room adage that a work had to be off the market for at least five years before it could be put up for sale again. That old rule of thumb has gone. Now things will trade in a one-year period."
A century ago, US industrialists such as Henry Clay Frick sought social cachet by spending great sums on a roll-call of old masters. Art still serves as a barometer of power and status. What could be more prestigious, after all, than having a Picasso adorning the wall above the sofa? But most of today's art buyers are opting for works by more modern masters. Contemporary art is currently the most glamorous art category that money can buy. "It suits today's architecture and interiors," says Kontos, "and it's much more accessible because it is being produced in the here and now. How easy is it to acquire Canaletto or a Rembrandt?"

Some commentators warn that the boom in contemporary art is unsustainable. But buying fresh art has always been a wager, with the challenge being to pick the names that last. And artists such as de Kooning and Mark Rothko appear to have become as blue chip as their predecessors. In November, De Kooning's 1977 abstract, Untitled XXV, broke the auction record for any postwar work of art when it sold for more than $US27 million at Christie's postwar and contemporary art sale in New York. A small (28.3 cm by 19.5 cm) preliminary study on paper by De Kooning also doubled its high estimate to bring in $US9.64 million, signalling that some contemporary artists are now being regarded in a similar light to impressionists and old masters.
But new art enthusiasts may also be starting to stretch their wings. Fraser points out that Gunter Sachs, a German industrialist and major buyer of contemporary art, recently forked out £5.2 million pounds for a work by Pieter Brueghel the Younger, "so we are seeing eclecticism creeping into the market".
The rise and rise of contemporary art has spawned another phenomenon: the omnipresent art fair. "They are popping up everywhere like a bad disease," says New York-based private dealer, Luba Mosionzhnik. "If I went to all of them, I'd be on the road for around 260 days of the year." Samuel Keller, director of the prestigious Art Basel in Switzerland and its party-fuelled spin-off at Miami Beach, has summed up their appeal as "one-stop shopping".
Also on offer is a ready-made social circuit. "It's the hot new event and people go to be seen," says Kontos from Christie's. "But those open to the public also give people the opportunity to see lots of different artists in one location. That's why they are so successful."
Moscow, however, would seem an improbable choice for a major art and antiques fair. Onerous customs regulations prevent any artwork produced more than 50 years ago from leaving the country. Then there's the hefty 18 per cent tax rate on outward-bound art. And there's the fact that Russia's rich have made London, already an international art centre, their second or even first home, prompting the UK capital to be branded 'Londongrad'.
Despite such obstacles, in 2004 the Zurich-based Art Culture Studio launched the Moscow World Fine Art Fair. While regulations prevented anything being sold that year, by September 2005, restrictions had been relaxed and a cluster of leading international dealers descended on the capital to plumb the depths of the art world's new frontier.
But many participants found conditions tougher than they had expected and, at this year's fair, some major players stayed away. Organisers said the fair had "evolved", with a new focus on local galleries and jewellery. But the absence of big-name dealers also appears to be due to the fair's challenges and moderate, if any, returns.
Still, with a growing client list in Moscow, Mosionzhnik sees the fair as a "long-term investment". So too does Paris-based Jacques de la Béraudière, a three-time attendee. Two days into the fair he said, "We have had a lot of curiosity, a lot of questions, a lot of missed appointments, but so far no sales. But Russians collected for generations and we don't see why they should not do so again."
While tycoons, officials and socialites flocked to the fair during its 'VIP' hours, language barriers made it difficult for international gallery owners to spot the oligarch in their midst. Certainly some visitors attracted attention, such as the fur-swathed woman who stalked the aisles, surrounded by bodyguards. "She looked like the White Witch of Narnia," recalls Sabina Fay Braxton, a Paris-based English artist whose textiles feature in the homes of the rich and richer.
Fair manager Crutchfield admits it's difficult for dealers to know who is on their stand. "In 2004, I met a lot of people and I had no idea who they were. We took their cards and it was usually their chauffeur's card or their bodyguard's card. But we find that the ones that buy [here] are usually not the ones who dress head to toe in brands and walk around with bodyguards."

It's a lesson that dealers in more established markets have also had to learn. Says Braxton: "We all know the story of Adriane, the Paris art dealer who, fed up with the scruffy guy who kept asking the price of everything in her store, said, 'Listen, you can't afford it so you should just go somewhere else'. As soon as he left, another dealer rushed in and said 'So how many deals did you make with Bill Gates?'"
Buying into the new
For years, the work of Zhang Xiaogang was deemed too edgy, and politically suspect, to be shown in his native China. But in April, Zhang's Bloodline Series: Comrade No.120, a painting featuring a young Mao soldier with a watermark across his face, sold for $US979,200 (about $1.3 million) - more than double the high estimate of $US350,000 and the highest price paid at the inaugural contemporary Asian art sale at Sotheby's in Manhattan.
China's contemporary art scene is sizzling as newly wealthy Chinese vie with international buyers for the works of their country's increasingly collectable young artists. The Sotheby's New York sale ran out of catalogues, and telephone lines, as about 150 bidders worldwide vied for lots. Expected to realise about $US8 million, the sale brought in $US13.2 million with a clearance rate of 95 per cent.
New wealth is also driving the market for Indian art.
In March, Christie's sold $US15.6 million of modern and contemporary Indian art in New York - double its presale estimate. Expatriate Indians started the buying spree: last year, Rajiv Chauhuri, who heads a New York hedge fund, paid about $US1.6 million for the Tyeb Mehta painting Mahishasura, also a record for an Indian work. But local buyers such as the Ambani family, who own Reliance Industries, have been taking a higher profile at auctions this year.

By contrast, Russia's market for contemporary art has been rather muted since Sotheby's groundbreaking sale of Soviet art in Moscow in 1988. "You didn't have Russian buyers then, so the boom was basically Gorby mania," says Alexis de Tiesenhausen. Some observers say its development has been hampered by a lack of state support. For others, it's the old-fashioned art institutes that have left graduates ill prepared to sell their art. There is, however, a relative dearth of contemporary art collectors in Moscow. "We have a club of collectors but ... not many members," says Vladimir Levashov, art director at Stella, a Moscow gallery.
But Jo Vickery, head of Sotheby's Russian art department says it's "inevitable that interest in contemporary Russian work will grow". Until then, ambitious Russian artists may have to make do with clients such as Umar Djabrailov. At this year's Moscow World Fine Art Fair, the Chechen hotel magnate is believed to have bought Assemblage, - a glittering mixed-media sculpture of an Amazonian woman walking two dogs - on condition, says a local contemporary art dealer, that artist Nikita Gashunin "make another girl with two dogs so he will have a set for his living room".

vendredi 1 février 2008

`We will buy Indian art worldwide`

Business Standard, Friday, Feb 01, 2008,

Archana Jahagirdar / New Delhi January 31, 2008
The Indian art market’s success has been well-documented in recent years with paintings selling for record prices.
Further vindication of this interest can be seen by the setting up of The Indian Fine Art Fund by The Fine Art Fund Group of UK which also runs the Chinese Fine Art Fund, launched in 2006. The Fine Art Fund currently handles a total investment of $100 million.
The Group’s head Philip Hoffman, who has worked with Christie’s and KPMG, was in Delhi to launch The Indian Fine Art Fund and spoke to Archana Jahagirdar about why investing in art is always a good idea.
Outline your plans for The India Fine Art Fund.
We set up the Fine Art Group five years ago and the current fund size is $100 million and we expect this to grow to $200 million in a year.
For instance, the fund brought Frank Auerbach for a million dollars in January 2006 and we sold it for $2.6 million in 2007.
Our investors like that we have an excellent team, that we have the approval of major British banks. We will also look at lesser known artists.
What kind of Indian art will you be investing in?
Principally, we will invest in modern and contemporary Indian art and buy Indian art worldwide.
Our investors will get an opportunity once a year to see all the works in Geneva and this will include both our international as well as Indian art works.
So far, we have had 20 to 30 Indian families who have shown a strong interest in investing with the fund. The fund is a very exclusive club, we will not deal in the retail segment.
How good is the idea of art being another "alternative asset class’?
Dealers sell art for profit, artists sell art to make a living. Damien Hirst has made millions by selling and investing in art.
The art that our fund buys is lent to museums. Our investors also get to hang paintings from the fund’s collections in their homes.
Most private collectors think of art as an investment. Money is vulgar and that’s a fact of life. And scarce things become popular.
Apart from the obvious benefit of growing one’s money, what are the other benefits of investing in a fund like yours?
We also offer co-investing deals. For instance, we bought a Peter Doig painting for $880,000 and we sold that for $2 million. Our co-investor doubled his money. We also let investors know if we are buying a piece of art, and if they too want to buy it, they can.
How viable is an art fund compared to traditional funds?
The nice thing about an art fund is that it is transparent. We are like a gold, oil or property fund. Our fund is evaluated by KPMG. The reason that we have pension funds investing in us is that we have met the criteria.
When the credit crunch has been happening in the US, the art market is booming. China, Abu Dhabi and India are building or will build their own museums. The Russians, the Arabs want art and when they start spending on art, it will put pressure on art prices.
The economist William Baumol called forecasting art prices as "floating carp game." Your comment.
He’s absolutely right. The fact is that we buy art to make capital gain. Our business is not about forecasting prices but in forecasting trends. It’s purely a skill and it’s called listening as opposed to forecasting.

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