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This Week in the Art Market – Friday 2nd February 2024

Art Market News, Editorial

Long-Lost Klimt Unearthed in Vienna

The painting in question — a vivid, vibrant portrait of the young Fraulien Liesler — was last seen in the possession of the wealthy Liesler family in Austria, before it vanished from the public eye in 1925. Presumed destroyed by the war, the masterpiece has now resurfaced nearly a hundred years later in Austria. It will soon embark on a world tour through the UK, Switzerland, Germany and Hong Kong, before finally being put on auction in April. The painting is valued at a mind-boggling USD 54 million; just last year, another of Klimt’s work was sold for £85.3 million, making it the most expensive work ever sold at auction in Europe. 

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Venice Biennale 2024: Foreigners Everywhere

The world’s biggest art biennale has recently unveiled the 331 names of participating artists, united under the organizing theme: ‘Stranieri Ovunque — Foreigners Everywhere’. Inspired by a series of neon works by French collective Claire Fontaine, the Biennale’s themes examine the migration and hybrid existence of peoples across territorial, national and social borders. It explicates the notion that wherever we go, we will always encounter foreigners — and wherever we are, we will always be, deep down, a foreigner. The festival will feature more than 112 modern artists from the Global South, primarily from Latin America, Africa, the Middle East, and Asia. From Singapore, visitors will find several well known names such as Georgette Chen, Chua Mia Tee, Lai Foong Moi, Lim Mu Hue —  as well as contemporary artist Charmaine Poh. At the Biennale’s Singapore Pavilion, the Singapore Art Museum has chosen to showcase the works of interdisciplinary contemporary artist Robert Zhao, curated in partnership with Haeju Kim. 

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Hauser & Wirth Unveils New Hong Kong Gallery

Hausrer & Wirth, one of the biggest blue-chip galleries in the world, recently christened its new gallery space in Hong Kong’s central business district with a massive exhibition of works by famous Chinese artist Zhang Enli. Only a few streets over from its oirignal premises on the 15th and 16th floors at H Queen’s, Hauser & Wirth’s new street-level gallery boasts three floors and 10,000 square feet of space, including eye-catching floor-to-ceiling windows to attract pedestrians. Such a prime location is unprecedented for commercial art galleries, especially given Hong Kong’s sky-high real estate prices. Indeed, Hauser & Wirth’s success is a sign that despite recent political turbulence and pandemic restrictions, Hong Kong continues to hold the reigning title of Asia’s primary arts destination.

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Sotheby’s Acquitted in Historic Fraud Trial

Last month, the art world bore witness as Russian oligarch Dmitry Ryblovlev brought fraud charges against art auction titan Sotheby’s, claiming that the company was in cahoots with his art dealer to defraud him. However, the trial also shed light on some of the stranger details surrounding the case: for instance, Sotheby’s had given Leonardo da Vinci’s Salvator Mundi the code-name Jack, after Leonardo DiCaprio’s famous Titanic role. It also named several exotic locations where Ryblovlev viewed prospective acquisitions, including a warehouse outside of Vienna, an apartment overlooking Central Park West in Manhattan, and the Eden Rock hotel on the Caribbean island St. Barths. At the same time, the case also emphasized the need for greater transparency in the private art market, where objective, reliable information and third-party verification is sorely needed for secure transactions. 

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Rising Art Fairs Proves Vitality of India’s Art Market

Ever since an early crash in the late 2000s, India’s art market has been considered suboptimal, featuring only one major art fair (India Art Fair) dedicated to South Asian art. However, since the launch of Art Mumbai in November, it seems that the demand for Indian art is on the rise. More Indian buyers appear to be investing their wealth into contemporary art, and more Indian artists are likewise injecting the market with new works. A greater number of galleries are also banding together under events such as Art Mumbai and India Art Fair, which allows for greater systemization and a concentration of high-quality, high-potential art for sale. It seems very likely that in the next few years, the world will see historic growth in Indian contemporary art. 

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Sotheby’s Nets $7.9bn in 2023 Sales

Though still remkarably high, Sotheby’s reported annual sales still comes out slightly below the previous year’s record at $8bn, which had in part been elevated by a concentration of wealth among high-net-worth individuals unable to spend money during the pandemic. Still, 2023 saw several notable collections being placed on the auction block, among which was the estate of the late collector Emily Fisher Landau, which fetched $424.7 million in November. Sotheby’s also sold a selection of Freddie Mercury’s personal items for a total of £39.9m — in particular, a mustache comb that sold for £152,400, and an Adidas shoulder bag that sold for £10,800. 

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Carl Andre, Radical Minimalist and Former Murder Suspect, Dies at 88

An enfant terrible of the 1970s New York Minimalist scene,Carl Andre is perhaps most well known for using untouched industrial elements such as wood, bricks and concrete in his radical sculptures. Previously a struggling artist who had worked as a freight brakeman and conductor on the Philadelphia Railroad, Andre became inspired during an encounter with Abstract painter Frank Stella. Working together in Stella’s studio, the painter once observed an uncarved block of wood and declared to Andre: “That is sculpture too.” Though initially resentful at Stella’s comment, Andre ended up channeling the painter’s philosophy into his subsequent works, constructing simple sculptures out of readymade materials which he presented in unpretentious, simple arrangements on the site floor. One of his earliest works, Untitled (Element Series) (1960), featured several uncarved blocks of wood in a lintel-and-post placement. Another, Lever (1966), saw the artist arranging 137 bricks in a straight line.

In 1976, the artist sold 120 bricks arranged on the floor (named Equivalent VIII) to the Tate for £2,297, provoking a media firestorm; the newspapers called it “a load of rubbish”, using Andre’s “Tate bricks” to denounce the fraudulence of Modern art. Admirers of Andre’s works (of which there were plenty) hailed him as a visionary. In a retrospective on the artist’s oeuvre in 2014, Richard Serra (a prolific American sculptor) said that Andre had “changed the history of sculpture”. 

Controversy over his work, however, often overshadows the advocacy work that Andre undertook during his rise to stardom. He joined the Art Workers’ Coalition in 1969, which campaigned for New York museums to include more marginalized artists, as well as to implement a free admission day to lower the barrier to entry for art. He was also well known for his mistrust of the commercial art world, calling it a “posion in the community of artists”. Ironically, he was very successful in the commercial art world, selling many of his works till late in his career. 

9 years after his headlines-grabbing sale to the Tate, Andre once again caught the attention of the press after his third wife, Cuban artist Ana Mendieta, perished under mysterious circumstances. Though he had faced allegations of pushing Mendieta out of their apartment window during a fight, Andre was acquitted after the court surpressed evidence proving Mendieta had intended to divorce Andre due to his infidelity. Though the controversial figure continued to produce work after the trial, he faced immense pressure by social groups calling for justice, with several protests being staged outside his shows. In 2014, protestors bloodied the pavement outside a major retrospective of Andre’s work at the Museum of Contemporary Art in LA, waving signs that read “Where is Ana Mendieta?” Despite such efforts, it now seems unlikely that Mendieta would get justice after all. In January 2024, the controversial artist passed away in a hospice at the age of 88, suffering from dementia.

Though Minimalism has long since been laid to rest (alongside other notable art movements from the 70s), interest in Andre’s work still remains strong. His sculptures remain in the collections of New York’s MoMA and Paris’ Pompidou Centre; in 2013, Andre appeared in the Venice Biennale, and in 2021 the artist collaborated with 5VCEDAR5H to produce a series of large-scale sculptures. His recent death has only reinvigorated discussions over the artist’s body of work, which is remarkably extensive: over 2000 sculptures and an equal number of poems produced over nearly 70 years. 


Published on February 2, 2024
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