Friday 24th July 2015The Lost Painting Bulletin Board
It's almost a staple of daytime television, and the bread and butter of shows like Antiques Roadshow, among others: Joe or Jane Average discovers that the coffee table they've been using for years is actual an heirloom piece from a famous furniture designer, or the candlesticks they inherited from their mother were once owned by some member of the English royal family, and is worth quite a pretty penny. Typically, finding something with a valuations in the thousands is remarkably rare, and finding something even more valuable almost never happens. So imagine the shock of a Bonham's auction house art appraiser who was making a routine examination of a client's collection when she stopped in the kitchen, and spotted a painting being used as a bulletin board - one that turned out to be worth an estimated $1.5 million dollars!
The piece, 'Arab in Black' by prominent South African artist Irma Stern, is not just a remarkably valuable piece of art, however. Back in the 1950 in South Africa, Nelson Mandela had been arrested for high treason, an offense which carried the death penalty. Though he was eventually completely cleared, the cost of maintaining a legal defense for such a high profile charge is naturally commensurately high, and Stern donated the painting to an auction designed to raise money to help pay for his legal counsel costs. The buyer at that auction eventually moved to the UK and settled down, and gave it to the current owner (who wishes to remain nameless).
The auction house is naturally trying to make some publicity hay with this element of the story, billing it as the painting that saved Mandela's life, which is something of an exaggeration. Nevertheless, as in all of these hidden treasure stories, the value of the piece is only ever enhanced by the history and provenance of the piece - and who knows, maybe they're even correct! It will be sold this September in London.
Hannah O'Leary, the Bonham's appraiser who discovered the painting, explained, “I spotted this masterpiece hanging in the kitchen covered in letters, postcards, and bills. It was a hugely exciting find even before I learned of its political significance.” Maybe it's time to go through all your items that you take for granted around your home - you never know what kind of masterpiece might be turned up by re-examining things in a new light!
Posted on July 24th 2015 on 08:45pm
Wednesday 08th July 2015Art Travel Ban
Tourism is one of the world's great industries - after all, the world is an incredibly beautiful and exciting place. Over the years a number of specialized versions of tourism have evolved, some more prominent than others, but one that has been gaining steam lately is tourism combined with art purchasing (as strange as it might just seem). Not everyone seems to view this with the same equanimity, unfortunately, which can lead to some strange and perhaps misguided attempts to correct the perceived problem.
Germany, which is home to the second largest art auction market in the world after the United States, has recently decided to propose laws to govern the purchase and sale of art by non-residents. Apparently, it is quite common for visitors to Germany, whether casual tourists or wealthy collectors, to purchase art during the course of their trip, which obviously has cultural and economic benefits for everyone involved. This has provoked a knee-jerk reaction among some elements of German society, which lead to the development of the bill in question.
Needless to say, a complete ban on traveling purchases is a rather extreme measure that has aroused the ire of art buyers, auctioneers and artists all around the world. The theory is that the law will prevent Germany's cultural and historical artifacts from being sold off to wealthy collectors in other parts of the world, but it may in fact become a stifling measure that inspires artists and auctioneers to move to more friendly and tolerant cultural climes.
While the law hasn't actually been formally put on the books yet, it has a serious chance of passing. The Culture Minister, Monika Grütters, plans to bring the draft law to Chancellor Angela Merkel's cabinet for approval during August. This is likely to create a major upheaval in the multibillion dollar world art market if it passes, of course, and who knows what kind of negative impact it will have on Germany's role in the artistic community. It seems a bit strange in a modern, information-friendly global economy that this kind of ban is felt to be necessary, so here's hoping that the rest of the German government understands the negative impacts this ban would have on a whole host of related industries, not just the artistic world.
Posted on July 08th 2015 on 04:18pm
Wednesday 24th June 2015Do Auction Prices Really Matter?
One of the staples of art news in the wider media world is record breaking auction prices. It seems nearly impossible to go a week without seeing another news story about a new auction record for a painting, or a work by a living artist, or for a 3 day blockbuster sale where billions of dollars change hands across a few separate auction lots. We've been a bit guilty of this as well, as the numbers truly are staggering, but it has eventually led us to wonder: what does this really have to do with art? It's occasionally interesting, but when new records seem to be cropping up monthly, if not weekly, it's difficult to get as excited about it as before this trend kicked off.
So what does it really have to do with art? In the day-to-day practical life of most artists, it has little to nothing to do with art. The pieces that are being exchanged are often beautiful, and often historic, but to the collectors who pay these incredible sums for the pieces, does the history or beauty really matter? Or is it simply a tax-write off, a way to shelter some income, or an investment that will appreciate in value, no different than buying stock in a new company?
The only possible exceptions might be the works by still-living artists, as those are only recently commanding the staggering prices that classic works by European masters and their lot have always received. They're changing hands less and less frequently nowadays, so perhaps that is a part of what is driving up auction prices around the globe. The artist still doesn't see a single cent of any auction price, regardless of whether they're still living or not, of course, so perhaps that still doesn't matter.
Perhaps the biggest concern is that these truly incredible valuations for pieces are causing cash-strapped museums from around the world to consider breaking up their collections in order to create new endowments to keep their doors open - or in some cases, to expand their collections. All this really does, though, is remove a piece of incredible cultural history from public access, so that a wealthy speculator can preserve it in a warehouse somewhere in the hopes that it will appreciate value. Isn't art supposed to be for the world at large?
Posted on June 24th 2015 on 07:25pm
Friday 22nd May 2015Art Fair Popularity Still Growing
Art fairs are the hottest thing happening in the art world right now, and unless you've been living under a rock with earplugs in, you've probably noticed that they seem to be popping up everywhere. From Basel, Switzerland to Miami Beach, Florida to Hong Kong, China to just about everywhere in between, art fairs are rapidly becoming the hottest place for collectors to buy art, no matter if you're an amateur building their first collection or a professional speculator looking to grab some original work by an up and coming young artist before sale prices really take off.
One of the most interesting things about the art fair, well, 'movement', for lack of a better term, is that it's no longer limited solely to the type of large, global cities mentioned earlier. Smaller cities around the world are getting in on the action, as evidenced by the latest art fair in North America to get some serious traction, which is located in Vancouver, Canada. Not to say that Vancouver doesn't have the potential to be a world-class city, but its art fair is simply not at the same scale as the others we've mentioned – although this could be set to change. With nearly 180 art fairs taking place each year around the world, the popularity of the style is dramatically expanding each year, and as long as organizers, galleries, collectors and visitors are eager to get involved, smaller fairs like Art! Vancouver are likely to continue to expand as well.
In fact, art fairs have become so popular in recent years that in 2014, total sales from art fairs around the world topped $13.3 billion dollars. While that doesn't really hold a candle to the kind of sales that are still being generated by the more traditional auction house system, it should still be making auctioneers a bit nervous. If small fairs like Art! Vancouver can survive their first couple of years and make it to the big leagues, then the entire auction paradigm might be on it's way out, with the exception of the very highest priced items that are too valuable to be sold in the fair environment.
As Art! Vancouver director Lisa Wolfin said, “If Basel can do it for 40 years, Vancouver can too. It’s a matter of starting and building.” She's probably right – as long as the local and global art communities stay involved! If you hear about a local art fair in your community, why not stop by and support local artists? It's fun, and you might find your own work there one day!
Posted on May 22nd 2015 on 05:24pm
Friday 18th July 2014Bill Watterson's Brief Return to Comics
Many of us had childhoods shaped by comics. Whether we appreciated the art, the escape from every day life, or in most cases both, comics provided many of us with our first personal experiences with artwork and gave many of us the dream of becoming cartoonists or illustrators. This is fairly amusing, since it's only recently that comics - thanks to the advent of the graphic novel, and the maturation of a generation raised on them - have started to be regarded as a serious artform with real narrative potentials.
Of course, this was always clear to those of us who appreciate comics, but it's largely due to the influence of the dedicated and skilled graphic artists that helped pave the way, and few were more dedicated, more beloved, and more sorely missed than Bill Watterson, the creator and brains behind Calvin and Hobbes. Watterson is a famously reclusive man, and once he retired from drawing Calvin and Hobbes (a dark, dark day for all those who eagerly awaited his material), he has barely granted a single interview or put himself in the public spotlight in any way, shape or form. Thus it was with unsurprisingly little fanfare (at least, initially) that he briefly came out of retirement for a guest appearance, drawing a comic strip called Pearls Before Swine.
As if that wasn't cool enough on its own, Watterson and Stephan Pastis, the creator of Pearls Before Swine, have decided to auction off the original artwork from the comics. While there were only three strips that Watterson agreed to guest draw, the original artwork is the only public work he's completed since his retirement from Calvin and Hobbes, nearly 20 years ago in 1995. The artwork will be sold by an auction house based in Dallas, Texas, with the proceeds to go towards a charity named Team Cul de Sac, which is a charity established on behalf of Richard Thompson, a cartoonist with Parkinson's disease. The funds will then be passed on to the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research. The auction house has estimated that each strip's original artwork will sell for upwards of $10,000 USD, which should bring in a nice chunk of change for the associated foundations.
Posted on July 18th 2014 on 11:11pm
Monday 03rd March 2014Near-Record Breaking Art Auction Sales
The art world has always been the home of the truly eye-popping auction piece. Whether it's a 700 year old Ming Dynasty vase selling for millions of dollars or a Van Gogh selling for tens of millions, these incredibly high prices have been commonplace for quite some time. That is, of course, until the global financial collapse in 2008 that depressed economic markets around the world in virtually every sector. Typically, because those who are buying these fantastically valuable items are inherently the extremely wealthy, the art auction market is typically a bit more robust when it comes to financial downtowns, but in 2008 auction prices and auction volumes took a serious hit.
In 2007, just one year before the bottom fell out of the financial sector and everyone took a tumble, the global art auction market had reached its pinnacle, with a staggering 48 billion euros in sales and auctions taking place. The market bottomed out in 2009, when it reached a low point of 28.6 billion euros, an incredible. Some analysts point out that this was actually nothing more than a return to the numbers posted in the early 2000s, and that the boom years of 2006 and 2007 were nothing more than an 'art bubble', something akin to a real estate bubble.
However, the last 3 years seem to have proven those pundits wrong, as the market rebounded in 2010 and has been on the rise since. Naturally, there are variations in sales within individual nations around the world, but the United States showed a whopping 25% increase in sales, snagging an equally impressive 38% of the sales around the world, up 5% since 2012. New York, unsurprisingly, is the centre of these sales, but buyers fly in from around the world to make purchases there. American artists are also at the forefront of the sales, with record sale valuations being posted for works by famous American pop-art pioneers Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein in the years since the bubble had seemed to burst, back in 2009.
It will be interesting to see the possible effects on the stylistic choices that are made by artists hoping to capitalize on these trends, in an effort to predict the next big popular art movement. Now that the old post-modern refrain 'everything's been done before' has proven false by its very nature, a whole new world of artistic possibilities are being explored.
Posted on March 03rd 2014 on 05:51pm
Tuesday 14th January 2014The Global Art Market Today
Ever since the global economic meltdown in 2008, the art market has been in some relatively dire straits. Many famous works that were put up for auction by famous auction houses remained unsold, or sold for amounts that were barely eye-catching at the time. Fortunately, the rise in consumer confidence that many nations around the world have begun to experience is also making its way into the global art market, which has once again begun to thrive.
Many speculate that the driving force behind the initial resurgence in the market is a sudden increase in demand from newly affluent buyers in the Asian market, especially China, which may account for the recent perception that the most expensive works being sold today are predominantly red, as the colour red is associated with luck and good fortune in many Asian cultures. Several major crimson-tinted pieces have gone up for auction recently, including a portrait of Chairman Mao by pop-art icon Andy Warhol, valued at up to 7 million pounds, and even more eye-poppingly, a beautiful abstract piece titled 'Wall' by Gerhard Richter, which is estimated to sell at a minimum of 15 million pounds. This is truly remarkable, as Sotheby's, the auction house responsible for the sale of 'Wall', speculates that the auction may exceed expectations and sell for over 23 million pounds, breaking the record for highest auction price commanded by a work from a living painter. Not something to sneeze at, surely.
The latest estimates from Sotheby's pegs the Chinese taste for art at nearly a quarter of the $58 billion USD global art market, but buyers from Latin America, Russia and the Middle East are also paying staggering sums of money at auction houses around the world, with the current favourites being Picasso, Matisse, as well as more contemporary artists. Both Sotheby's and Christie's are also looking to expand their operations in India, with several new sales upcoming and already passed in recent months.
While most of us won't be selling works valued anywhere near the staggering amounts listed above - at least, maybe not in our lifetimes - if you're looking for some inspiration about how to guide your next piece, creating something of the crimson persuasion might help give you an edge. If nothing else, warm colours might help you creatively offset the harsh winter that's gripping much of the northern hemisphere this year.
Posted on January 14th 2014 on 03:00am