Category Archives: Art Market

Selling King Tut

London, July 5, 2019 

By Scott Reyburn / The New York Times  

Tutankhamen Head Sells for $6 Million, Despite Protests from Egypt.
Christie’s said the sale was legal. But Egypt’s government says the antiquity was looted and should be returned.

“It was smuggled. It belongs to Egypt,” said Magda Sakr, one of a dozen protesters gathered outside Christie’s auction house minutes before a stone head of the pharaoh Tutankhamen was set to be sold on Thursday night.

“I believe these things should be in a museum. They shouldn’t belong to one person,” added Ms. Sakr, holding a placard that read “Save Tutankhamen Head. Egyptian History is not for Sale.”

But despite protests from Ms. Sakr, and from Egyptian officials, the sale went ahead.

The brown quartzite sculpture of the god Amen, carved with the features of the pharaoh Tutankhamen during his brief reign, was the star lot of Christie’s annual “Exceptional” auction of trophy objects from across the centuries.

Dated by the auction house to about 1333 B.C. to 1323 B.C., and described as having a “particularly sensual” mouth, the head sold for £4.7 million pounds, or about $6 million, with fees. But competition was subdued. The lot attracted just two hesitant bids from anonymous telephone bidders.

Did the limited bidding reflect the controversy that swirled round this object before its sale?

Weeks before its auction, the 11-inch-high head had been the focal point of protests from the Egyptian authorities, who objected to the inclusion of about 30 ancient artifacts from their country in auctions this week at Christie’s.

Zahi Hawass, a former Egyptian minister of antiquities, told The Guardian newspaper last month that he believed the Tutankhamen head had been taken from the temple of Karnak in Upper Egypt and illegally exported in 1970. He added that if Christie’s did not have papers to prove that it left Egypt legally, then the sculpture should be returned.

The date of 1970 cited by Dr. Hawass is significant: That year Unesco instituted a landmark international convention to prohibit and prevent the illicit trade in cultural property. Objects without documented ownership histories, known as provenances, that extend beyond that watershed have become regarded as problematic for museums and those involved in the legal trade in antiquities.

Tourist trinkets on sale in Cairo

Howard Carter’s 1922 discovery of Tutankhamen’s tomb is the most famous moment of Egyptian archaeological history, and made the pharaoh’s death mask an icon CreditMohamed Abd El Ghany/Reuters

“The sale of such precious Egyptian artifacts is a huge shame,” said Tarek Adel, Egypt’s ambassador to Britain, in a statement on Wednesday. He said that Christie’s proposed auctions reflected “a deep lack of respect to our efforts to stop this happening as well as a total disregard for relevant international legal provisions and conventions.” 

In a statement issued on Tuesday, Christie’s said it had “established all the required information covering recent ownership and gone beyond what is required to assure legal title.” The sculpture “is not, and has not been, the subject of a claim, nor has it been previously flagged as an object of concern, despite being well known and exhibited publicly,” the statement added.

The provenance published by Christie’s states that the stone head was acquired in 1973 or 1974 by Josef Messina, the director of Galerie Kokorian & Company, in Vienna, from the collection of Prinz Wilhelm von Thurn und Taxis, who is “understood” to have owned the piece by the 1960s, according to the catalog.

The sculpture was subsequently owned by two further private individuals, Christie’s said, before being acquired in 1985 by the German-based Resandro collection, which was the seller in London.

The object’s pre-1970 provenance was confirmed by Mr. Messina in the form of “a notarized affidavit which is part of our provenance documentation,” Catherine Manson, Christie’s global head of communications, said in an email.

But an article on the website Live Science, published in June, said that the son and niece of Wilhelm von Thurn und Taxis, who died in 2004, said the aristocrat had no interest in art and had never owned the sculpture.

Galerie Kokorian & Company and Mr. Messina did not reply to repeated requests for contact made by email, telephone and Facebook message.

For those who participate in the international trade in antiquities, basing this object’s pre-1970 provenance on the verbal recollection of a dealer, rather than any surviving document, does not weaken the legitimacy of Christie’s sale.

“I don’t think it’s problematic,” said Vincent Geerling, the chairman of the London-based International Association of Dealers in Ancient Art. “What is problematic is the attitude of the Egyptian government and the way they try to disrupt the sale of perfectly legal artifacts.”

“The Egyptians have benefited from the sale of antiquities for more than 150 years,” said Mr. Geerling, who pointed out that government-authorized stores sold antiquities in Egypt until 1983, when the country passed a law to protect its heritage.

Mr. Geerling said that the Unesco Convention applied only to objects that had already been “specifically designated” as objects of great importance, which he said would be unlikely in the case of the Christie’s head. He added that “there is no legal basis” for museums’ reluctance to acquire antiquities with provenances that did not stretch beyond 1970.

Objects associated with Tutankhamen, a short-lived 18th Dynasty pharaoh who died in his late teens, have a particular mystique and allure. 

Howard Carter’s 1922 discovery of his untouched tomb in the Valley of the Kings, filled with spectacularly precious objects, is the most famous moment of Egyptian archaeological history. An exhibition at the British Museum in 1972 of treasures from the tomb, including Tutankhamen’s gold death mask, attracted 1.7 million visitors.

Tatiana Flessas, an associate professor of law at the London School of Economics, who specializes in cultural property, said that Christie’s sale of the Tutankhamen head was a significant moment.

“It showed that a claim like Egypt’s continues to be open to dispute,” Ms. Flessas said. “Not every antiquity is cultural property.”

Though the trade in antiquities is a “complex, opaque and quite slippery business,” Egypt’s call for the return of the sculpture was a “nationalistic claim, an anticolonial claim, with a moral rather than legal justification,” she added.

“But if the provenance is flawed and the sculpture was looted, it should go back,” she said.

Image Credits:
New York Times, Peter Nicholls/Reuters

The Price of Everything?

Edward Hopper, Chop Suey, 1929

By Aldis Browne

On November 13th Hopper’s 1929 masterpiece ‘Chop Suey’ set a record at nearly $92 million at Christie’s, New York.

In the spotlight of a contemporary art sale at Christie’s on November 15th, David Hockney’s monumental ‘Pool With Two Figures’ sold for more than $90 million. Like the Hopper, this, too, was extensively reported.

On the same day the Hockney was sold, the sale of another painting by Edward Hopper slipped by virtually unnoticed. ‘Two Comedians’ was Edward Hopper’s final painting. His eloquently moving farewell self-portrait, bowing from a stage beside his wife – and muse – Josephine, changed hands at an American sale at Sotheby’s for $12.5 million, below its pre-sale estimate.

Hopper loved theater and cinema. ‘Two on the Aisle’, 1927 – ‘New York Movie’, 1939 and ‘ First Row Orchestra’, 1951 chart a direct path to Two Comedians. Jo Hopper described the painting as “A dark stage and two small figures out of a pantomime” where she and Hopper take their final bows dressed as Pierrot and Pierrette from the commedia dell’arte.

Is price alone driving press perspective? There is more to report about art than record results – far more. Following the test of time, who will be judged as the wisest buyer? Perhaps another story is lurking here… one just waiting to be told.

We invite your comments.

Edward Hopper, New York Movie, 1939

Edward Hopper, First Row Orchestra, 1951

Edward Hopper, Two Comedians, 1966

David Hockney, ‘Pool With Two Figures, 1972

Peggy and David Rockefeller’s art at Christie’s

“Eventually all these objects which have brought so much pleasure to Peggy and me will go out into the world and will again be available to other caretakers who, hopefully, will derive the same satisfaction and joy from them as we have over these past several decades.”
(David Rockefeller, 1992)

Exhibition and Auction:
The Collection of Peggy and David Rockefeller

New York: 20 Rockefeller Plaza
Through March 10, 2018

“To date, Christie’s dedicated Rockefeller sales have made $764.4 million—and there are three more live sales and a variety of online sales still to come … last night’s European art auction [May 8, 2018] … generated a smashing $646 million total.” (Artnet News, © Artnet Worldwide Corporation)

Of Interest: Robin Pogrebin, “Pulled From Rockefeller Walls, Picasso, Matisse and Monet Fetch Big Prices,” The New York Times

Pablo Picasso, Young Girl with a Basket of Flowers. Paris. Spring 1905. The Collection of Peggy and David Rockefeller, sold for $115 million Tuesday night at Christie’s Rockefeller auction.

Henri Matisse, Odalisque couchée aux magnolias, 1923. Oil on canvas. 23¾ x 31⅞ in (60.5 x 81.1 cm). © Succession H. Matisse/ DACS 2018. The Collection of Peggy and David Rockefeller – sold for $80.8 million Tuesday night at Christie’s Rockefeller auction in New York.

Paul Signac, Opus 217. “Against the Enamel of a Background Rhythmic with Beats and Angles, Tones, and Tints, Portrait of M. Félix Fénéon in 1890,” 1890. The Collection of Peggy and David Rockefeller, Spring 2018 at Christie’s in New York.

Edouard Manet (1832–1883), Lilas et roses, 1882. Oil on canvas. 12¾ x 9¾ in (32.4 x 24.7 cm). The Collection of Peggy and David Rockefeller, Spring 2018 at Christie’s in New York.

Claude Monet: Extérieur de la gare Saint-Lazare, effet de soleil, 1877. Painted in Paris. Oil on canvas. The Collection of Peggy and David Rockefeller, Spring 2018 at Christie’s in New York.

Willem de Kooning (1904-1997), Untitled XIX, 1982. Oil and charcoal on canvas. 80 x 70 in (203.2 x 177.8 cm). © The Willem de Kooning Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. The Collection of Peggy and David Rockefeller, Spring 2018 at Christie’s in New York.

Juan Gris, La table de musician, 1914. Demonstrating the cubist artist’s ability, La table conjures solid objects from oil, gouache, colored wax crayons, charcoal and paper collage on canvas. Although Picasso and Braque also used these techniques Gris is regarded as the ‘master of form’. The Collection of Peggy and David Rockefeller, Spring 2018 at Christie’s in New York.

David Rockefeller and Peggy McGrath Rockefeller. (Photo by Ron Galella/WireImage)

Matisse’s “Odalisque couchée aux magnolias” (left) and David Rockefeller (right)

Featured image: John Singer Sargent: San Geremia, 1913. Oil on canvas. Painted on Sargent’s last trip to Venice where he stayed with his friends the Curtis’ at Palazzo Barbaro. The Collection of Peggy and David Rockefeller, Spring 2018 at Christie’s in New York.

#IRequireArt @irequireart #art #christies #rockefellercollection

“A Documentary Lays Bare the Absurdity of the Art Market,” By Dan Schindel

Artist Jeff Koons in front of one of his Gazing Ball paintings in The Price of Everything, directed by Nathaniel Kahn (image courtesy HBO Documentary Films)

“A Documentary Lays Bare the Absurdity of the Art Market”

‘The Price of Everything, which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival, looks at the trends and gambles of the art market.’

By Dan Schindel

PARK CITY, Utah — Jeff Koons shows to a camera crew his massive, almost industrial workshop, where rows of assistants painstakingly create reproductions of old paintings for the artist’s Gazing Ball pieces. Koons is one of the most successful contemporary artists, and his works have broken the world record for highest auction price multiple times. Meanwhile, in upstate New York, Larry Poons trudges through the snow to his cramped studio, where he’s been working on large, brushstroke-heavy murals for decades. A contemporary of Roy Lichtenstein and Robert Rauschenberg, he’s since seemingly dropped off the radar of art buyers. What exactly separates these two artists? Why is one selling works for tens of millions of dollars apiece and the other not? Who or what even determines how much art is “worth”?

The smartest thing about the documentary The Price of Everything, which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival, is that it doesn’t try to pose definitive answers to these questions. In fact, director Nathaniel Kahn seems to understand that there aren’t any. Art is subjective, and value is determined entirely by complex vagaries of taste.

Painter Larry Poons walking to his studio in The Price of Everything, directed by Nathaniel Kahn (image courtesy of HBO Documentary Films)

Kahn interviews contemporary artists both notable and less known, getting their opinions about the auction world and granting an opportunity to watch them work. Besides Koons and Poons, Gerhard Richter, Njideka Akunyili Crosby, and Marilyn Minter are also featured. But since art and artists are the commodities rather than the players in the “industry,” the true lead subjects of the documentary are collector Stefan Edlis and Sotheby’s buyer Amy Cappellazzo. While the artists seem mainly baffled by the market and would prefer to focus on their work, Cappellazzo and Edlis come closest to articulating why shifts in trends happen. At one point, Cappellazzo predicts that Koons’s value is about to fall because his output is now “lobby art.”

Of course, actual beauty, talent, and innovation only factor marginally in this. Rather than deny this, the art dealers interviewed for the film are remarkably candid about how coldly they approach their trade. Seemingly everyone almost gleefully acknowledges that they’re riding a bubble. They are wealthy enough not to care about any pretense of nobility — Edlis jovially explains how he often prefers to “trade” art rather than write checks to dodge taxes. Cappellazzo can even code switch effortlessly between being a buyer and appreciating the art, in one scene evaluating Crosby’s collage work based on its auction potential and in the next earnestly explaining why Giacomo Balla’s “Dynamism of a Dog on a Leash” is her favorite painting. Edlis is a fascinating enigma; while he seems very dismissive of most of the works he buys (he carelessly leaves Ugo Rondinone’s “ (five lemons)” lying on the floor by his desk), he can explain what makes a piece interesting or not better than any of the professional critics in the movie.

Art collector Stefan Edlis in front of (l. to r.) artist Urs Fischer’s “Dried” collage and “Untitled (Candle)” sculpture as part of Edlis’s collection in The Price of Everything, directed by Nathaniel Kahn (image courtesy HBO Documentary Films)

Late in the film, it is predicted that the election of Donald Trump will prove “good” for the art market, the implication being that he will drive enthusiasm for further aesthetic excess. None of the buyers in the documentary can explain why they’ve shelled out millions for their pieces besides “this is what is chic” (that is, if they don’t just outright admit that they’re making investments). The Price of Everything is not about the love of art, but its exploitation, and that may cause some sincere aesthetes to cringe. Laymen, meanwhile, will likely remain baffled as to why big sculptures of metal balloon animals are selling for millions. The art market lays bare the absurdity of capitalism as a whole, in which value is not tied to anything tangible but to gambles based on trends. This movie may not be able to make full sense of the trends, but it’s a great peek into how the gamblers operate.

The Price of Everything by Nathaniel Kahn screens at the Sundance Film Festival Thursday, January 25 at 9pm and Friday, January 26 at 8:30pm.

By Dan Schindel, Reprint from Hyperallergic, 25 January 2018, © 2018 Hyperallergic Media Inc.