The art world is definitely back in gear after the summer with a slew of events across the globe. In Shanghai, the fourth edition of ShContemporary continues until Sunday. This fair has changed considerably since its original ambitions to bring powerful western dealers to China: it now overwhelmingly features galleries from the Asia-Pacific region, from Seoul to Sydney. In Paris, the annual gallery trawl Parcours des Mondes, now in its ninth year, brings together 68 dealers in tribal art. African, Oceanic, Pre-Colombian and Asian works of art are on offer, with price tags that range from under €1,000 to six-figure sums. From Wednesday, the Grand Palais in Paris hosts its equally grand antiques-and-art event, the Biennale des Antiquaires, with everything from antiquities or tip-top 18th-century French furniture to modern art. In New York, Asian Art Week features auctions – including a single-owner collection of archaic bronzes at Christie’s on Thursday – and dealer shows, with Chinese, Japanese, Indian and Himalayan art. Erik Thomsen is showing a pair of enormous screens, “Vying Peacocks” from the Taisho period (early 20th century). And in an interesting initiative, Christie’s is co-operating with the Chinese Ministry of Culture to present work by contemporary Chinese artists at the Rockefeller Center. The firm, it will be remembered, was in bad odour with the Chinese authorities after the aborted sale of two bronze heads from the Zodiac fountain, looted from the Summer Palace in 1840. The heads were bought at the Yves Saint Laurent sale last year by a Chinese buyer who, as a patriotic gesture, never paid for them. This month’s show looks like an attempt to build bridges after that debacle. Asia Week in the galleries starts this week and continues until the end of the month.
The latest financial centre to sit up and take notice of art as an investment is the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg. On September 22, the semi-governmental agency, Luxembourg for Finance, is holding its first conference on the subject. Organiser Elisabeth Kugel admits she was startled by the positive response: “We sent invitations to asset managers and bankers, plus some artists and gallery owners, and we already have 180 people signed up, coming from Luxembourg but also from Belgium, France and the UK. We didn’t expect nearly as many.”
The conference is being held in the state’s modern art museum and the main speaker is Michael Moses, co-founder of the Mei Moses art index and of Beautiful Asset Advisors. “We are always searching for new niches and, following the financial crisis, we think this is a good time to promote ‘emotional assets’ such as art,” says Kugel. “If the response is positive, we might decide to establish art as an investment for the financial centre, like microfinance or Islamic finance.”
The contentious subject of artists, resale rights, the levy on the resale of work by living artists seems to be one element in the recent split between Bonhams, the London auction house, and Adam’s, Dublin’s long-established auction house. The two firms have ended their 12-year association and Bonhams will inaugurate its own Irish art sale in London in February. James O’Halloran, Adam’s managing director, says: “One of the problems in the market is the levy. Auction houses charge the buyers in Britain, but we in the Republic of Ireland have to charge the vendor. With the financial crisis, some art is being resold for less now than its purchase price, and the vendors feel it is hard to have to pay the levy when they’re making a loss, particularly if they had already paid it as buyer, when they bought in the UK.”
Irish art is a small market that saw a boom in the early years of this century but has since weakened considerably. Hopes that Irish-Americans would buy into the field never materialised. But O’Halloran says Adam’s has managed to weather the financial crisis in Ireland and the drop in prices, and has opened an office and gallery in the Northern Irish capital Belfast. “The market is consolidating here in Dublin,” he says. While sale volumes “went off a cliff” in 2008, “we had already persuaded our vendors that they couldn’t expect boom prices and we have been able to produce consistent sell-through rates of around 80 per cent,” he says.
A contested ‘Giacometti’ entitled ‘Homme qui chavire’
A second Giacometti faking case has opened in Stuttgart, Germany, following on from a related case heard earlier this year, which resulted in guilty verdicts for three men accused of forging Giacometti bronzes (a judicial review is pending). In this new case, four men and a woman are accused of counterfeiting some 1,150 bronzes and plasters by the artist, which the police found in a “secret” warehouse in Mainz. According to the prosecution, the defendants attempted to sell 300 bronzes and 100 plasters, valued at €50m, through a New York gallery in 2008 and 2009. The prosecution says fakes worth around €9m were sold by the accused to buyers in Germany and elsewhere, and that they also tried to sell 17 works, worth €1.3m, to an undercover police investigator.
Press reports have named one of the accused as Lothar Wilfried Senke, who allegedly claimed that he knew Diego Giacometti, Alberto’s brother, and had access to a series of works that had been hidden for years.
The expert witness in the first trial was Mary Lisa Palmer, director of the Giacometti Association (there is also a rival Giacometti Foundation, but that’s another story). She says: “The way to rid the market of fakes is through education, but in the meantime the best thing to do is contact our association, which is also attentive to ‘provenance’.”