On The Block: Peak Picasso, and a Few Bargains To Be Had | BLOUIN ARTINFO
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On The Block: Peak Picasso, and a Few Bargains To Be Had

“An Egyptian Polychrome Wood Mummy Mask,” 21st/22nd Dynasty, 1075-716 B.C. Estimate £100,000£150,000, In Ancient Sculpture and Works of Art sale in London on July 3.
(Courtesy Sotheby’s)

If you want to hear about some good places to invest in art over the next few months, you’re reading the right article.

All of the auction houses have been taking stock after a busy first six months of 2018, with some themes coming through time and again.

Of the big-ticket items, you would have had to have your head in the sand not to notice the surge in Picasso sales, if not price levels. The London sales in June will be the latest pointers as this magazine goes to press. The only unanswered questions are surely how many more serial collectors of Picassos there are in the world, how many more private museums dedicated to the great Spanish artist we may see come into being; and whether the annual total for Picasso works at public auctions will pass $1 billion in 2018.

The auction search-engine Barnebys has also weighed in with a list of potential growth areas in the market. Its tips of categories include vintage posters, modern prints, photographs and women artists. This was based on analysis of more than 65 million lots sold by more than 3,000 auction houses globally

Barnebys said that many of the growing fields “offer a lot of bang for your buck at the lower end, with starting prices at less than €100” (about $120). Sales at this price level have increased by a third in the last year.

Still, over the whole market, the number of searches is growing, with online inquirers especially keen on women artists. Names that keep coming up are some of usual suspects and a few somewhat less familiar newcomers: Jenny Saville, Cecily Brown, Georgia O’Keeffe, Joan Mitchell, Nathalie Djurberg, Petra Cortright, Cady Noland, Agnes Martin, Laura Owens, Yayoi Kusama, Njideka Akunyili Crosby and Barbara Kruger. Exhibitions for Frida Kahlo in London and Mary Cassatt in Paris and news stories about these two artists also raised attention, said Pontus Silfverstolpe, a Barnebys co-founder.

Even so, the top-searched artists remain male: Picasso, Jeff Koons and Banksy. Barnebys points out that many of its new buyers may start small but soon move on to more expensive lots.

It is another question as to how long it will be before buyers get into the rarified air occupied by the most expensive living artists such as Peter Doig, Gerhard Richter and Jasper Johns. For those who can’t afford a significant work by these or deceased masters such as Basquiat or Monet, there are plenty of prints and minor works such as sketches to be had for less money. There are also many emerging or even established artists whose prices are still often within six figures. It was possible to buy a significant Tracey Emin or Luc Tuymans piece for $10,000 a few years ago, while now the same works easily fetch more than $100,000, and there is every reason to see these continuing to climb. Banksy prices also start at a few hundred dollars for a small authorized print, yet exceed $500,000 at the top end.

Factoring all this in, then, let’s look at lots on the block in the next few months from July. This is the relatively quiet summer period, with most of the action coming exclusively out of London for a change.

Sculptures have been growing in popularity at auction after being seen as a difficult sell for some years. Most buyers have some wall space for paintings, except perhaps the very largest murals. But sculpture needs more floor space, especially for monumental pieces. Perhaps, as a result, smaller sculptures, in particular, are now selling well. Sotheby’s has some fascinating examples in its Ancient Sculptures and Works of Art Event on July 3 in London, including an 1800-1700 BC Egyptian limestone figure of the scribe Nekht-ankh, estimated at as much as £1.5 million (about $2 million).

On July 4, Sotheby’s follows with a keynote lot, not seen in public for more than 200 years, by Antonio Canova, of “Three Graces” fame. His “Bust of Peace,” which was shown for the first time at the Royal Academy summer exhibition of 1817, is estimated to fetch more than 16 million. The sculpture is a part of Canova’s celebrated series “Teste Ideale” (“Ideal Heads”). The 1814 work was carved for his first British patron John Campbell, Lord Cawdor, in thanks for his long-term friendship. The bust passed through the Cawdor family and its origins were forgotten. When it sold at auction in 1962, it was described as an unattributed “white marble bust of a lady wearing a diadem.” Christopher Mason, director of Sotheby’s European Sculpture & Works of Art Department, said it was “one of the most exciting rediscoveries” he has encountered, “the culmination of years spent piecing together fragments of information that together now tell the complete story of what is a truly exceptional, long lost work.”

Also on July 4, Sotheby’s offers a bronze by the foremost sculptor of 16th-century Florence, Giambologna. “The Wettin Mars,” as it is known, was created as a personal gift for the Elector Christian I of Saxony. It is one of very few bronzes firmly documented during

On the following day, July 5, Christie’s is not to be outdone on the sculpture front. It has a pair of bronzes from the Court of King Louis XIV of France. A rediscovered masterpiece by the royal sculptor Francois GirardonFerdinando Tacca

Demand has also been growing for Old Masters. Dealers say that attention of many new collectors was spurred by last year’s headline grabbing sale of the “Salvator Mundi,” attributed to Leonardo

An example is “Portrait of Francis Drake,” from the Anglo-Dutch School, estimated at £300,000 to £500,000 at Bonhams

Sotheby’s July 4 sale includes a recently-added Rubens portrait of a Venetian Nobleman at about $3 million, and an early landscape by J.M.W. Turner, “Walton Bridges,” at about £5 million.

Christie’s is also joining in for London’s “Classic Week” on July 3 to 13. Its Old Master & British Drawings event on July 3 includes a pen-and-ink drawing by Johann Heinrich FussliDante Gabriel RossettiMarie Spartali Stillman

Last month, this column flagged works in Christie’s London Old Masters Evening Sale on July 5. These include the Peter Paul Rubens portrait of his daughter Serena, painted shortly before her untimely death at the age of 12 and estimated at £3 million to £5 million, and Rembrandt Harmensz van Rijn’s 1655 drypoint “Christ Presented to The People (‘Ecce Homo’)” (1606-1669) estimated at $3 million to $5 million.

Elsewhere, the main auction houses remain aware of the allure of memorabilia, with Bonhams, for example, offering more than 400 posters and memorabilia from the estate of the beloved Turner Classic Movies in an online sale starting in June.

The Asian market remains strong, with Phillips noting that its Hong Kong Spring auctions made $56 million, its highest season total in the region, an increase of 41% on 2017’s takings. By the time this article appears, more will be known about the takings of the China Guardian’s June sale, where the company’s revenue is also growing quickly.

Prints remain a lucrative market for auction houses. To take one example out of many, the May 22 sale of Modern & Contemporary Prints & Multiples at Bonhams New York achieved $1.27 million, with the top lot being Andy Warhol’s “Rebel Without a Cause,” which realized $125,000.

Surreal, Arte Povera and Impressionist art is also doing well, but the simple rule for buying really should be to purchase what you like. If your acquisition’s value rises, great; if not, who cares because you love it anyway.

This article appears in the July edition of Art+Auction. 


Founder Louise Blouin