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Art Market

International auction houses keep faith in Hong Kong

Plus: Departures from Paddle8 | Cecily Brown set to open first show at Thomas Dane | Africa Now | And finally…

4 June 2016

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International auction houses keep faith in Hong Kong | This year, Christie’s is riding a wave of birthday celebrations to rival those of the Queen. Not content with its 250th anniversary Defining British Art sale and exhibition in London this month, in March the auctioneer marked a decade in Dubai and, from 27 May–1 June, 30 years in Hong Kong during the city’s spring season.

As with Dubai, Christie’s press office went to town on the infographics, a soaring line graph of seemingly unfettered growth from the first US$1.98m Hong Kong sale in 1986 to this year’s spring series totalling HK$2.8bn (US$360m). The Long Museum’s US$170.4m purchase of Modigliani’s Nu Couché last November in New York is flagged up in the graph too, stressing Christie’s belief in the Asian market in the run up to opening an expanded office, including an exhibition space, in Beijing in the autumn. Although a 15th-century Imperial Ming blue and white ‘Dragon’ jar topped the series (HK$158m/US$20.4m), more extraordinary was the record price for a handbag – HK$2.32m/US$300,168 for a Hermes Himalaya Birkin.

Also making headway into Asia, UK auction house Lyon & Turnbull and US sister company Freeman’s of Philadelphia held their first sale of Chinese works of art in Hong Kong on 31 May, topped by a Ming stem cup for £3.68m (HK$41.56m).

China’s stock market crash last summer faltered a raging bull market, but international firms aren’t beating a retreat.

Departures from Paddle8 | Mergers inevitably create fallout, and so it has proved with that of online auction houses Paddle8 and Auctionata. Last month, 12 Paddle8 staff departures were announced, including Thomas Galbraith, managing director, Ellis Kelleher, head of modern art, and Sarah Hanson, editorial director. Last week these were followed by chief marketing officer, Susan Cernek, and Sarah Goulet, head of communications. A spokesperson said the departures were ‘primarily a result of restructuring’ due to the integration of the US and UK operations, adding that a merger ‘is an inevitable inflection point. It will be an ongoing process to build one team.’

Cecily Brown set to open first show at Thomas Dane | It takes a brave artist artist to leave international mega-gallery Gagosian. But, after 15 years, in April 2015 New York based British painter Cecily Brown left Gagosian for the smaller but respected London gallery Thomas Dane. On 11 June, Brown’s first show at Dane, ‘Madrepora’ (until 23 July), opens across the gallery’s two St James’s spaces, combining recent works with older paintings that she kept herself.

Africa Now | Tapping into a continually growing market for modern and contemporary African art, Bonhams’ Africa Now: Modern Africa sale on 25 May broke 10 records for west and central African artists. Most in demand was Ben Enwonwu, whose Spirit of Ogolo led the sale at £218,500 (estimate £100,000–£150,000), the highest price for an oil painting by the Nigerian artist. Sales of his work totalled £836,875, and included African Woman, which sold for £170,500 (estimate £30,000–£50,000). The sale followed the departure of experienced head of department Hannah O’Leary in April after nearly a decade at Bonhams to head up Sotheby’s Modern African Art department. Clearly they also have designs upon this sector.

Ben Enwonwu’s Spirit of Ogolo sold for £218,500 against an estimate of £100,000-150,000 in Bonhams' Africa Now sale

Ben Enwonwu’s Spirit of Ogolo sold for £218,500 against an estimate of £100,000-150,000 in Bonhams’ Africa Now sale

And finally… | Prize for most awkward awards ceremony goes to the FEAGA Lifetime Award at Art Basel on 15 June. According to Artnet, Bernd Klüser of Galerie Klüser will be honoured with the award despite being rejected by the fair for the first time in 40 years. Last month, the gallery posted a pointed photo on Instagram showing Klüser sitting on packing crates with Joseph Beuys at Art Basel in 1984.

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