Monday, January 19, 2009

A tent, a rollercoaster and a merry-go-round

By Georgina Adam

The fashion-art overlap that was such a feature of the contemporary art boom has come to a screeching halt, at least chez Chanel, the French fashion house. The firm sunk a vast sum (millions of euros, said the French press; "no comment" said Chanel) into Mobile Art, a huge Zaha Hadid-designed futuristic bubble-tent to show artworks inspired by the Chanel quilted bag. Among the creators were Yoko Ono, the Russian Blue Noses, Korean Lee Bul, Indian Subodh Gupta and Japanese Nobuyoshi Araki. The project was unveiled in Hong Kong last March and went on to Tokyo and then New York, but the London and Moscow legs have just been cancelled. So what will happen to the structure, and the artworks? Chanel said it was looking at deploying the tent in the Paris area, and "currently evaluating buying" the art works. Chanel has other preoccupations: it has recently sacked some 200 employees. The first test of the season for antiques takes place in Brussels next week; on Friday the city's biggest art and antiques fair, newly redubbed Brafa, opens in the Tour & Taxis building, a crenellated 19th-century confection that was once a train marshalling station. The fair, now in its 54th year, has a fine line-up of exhibitors showing everything from medieval tapestries to contemporary art. Among the works on show will be Floris Jespers' 1951 portrait of "Kisuku, village-head of Kamina", painted in what was then the Belgian Congo. The work is priced at €32,000 with the Antwerp dealer Eric Müllendorff. The fair is extending its international exposure, with exhibitors from 15 countries. From Friday, 18 dealers in New York are showing old master and modern drawings in a "walkabout week". Some of the exhibitors are Manhattan-based, such as Mexican and Latin-American specialist Mary-Anne Martin, but a contingent of eight Londoners is joining them, holding their shows in colleagues' galleries - Jean-Luc Baroni is exhibiting at Adam William and Emanuel von Baeyer is at Stiebel, the dealer in European works of art. They will be showing a range of drawings, including a Gainsborough "Coastal Scene with Cattle and Sailing Vessels" priced at £95,000 with Andrew Wyld and a minimalist Sol LeWitt drawing (1973), one of a pair ($50,000 a piece, or $90,000 for the two) at Dickinson. Last week, Christie's unveiled its offerings for its London Impressionist and Modern Art sales in February, revealing a very different picture from the same sales last year. Then, the firm's evening session made £105.4m for a sprawling 100 lots; this year, a "lean" catalogue of 47 works is estimated at up to £60m. Sotheby's sale will be even more pared down, with just 29 lots expected to fetch up to £55.6m, a far cry from last year's 77-lot evening sale which garnered £116.7m. While both houses strenuously deny there is any distress-selling, Christie's has a group of five paintings which were bought in February last year by a "private European" and never paid for. One was the cover lot of the sale, Jawlensky's portrait of a cross-looking girl, "Mädchen mit roter Schliefe" (1911). Then, it made just over £2.9m; now, it is estimated at £1.8m-£2.5m. At Sotheby's a Klimt, "Portrait of a Lady" (1917), is also a recent returnee, having sold in February for £228,500; now it is estimated at £120,000-£180,000.

Yet despite the economic climate both houses have found some good works to sell: Christie's top lot is Monet's "Dans la Prairie" (1876), a lush depiction of a woman in a flower-strewn meadow, estimated at £15m. Sotheby's has a fine Kirchner, "Street Scene" (1913), at £5m-£7m. Sotheby's top lot in the London sales is a Degas bronze, "Petite Danseuse de Quatorze Ans", (1897-81), which is being sold by Sir John Madejski. The owner of Reading football club bought it in 2004 for just over £5m and placed it on display in the Madejski rooms in the Royal Academy. Since then another example (there are 10 of the 27 casts not in museums) is reliably reported to have sold privately for around $20m, and trade sources indicate that he might have been willing to part with the sculpture for a higher price than the £9m-£12m estimate it now carries.


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