Wednesday, May 20, 2009

I'd Buy It For The Staircase....Maybe

Past readers know that I love staircases and this story caught my eye. Its about a house in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, built on speculation before the downfall of Detroit and now on the auction block on May 28th. The staircase from the basement caught my eye. I'd seen it before and of course instantly recognized where the original design resided. It is of course based on the Tulip Staircase at the Queens House in England. See Below.

Detroit News wrote about the auction and about the woes this mansion has brought its builders. Linked within the story is a slideshow of the house which has never been lived in. Its looks like much sweat and hard labor went into building such a beautiful home, whose size and grandeur was meant for another day. Haven't we seen this before? Here is the story.

Winners and Losers

An interesting article about last week's Contemporary Arts Sales in New York by Richard Polsky of Artnet News. His take on the Koons Egg is a bit different from mine but his lists of winners and losers is well worth the read. Here.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

A Historic Garden Lover's Blog

While still lying prone on one of the nicest days of the year here in DC I came across this blog. If your interested in early American gardens and the estates they sprung from, you'll love this relatively new blog called American Garden History.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Weschlers DC May Auction

Sorry for the delay in posting the results from Weschler's Auction. Homer's ancient age caught up with him. I threw out my back over the weekend and am just able to sit kinda up with the laptop to see how things went. Many nice pieces did not find buyers, "officially," but some great deals were had by some lucky folks. Take a look below. Ouch!!!

Finally an auction to talk about here at home. On May 16th, Weschler's Auction House in Washington DC, is having their major spring sale of Fine Furniture and Decorations. Here is the opportunity where I get to go and see up close what is on the market for us hounds in the nation's capital. As of this posting I've yet to see the goods in person and am working from the catalogue. Work, work and life aside, I'll do my best to get up close and personal and will re-edit my choices.

Village folk and internet friends ask me how I pick pieces to profile. First and foremost I pick selfishly. I pick things I would love to have. In the blogosphere, I believe you have to create an identity and a brand, for better words, that establish a sense of style and a commitment to what one considers quality.

On the other hand, my dear friends..I spend the greater part of my daily life as a salesman, watching for, even in these turbulent economic times, WHAT PEOPLE WANT.

I look for pieces that will bring to a living room, a great room, a kitchen, a hallway, a dining room...that one piece that says,"I know what am doing." That piece should say," I'm the investment." Even if you got it at a great price it says,"everything flows from here."

You can view the lots at Weschlers all week long before the sale. Again, don't forget the premium and sales tax when taking into account what you are willing to spend. With those thoughts aside, lets take a look at some of the pieces up for auction on the 16th. Take note of the pedestal dining table it goes from 60" to 105" diameter with multiple leaves. Can you imagine the great dinner party if you had the room the extend it to its full diameter? Starting estimate $1,000.00, incredible!!

Continental Neoclassical Satinwood Inlaid Walnut Cylinder Bureau
South German or Northern Italian, Late 18th Century
The green baize-lined writing panel pulling out to mechanically open the cylinder enclosing a central niche surrounded by four drawers. Repairs, restorations and losses.
Height: 44-1/2 in (113 cm); Width: 49 in (124.5 cm); Depth: 32 in (81.3 cm)
Estimate $1,000-1,500
DID NOT SELL- That was a pretty piece.

American Cherry Plantation Desk
Possibly Shaker, Ohio or Kentucky Communities, 1820-1840
In two parts; the upper section, having three stacked long drawers beside a panel door enclosing one shelf; the lower section, having two aligned frieze drawers with divided interiors. Pulls replaced.
Height: 51-1/2 in (130.8 cm); Width: 53-3/4 in (136.5 cm); Depth: 35-3/4 in (90.8 cm)
Estimate $1,000-1,500
SOLD FOR $700.00. Such an interesting piece and what a great buy!

American Parcel Teal Blue and Red-Washed Poplar Cupboard
Probably Shenandoah Valley or Pennsylvania, 19th Century
In two parts; the upper section, having a pair of six-light panel doors, with lower raised-tombstone blind panels, opening to view three shelves within a reeded surround; the lower section, having an applied, reeded concave mid-molding and legs enclosing a pair of scratch-beaded raised panel doors enclosing one shelf. The cornice and brasses replaced.
Height: 83-1/2 in (212.1 cm); Width: 52-1/4 in (132.7 cm); Depth: 18-1/4 in (46.4 cm)
Estimate $6,000-8,000

Federal Satinwood Inlaid Mahogany Serpentine Sideboard
New York, Circa 1800
Top with several small cracks and repairs; some losses and repairs to veneer and inlay; brasses replaced.
Height: 38-1/4 in (97.2 cm); Width: 72 in (182.9 cm); Depth: 26 in (66 cm)
Estimate $3,000-5,000
SOLD FOR $2,000.00. Someone made a nice buy.

George III Style Mahogany Circular Pedestal Extension Dining Table
Early 20th Century
Together with seven leaves.
Height: 30 in (76.2 cm); Diameter: 60 in (152.4 cm); Diameter when fully extended: 105 in (266.7 cm)
Estimate $1,000-2,000
SOLD FOR $700.00. This was that huge table. For $700.00!!

George III Style Mahogany What-Not
Last Half 19th Century
Brasses replaced.
Height: 61-1/2 in (156.2 cm); Width: 16 in (40.6 cm); Depth: 14 in (35.6 cm)
Estimate $800-1,200
SOLD FOR $800.00. A great deal and will look so great in a nice library.

Regency Rosewood Canterbury
Circa 1815
Some losses and repairs to the dividers; drawer lacking cockbeading on right side; brasses replaced.
Height: 22 in (55.9 cm); Width: 21 in (53.3 cm); Depth: 16-1/4 in (41.3 cm)
Estimate $800-1,200
SOLD FOR $1,900.00. It must have had a few fans.

Pair of Regency Parcel-Gilt Grain Painted Beechwood Caned Side Chairs
Circa 1810
Each with lemon-yellow and champagne silk striped tufted loose cushions. Each lacquered; some wear and losses to painted surface.

Estimate $500-700
SOLD FOR $600.00. A bit of buffing and you have two very pretty chairs for next o nothing.

George III Black Chinoiserie Tall Case Clock
Walter Brodhurst, Lichfield, Mid-18th Century
Having a rectangular brass face with applied spandrels, signed Walt Brodhurst Lichfield, the two-train movement with date aperture and seconds subsidiary. Cracks to front of base; repairs to pediment; redecorated and with cracks and losses to painted surface.
Height: 84 in (213.4 cm)
Estimate $1,500-2,500

George III Oak Crossbanded Mahogany Bow-Front Sideboard
Circa 1800
Top reset and with some cracks; some losses and buckling of crossbanding; brasses replaced.
Height: 36 in (91.4 cm); Width: 65-1/2 in (166.4 cm); Depth: 28-1/2 in (72.4 cm)
Estimate $1,500-2,500

George II Walnut Porringer-Top Folding Games Table
Circa 1740-1750
The hinged top opening to view the green baize-lined surface with corner candle stands, over a frieze drawer. Repairs and some losses to veneer particularly to the frieze; right rear leg repaired where it joins the frieze.
Height: 29 in (73.7 cm); Width: 33-1/2 in (85.1 cm); Depth: 16-1/2 in (41.9 cm)
Estimate $2,000-3,000
SOLD FOR $2,200.00. A great deal for a real antique.

English Brass-Mounted and Black Painted Beechwood Pond Yacht
20th Century
With movable rudder and anchor; together with a wood stand.
Height: 54-1/2 in (138.4 cm); Length: 45 in (114.3 cm)
Estimate $800-1,200
SOLD FOR $1,300.00. You know a guy bought that...lucky bas...

Four Pairs of English Brass Candlesticks
18th-19th Century
One pair having push-up levers.
Heights from: 6 to 9-1/2 in (15.2 to 24.1 cm)
Estimate $500-700
SOLD FOR $850.00. There are always buyers for good brass candlesticks. Americans love them.

Pair of Japanese Earthenware Vases
Each Signed in Gold Seizan, Meiji Period (1868-1912)
Together with baroque style giltwood stands. Each vase with minor wear to gilding.
Height of vases: 23-1/2 in (59.7 cm);
Height of stands: 22 in (55.9 cm)
Estimate $10,000-15,000
SOLD FOR $10,000.00. A good appraiser.

Three Khmer-Type Bronze Figures of Divinities
19th-20th Century
The first two, figures of Uma, with verdigris brown patina; and the third, figure of Shiva, with brown patina.
Height of each approximately: 16 in (40.6 cm)
Estimate $500-700
SOLD FOR $300.00. I would have loved to have had them.

Biedermeier Parcel Ebonized Oak Armoire
Circa 1820-1830
Height: 87-1/2 in (222.3 cm); Width: 57 in (144.8 cm); Depth: 26-1/2 in (67.3 cm)
Estimate $1,000-1,500
SOLD FOR $500.00. The market doesn't like Beidermier. I think everyone should own one piece of it. I love it.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Great New Art Does Exist

I've felt tinges of guilt over the past few days, decrying Contemporary Art and the dramatic fall in prices that famous names are now facing. This is not to say that a few deserved items have'nt been exposed as in, "the Emperor has no clothes," but that also does not mean that great art isn't being created everyday.

You can find it so easily now with the internet and respond to it because you know it when you see it. Fan's of Homer know that I love portraiture,and a look at this year's annual competition at the National Portrait Gallery in London shows what great talent abounds. The top three finalists for this year's competition are all wonderful and the winner will be announced June 16th.

Wonderland magazine: "Following a record number of entries, three artists have been short-listed for the BP Portrait Award, one of Britain’s most prestigious art prizes. This year the prize received 1,901 entries, an increase of over 10% on last year. For the third year running, the competition has been open to all aged 18 or over. 56 portraits have been selected for the exhibition which will be shown at the National Portrait Gallery from 18 June to 14 September 2009.

The top three are:

Wonderland Magazine: "Michael Gaskell, 46, studied at St Helen’s College of Art and Design and Coventry Polytechnic and has been exhibiting his work for over twenty years. The shortlisted portrait is of his son, Tom, who was 17 at the time of the first sitting. ‘He was at the period in adolescence between boy and manhood and fleetingly suspended between both.’ Gaskell continued to work on the portrait over the next two years. ‘In spirit my painting owes most to Botticelli’s Portrait of a Young Man which is its primary inspiration and a painting I’ve always loved. The pose itself is more reminiscent of a number of portraits by Holbein, an artist I greatly admire.’ Gaskell won Second Prize in the BP Portrait Award 2003 and was commended in both 1999 and 2001 and his work has been the subject of five solo exhibitions."

Annalisa Avancini, 35, is a painter and design teacher from Italy who studied at the Arts High School of Trento and the Marangoni Institute in Milan. She worked as a fashion designer for several years before turning to teaching in 2003. This was the third time that Avancini had painted Manuel, 31, a friend she met when staying with her brother in the mountains of the Trento province. ‘His eclectic personality is what attracts me. His story shines through his face. Despite his young age his life is rich in experience.’ Avancini started this most recent portrait last summer, attracted by the contrast between Manuel’s expression, the old chair and the sunlight coming in through the window. Avancini’s work has been exhibited in numerous exhibitions throughout Europe and the United States and she won First Prize in both the 1st Contemporary Art Show 2006 at the Museum of the Americas, Miami and the Painting Prize for Young Artists 2007 at the Verona Fine Art Society.

"Currently Director of Art at Charterhouse, Surrey, Peter Monkman, 44, studied visual arts at University of Lancaster, John Moores University Liverpool and the University of London. The shortlisted portrait is part of a series of portraits of his daughter, Anna, that explores the concept of the changeling, a child substituted for another by stealth, often with an elf. ‘I challenge the fixed notion of an idealized image of childhood and substitute it for a more unsettling, complex, representation that exists in its own right as a painting.’ The initial ideas for this portrait came from photographic studies of Anna playing in woods in Brittany where the light had a magical quality. Monkman’s work has previously been exhibited in the BP Portrait Award in 1999, 2001 and 2003 and more recently at the Mall Galleries, Cadogan Contemporary, Watts Gallery and at the Science Museum, London."

Since the public is allowed to vote, even though the tally might be still be in the hands of the board, I throw my vote to Michael Gaskell. His portrait of his son Tom, is both modern and eternally classic. This is a work that will hang in a fine place for years to come.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

How the contemporary art bubble burst

Times Online: Ben Lewis: "I can see it 20 years from now. A room in Tate Britain, dedicated to the art of the first decade of the 21st century. The title of the exhibition is The Baubles of the Bubble Billionaires and on the wall an explanatory panel reads: “The first decade of the 21st century saw the greatest rise in the value of art in the history of the world. An unprecedented rise in global wealth, the availability of cheap credit and a widespread craze for art played a part, but speculation, secret deals and tax concessions for art collectors were equally important. The art of this era is defined by expense and simplicity. It was often fabricated with precious materials, such as platinum, gold and diamonds, but the forms it took were simple, inspired by cartoons, billboard adverts, wrapping paper and jewellery.”

Full and worthy read here.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Will The Golden Goose Lay An Egg? A Rotten One.

Notice the quote at the end of the story, "It had to sell." In the auction world, this amateur didn't sell. My bet?, You can buy it tomorrow for a million and there won't be any buyers. Ahh, tulips again. Just a hunch.

Bloomberg News:Loeb Sells Koons Egg for $5.5 Million at Sotheby’s in New York
By Lindsay Pollock and Philip Boroff

May 12 (Bloomberg) -- Sotheby’s sold a 7-foot-wide, blue- and-pink Jeff Koons egg owned by hedge fund manager Daniel Loeb for $5.5 million in its smallest New York contemporary art sale in six years.

“Baroque Egg with Bow (Turquoise/Magenta)” was estimated to fetch $6 million to $8 million, a far cry from the $23.6 million his hot-pink “Hanging Heart (Magenta/Gold)” made in November 2007 at Sotheby’s in New York. Tonight’s sale totaled $47 million, shy of the low estimate and down 87 percent, or $315 million, from a year earlier.

“There are a number of people who have serious investments -- emotional, art historical and financial -- in Jeff Koons,” said New York art adviser Cristin Tierney. “It had to sell.”

Nine of the 48 lots didn’t find buyers. The auction had a pre-sale estimate of $51.8 million to $72.4 million. Estimates do not include commissions, which are 25 percent on the first $50,000, 20 percent up to $1 million and 12 percent above $1 million.

Sotheby’s evening sale in May 2003 totaled $27.3 million. The year-ago auction made $362 million.

Koons Egg Sculpture To Test Art Market Waters
Forbes Magazine: Susan Adams, 04.29.09, 4:00 PM ET

When Sotheby's puts a seven-foot-wide magenta and turquoise Jeff Koons sculpture of an Easter egg on the block in New York May 12, will the international auction house wind up with egg on its face?

It's possible.

"I don't think it's going to sell," predicts Todd Levin, a former Sotheby's specialist who runs New York art advisory firm Levin Art Group. The auction house estimate of $6 million to $8 million is much too high given the worldwide economic crisis, says Levin. Plus the sculpture--a shiny, oversized replica of an Easter egg covered in foil and topped with a bow--is not one of Koons' more important works.

Only the auction will tell whether Levin is right. The sale is part of a run of auctions at Christie's, Sotheby's and Phillips that are viewed as a test of the international market for Impressionist, Modern and Contemporary art. Certainly, volume is down: The auction catalogues are far thinner than they were a year ago. What's questionable, however, is how low prices will go. And Koons is a bellwether of "blue chip" durability and value.

"Either the bubble has burst, or it will burst at these sales," says New York dealer Richard Feigen. He agrees with Levin that the egg is unlikely to find a buyer willing to fork over $6 million.

Attention-Getting Works
Koons, 54, became famous during the 1980s for his bold, post-modern works that included vacuum cleaners encased in Plexiglas boxes; a life-sized porcelain sculpture of Michael Jackson with his pet monkey, Bubbles; and a series inspired by Koons' then-wife Cicciolina, an Italian porn star. Those works, created between 1982 and 1990, are the most valuable of Koons' oeuvre, says Levin.

The Baroque Egg With Bow comes from a later series called "Celebration" that Koons dreamed up in the mid-1990s and then executed later, after he located a foundry in Germany that could produce oversized sculptures of objects like hearts and balloons. The egg was made in 2008, one of a series of five, each in different color combinations.

The egg's seller, according to several sources, is Daniel Loeb, 47, founder of struggling New York hedge fund Third Point (Loeb did not return calls seeking comment). Since the contemporary art market started to deflate along with the economy, speculative collectors like Loeb have been selling off big-ticket artworks and eschewing auction paddles.

"The giant snapping sound you heard in the last six months was the sound of wallets closing," says Levin.

Over the past half-dozen years, the Koons market has been supported by big art-world players such as publisher Peter Brant, Manhattan real estate magnate Aby Rosen and Ukrainian billionaire Victor Pinchuk, all of whom own works by Koons and therefore have a vested interest in making sure his prices stay high. As does Koons' dealer, Larry Gagosian, who sold the egg to Loeb in the first place.

But in this market, none of them may be willing to put up the cash. Two art-world players predict that Gagosian will not participate in the bidding.

Recession-Proof Artist?
Tobias Meyer, Sotheby's worldwide head of contemporary art, insists that the egg will sell. Meyer points to the $23.6 million paid at Sotheby's in November 2007 for another piece in the Celebration series, Hanging Heart, and the $25.7 million a buyer paid in June 2007 at Christie's in London for a Koons balloon flower sculpture.

Even after markets started crashing, in February 2009, notes Meyer, Sotheby's sold a less crowd-pleasing wooden Koons sculpture in London for $4.1 million (the estimate had been $3.2 million to $4.6 million). "That was a far darker period," notes Meyer. "In February, everyone thought the world was coming to an end."

Since Sotheby's announced its evening sale inventory in April, says Meyer, he has received many inquiries about the egg. "There is a big waiting list for people who want to buy Jeff Koons," says Meyer.

There may be a list of potential Koons buyers. The question is, how much are they willing to pay?

Friday, May 8, 2009

No Scratch For The Cat


NYTIMES May 6th.
Picassos Sell at Christie’s Auction, After Faltering at Sotheby’s

Published: May 6, 2009

Two Picassos painted late in the artist’s career and a Giacometti bronze brought solid prices at Christie’s on Wednesday night in what was a surprising reversal of tastes and trends.

Picasso’s “Musketeer With a Pipe” sold for $14.6 million. The seller was a victim of the Bernard L. Madoff swindle.

Where Sotheby’s had failed to sell its top Picasso and Giacometti at its Impressionist and modern art auction on Tuesday night, just 24 hours later Christie’s received bids from around the world.

A day can make all the difference in the life of auctions. Buyers appeared afraid to shop on Tuesday night, unsure of whether there was a market. But by Wednesday evening, fears of conspicuous consumption had apparently evaporated, with multiple bidders for most of the works. And Christie’s experts had the benefit of adjusting their pricing in the wake of Sotheby’s results.

“I was surprised to see people spending money,” said Mark Fisch, a Manhattan real estate developer and collector who was sitting in the second row at Christie’s. In this economy, he added, he thought bidding would have been more tentative.

The evening brought $102.7 million, in the middle of Christie’s estimate of $87.6 million to $125.2 million, with 10 of the 48 works failing to sell. By comparison, Sotheby’s total on Tuesday night was $61.3 million.

Riding the current craze for late Picassos, Christie’s had put a 1968 painting by him on the cover of its auction catalog. The work, “Musketeer With a Pipe,” was being sold by Jerome Fisher, a founder of the footwear company Nine West and a victim of the Bernard L. Madoff swindle. The brightly colored canvas was expected to fetch $12 million to $18 million. Four bidders sought the painting, which went to Nemo Vedovi, a Brussels dealer, for $14.6 million.

On Tuesday night, Sotheby’s tried to sell its star Picasso — a 1938 portrait of the artist’s daughter Maya — that was also being sold by a Madoff victim, William Achenbaum, who runs the Gansevoort Hotel Group. It was a more expensive work, estimated at $16 million to $24 million, and it went unsold.

On Wednesday, the artist and filmmaker Julian Schnabel was also selling a late Picasso, “Woman Wearing a Hat” (1971). It was expected to bring $8 million to $12 million, but David Nahmad, a New York dealer, snapped it up for what seemed like a bargain — $7.7 million.

(Final prices include the commission to Christie’s: 25 percent of the first $50,000, 20 percent of the next $50,000 to $1 million, and 12 percent of the rest. Estimates do not reflect commissions.)

In recent seasons, sculpture has been a sure bet. But in these precarious times nothing is certain: Sotheby’s failed to sell its pricey Giacometti sculpture of a cat. At Christie’s on Wednesday, another Giacometti, “Bust of Diego (Stele III),” was offered. The work, conceived between 1957 and 1958 and cast in 1958, portrays the head of the artist’s brother perched on a tall plinth. It was expected to fetch $4.5 million to $6.5 million, but ended up selling to a telephone bidder who fought off three contenders and paid $7.6 million.

Sotheby’s sold a group of paintings by Tamara de Lempicka on Tuesday night with varying results. Christie’s had two on Wednesday night as well, including “Portrait of Madame M.,” a classic Art Deco canvas from 1932 that depicts the wife of a lawyer. It sold to a telephone bidder for $5.4 million, or $6.1 million including Christie’s fees. The final price, although just around its low estimate, was a record for the artist.

Pretty Impressionist paintings that came with pristine provenances and reasonable prices were enthusiastically sought all week. On Wednesday night, Christie’s had Pissarro’s “Picking Apples,” an 1881 canvas depicting four peasant women in a half-shaded orchard, which was being sold by the family of Evelyn Annenberg Jaffe Hall, a New York arts patron who died four years ago. Six bidders went for the painting, and it finally sold to a telephone bidder for $3.3 million, well above its $1.8 million high estimate.

Although Christie’s declined to name names, officials there said 42 percent of the buyers were from the United States and 44.7 percent were European, a group that includes Russians.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Decorating A Basement With $10 Worth of Sharpies

This may not be to everyone's taste but you have to admit there's some originality going on here. A Sharpie Basement. Worth a minute of your time. It's fun!

A French Auction Down Under

Sydney Morning Herald
James Cockington
May 6, 2009

This style of decorative arts is known as Madame de Pompadour and for good reason. In her brief but colourful lifetime (1721-1764) the celebrated mistress of King Louis XV of France was something of a fashion leader. Her beauty and forceful personality is embodied in the decorative style of the late 18th century. She was an occasional stage performer and was as theatrical in real life as the furniture she would inspire.

It seems appropriate that when she first met the king in 1745 at a masquerade ball, he was dressed as a tree.

Original furniture from this period and the decades following is increasingly difficult to find, yet a significant collection is about to be sold by Mossgreen Auctions in Sydney on Tuesday, May 12. The collection has been accumulated over 40 years by Andre and Cecile Fink.

Some of these pieces have a direct connection with Madame de Pompadour or the king, including what is described as the piece de resistance of the auction, a museum quality commode in laque de chine by Matthieu Crieard, master cabinetmaker to Louis XV. Sparkling with hand-carved fragments of mother-of-pearl, it was made in the period 1740 to 1745 and by repute was originally commissioned for the Duc de Choiseul, the king's personal financier.

The commode is for sale by private treaty with a seven-figure estimate. It comes with a 2003 authentification document prepared by a professor from the Sorbonne.

Paul Sumner from Mossgreen expects international interest for this piece as well as many others in the Fink collection. Another rare example of French chinoiserie included here is a lacquer-covered wig box, circa 1750.

The market for such historic pieces is largely unknown. There are a few serious collectors of this style in Australia although the lack of availability means that it isn't certain how many will want to add to their collections in the current climate.

Although Andre and Cecile Fink have featured much of this collection in their own home over the years, the expectation is that most items will be bought as investments rather than as practical furniture. It is, Andre says, a good time to buy and store it.

Much of this remarkable furniture makes a dramatic display, having the appearance of sculpture or opera props. One example is the pair of Louis XV period chairs in what would now be described as "hot pink" fabric. It's hard to believe they are about 250 years old.

Another extraordinary item is the Saint Louis crystal and gilt bronze chandelier in the style known as a la Montgolfiere. The design is a tribute to the Montgolfier Brothers, who made the world's first hot-air balloon ascents in the 1780s. The balloon was a popular design motif at the time but this is one of its most luxurious interpretations. The chandelier comes from a chateau in Vaucluse (in France, not eastern suburbs Sydney).

There are 270 items in the Fink collection ranging from sets of Meissen porcelain, including cups, jugs and sugar bowls, to grander objects such as a fashionable divan (day bed). There are also several paintings that capture the decadence and sensuality of this age, including Joseph Desire Court's portrait of a young lady, signed and dated 1833.

Mirrors, usually contained in elaborate gilt wood frames, are another symbol of this period of vanity. These were essential items when the upper class of both sexes applied make-up and wore powdered wigs. Several are included in the sale.

The Age of Madame de Pompadour auction takes place on May 12 at Paddington Town Hall. Viewing times: May 9 (10am to 5pm), May 10 (10am to 6pm) and May 11 (10am to 6pm). See


Andre Fink arrived in Australia in 1983 from France, where he first began collecting pieces from the Madame de Pompadour period. He regards the mistress of King Louis XV as the most significant figure from 18th-century France.

"She was a great lady, a great diplomat and she was promoting the arts," he says.

Since arriving in Australia, Andre has worked as an antique dealer in Adelaide and Sydney, specialising in the style of furniture he himself collects passionately.

Many of the pieces in this sale come from his private collection, including his favourite piece, the "private treaty" commode. "I bought it before I left France but couldn't get it out of the country," he explains. "The only way to do it was to put it up for auction then buy it back again inAustralia."

He describes the commode as museum-quality and wouldn't be surprised if a French collector made the effort to return it to the country of origin.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Hammer falls on Sotheby's auctions at Gleneagles

Hammer falls on Sotheby's auctions at Gleneagles

Published Date: 06 May 2009
By Tim Cornwell, Arts Correspondent,
SOTHEBY'S has abandoned its flagship Gleneagles auction of Scottish art after 40 years, and will now hold its biannual Scottish auctions in London, it was confirmed yesterday.
It comes days after chief rival Christie's said it will hold no more specialised sales of Scottish or Irish art in a radical shake-up of its own auctions.

Scottish art experts and dealers were dismayed by Sotheby's decision yesterday. Both aucti
on houses were wrongly downgrading the importance of Scottish art buyers, they said.

"I think it's a great pity," said Guy Peploe, director of the Scottish Gallery. "It was great fun going up to Gleneagles, a different quality of experience. It is part of the Scottish social calendar that will be missed."

For decades, the two British auction houses have set records for Scottish painters from the Colourists to Jack Vettriano at their regular sales in Scotland, mostly in Edinburgh.

Mr Peploe is a grandson of the Scottish Colourist Samuel John Peploe. Christie's is to sell a Peploe painting – Pink and Red Roses in a Vase – at its general sale of 20th-century British art this month, as Scottish works are wrapped into different sales.

Mr Peploe said he understood the market pressures for auction cost-cutting, with buyers able to operate by phone or internet wherever auctions are held.

"I can see how they have come to their conclusion," he said, but added: "It feels a little bit like a slap in the face to the Scottish market, no matter how it's dressed up."

Sotheby's has taken major works to Gleneagles since 1967.

"Obviously there will be people disappointed," said André Zlattinger, Sotheby's head of Scottish pictures. "It's a huge change after the last 40 years."

Sotheby's will hope to show Scottish pictures in Edinburgh, Aberdeen and Glasgow before they go under the hammer in London, he said. "We are not leaving Scotland." Last week, a Sotheby's sale of Scottish pictures in London brought in nearly £3 million. Scottish buyers were active with internet and phone bids, he said.

Duncan Thomson, an art expert and adviser to Shapes auctioneers in Edinburgh, said: "In some ways it's a mistake, because it's quite clear that Scottish art sells better in Scotland than it does in London. I'm slightly puzzled by the logic."

A Christie's spokesman said yesterday: "The last three years of Scottish sales have had bids from Russia, the Middle East, and North America. This will actually expose Scottish art to a wider market."

Monday, May 4, 2009

How Did I Not Find Her Til Now

You have to take a look at the great blog Joie de Vivre. I think she's brilliant. A painter, a social commentator, a cultural history annotator all in one. You have to take a look at her work and if your chic and smart buy one. I don't know her I just found her.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

What Is Success

As I face the week ahead at the end of the grayest, wet, cloud covered, misty, foggy Sunday, here in DC, I looked to TED for something inspiring and found it. Here is a talk by the great coach John Wooden on what is success. It is seventeen minutes long and worth every minute. Here comes Monday!! YEA!

There' Something Rotten At The Met

Just read this great article furthering my view of the Contemporary Art and Auction world.
Mystery of the Rotting Shark

Saturday Apr 25, 2009 By Chris Barton NZ Herald
In 2000, a work known as Lover Boys, comprising 355lb (161kg) of individually wrapped blue and white candies piled in a triangular shape in the corner of a room, came up for auction at Sotheby’s in New York. It was by the “very branded” artist Felix Gonzalez-Torres, who died of Aids in 1996. The intention was that the candy would be eaten by guests - representing Gonzalez-Torrez’s lover’s body wasting away from Aids. It sold for US$456,000 ($813,216).

This is just one of the extraordinary anecdotes discussed in Don Thompson’s book The $12 Million Stuffed Shark. Curiously, Thompson halts his own curiosity about The Curious Economics of Contemporary Art and Auction Houses - the subtitle of the book - at the brink of something that seems like an even more enormous con.

“I’m relaxed about it. It is what it is,” says the economist and business school professor after a long pause on the phone from Toronto. “I’m amazed that people pay US$15 million for a Warhol, but they have it and they want it and it’s more power to them, I guess.”

I have just asked whether the revelations of his book - where art and its value is the product of sophisticated branding and marketing - demonstrate just how ridiculous the free market can get, perhaps signalling the end of civilisation as we know it.

Thompson, who is giving the keynote lecture at the Auckland Art Fair next Friday, is unperturbed about what he’s uncovered in his year-long adventure among the art elite. Just why people pay preposterous amounts for contemporary art is an almost impossible question to ask collectors, who will give all sorts of justifications.

In the end, he says, it’s the same as asking why someone pays US$6000 for a Louis Vuitton handbag. But, says Thompson, when you pay US$17.3 million for a 1964 silkscreen Orange Marilyn and have it sitting over your mantle, people will say: “Wow, that’s an Andy Warhol.” Translation: “You are a man, or woman, of cutting-edge taste and money.” No matter that Warhol may have had little hand in the making of the object spawned from his famous Factory.

Thompson agrees the contemporary art market is unique. And that it’s completely unregulated - second only in size to the illegal drugs market and possibly just as likely to send its users on a journey far from reality.

But it also needs to be seen in another context: that most of us don’t understand how rich really rich people are, that the players in this market, known as UHNWs (ultra-high net-worth) collectors, have so much money they don’t require good sense.

Take, for example, Steve Cohen, the hedge-fund trader who paid the US$12 million for the said shark in the title of Thompson’s book. Worth about US$4 billion and earning US$500 million a year, Cohen’s total income is at least US$16 million a week, or about US$90,000 an hour. So the seemingly outrageous price tag for a poorly pickled tiger shark in a glass vitrine by British artist Damien Hirst represents just five days’ income for Cohen.

“If you loved a picture, you’d pay five days’ income for it,” says Thompson. “These are all grown-ups with free will.”

But are they? As Thompson says in the book: “… in the world of contemporary art, branding can substitute for critical judgement, and lots of branding was involved here”. Which is about as deep as Thompson gets in his analysis. From the artist to the dealer to the art fair and the auction house, art takes a back seat to branding and marketing. That’s to help part UHNWs from their millions. Despite their obscene wealth, when it comes to buying art, they’re terribly insecure, always need reassurance, and rely almost exclusively on other people’s branding.

“So they buy from a branded auction house or branded artist or branded dealer,” says Thompson.

“If you bought from Sotheby’s no one is going to say, ‘You paid what for a pile of candy?’ It must be art if Sotheby’s name is attached to it.”

To get around the problem of someone faking the Gonzalez-Torres sculpture by visiting their local candy store, Sotheby’s auction sales catalogue promised a new “certificate of authenticity” would be provided stating the new owner’s name.

Sotheby’s also legitimised the significance of the sculpture by quoting Nancy Spector, curator of the Guggenheim in New York, who said: “The work’s provocation lies in its seeming open-endedness, its refusal to assert a closure of meaning.”

Similar nonsense happened with Hirst’s shark, which was commissioned by “branded collector” and advertising magnate Charles Saatchi for 50,000 ($131,000). Saatchi has also been described as the greatest art patron of his time, a secondary art dealer disguised as a patron, and a collector credited with creating the “shock art” movement. A measure of his power, says Thompson, is seen in media articles, auction houses and collectors describing works as “collected by Saatchi”, “owned by Saatchi” or “coveted by Saatchi” - all of which are likely to drive prices up. Conversely, artists labelled “rejected by Saatchi” or “sold off by Saatchi” will see a decline in their value.

“Hirst is a genius - the smartest marketing person in the art world,” says Thompson. “He said the shark represents the interface between life and death - when it’s alive it looks dead; when it’s dead it looks alive.” Hirst called the work The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living. Unfortunately, the shark is looking deader than it should. On loan to the Metropolitan Museum of New York, the current shark, pumped full of formaldehyde solution, is visibly deteriorating.

When it happened with the first shark - rotting shark rotting from the inside out - initially, it was skinned and placed over a fibreglass mould. “But it looked awful,” says Thompson. “It was still decaying and pieces were falling off. There were actually scales in the bottom of the tank, so they replaced it with a slightly smaller shark. It is now decaying, if anything, faster than the original.”

The shark’s predicament also raises questions about original artwork, not to mention who exactly is the artist when works are fabricated and refabricated by others. As Thompson points out, if you overpaint a Rembrandt it’s no longer a Rembrandt, but replacing a shark is okay - apparently, it’s still an original because it’s conceptual.

Not everyone agrees. Saatchi, the original buyer, was appalled at the replacing of the shark, says Thompson. “He said the essence of the work was that it decays - that’s the purpose of it and to replace it is to deny its original meaning.”

Anecdotes such as the rotting shark - stories which appear to expose the industry’s monstrous fiction - are the shining light of Thompson’s book. Like the story of Australian entrepreneur Alan Bond’s purchase of van Gogh’s Irises at Sotheby’s for US$53.9 million in 1987. The price was so unexpected, rival auction house Christie’s challenged Sotheby’s to prove there had been a real “underbidder”. Bond himself also raised the question of whether the only underbidder had been the famous “Mr Chandelier” - a reference to the practice of accepting bids from the chandelier in the auction room. As it turned out there was a real underbidder, but it was later revealed Sotheby’s had loaned Bond half the value of the work and after two extensions had not been repaid.

Once again Thompson is largely unperturbed. “It’s just that this industry has grown up with its own set of rules - the auction process is willing buyers and willing sellers.” No, he hasn’t come up with a new economic theory to explain the art world - although some in economic circles have referred to the book as a case study in branding. If there is any further academic research to be done, Thompson suspects it’s in the field of consumer behaviour and motivation rather than economics. He doubts also whether intervening in the art industry process would do any good.

“One proposal has been to regulate auction houses by eliminating guarantees or eliminating secret reserves, but the reality is most people in the room know they are there.”

He does, however, highlight a fundamental misconception about the market - it’s not true that the work you buy will always go up in value. Two-thirds of the contemporary artists being sold 20 years ago are no longer being offered for sale today at major event auctions. “Buy it if you love it, but don’t buy it as an essential part of your pension plan.”

If there is a misleading part to the art world, says Thompson, it’s that we only read about the successes. “Nobody writes about the 80 per cent of art that resells for less than you paid for it.”

As to how the market is faring right now, he says it’s hard to tell because so much of it is “opaque and nobody has any incentive to tell you the truth”.

However, contemporary art at auction is down 30-35 per cent from a year ago and modern and impressionist is down by about 20-25 per cent. So far it’s not as bad as the crash of 1990-94 when art dropped by about 50 per cent and it took 12-15 years to come back to where it was in 1990 - the peak of the bubble. So what’s an UHNW collector fallen on hard times to do?

“If you live in the upper east side of New York and you’ve lost your job in the finance world and you’ve got an expensive condo, an expensive wife, expensive children and expensive schools, the first thing you sell is the Warhol over your mantle. You go to the auction houses and they say: ‘We’d love to handle it, but it may be 18 months’. So you take it to a dealer and you say: ‘Sell this for me privately and as far away as you can.’

“That part of the market is entirely opaque and the general sense is that anybody who is buying in the secondary market from dealers is making lowball offers - so it may be down more, but those who know aren’t talking.”

For those with more money than good sense, perhaps it’s a good time to buy.

Art price records

* Most expensive paintings sold privately

No 5, 1948 (1948): Jackson Pollock, US$140 million, negotiated sale by Sotheby’s New York in 2006 to Mexican financier David Martinez.

Women III (1952-3): William de Kooning, US$137.5 million, private sale in 2006 to Steve Cohen.

* Most expensive paintings sold at auction

Garcon a la Pipe (1905): Pablo Picasso, US$104 million, Sotheby’s New York, 2004.

Dora Maar au Chat (1941): Picasso, US$95.2 million, Sotheby’s New York, 2006.

* Most expensive post-war work sold at auction

White Center (Yellow, Pink and Lavender on Rose, 1950) : Mark Rothko, US$72.8 million, Sotheby’s New York, 2007.

Green Car Crash (Burning Car 1, 1964): Andy Warhol, US$71.7 million, Christie’s New York, 2007.

* Most expensive sculpture sold privately

Bird in Space (1923): Constantin Brancusi, US$38.5 million, private sale brokered by New York dealer Vivian Horan to a Seattle collector.

* Most expensive sculpture sold at auction

Bird in Space (1923): Brancusi, US$27.5 million, Christie’s New York, 2005 (a different version to the one sold privately).