Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Another Aristo Auction From The UK

From of Devon auctions £1m treasures to pay debts.

AN ARISTOCRAT struck by the credit crunch auctioned off £1 million of historic family heirlooms yesterday to clear his debts.

Hugh Courtenay, the 18th Earl of Devon, put 113 treasures from his castle up for sale in order to cover debts accrued in running the 14th-century home.

The sale of family silver, furniture, antiques and paintings from Powderham Castle near Exeter, fetched £1,013,638 at Sotheby’s in London.

The earl, 67, will now use the profits to clear debts on the house before handing the 3,500-acre estate over to his son, Lord Charles Peregrine Courtenay.

He said: “We tried to choose things we wouldn’t miss too much.

“With the various projects we’ve invested in here over the years, we found we were trying to support too much in overheads.

“Something had to give. Pretty much every generation has to do this.

“A bit less in the way of furniture is probably a good thing – not so much to move about.”

Highlights of the sale included a George II carved mahogany library table which sold for a whopping £127,250, topping its estimate of £120,000.

A painting, entitled “Samuel Scott, Sir William Courtenay’s sloop-rigged yacht, The Neptune, Raising Sail” brought in £91,250, smashing its top estimate of £80,000.

Most surprisingly, a George II white painted mirror that was only expected to raise £9,000 at best sold for £30,000.

However, the item with the highest reserve, an 18th-century portrait painted by Sir Joshua Reynolds estimated to fetch up to £200,000, failed to sell.

Lord Devon expressed his relief at the sale result after the final gavel had dropped.

He said: “We are very pleased with the result of today’s sale which, combined with items that have sold in other categories of sales at Sotheby’s, has raised the target sum of £1 million.

“That such a broad range of items – as is characteristic of any home, but particularly so in a home inhabited by many successive generations – has appealed to buyers whom I believe are both from the trade and private individuals, gives me great hope that they will be appreciated and enjoyed in the new homes they have found, hopefully for generations.”

Powderham Castle has been in the Courtenay family since it was built between 1390 and 1420 and has been open to the public for 50 years.

Many of the items in the sale featured in the background to the 1993 film Remains of the Day, starring Anthony Hopkins, Hugh Grant and Christopher Reeve, which was shot at the castle.

The Powderham sale, which was expected to raise almost £1.5 million on their own, went to auction in a combined sale with 100 lots from Seaton Delaval Hall in Northumberland.

The combined sale exceeded its top estimate prediction of £1.8 million to fetch £1,823,693.

Harry Dalmeny, deputy chairman of Sotheby’s UK, said: “It has been a great honour to hold the sale of property from Powderham Castle and Seaton Delaval Hall.

Contemporary Art Sales Off By 80%

By Scott Reyburn
Sept. 28 (Bloomberg) -- The estimated value of London’s October contemporary-art auctions is down 81 percent from 2008 as prices and lots on offer decline amid the financial crisis.

Sales at Sotheby’s, Christie’s International and Phillips de Pury of “Part I” works during the week of the Frieze Art Fair are estimated to fetch at least 20.8 million pounds ($33.1 million), according to a total of auction-house figures calculated by Bloomberg. The equivalent sales last year had a low estimate of 107 million pounds.

The three auction houses stopped guaranteeing minimum prices to sellers at the end of 2008. Collectors remain reluctant to offer high-priced works in public without guarantees; auction companies are selling more pieces through private transactions.

“There’s still a definite reluctance to sell at auction,” London-based dealer Thomas Dane said in an interview. “People got used to unrealistic prices and they still have them in their heads. A lot of people don’t need to sell at the moment. There are quite a few private transactions going on.”

The volume of sales at contemporary-art auctions dropped between 70 percent and 80 percent and the prices of works by 50 percent or more since the collapse of Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. last September, said the London-based research company ArtTactic.

‘Frieze Week’

This year, Sotheby’s and Christie’s will hold their “Frieze Week” contemporary-art sales on the same day. Christie’s 25-lot evening sale on Oct. 16 has a low estimate of 6.8 million pounds. Last year it offered 47 lots, six of which were guaranteed, with a low value of 57.8 million pounds.

“Though volumes have come down significantly, people are more willing to transact in the auction market,” Francis Outred,” Christie’s European head of contemporary art, said in an interview. “Private sales were significant in the first six months of this year. Things have changed slightly: We now know what people are prepared to pay at auction.”

After high unsold rates during the winter, 88 percent of the works sold at Christie’s June contemporary auction in London. Sotheby’s rival event sold 92.5 percent.

Private sales of contemporary art at Christie’s outstripped auction sales in the first half of 2009, said Outred.

“Sellers were attracted because asking prices were much higher than the low auction estimates,” Outred said. “You could sell high quality works for boom-time prices.”

Private Sales

“We’ve currently got between 15 and 20 works that are actively being offered privately at the moment,” said Outred, who was not able to provide a value for the group. Christie’s had 133.1 million pounds in private sales in the first half of 2009, said the London-based auction house.

Matt Carey-Williams, formerly a director at Christie’s dealership Haunch of Venison, was appointed the company’s European director of private sales in August.

Sotheby’s has taken $1.5 billion in private transactions over the last three years, according to an advertisement that the New York-based company placed in the Art Newspaper.

The highlights of Christie’s evening auction are Martin Kippenberger’s 1991 painting “Paris Bar,” estimated at 800,000 pounds to 1.2 million pounds, and Peter Doig’s 1994 canvas “Pine House (Rooms for Rent),” at 1.5 million pounds to 2.5 million pounds.

Kippenberger’s 13-foot-wide depiction of the Berlin bar that was once frequented by himself, David Bowie, Iggy Pop and Andy Warhol has been entered by a European collector and has never been offered at auction before. The artist died in 1997, aged 44.

Doig’s House

Doig’s painting of a house by a river is being re-offered, having failed to achieve its low estimate of $4.5 million at Christie’s New York in November, when it was guaranteed.

Sotheby’s 177-lot sale on the afternoon of Oct. 16 is expected to fetch between 9 million pounds and 13 million pounds. The company’s equivalent event last year, held in the evening, contained 62 works valued at a minimum of 30.6 million pounds.

Sotheby’s sale will include nine works donated by artists to benefit Harefield Hospital, a unit on the outskirts of London specializing in cardiac surgery. The sale was the idea of surgeon Jullien Gaer, who invited artists to visit the hospital.

Grayson Perry’s glazed ceramic “Urn for the Living,” depicting surgeons around a gaping hole in the body of the pot, was inspired by observation of an open-heart operation. It is expected to fetch up to 50,000 pounds in a section that Harefield hopes will raise more than 400,000 pounds.

Basquiat Painting

Jean-Michel Basquiat’s 1983 acrylic and oilstick painting “Fuego Flores” is the most highly estimated lot at Sotheby’s, at up to 1.2 million pounds. Two slightly larger paintings by Basquiat from 1982 fetched 6.5 million pounds and $13.5 million at auction in London and New York last year.

Sotheby’s and Christie’s will be offering 20th-century Italian art on Oct. 16. Last year, the equivalent auctions were held a week after Frieze. Sotheby’s is expecting to raise at least 5.7 million pounds from 33 Italian lots, Christie’s 6.5 million pounds from 38 lots.

“Persuading collectors to part with high-quality works is difficult,” said Anthony McNerney, Phillips’s London-based head of evening contemporary sales. “They still think it’s a risk.”

Phillips’s evening auction on Oct. 17 contains 44 works with a low estimate of 5 million pounds. Last October, when guarantees were available, it offered 70 lots with a minimum valuation of 18.6 million pounds.

Basquiat’s 1983 painting “Year of the Boar,” carries an estimate of up to 1.2 million pounds, while two large-scale paintings by Kippenberger entered by his former Austrian-based dealer Gabriella Bleich-Rossi are expected to fetch up to 500,000 pounds and 600,000 pounds each.

An archive of material relating to Kippenberger will be offered for private sale by Bleich-Rossi through Phillips for an undisclosed price in October.

“Private sales are the way forward,” McNerney said. “Collectors realize that auction houses have huge client bases. The trick is not to show the works to too many of those clients.”

(Scott Reyburn writes about the art market for Bloomberg News. Opinions expressed are his own.)

To contact the writer on the story: Scott Reyburn in London at

Charles Dickens

One of my greatest pastimes while on vacation has always been reading Charles Dickens. My mother gave me a complete set many years ago, which look great on the shelf by the way, and while most probably think they are just there for looks, I've read them all. I loved every minute.

This article from the Guardian.UK caught my eye. We should all read Dickens.

Jon Michael Varese:"Why are we still reading Dickens?
The great Victorian is probably even more ubiquitous now than he was in his lifetime. How he remains such vital reading is an intriguing question."

It seems that you cannot turn a corner this year without bumping into Charles Dickens. So far we've seen the release of four major novels based on the Victorian icon's life: Dan Simmons's Drood (February), Matthew Pearl's The Last Dickens (March), Richard Flanagan's Wanting (May), and Gaynor Arnold's Girl in a Blue Dress (July). Earlier this year BBC1's lush new production of Little Dorrit was nominated for five Bafta awards in the UK, and 11 Emmys in the US. Newspapers and magazines have run stories on his relevance to the current global economic crisis. And with the Christmas season now only four months away, it seems that there is no getting away from him any time soon.

As someone who teaches and writes about Dickens, the question of why we still read him is something that's often on my mind. But that question was never more troubling than one day, nearly 10 years ago, when I was standing as a guest speaker in front of a class of about 30 high school students. I had been speaking for about 20 minutes with an 1850 copy of David Copperfield in my hand, telling the students that for Victorian readers, Dickens's writing was very much a "tune-in-next-week" type of thing that generated trends and crazes, much as their own TV shows did for them today.

Then a hand shot up in the middle of the room.

"But why should we still read this stuff?"

I was speechless because in that moment I realised that, though I had begun a PhD dissertation on Dickens, I had never pondered the question myself.

The answer I gave was acceptable: "Because he teaches you how to think," I said. But lots of writers can teach you how to think, and I knew that wasn't really the reason.

The question nagged me for years, and for years I told myself answers, but never with complete satisfaction. We read Dickens not just because he was a man of his own times, but because he was a man for our times as well. We read Dickens because his perception and investigation of the human psyche is deep, precise, and illuminating, and because he tells us things about ourselves by portraying personality traits and habits that might seem all too familiar. His messages about poverty and charity have travelled through decades, and we can learn from the experiences of his characters almost as easily as we can learn from our own experiences.

These are all wonderful reasons to read Dickens. But these are not exactly the reasons why I read Dickens.

My search for an answer continued but never with success, until one year the little flicker came – not surprisingly – from another high school student, whose essay I was reviewing for a writing contest. "We need to read Dickens's novels," she wrote, "because they tell us, in the grandest way possible, why we are what we are."

There it was, like a perfectly formed pearl shucked from the dirty shell of my over-zealous efforts – an explanation so simple and beautiful that only a 15-year-old could have written it. I could add all of the decoration to the argument with my years of education – the pantheon of rich characters mirroring every personality type; the "universal themes" laid out in such meticulous and timeless detail; the dramas and the melodramas by which we recognise our own place in the Dickensian theatre – but the kernel of what I truly wanted to say had come from someone else. As is often the case in Dickens, the moment of realisation for the main character here was induced by the forthrightness of another party.

And who was I, that I needed to be told why I was what I was? Like most people, I think I knew who I was without knowing it. I was Oliver Twist, always wanting and asking for more. I was Nicholas Nickleby, the son of a dead man, incurably convinced that my father was watching me from beyond the grave. I was Esther Summerson, longing for a mother who had abandoned me long ago due to circumstances beyond her control. I was Pip in love with someone far beyond my reach. I was all of these characters, rewritten for another time and place, and I began to understand more about why I was who I was because Dickens had told me so much about human beings and human interaction.

There are still two or three Dickens novels that I haven't actually read; but when the time is right I'll pick them up and read them. I already know who it is I'll meet in those novels – the Mr Micawbers, the Mrs Jellybys, the Ebenezer Scrooges, the Amy Dorrits. They are, like all of us, cut from the same cloth, and at the same time as individual as their unforgettable aptronyms suggest. They are the assurances that Dickens, whether I am reading him or not, is shining a light on who I am during the best and worst of times.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Many Years Ago In A Much Younger Time

I went to Saint Jean De Luz.

I read today the most wonderful travel story by Sarah Wildman in the New York Times about the Basque country between Spain and France. It brought back memories of my first visit to this wonderful part of the world when I was just fifteen years old.

It was the summer of 1972 maybe 73, and I was lucky enough to have been invited by my Aunt Mary and Uncle George to join them and their children on what turned out to be a grand tour. We started in Zurich and ended a months travel in London, but I loved our few days in the Basque country of Biarittz and St. Jean De Luz.

I could tell stories of that trip for hours and maybe one day will write it all down. Uncle George had served under Patton as his Charge D"Affair and oh the tales we heard. But that is for another day.

I can't recall the name of the hotel in St. Jean that we stayed at but it was above town and very chic. I remember the lovely woman who knocked on our door at nine in the morning bringing us hot chocolate in individual hotel silver pots and croissants to start our day. It was heaven. We took day trips to San Sebastian and to Biarittz. I been back since and can attest to Ms. Wildman's love of the area.

I will add a note of caution. The last time in the area, I came out of Bilbao,heading for Biarittz. I had to see the museum at Bilbao and thought it superb. But the Basque language is completely mind blowing. Considered by many to be one of the oldest peoples in that area, no one knows where they came from and where this language originates. I've heard stories that the nearest lingual relative is a form of Finnish.

I passed the train station outside of Bilbao ten times before I realized what the sign meant and I'm pretty good at that kind of thing.

None the less I loved this story. It is beautifully written and makes me want to return. Enjoy it, "Basque Without Borders".

An Elegant Auction In Washington DC Results

Lets take a look at what fancy, mostly French pieces went for, n'est pas?

The Fall auction season is finally starting up and I'm so glad the begin the our treasure searches here in Washington, DC with Weschler's September Sale. Readers know that I give Weschler's extra space here at Homer's Odd and that is of course because I can get to the floor, see the pieces and enjoy one of my favorite pastimes, which is of course being at the auction while the deals are taking place. I'd have to say close to sixty percent of my auction buys came out of this house and makes my home all that bit nicer.

On the weekend of September 25th, Weschlers is holding a small elegant auction from the estate of a home in Kalorama, NW, Washington DC. To people outside the beltway, "as we call ya'll," Kalaorama is fancy ne plus. It is home to grand mansions and embassies, its our 9th arrondissment. Now, through a bit of sleuthing I have found out whom is selling these works and the provenance is solid. Everything is a bit fancy for my taste but I chose these pieces because they remind me of what my grandmother loved. I'd see these kind of things as a small lad when visiting her in town. Not a bad education to start off with and she was grand!

Holding on to the game plan that has worked well here, I've picked a few pieces to follow and will link the entire catalogue here.

Also as part of the auction there are some nice works of art and I picked out a few that I wouldn't mind have hanging around.

Now lets take a look at what caught my eye.

Lot 127
Pair of Edward VII Painted and Decorated Satinwood Triple Chair-Back Caned Settees Early 20th Century
Estimate: $5000 - 10000
SOLD For $3,000.00. What a bargain, I loved them!!

Lot 115
Regency Parcel Gilt and Brass Inlaid Mahogany Stand Early 19th Century
Estimate: $1000 - 2000
SOLD FOR $2,000.00. Guess that's what it was worth.

Lot 86
Queen Anne Green Japanned Secrétaire-Cabinet Composed of 17th-Early 18th Century Elements
Estimate: $5000 - 10000
SOLD FOR $19,000.00. WOW that was some marriage. It was great looking.

Lot 72
Pair of Italian Neoclassical Parcel Gilt and Light Green Painted Demilune Console Tables
Estimate: $5000 - 10000
SOLD FOR $12,000.00. Those pieces are so hot right now with the decorators that I'm not surprised.

Lot 55
Empire Style Ormolu and Cut Glass Six-Light Chandelier 20th Century
Estimate: $400 - 600
SOLD FOR $1,300.00. I liked it too. Are we seeing stabilization of prices?

Lot 40
Louis XVI Style Ormolu and Glass Four-Light Hall Lantern 20th Century
Estimate: $1000 - 2000
SOLD FOR $3,200.00. Hmmm another lowballed piece.

Lot 29
Louis XV-XVI Style Marquetry Tulipwood and Kingwood Bonheur-du-Jour Circa 1900
Estimate: $2000 - 3000
SOLD FOR $1,700.00. That was a nice buy.

Lot 23
Pair of Louis XV Style Ormolu and Bronze Figural Chenets and Three Fire Tools Circa 1900
Estimate: $1000 - 2000
SOLD FOR $1,600.00. I'd hate to see the rest of the house they'll call home.

Lot 6
Pair of Tang Dynasty-Style Bronze Figures of Palace Horses
Each having a verdigris-brown patina.
Height: 37-1/2 in (95.3 cm)
Estimate $800-1,200
SOLD FOR $1,100.00. Hope they are old!!!

I chose this piece because its the first time I came along seeing one of Johnson's work up for auction. I'm sure there have been plenty before this. Mother always said never use the phrase "I hate this or that," so I won't.
Lot 598
J. Seward Johnson, Jr. (American b. 1930), Allow Me, Bronze, aluminum & fabricated stainless steel sculpture, height: 85 in
Estimate: $10000 - 15000
SOLD FOR $11,000.00. I don't think we'll see it in the D'Orsay.

Lot 571
Anthony Thieme (American 1888-1954), Gray Morning, Rockport Harbor, Oil on board, 16 x 12 in
Estimate: $3000 - 5000
SOLD FOR $2,800.00. Perfectly nice.

Lot 533
Jan Hendrik Verheyen (Dutch 1778-1846), View of Utrecht, Oil on cradled panel, 20-5/8 x 25-1/2 in
Estimate: $6000 - 8000
SOLD FOR $16,000.00. I knew it looked good...ha!

Lot 509
Manner of William James (British 19th C), View of St. Mark's Square& Doge's Palace, Capriccio, Venice, oil on canvas, 38-1/2 x 57-1/4
Estimate: $20000 - 30000
SOLD FOR $15,000.00!!! Some day I'll have my Venice painting. Every fine home has always has one.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

A Royal Auction of Property from the Collection of HRH The Prince George, Duke of Kent KG, KT, and HRH Princess Marina, Duchess of Kent

"LONDON.- Christie’s announced the auction of Property from the Collection of HRH The Prince George, Duke of Kent KG, KT, and HRH Princess Marina, Duchess of Kent CI, GCVO and their families which will take place on 20 November 2009 in London. The auction will offer approximately 200 lots including silver, jewellery, paintings, furniture, tapestries, rugs and works of art with estimates ranging from £250 to £100,000.

Elizabeth Lane, Director, Chairman’s Office, Christie’s said: “We are honoured to have been chosen to offer this collection in November, and to be able to build on Christie’s long and distinguished tradition of Royal sales. In recent years, we have been entrusted with a number of Royal collection sales and they have proved to be among the most popular of all auctions drawing interest from private collectors from all around the world. The property to be offered in November will offer a rare and exciting insight into the lives of HRH The Prince George, Duke of Kent and HRH Princess Marina, Duchess of Kent and their families, and allow the public the chance to admire their taste and acquire works of art from their private collections.” Full story here.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Architectural Proportionality

Gizmodo: "What would the Burj Dubai, the world's tallest building, look like if it was in NYC? It would look something like this."
I think its time NYC started making itself some big buildings!I Love my big apple.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

An Evening With Joan Brady

I know this will be a real treat to those lucky enough to attend the Southern Vermont Arts Center on October 3rd.Click on the picture to enlarge.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Two Lovely People Plus lots Of Talent Make For A Great Party

By now half of the blogosphere knows that Michele of My Notting Hill and her better half throw a great party. It was such a pleasure to be included and the format made it an instant success.

You know how when you go to a big party and you want to throw your hand out and meet people? Well, because so many of us knew each other by our blogs and because of some of the great designers in the room,not to mention Terri Sapienza of the Washington Post, everyone was so eager to meet each other that it was a cacophony of conversation from the get go. And yet, it was so relaxed.

Now of course Michele had Eddie and Jaithan has the guests of honor and they couldn't have been more fun, but the talent in the room was overwhelming and it sent everything to new heights. Humble Homer just had to keep up. The flowing wine helped greatly. Michele identified everyone on her post so I'm just going to put up the pictures I took, and, I felt a bit crass taking them at a private dinner party, but hey, we're bloggers. It was a wonderful evening and I think the format of bringing together local bloggers should spread. Its just a terrific way to meet new folk that share a passion. Michele my heartiest thanks

Our hostess. Notice the very cool crunchy shutter behind her. A very nice element in the addition.

That's Stefan from Architect Design at the head of the table.

Terri from Canada in deep conversation

That's Michele's better half and man can he cook!!

Yummy dessert

Thats Jennifer from Washington Spaces showing Jaithan the newest edition.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

More Staircases

Longtime readers know I love staircases and while I think these two are very cool, there's no way I could navigate them on a daily basis. Still the link to these two staircases has some very interesting designs from

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Michelangelo’s Florence Is Abuzz Over 11-Ton American Statue

Heard on the Internet?? The Current Mayor Wants to Put It On Ebay!! " An American In Florence?" Guess Not. My comment. Story below.

By A. Craig Copetas

Sept. 14 (Bloomberg) -- “This is much more dangerous than painting watercolors,” New York artist Greg Wyatt frets as the predawn convoy of safety vehicles and trucks carrying his 11-ton “Two Rivers” bronze statue rumbles across the Arno River.

The sculpture is about to be installed on Piazza della Signoria, the fabled Florentine square where the Medici banking family first laid the foundation for corporate arts patronage.

“Twenty-two thousand pounds of bronze can do a lot of damage if it collapses on people,” the 59-year-old Wyatt warns. He’s watching the rising sun sparkle off Giambologna’s colossal 16th- century bronze of Cosimo de Medici surveying “Rape of the Sabine Women” and the other treasures that annually lure some 9.5 million foreign visitors to the center of Renaissance art.

Bronze is big in these parts -- very big -- and Wyatt, artist-in-residence at St. John the Divine Cathedral in Manhattan, has reason to worry. He’s about to do something that Florence Vice-Mayor Dario Nardella says hasn’t been done since the days of Michelangelo and Benvenuto Cellini.

“Wyatt is the first artist to have a monumental work displayed on Piazza della Signoria in perhaps five centuries,” the 33-year-old Nardella says. “This is an historic experiment and it will create a huge debate, an argument that we want to foster. In 1505, the city erupted in protest when we installed Michelangelo’s ‘David.’ It will be the same with ‘Two Rivers’ and this is good; it shows that Florence is more than a shopping mall for tourists.” Full story here.

A British Auction House Merger

LONDON—Bloomsbury Auctions and Dreweatts, two second-tier British auctioneers, are joining forces in a strategic alliance that will make them one of the U.K.’s largest auctioneers. The alliance will provide clients more choice in where to place works for sale and will also give them access to a broader range of expertise. Between the two houses, 90,000 lots have been offered for sale this year, with a combined sales target of £40 million ($66 million).

With branches in London, New York, and Rome, Bloomsbury specializes in books and works on paper and holds the world records for modern first editions by J.K. Rowling and Ian Fleming. Dreweatts, the trading name of the Fine Art Auction Group, has five regional auction rooms in the U.K. and has been acquiring others in the south of England. It plans to reenter the urban art market after witnessing the enormous interest in this summer’s Banksy exhibition at the Bristol City Art Gallery.

Read more at the London Guardian.

What I Did On My Summer Vacation

It rained for the first four days of my recent vacation to the Outer Banks..not that I'm whining...much. I did however get to play a game that I loved during my college days and found this item tonight at Gizmodo, a foosball coffee table. Oh my! Do you think wives would go for it? Well,if not its perfect for the Man Cave. I know..baddd interior design style...goooddd fun. Oh Santa???? Full story here.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Kudos to Phillips de Pury & Co. Great Good Luck

Doubling Down on the Art Market
Phillips plans an aggressive round of auctions, despite soft sales of contemporary work

Wall Street Journal:By Kelly Crow: 9.10.09

As the world’s chief auction houses scale back in a grim art market, one auctioneer is taking the opposite tack.

Phillips de Pury & Co. is adding 18 new sales of contemporary art to its calendar over the next year and a half. At a time when Christie's has trimmed sales and Sotheby's has shrunk some once-hefty catalogs nearly to the size of CD cases, Phillips, the third-largest auction house for contemporary art, is enlarging its catalogs and tripling their print runs. Prices for contemporary art have plunged as collectors turned to tried-and-true Old Master paintings and Asian vases, but Phillips is placing some of its biggest bets yet on the volatile category. On Sept. 26, it will hold a London auction called "Now," featuring many artists who have never sold at auction before.

The plan is being steered by Bernd Runge, the auction house's new chief executive. A former Conde Nast executive, Mr. Runge was tapped early this year by Phillips's new owner, Mercury Group, a Russian retailing giant that acquired a majority stake in the privately held auction house last October. The new series of art auctions will roll out roughly once a month between London and New York, packaged with themes like "Sex," "Film" and "Black/White."

Mr. Runge, in his first interview since taking the post, said the monthly auctions will target local audiences in New York and London who haven't bought art before. He said that he is handling the logistics of the sales, along with the company's other business affairs, but said that the art will be chosen by the company's art specialists and its chairman, Simon de Pury.

"I'm almost an art virgin," Mr. Runge said. He said he is trying to catch up by attending art fairs and biennials.

Critics say that moving more untested artworks into the marketplace now could backfire if collectors hold on to their wallets, potentially rattling confidence in the overall art market. Others say the novelty of the plan—a disc jockey will play during a music-themed sale in October—could also inject life into a scene that's weary of feeling weary.

The art market has taken a battering this year, struggling even as other financial markets have taken small steps toward recovery. In the first half of 2009, Sotheby's sales were down 87% and Christie's sales were down 49% from the same period a year ago. Prices for new art have stopped plummeting, but the volume of contemporary art sales this summer was down 80% compared with last summer, according to ArtTactic, a London-based research firm that tracks global art sales.

Phillips is particularly vulnerable to art-market mood swings because of its tighter focus on contemporary art, photography, jewelry and design. Its auction sales total for the year currently hovers at around $60 million, well off pace from last year's $292 million total. At its last major sale in London this June, only one work sold for over $1 million, and the $8.4 million sales total fell just under its low estimate.

Mr. Runge has been tasked with turning the decline around. On a recent afternoon in London, he sat in a conference room flipping through the catalog galley for "Now," grinning as he pointed out magazine-style additions to the catalog format, including an interview with artist Keith Tyson . Before joining Phillips in March, he spent a dozen years as a Condé Nast International vice president, helping to launch 30 magazines including successful editions of Vogue and GQ in Russian and less successful editions like Vanity Fair in German, which recently closed.

"Now" is a 291-piece mix of prints, photographs, furniture and paintings made since 2000. Some pieces are brand new. Anton Skorubsky Kandinsky's 2009 self-portrait, "I Don't Want to be a Russian Artist, I Want to be a Chinese Artist," came off the wall of the Art Next Gallery in New York last month; its low estimate is $16,450. Other highlights include Mario Minale's 2007 chair made of plastic building blocks, "Red Blue Lego Chair," priced to sell for at least $32,800. Peter Fuss's 2007 sculpture, "For the Laugh of God," is a skull covered in imitation diamonds, priced to sell for at least $9,860. Two years ago, at the height of the contemporary market, artist Damien Hirst sold "For the Love of God," a skull covered in real gems, to a group of investors; Mr. Hirst said the price was $100 million.

Phillips was founded in 1796 by Harry Phillips, formerly the senior clerk of Christie's founder James Christie. In its early years, the house held sales for Marie Antoinette and Napoleon, and later made its reputation in English furniture and silver. It made its first major foray into contemporary art when Louis Vuitton Moët Hennessy bought the company in 1999 . In 2002, LVMH sold the company to its managing directors at the time, Simon de Pury and Daniella Luxembourg. Ms. Luxembourg sold her shares five years ago, and Mr. de Pury has run the company since then.

Today, Phillips' sales are closely followed by the art market. The house is known for taking early bets on artists who can eventually become major auction standbys, like Mr. Hirst. Phillips has nurtured a reputation for being more trendy and offbeat than its competitors. It once set up a ping-pong table during a cocktail reception, and it has hired bands like George Clinton & Parliament Funkadelic to play at its after-parties.

"Phillips is the bridesmaid of the auction world," said Richard Polsky, a private dealer in Sausalito, Calif. "It always wants to be seen as lively, nimble and fun—but now it also needs to be profitable."

The new themed sales will double the workload for the house's 150-member staff, which must continue to win business for its established sales while stocking works for the new ones. (Mr. Runge says he's planning to hire some part-time curators to help out.) Michael McGinnis, Phillips' worldwide head of contemporary art, said he initially wondered whether his team could cull enough pieces for the extra sales. Collectors don't like to sell in lean times unless they have to.

"I'm a pretty conservative guy, so of course I have reservations," Mr. McGinnis said, "but I'm learning there is enough material out there if the venue is there and the prices are fair. We'll just have to see what the market will absorb."

When Mercury Group's chief executive, Leonid Friedland, first expressed interest in buying a stake in Phillips in the summer of 2007, the auction house was performing at its peak and had just acquired a new European headquarters in London. That June, it set the record for a work of contemporary Russian art by selling Ilya Kabakov's "La chambre de luxe," for $4 million.

Mr. de Pury said he began discussions with Mercury that summer, but the deal crystallized the following summer—just as art sales were beginning to sour. Mercury acquired a majority control of the company on Oct. 6, 2008, for a reported $60 million. Mr. Runge and Mr. de Pury declined to comment on the price. A spokeswoman for Mercury also declined to comment.

Among the new owner's mandates: severely limiting the practice of paying guarantees for consigned works. With a guarantee, an auction house essentially pledges to pay a seller for an artwork whether or not it sells.

Two weeks later, Phillips held an evening sale of contemporary art in London at which 32 of the 70 works failed to sell, including Takashi Murakami's "Tongari-kun," which had been priced for sell for at least £3.5 million.

The Mercury Group soon tapped Mr. Runge to step in. "The potential for Phillips is enormous and exciting, but it's also just undergone a tremendous growth, an expansion into London and now, the new shareholders," Mr. Runge said. "It all has to be swallowed."

Mr. Runge is known for his expertise in magazines and luxury goods, but he has also attracted attention for widely publicized past Stasi connections. During the 1980s, he worked as a paid informer for communist East Germany's spy agency while he was a student and later a reporter for a news agency in Hungary, according to Stasi files released by the German government. Code-named "Olden," he kept tabs on fellow students, anti-communist dissidents and Western reporters. Mr. Runge declined to comment on the matter.

The news caused a brief stir in Germany five years ago, but Condé Nast vouched for him and so has Phillips. When Mr. Runge was hired, Mr. de Pury praised his global experience and said he "attached no importance … to some activities in the distant past."

Mr. de Pury s aid he has been working to make Mercury feel welcome . When he told Mercury that he had a summer tradition of taking a few of his top specialists on a weekend retreat, the new owners took the gesture one step further: They booked a weekend at a London resort for 30 of Phillips' leaders, old and new. "It was great," Mr. de Pury said. "We played croquet."
—David Crawford in Berlin contributed to this article.

Glad To See Us Fossils Are Still Valuable

T. Rex known as “Samson” on the Auction Block

One of the largest known Tyrannosaurus rex specimens ever discovered will be offered by international auctioneers Bonhams & Butterfields on Saturday, October 3, 2009 during the company’s first Natural History auction to be held at The Venetian® in Las Vegas. The auction will contain approximately 50 lots of fossils with the centerpiece of the sale focusing on the expertly mounted female T. rex, expected to bring millions of dollars.

The rare 66-million year old Tyrannosaurus skeleton – dubbed “Samson” – is arguably one of the three most complete specimens to have been discovered. Native to North America, Tyrannosaurus rex is recognized as the ‘Tyrant Lizard King’ and is the most famous of the behemoths of the “Age of Dinosaurs.” This rare example from the Cretaceous period was excavated near Buffalo, South Dakota over 15 years ago.

Originally prepared by scientists and technicians at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, “Samson’s” skull is considered to be one of the most complete Tyrannosaurus skulls in existence. The entire specimen contains approximately 170 bones, more than 50% of the total bone count of an entire skeleton. In life, “Samson” was equal in weight to “Sue,” the Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton which sold for $8.3-million in 1997.

Full press release here.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

More French Trouble? "droit de suite."

Ever notice how the people in power in France all have the same Surnames? Ahh right, liberte, egalite, fraternite. More french auction trouble. Interesting, a bit.

The Art Newspaper "How will Mitterrand handle artists’ resale rights dispute?
French minister for culture faces challenge over Christie’s “droit de suite” issue."

By Anna Sansom | Web only
Published online 1 Sep 09 (News)

Paris. The dispute between Christie’s and French art market players over the thorny issue of “droit de suite” is one of the first challenges facing France’s new minister for culture, Frédéric Mitterrand. Droit de suite is a royalty payable to artists or their heirs each time a work is resold during the artist’s lifetime and for 70 years following their death. In France this tax is usually calculable by percentage rates between 0.25% and 4%—of which the maximum amount on any work of art is €12,500—payable by the seller. Christie’s has enraged other auction houses and galleries by imposing this cost on buyers.

Georges-Philippe Vallois, vice-chairman of the Art Dealers Committee, says: “Our position, shared during a meeting organised by the ministry of culture on 19 June [still under Christine Albanel at the time]—with the Trade Union of Antique Dealers, Sotheby’s, the organisation representing French auctioneers (SYMEV), and the ADAGP (the French organisation for artists’ rights)—is that the droit de suite charge to the buyer appears to be totally contrary to the spirit of the law. Making the buyer pay the droit de suite reduces his buying potential.” Patrick Bongers, president of the Art Dealers Committee, adds: “If we, the gallerists, want to sell the work of art again [after buying it at Christie’s], it means we have to pay the droit de suite twice.”

This dispute dates back to the Christie’s sale of the collection of Yves Saint Laurent/Pierre Bergé in February. Christie’s believes that its position is necessary if it is to compete on a global scale. “I’d like the droit de suite to be abolished [in Europe], which would put France on the same level as America and Asia, two continents that do not practise this tax,” says François Curiel, chairman of Christie’s Europe. “Failing that, we wish for the droit de suite to be billed to the buyer; it is actually very difficult to persuade an American or Asian seller to entrust us with a work to be sold in France if we have to deduct the droit de suite from the proceeds of the sale. This practice of billing to the buyer is in force in England, which is the biggest European centre of auctions.”

Guillaume Cerutti, chairman of Sotheby’s France, says: “It is desirable that in each country the law determines clearly whether the seller or the buyer must pay.”

Bongers says there are other contentious points: “The idea is that the author of the work participates in the seller’s profit. In France, if you sell a work without making a profit, you still pay the droit de suite. This isn’t normal and needs to be harmonised with the rest of Europe.”

Madoff Taste..lessness

I always loved those T. Anthony leather ottomans..and dammit I still do. Maybe I'll buy Bernie's. Another auction that makes my skin crawl.
Here's the video.

Colored Pencil Lovers Now Have Their Shangri-La

I just have that feeling that many of my friends here love colored pencils. I found this site tonight and had to share it with you. Can you imagine the interior design help these tools could provide. I just found it and have no affiliation with the company, but their website is very cool and the names of the colors are great. Take a look and enjoy

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Amazing 18-Foot Wide Super-HD Multi-User Multitouch Display

From Gizmodo today:This is a fascinating video from the Hard Rock Cafe in Vegas. Can you imagine what it would be like to examine auction pieces up close and bring in provenance on something that caught your eye. Imagine where our kids will be with this kind of technology at their fingertips, literally.


Monday, September 7, 2009

Back from The Beach

I've returned from the beach. I had a moment's scare in the Atlantic, thinking I was still twenty, but survived to tell about it and thought that Ella said it best.

Now back to the chores at hand and I'm excited to see what you all bring to the table this fall.