The rat, the rabbit and Yves St Laurent

ysl-bronzesThis just in from Art Newspaper Editor, Georgina Adam.

The saga of the Chinese bronzes hammered down at auction during the Yves St Laurent sale and then not paid for, as a political gesture, raises many thorny questions.

Briefly, (and for those of you who were on Mars this week), the two Qianlong bronze heads, of a rat and a rabbit, were looted from the Yuanming Yuan Summer Palace in Beijing by Franco-British forces in 1860 during the Opium Wars. They were two of 12 heads which adorned a Zodiac fountain, five of which have never resurfaced.

The heads were offered for sale by Pierre Bergé, the late Yves St Laurent’s former lover and business partner, in Christie’s block-busting sale of their collection last week in Paris. The Chinese have been calling for the return of the heads, and a French association (AFACT) with links to China attempted to block the sale by bringing an emergency injunction in a French court shortly before the sale started. The demand was thrown out in no uncertain terms by the French “procureur” (prosecutor) for a number of reasons, some technical and others more fundamental. I was in court and subsequently at the sale when the bronzes were sold.

China was not able, legally, to claim the bronzes under international law, and does not want simply to buy them back – its position being that they were looted and should be returned. At no point did AFACT claim that Bergé was not the legal owner of the heads, and prior to the sale Bergé stated that he would be prepared to return the heads “when China respects human rights and frees Tibet”. This did nothing to improve Sino-French relations, which hit a new low after French President Nicolas Sarkozy met with the Dalai Lama last December in Poland.

At the sale, the two heads were “sold” to a bidder on the telephone, underbid by two other telephones for the first, and one for the second. The price was  £20.4m each, including premium, and contrary to usual practice no paddle number was announced – “the buyer wanted absolute discretion,” auctioneer François de Ricqlès said afterwards.

On Monday this week a Chinese collector and auction house general manager, Cai Mingchao, announced that he was the buyer and that he was refusing to pay, as a patriotic gesture.

So here are some of the questions this saga raises. Continue reading “The rat, the rabbit and Yves St Laurent”

Arts of torture?

Steve Powers

For those needing any practical reassurance that “waterboarding” is a form of torture, Christopher Hitchens provided something close to a final word on the matter, at least in the realm of public opinion (and persuasion), when he subjected himself to it for the benefit of Vanity Fair’s readers.

One is reminded of the Hitch’s stunt by a short piece from last Wednesday’s New York Times, which used it to introduce artist Steve Powers’ The Waterboarding Thrill Ride, an “animatronic diorama,” installed out on Coney Island, “that depicts a prisoner being waterboarded.” Whatever you may think of the necessity, or originality, or political probity of Powers’ diorama, which is being presented by Creative Time, the final sentences of the Times‘ piece describes how Powers’ project will take on a bizarre because redundant dimension when,

In mid-August Mr. Powers and several lawyers will be waterboarded by a trained professional in a secret location in Coney Island as a private performance. Documentation on the performance will be at creativetime.org.

I think one needs to needs to ask here just what such a performance can hope to achieve, either for politics or for art. If Hitchens’ waterboarding was an act undertaken to provide an otherwise reliable public account of it as torture, does not Powers’ “private performance” come off sounding more like an exercise in voyeuristic sadomasochism (which certainly has its own political dimension, just not the one Powers and Creative Time are after)?

Advice to a would-be art scammer

I am in urgent need of cash and am hoping to sell the piece once finished.

841.jpgArtworld Salon received one of the lamest (i.e., funniest) new email art scams out there this week. Call it the Nigerian phonescam for the art world, complete with tell-tale awkward English:

Hello,

It was recommended to me by a friend of mine that I contacted you for your advise.

I own a painting by Francis Bacon that seems unfinished, there are big splashes of colours that I have been trying to clean off to reveal the figure underneath, but it just smeared as a result. I have already asked somebody to try to finish it but he did a disaster with it.

Not knowing what to do now I was wondering if you could help me find somebody who could finish it and do a good job, in the Bacon’s style.

Already the artist Peter Doug suggested to help, but I am not sure about his taste, he already did a quick sketch copy of how he could improve the Bacon, but to be honest I did not like much as he also seemed a bit messy and I think he would just rush the job for the money.

I am in urgent need of cash and am hoping to sell the piece once finished. If you would know a good artist or just someone interested, please do let me know.

If by any chance you would be in the power to help me I would be ready to share with you half of the value of the painting once sold.

Many thanks for your help, or if you would know somebody interested in the painting even in this state please do let me know.

I look forward to hearing from you,
Many thanks in advance,

Herbie Watsaint

Herbie’s ploy does segue nicely back into our conversations about the Bacon rubbish story and its disheartening conclusions, but this has got to be one of the most poorly imagined art scams I’ve ever read. Continue reading “Advice to a would-be art scammer”

To regulate or not…

logo_salander.jpgThe apparent failure of a prominent gallery in New York this week (NYT, NYO, Bloomberg) is causing ripples within the international Art community. Whether the truth is about weaknesses in financial management (as suggested by Salander’s lawyer) or something more sinister is beside the point. Many are now asking whether, with the growing number and size of transactions, a more formal, and compulsory, oversight system is necessary for the Art world to protect individual buyers and sellers.

At various times on this site we have discussed the relative lack of transparency of the Art market and talked about some of the mechanisms that exist in other markets. For example financial institutions that take deposits and make loans are required, in most countries, to keep a minimum reserve in hard cash to allow for problems. In quoted markets for publicly traded assets, whether company shares, pork bellies or barrels of oil, every transaction must appear on a public register and be open to all bidders. No transactions are allowed to take place that do not appear on the register/exchange. In addition any market maker or analyst must declare any interest they have in assets being sold by them or through entities associated with them. None of this, of course, happens in the Art world. But all of it could.

What do you think? Do we need some of these rules? Has the Art market now reached the stage that it NEEDS regulating to protect individual buyers and sellers? Or should we continue to rely on members of the community outing their peers before things go bad? Are there less cumbersome alternatives that could be put in place? I once suggested a public register for all transactions of works by major artists. The register would be a standard for the industry. Galleries and Artists could choose to be on the register or not. If on, ALL works traded must be listed, with the date and verifiable transaction price. If not, they don’t appear on the register at all. Ultimately all quality artists and galleries would probably opt to be visible; because anything not on the register would be considered a “lower grade investment”. Views?

Newbies: Cruising for a bruising

cruiseship.jpgAlmost a month ago, loyal Artworld Salon reader Gallerina sent me a link to this article detailing controversy surrounding Park West at Sea, an outfit that conducts art auctions aboard 70 cruise ships, with lots including editioned pieces drawn from the oeuvreds of Picasso, Renoir, Dali, Erte and Toulouse-Lautrec, among other name-brand artists. The investigative piece by Arizona Republic reporter Dennis Wagner reads like a caveat emptor aimed at art-market newbies. It starts thus:

Like thousands of tourists, Gary and Olga Holloway went on a Caribbean cruise for relaxation. The Scottsdale couple also wound up learning about fine art thanks to Park West at Sea, a company that conducts onboard auctions. Before the trip was over last June, they had spent $17,836 on three limited-edition prints by Rembrandt van Rijn, plus one by Dali.

Gary Holloway was thrilled with his sophisticated investment, backed by appraisals and letters of authenticity.The works showed a total “retail replacement price” of about $24,000. Holloway figured he had actually made money while on vacation. Back home in Arizona, he enjoyed looking at the artwork for six months, then advertised it on eBay. He got no bid over $1,000 and was puzzled to find similar prints offered for one-quarter of his purchase price.

Wagner also reports, that Nevada steelman Jim Russell bought a Jules Cheret chalk drawing for $24,700, then discovered online that Park West had recently bought the drawing for $2,000. Park West lawyer Morris Shapiro’s response: “Surely, Mr. Russell could not reasonably think that he was buying ‘at cost,’ especially in a competitive auction environment. Respectfully, Mr. Russell bid and paid what he chose to bid and pay.” Continue reading “Newbies: Cruising for a bruising”

Clippings collected from the salon floor

A random assortment of the recently amusing….

From The AI Interview: Damien Hirst“: “If you ask people on the street in England who is a famous artist, I think they’d say: Rolf Harris, Prince Charles, David Hockney and Damien Hirst, in that order.Is Hirst being modest or merely accurate? (FYI: www.rolfharris.com)

From ARTINFO’s “Artworks Missing from Philadelphia Schools“: “Eighty-five artworks valued at $838,000 are missing from Philadelphia’s public schools, according to a preliminary audit conducted by the city controller’s office, the Philadelphia Daily News reports… Another 220 artworks, estimated to be worth as much as $30 million, are being held in storage.” Hmm: $30M/220=$136K. Either that’s a typo or the Philly public schools are hiding some serious masterpieces.

Understatement of the week, from the Guardian’s “Emin’s bed stays made, but Beijing finally embraces modern British art“: “‘The whole Chinese scene is on a bit of a roll,’ said Richard Riley, head of the visual arts section of the British Council.”

Understatement of the week, 2nd place, from the Globe and Mail’s “Thieves run off with $2-million gold bar at Japanese museum“: “The Ohashi Collection Kan museum in Takayama, central Japan, had kept the 220-pound gold bullion unguarded by sensors or even a case because it wanted visitors to be able to touch it, according to local police officer Shinji Kurake…[who said] ‘We were very shocked… but of course this was a big block of gold, and there was no security. I suppose they could have been a little more careful.‘”

A Bit of White, Center for Contemporary Non-Objective Art, BrusselsThe E-Flux announcement for the Brussels show A BIT O’ WHITE had me doing doubletakes. Drug reference show title + total whiteness + hyperspeed text (“we do not see anything – it’s white, all white. And yet it opens our eyes, tickles our senses, let’s us be – we see so much. WHITE, which hints at a whole range of possibilities without expressing them, yet puts us on the alert. WHITE, which triggers our emotions, our fears, yet is so familiar to us. WHITE we fear – WHITE we embrace.”) = Terence Koh? I emailed Koh, and he responded: “o me god how did you know its me.” Caveat lector: Koh lies, often and unapologetically.