Business, but not as Usual

Coronavirus has hit the art trade, valued at over $64 billion globally last year, even harder than we thought possible. An article in the weekend FT states that confidence is at even lower levels than during the 2009 financial crisis. Quoting a survey by the consultancy ArtTactic, it suggests the combined turnover of Christie’s, Sotheby’s and Phillips had fallen to about one eighth of their 2019 volumes for the equivalent period from the beginning of the year until 19th May. $528 million (including online sales of $174 million) this year as opposed to $4.2 billion in 2019. Figures from dealers are harder to obtain but most have been hit very hard indeed. Some, if not many, may well disappear.

This sector has always had to innovate to survive, but the crisis has dramatically accelerated a change already under way where purchasers’ initial interest was frequently kindled by online showcasing of objects. In a world where physical closeness may become a rare luxury, the transition to greater virtual contact is likely to proceed without brakes!

Christie’s for example plan a streamed relay-style rolling auction on July 10th, moving from Hong Kong to Paris, London and New York, possibly with some element of the activity in physical salerooms. The two top lots, a Picasso and a Roy Lichtenstein, are both estimated to over $25 million, so this is a pretty massive step up, even if there are guarantees in place, from the current online record of (I think) $1.3 million hammer price for a Giorgio Morandi still life. So very interesting to see how it will go.

Obviously transactions that take place entirely online will require an even higher degree of trust between the parties involved in a largely unregulated and sometimes opaque market with huge sums of money at stake and where misrepresentation, fraud and forgery are by no means absolutely unknown. Dealers’ reputation and long term client confidence and relationships will be, more than ever, absolutely crucial. Totally reliable auctioneers’ condition reports, cataloguing and images of the back as well as the front of paintings, will be essential to ensure good demand, competition and prices for high quality works of art.

One gallery that has made a long term investment in scholarship and its online presence is Robilant and Voena.  This very grand, but actually very friendly, dealer in predominantly Italian art is renowned for its strength in Italian Baroque, and especially Caravaggesque, art. Its high quality online offerings have occasioned  very favourable comments in the FT and Country Life. Its regular emails to clients, and anyone who wants to sign up, have included a series called Looking Closely. The first was appropriately entitled Painting in the Shadow of the Plague (their image of painting of a physician by Fede Galizia circa 1600-1605  is reproduced below right) and all offer very wide ranging, well written scholarship and insight into Italian art and culture across the centuries. Have a look at (https://www.robilantvoena.com/catalogues/).

Art and antiques fairs used to be crowded to a level we won’t see again until a reliable vaccine has been rolled out. Currently most are either cancelled or have moved online. The TEFAF Fair at Maastricht ran for four days in March, albeit with fewer visitors before being closed abruptly when at least one dealer tested positive for coronavirus. Many dealers put their remaining stock online and apparently did so quite successfully. The London Original Print Fair, LOPF, has been running online only (www.londonoriginalprintfair.com) this month and continues, using a very well and carefully constructed site, until 6.00 next Sunday 31st May. Each exhibitor has a viewing room for their stock.Two who deserve particular mention are Andrew Edmunds and Lizzie Collins’ Zuleika Gallery.

Andrew Edmunds (http://www.andrewedmundsprints.com/) has built up such a superb reputation amongst his many loyal existing customers for top quality prints and caricatures from the eighteenth and early nineteenth century that he should do well at LOPF.  He offers a particularly fine Gillray, The Monstrous Craw for £12,000 and an exceptional set of Hogarths’s Harlot’s Progress, exhibited at the Soane Museum last year, for £24,000.

Zuleika Gallery has carefully curated offerings at the Fair including a series of prints by Nicola Green entitled In Seven Days, based on the time she spent with Barack Obama’s campaign in 2007. Lizzie states This unique body of work is seen together for the very first time, following artist Nicola Green’s first-hand witness of Barack Obama’s meteoric ascent to power as the first African-American President of the United States. Two-colour silkscreen images, 35 x 33 cm, from a series of 20 cost £600 plus VAT; and there are several unique large originals at £12,000 plus VAT. Of these, Struggle,Glory, 2009 is reproduced below and is executed in two-colour silkscreen with gold leaf. The big ones really should end up in a public collection, although whether any institution has the budget at the moment is an open question. A significant milestone in history painting I think. On the LOPF site you can find a video of an interview with the artist in which she discusses the circumstances of her original trip and the subsequent long drawn out creation of her images.

Finally, good materials suppliers such as Jacksons  have provided a constant feed of posts on subjects such as interviews with artists as well as help  with practical matters such as materials and techniques, and I’ll turn to this and the many online life drawing sites in the final post next week.

Chris

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