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All That Glitters

We are delighted to announce the first commission for a corporate collection by the Connor Brothers created for the bullion trader Sharps Pixley. The Connor Brothers, the pseudonymous duo, not brothers at all, of Mike Snelle and James Golding, are best known for their witty play on the design of book covers. They were commissioned to produce 11 never-before-see prints and paintings around gold and its significance in culture throughout history. Together these pieces form ‘All That Glitters’. The works evolved into something of a passion project and are currently on display to the public in Sharps Pixley’s Mayfair. If you have any enquiries do contact us or go to see them at Sharps Pixley, 54 St James's Street, London SW1A 1JT.

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The Stigma of Categorisation?

When we discuss the auctions we often overlook the effect of how artworks are defined by category. Modern British work is an interesting category for just this reason. It is mid-level in terms of results at auction but it contains artists of real interest. Sometimes the bigger names are elevated to the ranks of the Impressionist and Modern or Contemporary sales when they hit the big time, such as Henry Moore, Lucian Freud and Francis Bacon. But, there seem to be plenty of opportunities still within Modern British. So who can escape what might be called the stigma of categorisation?

An artist such as William Scott is often thought of as classic Modern British yet last year Sotheby’s placed his Still Life in their Contemporary Art Evening Auction with an estimate of £200,000-300,000. It sold for £605,000. By changing the context surrounding the work, the value of the work starts to look a little different. Bringing Gerald Laing into their Post-War and Contemporary Art Auction in October 2015, Christie’s realised a total of £1,202,500 against an estimate of £450,000-650,000. Laing’s pop heritage became stronger than his British roots and the value soared.

Scott and Laing are looking particularly interesting right now but there are other artists lurking in this category and now might be the time to start talking about these frequently under-rated artists.

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The Boundaries of Taste

It’s hard to escape the noise surrounding Tate Modern’s new extension. Part of what they are trying to do is create a blank canvas for international works so that they can tell the story of a modernism that is not solely European. What is interesting about this is how it percolates through to the market. How does geography affect the reception of an artist?

There are a number of artists from countries such as Korea whose work is enjoying great success in Europe at the moment while they are going through something of a fallow period at home. Equally there are artists who are working here but selling most of their work in China.

Nor does this apply just to living artists. Andrew Wyeth, the American Realist painter, enjoys a reputation in China that many would dream of. He came to Chinese artist’s attention during a time when all Western images were banned. For some reason the Communist Government permitted his work to be shown in magazines and he became an icon of exotic Western imagery for all artists training at that time. As a result artists such as Zeng Fanzhi maintain an interest in his reputation and market.

Last year, according to UK customs figures, saw £52.2 million worth of art exported from the UK to Mexico. It’s probably no coincidence that two of the major art collectors in the world are Mexican, Corona beer heiress Asuncíon Aramburuzabala and Eugenio López, owner of the Jumex museum. It goes to show, however, that an international awareness can dramatically change the fortune of an artist. It also suggests that the most interesting, successful and rewarding collections are the ones that find their own groove and don’t kowtow to local influence but mix things up to represent the personality of the collector.

Keeping It Confidential

At the Hay Festival, gallerist Kenny Schachter described the art world as a “hotbed of corruption”. He criticised the practice of third party guarantees saying they were “financial shenanigans” that “undermine your confidence in the public auction market”. He went on to say that the art market operated “legal inside trading” and that there was “manipulation” of buyers. While the art market might not be perfect, it’s not entirely rotten either. Schachter is working to promote a documentary so his tone might be more outspoken than normal but it is a useful reminder that there are some aspects of the market that are not transparent and you need to work carefully and know the territory to ensure that you find the right works, get your money’s worth and don’t end up the victim of some of the more manipulative practices.

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Better than expected?

At the auction houses, May saw the biggest test of the market in New York with the spring auctions and it got through it pretty well. The auctions came in mid-estimate with a solid combined total of $1.2 billion across all houses that week. This is nowhere near the equivalent sales of last year (with a combined total of $2.7 billion) but clearly a lot of art was sold. There were works that performed extremely well ($58 million and a new world record for a Basquiat at Christie’s), there were plenty of collectors in the room and it seems to be a steady market rather than a broken one.

As ever, the things that mattered were fresh to market, blue-chip artists and these works performed as expected or better, just look at the stunning Vlaminck at Sotheby’s which went for $16.3 million.

It was not, however, all good. Sotheby’s top lot, Les Voiles Rouges by André Derain, did not sell. At $15-20 million it seemed over priced and no one wanted to pick it up. It belies that fact that the best works did not come to market this season. It felt like the great pieces were held back while everyone waited to see what would happen. This makes it a challenging time as both a buyer and a seller where information is king. We will see how things fare in London.