Archive for January, 2010


The art market: Indians in trouble

   Posted by: admin    in Art News Updates

While Saatchi’s new show of Indian art, The Empire Strikes Back, is a talking point in London, the market for Indian art has taken some serious hits. At the height of the boom this was fever-hot, as speculators shifted from Chinese contemporary (which had become very expensive) into Indian art. Prices soared and art funds mushroomed, led by Osian’s, India’s oldest art auction house. Its Rs100 crore (£13m) fund was launched in 2006; among those that followed was the Copal Art fund, which sold investors art based on a price-per-square-foot. Between 2006 and 2008, according to the Indian business newspaper Livemint, some Rs300 crore was invested in art.

But recently Indian artists have, in some cases, lost over 70 per cent of their value, and some funds are failing to deliver promised returns. Osian’s fund closed at the end of last year, but not all investors have been paid; founder Neville Tuli told the FT that they will be paid by February 24 and admitted that the fund was “disappointing”. Osian’s is also mired in a US-based lawsuit with Christie’s, which it accuses of failing to deliver art it had bought; Menaka Kumari Shah, India representative of the firm, said: “We have been seeking to recover a significant debt from an Osian-related party for more than one year. Christie’s intends to review all of its legal remedies in response to these baseless allegations.”

The problem is not confined to art funds; Bodhi Art, one of India’s most flamboyant galleries, has become the highest-profile victim of the bust. At the height of its glory, the gallery had outlets in Berlin, Singapore, New York, Mumbai and New Delhi; now all are closed except Mumbai.

Next week, impressionist and modern art goes under the hammer in London. Christie’s goes first, on Tuesday evening with a 86-lot sale estimated at up to £80m, but the story is more about Sotheby’s sale on Wednesday. This is smaller, with 39 lots but a higher target of £102m, and it boasts three surefire winners. Giacometti’s imposing sculpture “L’Homme qui marche”, a lifetime cast from 1961 estimated at £12m-£18m, could shatter the world record for the artist. It is being sold by the German-based Dresdner, which was bought by Commerzbank last year. Cézanne’s “Pichet et fruits sur une table” (1893-94) is one of the artist’s highly desirable still lifes of apples and while it is unlikely to break the world record for Cézanne (£36.9m, made in 1999) it should still do very well at its estimate of £10m-£15m. The third cracker is a recently restituted Klimt landscape, “Kirche in Cassone” (1913), a highly attractive work with broad appeal, estimated at £12m-£18m.

Auction house specialists report a distinct loosening up of vendors’ willingness to sell, compared to last year. “We’re not talking about a return to boom times yet,” says Christie’s specialist Olivier Camu, “but buyers are buzzing around and general confidence is up.”

While some galleries may be downsizing, the international dealership Hauser & Wirth is expanding in the heart of Mayfair. The gallery has bagged the entire ground floor at 23 Savile Row, site of the former English Heritage headquarters. It will open this autumn with an exhibition of Louise Bourgeois. H&W will use the 12,500 sq ft space for larger shows, much as it did in Coppermill, the Shoreditch building where it exhibited Christoph Büchel and Martin Creed. The new gallery will bring H&W’s count of exhibition spaces to five, with New York, Zurich and three in London (its small Swallow Street space will be abandoned). So: Gagosian, eight; H&W, five, so far. The FT will publish an interview with H&W president Iwan Wirth in its collecting supplement on February 27.
“Nowhereville, USA” is one unkind description of Bentonville, Arkansas, but the town (pop: 20,000) boasts the headquarters of the world’s largest retailer, Walmart. And next year it will see the opening of Crystal Bridges museum, a $50m extravaganza masterminded by Walmart heiress Alice Walton (the sixth-richest American, says Forbes), who has been avidly collecting American art for 20 years. Some of her acquisitions have been controversial, for example when she swooped on Asher Durand’s landscape “Kindred Spirits” (1849) in a sealed-bid deal worth about $35m, whisking it away from the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the National Gallery of Washington, who wanted to keep the painting in public ownership. And she has made a $30m deal with the financially troubled Fisk University in Tennessee over shared ownership of 101 works from the Alfred Stieglitz collection, donated to the university by his estate, subject to a pending appeal by the Georgia O’Keeffe museum.

Crystal Bridges’ latest acquisition is less controversial: Walton Ford’s “The Island”, acquired from New York dealer Paul Kasmin for a sum “well in excess of $600,000”, according to the gallery. It is on display at the Hamburger Bahnhof in Berlin (until May 24) while waiting for the completion of its new home.0a3b6738-0c92-11df-b8eb-00144feabdc0


Striped buckets, stripped notions

   Posted by: admin    in Recent Events

The Terre Offshore exhibition brings together the works of 11 artists from Reunion Island
You know from the moment you step in and see a metre-long work of art poised on bright red-striped plastic buckets — that you have entered the topsy-turvy world of artists. A word of advice for those who venture into this territory: leave all preconceptions of art outside the door. You won’t find place for them in here.
In India, as part of the Bonjour India Festival of France, the Terre Offshore exhibition curated by Francine Méoule brings together the works of 11 independent artists from Reunion Island. Four among them are here for the Chennai segment of the exhibition, giving us their take on the world through mixed mediums of contemporary art: from video installations to coloured inks on paper, and even adhesive on canvas.
A fragment of Europe
Try and pinpoint Reunion Island on the map, and you will be able to do just that. The miniscule speck of land to the East of Madagascar has the intriguing particularity of being a “fragment of Europe in the middle of the Indian Ocean”, and is as fascinating in its ethnic divergence as in its defiance of geographical norms. The once uninhabited island was occupied by the French in the mid-1600s, and was populated over the years by a mix of ethnicities. Its contemporary culture is rooted in African, Indian, Chinese, and French traditions, and its citizens are bound together by the shared Creole language. Such a crucible of cultures would form the classic breeding ground for art’s favourite musing, the agonising question of identity — or so we may expect.
Surprisingly, and yet refreshingly, the exhibition does not harp on issues of identity and on the continuous search thereof. It is certainly among the concerns of some, for as artist Jack Beng-Thi explains: “He who doesn’t know his history is always perturbed, and art has always been a means of expressing history”. But the younger generation of artists have different preoccupations. “Identity was largely questioned by artists of Reunion Island in the Seventies,” says Stefan Barniche. “I see myself as being in suspension, perhaps lost, but positively so, and have digested the question of identity. I deal with its more global aspect, its imprecision, its passages in form, and its continuous gliding, as reflected in my use of mixed mediums of art.”
Other artists simply draw from the contemporary world around them, and deal with direct, everyday observations. “I explore the relationship between colours, notions of disguise and revelation, and the interaction between living beings, in my work”, explains young artist, Gabrielle Manglou. “When the wind touches a leaf, there is life in that movement, and that is what I try and express through my drawings, sculptures, and videos.” There are others who examine the mechanics of space and time. Artist Yohann Quëland de Saint-Pern uses audio-visual displays to enquire into man’s relation to his geographical, physical, and mental surroundings. “I try and understand why we construct houses in one way in Reunion Island, in another way in France, and in a third way in India. My work is mainly concerned with geography, territories, and the body as the first interface with others.”
An array of ideas depicted through multiple forms, all challenging spectators to shed the preconceived ideas they might have of syncretic art, and interpret what they see before them through a fresh lens. As art critic Bernard Marcadé contends, Terre Offshore suggests “an extra-territorial dimension, a stage open to new adventures, and therefore, a platform to create new things”. A new experience of art is what you should come prepared for then — and you just might save yourself from tripping over the flat-screen TV lying on the floor, as you enter the exhibition.
The Terre Offshore-Reunion Island exhibition is on at Apparao Galleries until February 4. For details, call 28279803 or 28271477.