Hope you are all starting to enjoy your summer with a nice Martini in hand on a breezy afternoon by the pool… I have to say I look forward to mine. While I write this I am still working hectically away in the office having just returned from Documenta, Zurich Gallery Weekend and Art Basel, and about to take off to Budapest.
In May I flew down to NY for the auction previews, The Whitney Biennale, Tefaf, Frieze and 1-54 Art Fairs. The auctions turned out to be very strong with the unquestionable highlight being the sale of Basquiat’s “Untitled” from 1984 for more than $110 million, placing Basquiat firmly in the very exclusive “> $100 million club” (beating the record of his mentor Andy Warhol for the most expensive post 1980 artwork). This sale exemplifies several underpinnings of the current state of affairs in the (hyped?) art market:
- New generation of super buyers: The work was acquired by the same 41 year old Japanese fashion tycoon that set Basquiat’s previous auction record of $57 million a year earlier.
- Social media and transparency: The buyer, Yusaku Maezawa, immediately posted the acquisition on his Instagram which went viral all over the globe.
- Bigger is better / brand names are everything / and not just artist names, galleries too: Wonder why the smaller and medium sized galleries can’t compete with the mega brands? People now talk more about buying at Gagosian/Zwirner/White Cube etc… than the artist they bought!
- Art can be a phenomenal investment: Take the long view. Hold on to your winners. “Untitled” was bought at auction in 1984 for $18’000 and sold in 2017, netting the seller circa $100’000’000. Do the math.
Tefaf was the best fair of the season in NY with a fabulous range of booths showing anything from breathtaking African tribal works to old masters, modern masters and contemporary masterpieces. The décor and location made it by far the most rewarding experience. Frieze had a good selection of galleries but what was initially a fun excursion out to Randall’s Island is turning out to be a barrier with most visitors coming for 1 day only. As usual for me, I discover very little to buy in the large fairs. On the other hand, despite only having 20 galleries, 1:54 African contemporary art fair out in Pioneer Works in Brooklyn was a very worthwhile trip, where I discovered several new artists to look out for: Modupeola Fadugba from Togo/Nigeria; Serge Attokwei Clottey from Ghana; Niyi Olagunju from Nigeria and Kudzanai-Violet Hwami from Zimbabwe.
My next stop was Venice for a few hectic days. As a general takeaway, this was the first time that I felt the collateral events of the Biennale were more interesting than the Biennale itself. Examples of highlights included the Phillip Guston show at Accademia and the neighboring Future Generation Art Prize exhibition organized by the Pinchuk Art Centre, the Palazzo Fortuny exhibition curated by Axel Vervoordt and the new Hauser & Wirth pop up at Palazzo Barbaro – an awesome 15th century Venitian classic - which was open all day for gallery friends to come for a rest, munch and drink, overlooking the Grand Canal. The national Pavillions of the Biennale itself where somewhat disappointing with the smaller countries proving more interesting: my standouts being Israel, Zimbabwe and South Africa. In the main exhibition “Viva Arte Viva” I was proud to see eight artists from the Tiroche DeLeon Collection getting their dues by Christine Macel.
While in Venice I also spoke at the Africa Art in Venice Forum on the subject of “Corporate Collections, Auction Houses and Art Funds”. The panel was moderated by Valerie Kabov - Editor at large of Art Africa Magazine as well as curator and founder of First Floor Gallery in Harare. This well-attended, hour long talk, featured a lively conversation between myself and Hannah O'Leary, Director, Department of African Contemporary Art at Sotheby's; Herman Steyn, founder of Scheryn Art Collection; and Marc Stanes, founder of Ebony Curated. We discussed how institutions such as ours are essential in building a solid foundation and support system for African Contemporary Art, as well as playing a critical role in the dissemination of knowledge and creation of an art "market".
As a fund, our role is to acquire works, expose them to new audiences, educate the market about the artists we discover and find timely opportunities to dispose of works in order to create secondary markets for artists who have achieved recognition, whilst simultaneously realizing profits for our investors. A wonderful occasion presented itself when Sotheby's announced the creation of a new African contemporary art department and an inaugural auction slated for May 2017. I strongly believed this to be a major step forward in the creation of a truly global and liquid market for African contemporary art, and an important platform to expose the creativity of the continent to new collector audiences. So I moved swiftly to collaborate with Sotheby's and ended up consigning a dozen works to the inaugural auction, working closely with Hannah O'Leary on the selection, positioning and marketing initiatives, which included the production of a special pre-catalog brochure for our Yinka Shonibare, cover lot placement and travelling exhibition program for our El Anatsui, as well as scholarly essays and premium placement in the catalog and auction exhibition for most other works. Sotheby's promised a special marketing effort around this inaugural auction which included lots of PR as well as events in Paris during FIAC, NY during the May auction previews, Venice during the Biennale and of course London during the viewing with a large African party and exclusive lunch. The auction itself was fairly successful with a total figure just under the auction's low estimate. We sold a total of 11 works, 3 of which achieved new world auction records for David Goldblatt, Yinka Shonibare and Pascale Martine Tayou and ending up in important institutional collections. With a sell through rate well above 90% by value, our sales represented more than 1/3 of the total auction turnover, comfortably beating our low estimates for a very good outcome.
We had a much less favorable outcome with a few unsuccessful placements in the HK auctions later in May, whose value was subsequently marked down in our books. Also in May, we realized a work via private sale to one of the fund's investors at our pre-determined 25% premium to book value. The May NAV reflects all the above transactions. See our Q2 Fact-Sheet for more details.
After the London African auction, I headed over to Paris for a day trip to see some more African art. The Afrique Capitales exhibition at Parc de la Villette was disappointing despite the participation of artists we collect in the fund, namely William Kentridge, Lavar Munroe and Abdoulaye Konate. My next stop was the Fondation Louis Vuitton which had put together an inspiring African contemporary exhibition in 3 parts: The lower lever containing a selection of works from the collection of Jean Pigozzi, curated by Andre Magnin; the middle level presenting a mini survey of contemporary South African art - with highlights being a selection of works by David Goldblatt, Kudzanai Chiurai and Athi Patra Ruga and a large scale installation by Nikolas Hlobo; and the 3rd level a selection of recent acquisitions by the LV Foundation. The latter was the most conservative and least interesting part in my eyes, despite some excellent works by Romuald Hazoume, Lynette Yiadom Boakye and Willian Kentridge - whose large mural cutouts also decorated the principal halls of the Museum. Overall, a highly recommended exhibition that significantly contributes to the growing interest and visibility of African contemporary art.
My last trip in May was to Moscow for some meetings and location visits in relation to a potential strategic collaboration invloving large scale exhibitions from the collection. More on this when it materializes.
June was another busy month. I went on a road trip with my 18 year old son, for whom this was an inaugural art world trip. We visited our storage in Frankfurt to inspect some works and discuss ways to make more efficient use of our space. This has already resulted in 10% savings in our storage costs there, with potentially further savings down the line. We then drove to Documenta, which I found unusual and frankly disappointing compared to the previous edition. The highlight was a beautifully haunting installation of Shilpa Gupta works from our collection, at the Karlskirche Church in the Heart of Kassel, as part of the Luther and the Avant Garde exhibition.
Next stop was Zurich for the Gallery Weekend which included visits to private collections, museum visits, gallery openings, etc… after which my son headed back home to sit some exams. Most memorable was our outing with a group of Art Basel VIPs to Henau and Saint Galen to see the private collection of Ursula Hauser; lunch and a guided visit of Sitterwerk, a remarkable production facility where some of the best contemporary artists from around the world produce their sculptures, and the neighboring estate of Hans Josephson; and finally a quick stop at the famous Abbey Library of St. Gallen which should be declared a world heritage site if it isn’t already! The gallery tour in the funky Lowenbrau district on a sunny afternoon is another experience not to be missed.
Then on I went to the biggest art event of the year, Art Basel, which was simply Wow! Some really powerful booths in the main fair led to an impressive stream of sales reports on opening day, primarily by the big galleries. The stream turned into a gushing river the following day and by the third day some galleries decided to ‘turn down the volume’ for fear of overheating the market. It was also rewarding to see some new galleries that we have been supporting over the years move up in the fair ecosystem. Standout booths were Kraupa Tuscany Zeidler with fabulous works by Avery Singer and Guan Xiao, both making huge strides with their careers and Antenna Space who also showed a solo installation by the very talented young Chinese artist Guan Xiao. But for me, the exciting findings were actually in the smaller fairs - Liste, Volta and even Scope, which was quite a poor fair with the exception of 2-3 booths.
My final trip this quarter is to Hungary where Art Market Budapest, the regional art fair held in October, is planning a special focus on Israel for the upcoming edition. I was invited as consultant and will be coordinating a variety of projects for them including outdoor sculptures and performances, booth presentations, talks, an exhibition of works from my collections and even a first art fair partnership for ArtRunners, the art logistics startup I co-founded in 2015.
Coming up in the third quarter are most probably trips to Code Art Fair in Copenhagen, followed by a short visit to Contemporary Istanbul and the Biennale, and then on to Cape Town for the grand opening of the Zeitz Museum - another big moment for the bustling African contemporary scene.
In the newsletter you will find links to a number of articles I found particularly interesting this past quarter and a report on our sales and institutional loans. The fund is now in its holding and consolidation period which means it is closed to new investors and the focus shifts to promoting existing artworks and occasional selling to meet redemption requests, the first of which is currently being processed.
Apologies for the long write-up and congratulations if you made your way down to this point. I am always at your disposal to discuss any thoughts or questions.
Wishing you a wonderfully relaxing summer and a beautiful suntan.
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