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Tuckerbox: New kids on the Auction Block

One thing about auctioneering in Sydney, New South Wales:  you never know who's in, who's out, who's hot, who's not - the market's always dynamic and new players are constantly throwing their hats into the ring, and exiting it seemingly just as fast. The big boys may stay the same - sort of - with changes in partnership, allegiance and formal name here and there - but just who's on top depends on the day and the offering.

This is somewhat reflected in regional activity.  The market's pretty tight here and everybody gets to know everybody real fast.  It's a good thing I'm in the habit of a) telling the truth and b) not talking trash about anyone, because it would be bound to get back to them.

But I digress.  My point was that collectors have been noticing a marked improvement in the quality of pieces coming up at Tuckerbox Auctions.  Now, it would be wrong to call them 'new'; no-nonsense shoot-from-the-hip auctioneer John Clark has been around for a good many years and has perhaps been thought of as a rung or two further down on the posh ladder than some of the others, in a nice, folksy, non-pejorative sort of way. Son Brad joined the game a few years back, and now son Grant is improving the tech side. Things are changing.  Collectors would do well to watch out for what Tuckerbox call their 'special' sales, which often feature special collections and the estates of prominent country families.

Outta Space

Seems like I've been blogging an awful lot about Sotheby's recently.  Well, they're always in the news, so one can hardly help it.

In April the auction giant will be offering a 50 year old Soviet space capsule at auction in New York. It's expected to make $2 - 10  million.

Wow! Spacecraft are now vintage items!  Wonder what my grandmother, to whom space travel was breaking news, would have made of that?

So, is there room at the top? (of the Sydney art market)

The Australian reported that Bonham's is throwing its hat into the ring of the already crowded Sydney art market.  You will recall that Sotheby's and Menzies are already among the top players?  Well, Menzies'  Litsa Veldekis is heading over to Bonhams Australia and will debut an art auction in August.

Stay tuned.

Unnoticed Audubon at Indiana University

Here's a little tidbit:  you remember I blogged about John J. Audubon's Birds of America, which was estimated to go for a cool $8 million at auction (it didn't; it sold for a record 11.5 million, but who's counting?).  Okay, I think I about it on Paws for Thought, so maybe you missed it.

Anyway, while all this was going on, sitting quietly in Indiana University's Lilly Library, minding its own business, is another copy of the same book.  According to this press release students and interested others can get up close and personal with this work and Audubon scholars at a special summer seminar this July.  And you don't even need $11,500,000.  Ain't schools grand?

When opulence becomes decadence

I've been crazy busy, as is usual of late, so I suppose that by now everyone has seen last week's spate of  articles regarding protests over the so-called 'Orgy of the Rich' (i.e. art sales) at Sotheby's?

I wasn't there, but as I understand it, a bunch of artists who believe we should be giving more to...oh, I don't know...school lunches, art programs and medicines to underdeveloped countries...protested both outside and on the selling floor of Sotheby's recent contemporary art auction.  By all accounts they shocked and embarrassed patrons and staff, Tobias Meyer, the auctioneer, handled it with aplomb, (shall we start again? quoth he), and things went on pretty much as if nothing had happened, in spite of, or perhaps because of, the disruption.  Evidently everybody appreciated the performance art.  Sales totalled 44.4 million, and included the Ai Weiwei sunflowers I've already written about. And from the there's-no-such-thing-as-bad-publicity department, Sotheby's, I daresay, are laughing all the way to the bank.

What people do with their money in a world with so much injustice is an interesting subject for a person for whom a large part of her living depends on the trade in antiques and art.

I contrast this with an article about a luxury yacht which was being rigged with showers that would spray champagne.  The comments were caustic in the extreme; all except one, which said, basically, that the self-righteous should consider the 'trickle down' effect of such spending, and keep in mind that there are people who make nice livings from the Lifestyles of the Rich and Infamous.

Is it largely a question of degree?  How much is too much?  When is enough enough?  When does opulence become inexcusable decadence?

Sotheby's did what?! That's no way to treat a gentleman.

Those of us who run modest antiques establishments take some small comfort when antiques professionals of note make mistakes.  It's not that we enjoy hearing about the misfortunes of others, it's more the reinforcement of the idea that anyone can make a mistake.  We do our best and carry on.

Of course, there are mistakes and then there are...um...mistakes.  Take the current dishy news item reported in the Telegraph and now being Twittered all over the world.  Florida socialite Aila Goodlin is suing the auction house, claiming that not only did they negligently damage a  portrait of Robert Cecil she had entrusted to them (rather a nice one, by Dutch artist John de Critz - the sort of thing you don't want to leave hanging about [no puns intended] to be warped and worn) but, the lawsuit asserts, they then wrote a backdated document describing alleged existing damage.  Ohdearohdearohdear.

The Telegraph (UK) 14 February 2011 quotes Diana Phillips of Sotheby's as saying “Sotheby’s was not responsible for any damage done to the painting while it was in Sotheby’s possession [really?] and we believe the lawsuit to be meritless.”

All righty, then. Here come the judge...Here come the judge...(some of you are old enough to get that).

Fine Art doing well

So Fine Art and Antiques dealers keep talking about how well things are doing at the 'top end' of the market.  Paintings have been doing particularly well, and to prove it, the big auction houses are holding major sales this month.

Results don't disappoint. Picasso's “La Lecture” (which depicts his mistress, Marie Therese Walter, asleep in an armchair) sold for over $40 million, and Salvador Dali’s “Portrait de Paul Eluard” set a new record for his works, almost triple what was expected, fetching just under $20 million. 

The surprise this week was “Three Studies for a Portrait of Lucian Freud”, a triptych by Francis Bacon.  It was sold to an anonymous bidder for $37 million.

Contemporary Art will be up next.  One item that amuses me is an exhibit of hand painted sunflower seeds by Ai Weiwei, a Chinese artists who's a current sensation.  One of his larger works caused a bit of a headache when exhibited at the Tate Modern:  originally people were invited to walk over them, and the ensuing dust storm was considered a health risk.  I'm not sure how Sotheby's will exhibit the work they'll have for sale (apparently the artist allows the venue to decide whether the seeds are piled up in a mound, spread out like a carpet...?)

Moore may be less: Possible fake sculpture at Melboure Auction House

The Age reports this morning that Mother and Child, a sculpture purportedly by the late  Henry Moore, a famous 20th Century British artist, might not be real.

What a drag for the Auction House, Mossgreen of Melbourne, and the sculpture's owner, Robert Doble.

Paul Sumner, the director of Mossgreen, ethically pulled the item right away.  Unfortunately, literature for the auction was already printed.  In fact, I was just about to blog about the auction, which may signal (we hope) an upturn in the market.

The punchline is, of course, that the item may yet turn out to be authentic, but to be safe, it had to be pulled from this safe until all doubt is removed.

What a pain in the posterior for all concerned!

English Excursions

All sorts of fun happenings at English societies this spring.  The French Porcelain Society is going to Copenhagen the first week in May, with visits to some important collection. I don't think I'll be able to make it, but Martin might, lucky him.  Sevres, Meissen, Danish design - no fair!

The English Ceramic Circle are holding a weekend seminar at the V & A, March 26-27.  That sounds like fun, too. 

AND Europe's biggest antiques fair happens this time of year, too.  Sometimes it's hard to live all the way Down Under...but stay tuned, our season is about to kick off, too!