Flash News: Eduardo Arroyo – Christie’s and Blockchain

[26 Oct 2018]

Eduardo Arroyo

Eduardo ARROYO (1937-2018) died on 14 October at the age of 81. A journalist and a writer, he also applied his talents to engraving, sculpture, set design and, above all, painting. After exiling himself from Franco’s Spain in 1958, he settled in Paris where he became a major representative of the Narrative Figuration movement and of Spanish Neo-figuration. He he was best known for his large compositions in the form of visual enigmas dealing with exile, political assassinations and the international collusion that served to mask the quasi-fascist reality of Franco’s regime in Spain. The most striking example of this type of work is a large polyptych entitled Four Disemboweled Dictators depicting General Franco alongside Mussolini, Hitler and Salazar. Exhibited during the 3rd Paris Biennale in 1963, the work contributed to the Arroyo’s notoriety despite strong protests from the Spanish government. Ideologically and creatively uncompromising, Arroyo was also critical of his artistic peers as illustrated in his The tragic end of Marcel Duchamp, painted in 1965 with Gilles Aillaud and Antonio Recalcati. In the work, the trio depict themselves as the murderers of the inventor of the ready-made thereby presenting a manifesto of the movement’s pictorial and artistic intentions.

Having criticised the regime in his home country and having sought political refugee status in France (where he remained until after Franco’s death in 1975), Arroyo’s work was recognised in Spain much later than elsewhere. His first solo exhibition in Spain was at Barcelona’s Maeght Gallery) in 1977. Years later, Arroyo received Spain’s National Prize for Fine Arts and the Gold Medal of Merit.

After a period of less ‘political’ creation, with the return of democracy in Spain, Arroyo started to create highly enigmatic compositions such as «A la Tate Gallery José Maria Blanco White est surveillé…» (1979). Although not his most dissenting or critical work, the painting set the artist’s current auction record when it was acquired for $150,000 at Sotheby’s London in 2003…

Clearly, demand for Narrative Figuration is still highly selective with Valerio ADAMI (1935) and Peter KLASEN (1935) enjoying the bulk of the interest. However, with with two of its major ambassadors (Arroyo and Jacques Monory) leaving us this past fortnight, tributes will no doubt multiply and highlight their talents.

Christie’s and Blockchain

On 13 and 14 November the world’s first blockchain auction will be held. The Barney A. Ebsworth Collection has close to one hundred lots worth an estimated total of $300 million. Christie’s New York has partnered with Artory, an art blockchain platform that will produce an encrypted certificate of authenticity for each lot containing a full set of information (title, description, final price and date). Christie’s will then give each buyer a key to access the encrypted information concerning their acquisition(s). Christie’s is clearly positioning itself as a leader in the wider debate about the links between technology and the art market. Last July it organised a summit in London entitled ART + Tech: Exploring blockchain – is the art world ready for consensus? The summit’s title rather cleverly suggested that blockchain technology is inevitable… in fact, only a matter of time.

According to Blockchain France, blockchain is an information storage and transmission technology that is transparent, secure and operates without any central controlling body. It works through separate encrypted blocks that are validated, one by one, by trusted third parties. Everyone can consult all the exchanges or transactions that have occurred in the blockchain since its creation. The technology is not supervised by any central authority since it relies on peer relations, which ensure the security and traceability of information. Originally created to keep track of transactions in crypto currencies such as bitcoins, this technology has all the characteristics to become dominant in the Art Market. Firstly, from the artist’s point of view, it makes it possible to register and secure property rights reliably. While this is important for artists working in classical media, this type of ‘traceability’ is absolutely essential for digital artists whose works are often diffused in an uncontrolled manner.

A blockchain also makes it possible to authenticate operations such as the signature of contracts with galleries for example, or the purchase of an artwork at auction. The digitalisation of the art market makes it possible to introduce a greater transparency into a rather opaque market and to enhance trust and confidence between buyers and sellers. The Ebsworth sale is an excellent ‘first’ to test the relevance of the blockchain in an auction environment given the incredible exhibition and literary history of the works on offer, and the detailed provenances of the works. Recognized as one of the most important collections of American Modernism, it includes no less than three works by Georgia O’KEEFFE, Woman as Landscape by Willem DE KOONING and a couple of masterpieces by Jackson Pollock and Jasper Johns. It also includes Edward Hopper’s Chop Suey (1929) that has already caught the attention of collectors… and the bidding could well exceed estimates. Record or not, whatever happens to this painting will be meticulously recorded on the blockchain!