Flash News : Matisse at the Tate Modern – Lucio Fontana in Paris – Contemporary Art in New York

[02 May 2014]


Every fortnight, Artprice provides a short round up of art market news: Matisse at the Tate Modern – Lucio Fontana in Paris – Contemporary Art in New York

Matisse’s cut-outs at the Tate Modern

The Tate Modern in London is staging a focus on the paper cut-outs of Henri MATISSE from 17 April until 7 September 2014. This large-scale exhibition contains 120 works brought together from all over the world, and will be travelling to New York in October. It illustrates a cutting-out technique that the ageing Matisse substituted for painting when he was confined to a wheelchair, after a successful tumour operation. He was 72 when he began to express his new forms/signs by carving into colour, using scissors to cut paper painted with gouache, without any preparatory drawings. This work – on the borderline of sculpture and painting – is a pure language that combines freshness, rigour and energy to achieve the very essence of form. Far from being an « stopgap » technique, the cut-outs gave Matisse « an intense passion for painting », because, as he said, « in entirely renewing myself, I think I had found there one of the principal points of aspiration and formal fixation of our times. I do not think I have ever found such balance as in creating these paper cut-outs. » (Interview published in XXème siècle in 1970). This type of work is rarer than his drawings, meaning that small formats can fetch up to $1 million, like an Algue rouge sur fond bleu ciel from 1952 measuring 45 x 42 cm, knocked down for £580,000 in 2010 ($924,000 – $1.1 million including the buyer’s premium, 2 February, Christie’s London).

Fontana retrospective in Paris

The Musée d’Art Moderne in Paris is staging the largest French retrospective of Lucio FONTANA since 1987 (25 April to 24 August 2014). While his slashed canvases have become icons of art, the exhibition here goes far beyond them in displaying a comprehensive vision of his work and changes in style, through over 200 sculptures, paintings and ceramic pieces. A forerunner of Abstract art in Italy during the Thirties, then a figurehead in the Spatialist movement from 1947 onwards, Lucio Fontana produced his first Concetti spaziali (Spatial Concepts) in 1949. He began by perforating his canvases before slashing them ten years later, starting his Tagli series in 1958. A perforated work has held a record at auction – $18.5 million ($20.885 million including the buyer’s premium) – since 12 November 2013 (Christie’s New York).

This spectacular piece from 1963, on a human scale and in the form of an egg, features a surface perforated with a large number of holes: all openings onto the space that, according to the title, announces the End of God (Concetto spaziale, La fine di Dio). His major works now sell for up to $20 million, and his price index has been looking up since 2008, the year when he first began achieving eight-figure results. In ten years, Fontana’s prices have risen 66%, but the sovereign gesture of laceration is still accessible at between $3,000 and $6,000 on average, with smaller pieces, those produced in plastic (30 x 30 cm) or those in the form of a few prints, also with holes. This key name in modern and contemporary art sales also explored sculpture – notably ceramics: a side of his work that is less well-known, and well worth discovering at this Paris retrospective.

New York: the epicentre of contemporary art

The second week of May is one of the most important for the international contemporary art scene. It is a season when auction houses stage their prestige sales, and collectors also travel in droves to New York for the Frieze art fair. The third Frieze London is taking place on Randalls Island, New York, from 9 to 12 May this year. On the fringe of this outstanding event, which features many of the most specialised contemporary art galleries, no fewer than eight contemporary art fairs are being staged: the Salon Zürcher from 5 to 11 May, NADA and the PooL Art Fair New York from 9 to 11 May, and, between 8 and 11 May, the Contemporary Art Fair NYC, the Outsider Art Fair New York 2014, PULSE New York, VERGE Art New York and the French fair Cutlog, staging its second event at the Clemente Centre on Suffolk Street.
At the same time, Christie’s and Sotheby’s are setting their sights high with a number of works by Andy WARHOL, Gerhard RICHTER and Christopher WOOL, estimated at $25 million or $35 million, in post-war and contemporary sales representing 35% of annual performances in the auction market. As we know, contemporary art has been the most profitable segment in the market for the last decade, with prices rising 102%, compared with growth of 76.7% in post-war art and 18% in modern art. The world’s most powerful dealers and collectors will thus be navigating between offers in the primary and secondary markets, and endeavouring to absorb several thousand works of art in a single week.