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Flash News: Milan – ​Subodh Gupta – ​ Albert Oehlen

[04 May 2018]

Milan.… unavoidable

After recovering from Fashion Week last February, Milan was still bubbling in April. Over two-weeks three events with international reach animated the Lombardi capital attracting collectors, art enthusiasts, artists and art professionals: the Miart (Modern and Contemporary art fair), held during the Milano Art week in mid-April, and the Milan Design Fair, emphatically proving that Milan is indeed a burgeoning center for artistic creation.

Both Christie’s and Sotheby’s have clearly understood this. This year, the two auction houses celebrated their respective 60th and 50th years of presence in the city with spring sales dedicated to Modern and Contemporary Art (primarily Italian).

The catalogues for these sales contained works by all the top Italian artists accustomed to 7-digit results (Fontana, Manzoni, Scarpitta), but also works by artists that are rare on the market, like the Futurist Umberto BOCCIONI whose works are nearly all in major museums (MoMA, Museo del Novecento in Milan, etc.). Both houses managed to offer a painting by Boccioni… at Sotheby’s, a portrait of young-girl which failed to sell, and at Christie’s a striking example of Boccioni at the beginning of his artistic maturity; a superb and intense portrait of a young man that fetched $470,000 (Ritratto di giovane).

Another rare work at Christie’s April 11 Milan sale was one of Alighiero BOETTI’s ballpoint Aerei drawings (a multitude of white aeroplanes against a blue background). From a private collection where it had been since it was created, the drawing fetched $178,000, more than three and a half times its low estimate.

Lucio FONTANA – omnipresent throughout these Milan auctions – was the highlight of Sotheby’s sale with his Concetto Spaziale – Attese (1967) fetching nearly $3 million (1 million more than its high estimate). Fontana is now a truly international star: on 31 March a Concetto Spaziale-Attese (1965) sold in Hong Kong for $3.6 million. That result lifted Fontana among the top selling artists in China, along with Basquiat and Richter, and it confirms the progress of Western artists in the Chinese market.

While there can be no doubt about the high level of interest in Contemporary Italian art over the past five years [see our Top Italian 09/16/2017], the totals hammered by these two spring sales are still far behind the records set by the same auctioneers at their Italian Sales in London. In Milan, Christie’s generated $18 million compared with $42 million last autumn from its London sale,Thinking Italian. So, in the absence of a strictly financial logic, the decision to host sales in Milan is highly ‘symbolic’ and ‘strategic’. The city’s dynamism and its deep supply of high quality Modern artworks makes Milan an unavoidable marketplace.

Subodh Gupta at the Paris Mint (Monnaie de Paris)

A major figure on the Indian Contemporary art scene, Subodh GUPTA is showing at the Paris Mint (Monnaie de Paris) from 13 April to 26 August 2018. Entitled Adda (meeting in Hindi) this first solo exhibition in France has been organised as a space for encounters and exchanges around the artist’s work. The diversity of the works – painting, photography, performance, video and sculpture – contributes to the development of a sensitive and critical testimony of the interweaving of tradition and modernity in contemporary India. There are monumental sculptures like his iconic Very Hungry God (2006) and Two cows (2003) made of stainless steel kitchenware (the latter fetched $542,500 at a Christie’s sale in New York in 2010). His more recent works are not immediately identifiable; Anahad (2017) is an installation of large steel panels like mirrors that begin to tremble in response to a deep bass sound effect. Some works are exhibited at the heart of the museum’s collection at 11 Quai de Conti alongside the gold-plated medal designed by the artist during his residence, the fruit of a genuine dialogue between the artist and the expertise of the Paris Mint.

By inviting Gupta, Paris celebrates India’s creativity… and not for the first time. In 2011, the French capital hosted Paris-Delhi-Bombay, a collective exhibition at the Center Pompidou that exhibited works by India’s top artists, including Gupta, who made a strong impression back then.

Albert Oehlen at the height of his influence

The 63-year-old German painter Albert OEHLEN has had a flamboyant career and has become the darling of market-markers and famous American artists who collect his work, including Christopher Wool. A student of Sigmar Polke, Oehlen likes to mix styles mostly through an abstract style of painting that uses layering and constantly reinvents itself. The career of this Neo-expressionist, also described as a “free radical”, is as impressive institutionally (exhibitions at the Museum of Modern Art of the City of Paris, the Guggenheim in Bilbao and the 55th Venice Biennale in 2013) as it is in market terms. His price index has shown one of the strongest inflation rates on the planet, up more than 3,200% over the last 20 years.

Last year Oelhen was one of the hottest artists on the global market setting no fewer than five new million-plus auction records in 12 months including a record at over $3.6 million for a self-portrait sold at Christie’s in March (Selbstporträt mit Palette). This effervescence was driven by a two-month exhibition organised by his gallerist Larry Gagosian in New York (Elevator Paintings: Trees, 28 February – 15 April 2017). In financial terms, the show produced immediate results: his painting Eine Prähistorische Hand II (A Prehistoric Hand II), acquired for less than $215,000 in 2010, sold for over $2.16 million one month after the Gagosian exhibition ended. The Contemporary art market is extremely reactive to prestige news, especially news involving the major galleries and dealers who have become today’s primary prescribers of artistic value. Albert Oehlen’s excellent market momentum will probably continue this year because the Gagosian effect will be relayed by the Pinault effect with a long exhibition at the Palazzo Grassi. The exhibition – open until 6 January 2019 – is titled Cows by the Water and brings together 85 paintings from 1980 to the present day.






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