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Flash News: MoMA puts a Dubuffet and a Mathieu up for sale – Klimt – Works to exceed the 10 million mark – Karel Appel

[03 Mar 2017]

MoMA puts a Dubuffet and a Mathieu up for sale

In November, MoMA asked the Parisian Applicat-Prazan Gallery to sell two post-war works from its collections: Topographie châtaine (1959) by Jean DUBUFFET and Théorème d’Alexandroff (1955) by Georges MATHIEU. In March 2017, these works will go on sale at major international fairs (Tefaf Maastricht and Art Basel Hong Kong) for a price that remains confidential. Like Topographie pariétale (sold in 2014 at Sotheby’s Paris for more than $200,000), Topographie châtaine is part of research on the soil carried out by Dubuffet following his move to Vence.

This is not the first sale by the Museum of Modern Art, which is in fact the museum that most regularly sells works from its collections. In 2015, it indeed sold The Poplars at Giverny by Claude MONET for nearly $13.5 million at Sotheby’s London. In the United States, the works owned by museums can be sold, although the conditions of sale are usually very strict, notably with the obligation to use the proceeds of the sale to develop the collection. However, these sales create controversy over possible malpractice: in 2013, the judicial executor who had the full power to manage the tricky finances of the city of Detroit advocated selling the entire collection of the municipal museum to pay off Detroit’s enormous debt, without consulting the local authority. Today, MoMA itself circumvents the recommendation of selling works through public sale by choosing to sell at two art fairs through a French gallery. On the other side of the Atlantic, the liberties, even if strictly regulated, that certain museums take with their collections raise many questions in a country like France, where artworks in public collections cannot be sold. The only possibility of decommissioning an artwork is through retrocession. In 2002, the Musée de l’Homme in Paris, for example, returned the Hottentot Venus to South Africa. But the inalienability of artworks still prohibits selling them in France, in order to prevent museums from speculating on the value of artists. But for how long?

Klimt. Extraordinary profits

Gustav KLIMT was the star of the week in London where major Impressionist and Modern art sales took place, especially at Sotheby’s, which had managed to land a rare painting from 1907 for their 1 March sale, a remarkable 110×110 cm flower-filled landscape, undoubtedly one of the artist’s best works. Entitled Bauerngarten, this masterpiece had previously been sold for $5.3 million. It was in November 1994, as part of a major sale at Christie’s, London. In twenty years, its price has gone through the roof… This time, the estimate was $45m, but the landscape sold for $59.3m on 1 March 2017. Between these two sales, Klimt has become one of the most expensive artists in the world, with a record sale of $87.9 million for the Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer II, which was subjected to complex restitution procedures, as the work was confiscated in 1939 after Germany’s annexation of Austria, before being bought by famous American TV presenter Oprah Winfrey on 8 November 2006 at Christie’s in London. However, on 8 February 2017, Oprah announced an exceptional profit from her Klimt painting, which she sold for 150 million dollars to a private collector in China. The TV presenter thus achieved a profit of $62 million in a decade…

Contemporary works expected to exceed the 10 million mark

London. A few days after the sales of Modern and Contemporary art came Post-war and Contemporary art sales, and among the star lots, five contemporary works could well pass £10 million. Three works will first be put up for sale on 7 March at Christie’s: the museum work Être et paraître painted by Jean Dubuffet in 1963 (between £7 and £10m), the impressive Cobourg 3+1 More by Peter DOIG (between £8 and £12m ), and above all the luminous No. 1 (1949) by Mark ROTHKO, an absolute masterpiece to which Christie’s devotes a specific catalogue of some sixty pages… Although the estimate has not been revealed, such a work displays all the qualities required to reach top sale prices in March… Six colourful abstract paintings by Rothko have indeed sold for $50 million over the past 10 years. The following day, Richter and Basquiat will be featured at Sotheby’s, with a monochromatic canvas by Richter (an iceberg estimated between £8 and £12 million) and Untitled (One Eyed Man or Xerox Face) by Basquiat, a work from 1982 (his best year) estimated at between £14 and £18m. Only Christie’s and Sotheby’s are focusing on the most upmarket segment, as Philips has chosen to sell works that are slightly less sought after. Several sales over the million mark are nevertheless expected on 8 March at Phillips, notably for major artists such as Rudolf Stingel, Miquel Barcelo, Yoshitomo Nara and Christopher Wool.

Karel Appel at the Museum of Modern Art in Paris

Only two years after an exhibition devoted to his drawings at the Pompidou Centre, the Museum of Modern Art in Paris dedicates a major retrospective to Karel APPEL, entitled Art as celebration from 24 February to 20 August 2017. This first major retrospective in France is based in particular on a large donation from the Karel Appel Foundation in Amsterdam (17 paintings and 4 sculptures), reveals the exhibition’s curator, Choghakate Kazarian. The exhibition aims at being as complete as possible and at covering the artist’s long career spanning more than 60 years, from the 1940s to 2006, the year of the artist’s death. It reveals the artist’s early interest in psychopathological art, his stylistic experiences and his very personal – and sometimes abstract – interpretation of traditional subjects such as the nude, portraits and urban or rural landscapes. Visitors are immersed in the expressive intensity of an artist rebelling against pictorial convention and who was one of the most remarkable founders and agitators of the CoBRa movement (created in 1948 and dissolved in 1951). Punctuated by sculptures, assemblages and large installations from between 1970 and 1990, the exhibition ends with an enigmatic painting undertaken shortly before the artist’s death and on which one can read the inscription Feetje? meaning « small celebration » in Dutch. This small celebration directly echoes the title of the exhibition, leaving the spectator faced with the question it asks…

Emblematic of an avant-garde that challenged the rules to broaden the field of art, Appel’s prolific production is anti-elitist in essence. The sheer volume of his print production – which represents more than 60% of the artist’s sales over the last two years – makes his work accessible for only a few hundred dollars… Some drawings, spontaneous both in their line and their use of colour, are now sold for less than $3,000 at auction, like his Nu couché from 1967, sold at a provincial auction house in France in November 2016 (at Encheres Pays de Loire in Angers, on 29 November). Appel’s notoriety and his importance in the history of Western art have of course greatly expanded the demand for his work, especially in the United States. His most important paintings indeed sell for several hundred thousand dollars in London, New York, and Amsterdam, where the artist was born. But it was in Paris that the artist reached his absolute record – his only million dollar sale to date – for a 1951 painting, Two birds and a Flower ($1.09m at Christie’s Paris, on 3 December 2012). Paris that, without doubt, never ceases to pay tribute to Karel Appel.

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