Flash News: Nu couché – Rockefeller collection – ​ Dakar Biennale

[18 May 2018]

Modigliani’s Reclining Nude fetches 4th highest bid of all time

Sotheby’s had given Amedeo MODIGLIANI (1884-1920)’s Nu couché (sur le côté gauche) an extremely bold estimate… in fact the highest estimate in Fine Art auction history: $150 million. But its sale on Monday 14 May 2018 in New York only slightly exceeded that amount and fell short of the artist’s record of $170 million hammered for another Reclining Nude (1917-1918) in November 2015 at Christie’s.

The painting sold this week was more than twice the size of the previous Reclining Nude (1.3 m² vs. 0.5 m²). The difference in price between the two paintings probably reflects the position of the model. In the painting sold on Monday night, the young woman turns her back to the viewer. In the one that inspired the bidding two and a half years ago, the girl literally offers herself to the artist at very close range.

Nevertheless – collectors’ preferences aside – the sales of these two works prove Amedeo Modigliani’s Art Market preeminence. The market success of his paintings and sculptures is only equalled by the likes of Pablo Picasso, Alberto Giacometti and Francis Bacon. Modigliani now has two paintings in the five most expensive artworks ever sold at auction.

The Rockefeller sale approaches the one-billion-dollar threshold

Although there was a risk of counting chickens before they hatched, Christie’s certainly had every reason in the world to pump up its 8 May sale. Indeed the Rockefeller collection, one of the largest (4,000 lots) and most prestigious sales ever held (11 estimates on demand only) had all the makings of the “Sale of the Century”.

Nevertheless, caution could not be dispatched that easily… In 2016, the Alfred Taubman collection recalled the risks associated with these ‘exceptional’ sales. That particular operation ended up costing Sotheby’s $12 million after it guaranteed the entire sale to the tune of $500 million!

Fortunately, the Rockefeller collection had the huge advantage of being a charity auction, with the proceeds going to Harvard University, the Council on Foreign Relations and the Stone Barns Restoration Corporation (among others). It was therefore an excellent opportunity to acquire a masterpiece from one of the world’s finest collections and perform a ‘good deed’ at the same time… tax deductible to boot.

Not surprising therefore that the sale generated a series of new auction records. Claude MONET (1840-1926) and Henri MATISSE (1869-1954) – two of art history’s greatest geniuses – both scored new records above the $80 million threshold. Pablo Picasso’s Fillette à la corbeille fleurie (1905), a historic painting from the Gertrude Stein collection, reached $115 million (the second-highest price for a work by Picasso).

At the first evening sale, 44 lots generated a total of $646 million, the 7th best sales tally in auction history, but the best total for a single collection, largely exceeding the record set by the Yves Saint Laurent / Pierre Berge sale in 2009 ($484 million). In total, it took seven sessions to disperse the treasures collected by Peggy and David Rockefeller including an 11-day online sale giving a maximum number of collectors access to approximately 1,000 lots in one of the most prestigious collections of all time. The final tally of $833 million is a record for a private collection and a watershed for the Art Market. The highly symbolic one-billion-dollar threshold is now much closer.

There can be no doubt that the art market is experiencing a period of spectacular growth. All price limits have been exceeded and the number of transactions has never been so dense.

The Dakar Biennale… a highly promising Contemporary Art event

This month (May 3 – June 2 ), Senegal’s biennial fair for Contemporary African art, Dak’art, has brought together several hundred artists and art professionals.

Titled L’Heure Rouge (a reference to Aimé Césaire’s literary tragedy), this thirteenth edition of Dak’art is showing 75 artists from 33 countries in Dakar’s disused law courts. This year, the Biennial pays tribute to one of the country’s biggest celebrities, Ousmane SOW (1935-2016) (who died in December 2016). His house in Dakar has just reopened as a museum.

One of the fair’s most anticipated artists, the Franco-Beninese Emo Medeiros has attracted much attention with a gigantic installation that represents a veritable technical challenge for the building that hosts it. Covering an area of 300 m², the installation uses mirrors, neon, twenty surveillance cameras and monumental projections to inspire reflection about the relationship between humans and technology. The work of this versatile artist has been exhibited around the world in solo and group exhibitions (Paris’s Palais de Tokyo in 2014 and its Salon de Montrouge and the Marrakech Biennale in 2016, among others).

This year’s Dakar Biennale has benefited from a year of preparation (instead of 4 months for the previous edition), a doubled contribution from the Senegalese government and an exhibition space increased by 700 m². It now clearly has ambitions commensurate with the enthusiasm inspired by African Contemporary Art on the international scene; African Contemporary Art is becoming increasingly visible in Western art galleries and auction catalogues.

In 2017, specialised sales dedicated to Contemporary African art were organised by in France by Piasa, Cornette de Saint-Cyr and Artcurial, and in London by Sotheby’s and Bonhams. Together these sales generated several tens of millions of dollars.

The market has been particularly buoyant in France which hosted a number of specialised events in 2017 including the AKAA Art & Design Fair and exhibitions at La Villette (100% Afrique), the Louis Vuitton Foundation, the Galeries Lafayette (AfricaNow). There was also a special focus on African art at Art Paris Art Fair.

This exposure has translated into a modest inflation of auction prices. In May 2017, Sotheby’s first specialised sale dedicated to Modern & Contemporary African art in London generated $3.7 million and a dozen new auction records. These included a new record for Yinka SHONIBARE (1962) with his sculpture Crash Willy fetching nearly £225,000 (a record that has since been revised by another of his sculptures Girl Balancing Knowledge which sold for $328,000 at Christie’s, nearly three times its high estimate).

Another example occurred at Bonhams last February when a painting titled Tutu (1974) by Ben Enwonwu, recently rediscovered in a London apartment, fetched nearly 2 million, more than triple its high estimate.

London is undoubtedly the capital for African art market. On its continent of origin, the market is still very young; but the international dynamic – bolstered by events like Dak’art – should allow the emergence of new collectors and foster a more liquid and stronger domestic market.