Hey now, hey now, my bunting’s back. Again.

12 05 2013

 

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Banksy, ‘Slave Labour (Bunting Boy)’

So it appears Banksy’s troublesome wall mural will appear at auction yet again, having been withdrawn from sale in the US earlier in the year (if you’re curious, you can read more about that here) … and yet again, I ask – was Banksy involved in the ‘restoration’ of the previously absent bunting, and if not, will the auction house make note of their handiwork in their catalogue entry?

What do you reckon the odds are? Somewhere between Buckley’s and none I’ll wager.

 

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And the ballroom dancers went around… and around… and around again. A lesson in reading auction figures.

6 03 2013
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John Brack, ‘Backs and Fronts’ (image via http://www.aasd.com.au)

Hello, old friend. Nice to see you again.

It’s good to know some things never change. As regular as clockwork… John Brack’s Backs and Fronts is back on the auction podium for the fourth time in nine years. Wouldn’t be the first, and certainly won’t be the last rapid-fire repeat customer in the Australian art auction world. But I’ve grown particularly fond of this one over the years. Not to mention, those pirouetting figures offer a lovely analogy for the way this painting keeps spinning back and forth through the auction market.

I had a glance back over the painting’s auction record, and it reminded me of an object (or, perhaps ‘abject’) lesson to take on board when looking at reported prices. Thankfully, the Australian Art Sales Digest now publishes hammer prices (the price that the auctioneer calls out at the fall of hammer), not just prices realised (hammer price plus buyer’s premium), which thankfully makes the following exercise much easier.

When many people look at auction prices, (such as the prices for Backs and Fronts over the years laid out in the table below), they simply compare the prices in each column. So, for example, you’d be thinking… “hmm… The painting sold for $1,700,000 in 2007, then $1,800,000 in 2010. Given the whole GFC/collapse of the art market thingy, that’s not too shabby in terms of a return, really, is it? At least they didn’t lose any money.”

Sale date Hammer price Price incl. premium
25/11/1997 (Christie’s) $215,000 $239,000
10/3/2004 (Deutscher-Menzies) $392,290 $470,750
13/6/2007 (Deutscher-Menzies) $1,700,000 $2,040,000
24/6/2010 (Menzies) $1,800,000 $2,160,000
21/3/2013 (Menzies) (yet to be offered) estimate: $1,400,000-1,800,000

Above figures from Australian Art Sales Digest: www.aasd.com.au

But herein lies the problem with that approach. The question you should really be asking is: “what did it cost the buyer to acquire the painting, and what did they recoup when it was sold?” To work that out, you need to first look in the ‘price including premium column’ – that is the total amount the buyer would have had to pay to acquire the artwork. So in 2007, for example, the buyer ponied up $2,040,000 to get their mitts on Backs and Fronts. Then, you need to look at the ‘hammer price’ in 2010 – $1,800,000 – and subtract a good chunk of that amount to account for estimated selling costs (commission, insurance, illustration and cataloguing fees). Let’s make that a round (and fairly modest) 15%.

So when the person who bought the painting in 2007 sold it in 2010 the net amount heading their way would be ($1,800,000 – 15%) = $1,530,000.

Instead of what appears to be a slight rise in value from $1,700,000 to $1,800,000, we now have a fairly dramatic loss – $2,040,000 outlay becomes $1,530,000.

Not so rosy now. And that doesn’t even take into account the effects of adjusting for inflation.

So what does that tell us about the upcoming reappearance of our spinning ladies and gents at auction? Well, the low-end of the 2013 estimate is $1,400,000. That means the reserve price must be equal to, or fall below, $1,400,000. Let’s take the 15% selling costs from that figure… that gives us $1,190,000 ($1,400,000 – 15%). That is the net amount the seller will pocket if the painting sells at its reserve (conservative, because it presumes a reserve at $1,400,000 – it could be lower).

Meaning? The person who spent $2,160,000 for Backs and Fronts in 2010 (the price including premium paid that year) is now happy to sell it for $1,190,000.

(Apologies for the shouty caps that follow…)

That’s right… THEY PAID $2,160,000 AND ARE HAPPY TO SELL IT FOR $1,190,000.

Really?

Try spinning that.





A Warhol for Every Wall

28 02 2013
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Andy Warhol, ‘I love your kiss forever’ (image via onlineonly.christies.co

In what can best be described as the modern art-world equivalent of a garage sale, Christie’s is currently running an online auction of work by Andy Warhol (link to the catalogue… here).

As would be expected, Christie’s has tapped into the cultural zeitgeist, and the very pretty micro-site features ‘Warholian Questionnaires’ with the usual suspects – ‘voice-of-her-generation’ poster-girl of the moment, Lena Dunham (creator, writer and star of Girls), Maxwell Ryan – founder of the Apartment Therapy website and author of the Big Book of Small, Cool Spaces and an online designer eyeglasses retailer.

Sounds like a hipster checklist. Warhol would have approved.

As for the art on offer, it’s an odd selection. The overwhelming impression is that they are clearing out the leftovers from the archive. Have a look yourself. Estimates for some works start at US$800, but many are likely to go a fair bit higher. At the time of writing, I love your kiss forever (pictured above) is up to US$26,000… (do you think it’s a coincidence that sounds like a Tracy Emin title? I think not). Lots of photos, but also some screenprints, a sculpture (yes – a can of Campbells chicken soup) and what are described as “paintings”. I use the quotation marks there because the six “paintings” are not what you would call typical. The auction runs till March 5.

Christie’s has formalised a relationship with the Andy Warhol Foundation, and the proceeds from this sale are to go towards the Foundation’s projects.





Hey now, hey now, my bunting’s back! You can take it to the bank(sy)

21 02 2013
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Banksy’s bunting boy soon after installation (image: Barcroft Media via dailymail.co.uk)

Alternatively, just take the Banksy. Either way, I think someone’s been taking some creative licence with the disappearing Banksy that has just reappeared on an auctioneer’s rostrum in Miami.

Fascinated as I am about the transformation of street art to commodity, I’ve written about Banksy and his compadres a number of times before… here, and here. So my attention was piqued when I heard about the chunk of wall removed in London’s Turnpike Lane and transported to Fine Art Auctions Miami (FAAM). Of course, the otherwise unremarkable concrete render was embellished with a 2012 Banksy, an artwork that now has a title: Slave Labor (Bunting Boy). Given the non-Anglicised spelling of ‘Labor’ (vs. ‘Labour’), I suspect the title was conjured up by the American auction house rather than bestowed upon the work of art by its British creator. It also has a lot number and an eye-wateringly high estimate – $500,000-700,000 – for its appearance at FAAM (link to catalogue entry… here).

But that’s not the end of the story.

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Banksy’s bunting-less boy, still in London. (image: Tolga Akmen/LNP via dailymail.co.uk)

I notice that when it was installed, the stencil incorporated actual Union Jack bunting (see the image at the very top of the post). But according to an article in the Mail Online, soon after it appeared, someone nicked the bunting. And so it remained. Until very recently. Compare the photos. The one immediately above shows the stencil in situ in London after the bunting went AWOL. Note: no bunting. And the image below, from the FAAM catalogue? Oh, look! Bunting. Who was responsible for that? It seems highly unlikely that Banksy had anything to do with the ‘restoration’ of the work. If he was not consulted, which given his famous reluctance to even authenticate his works, seems unlikely to me, surely this represents fairly blatant disregard for his moral rights. Not that he would care too much, I wouldn’t imagine. But, really. Naughty, naughty. Whoever you are. Unless, of course, the auction house used a file image to illustrate the catalogue, which would also be very misleading. And it also means someone will need to whack in a string of bunting prior to the sale anyway to match the catalogue illustration.

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Hey now, hey now, my bunting’s back! (Image via http://www.faamiami.com)

The stencil appeared in London in May 2012. General consensus was that it was a comment on the use of child labour (I remain a stickler for British spelling) in the production of memorabilia for QEII’s Diamond Jubilee. The choice of location was significant. The shop Banksy chose to grace with one of his stencils, Poundland, was at the centre of a scandal in recent years when it was revealed that children as young as seven worked in the Indian factory that produced some of the things being flogged in the store.

It probably shouldn’t come as any surprise, then, that someone has decided it would be best transformed into cold, hard folding stuff, rather than enriching the community. The wall now…

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Gone to the bank(sy). (image: Reuters, via theage.com.au)





… And the fug of irony hung thick in the air.

28 12 2012
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William Hogarth, ‘The Bench’. (image via wikigallery.org)

 

No rest for the wicked.

 The last few days have passed in a veritable whirr as I tried to weave whatever magic I still have in my tired old typing fingers to bang out an article to be published in The Age and Sydney Morning Herald tomorrow – notwithstanding an earth shattering event that causes my bit to be shunted off the page.

Funny side of it all? The article looks at the crisis facing the art world as experts and connoisseurs become increasingly reluctant to voice an opinion about authenticity for fear of litigation. The biggest problem I faced as I attempted to gather some quotes was not, as I expected, the fact that art world stalwarts were all very wisely sleeping off the excesses of the silly season.

No. People who are extremely well-qualified to comment on certain matters were very wary about doing so on the record. For fear of litigation. That’s right. People didn’t want to discuss certain things on the record in an article about the fear of litigation, for fear of litigation.

Ho ho ho.





Dreaming of the future in Aboriginal art

2 11 2012

For your delectation, below is the opening passage to an article I wrote for Australian Art Sales Digest, and a link to the full thing if you’re interested. Enjoy. 

There’s no avoiding the fact that the auction trade in Aboriginal art is not looking great. A clearance rate of 48% is pretty bleak news in anyone’s language. Predictably, Sotheby’s October auction of Important Aboriginal Art generated another round of lamentation about the parlous state of the market. But how does it stack up against the market as a whole? Are things as bad as they seem?Read more at Australian Art Sales Digest 





The Art of Subterfuge

1 11 2012

ImageCould this be the moment we’ve all been anticipating? The art world equivalent of Toto drawing back the curtain to reveal the grey-haired little man pulling the Wizard of Oz’s levers? In the US, a seemingly unremarkable quibble over an unpaid auction bill has resulted in a much larger and portentous altercation over whether or not auction houses should be compelled to reveal their vendors.

The case is covered in detail by Terry Ingram in an article published on the Australian Art Sales Digest, and the implications are quite gob-smacking. It all came about because a buyer decided he no longer wished to cough up the cash to pay for a purchase he made at auction in Chester, New York. The saleroom, William J. Jenack, took the dealer to court and a ruling was made in Jenack’s favour and the buyer was ordered to pay the amount outstanding. But In a wickedly ingenious move, the buyer successfully appealed on the grounds that Jenack did not have the documents required to compel payment, namely a legally recognised contract that must, by definition, include the names of the seller and the buyer.

In an industry that thrives and survives thanks to the veils of secrecy that shroud transactions, this is an extraordinary finding. Any wonder that Christie’s is now fighting cheek-by-jowl with Jenack in an attempt to overturn the ruling. I’m sure it wouldn’t take too long for the biggest players to work out how to get around it, but if vendors’ identities were forcibly revealed to the market, it would certainly make practices like ramping and money-laundering more complicated.

Not to worry. This is all in its infancy, legally-speaking, and I have no doubt that, just like the good Wizard of Oz, Sotheby’s, Christie’s et al have a magical balloon stored out the back for use in such emergencies.

(Image: social-tribe.com)