Posts Tagged ‘Art’

Auction | Modern & Post-War British Art

Friday, October 28th, 2011

Modern & Post-War British Art

Sotheby’s, London. Evening Sale, 15th November, 2011

Exhausted. Broke. Britain, after Hitler’s war was a barren and desolate landscape. But while the rest of Europe rapidly recovered, rebuilding both their shattered cities and economies, Britain lagged behind, its population having to endure food rationing – that had begun in 1940 – until 1954. The country’s economy never really got going again until the latter half of the 1980s. It might be surprising and seem ironic then that a group of paintings, drawings and sculpture representative of the prodigious output by British artists from the post-war years, together with others from the 21-year inter-war period – itself dogged by unemployment and poverty, and hit hard by the 1929 Wall Street Crash – are expected to reach a combined total of £7.2 – 10.8 m ($11.9 – 17.3m) in this forthcoming auction at Sotheby’s, London.

Born in 1878 – well before WWI during which he was a war artist – master-draughtsman, Augustus John’s, David at the Table portrays the somewhat idealised image of a haggard though handsome, wild-eyed young man in work clothes sat slumped at a plain table on which one senses there is no food and might not have been for some time. Generally considered to be the most famous British artist of his day, John himself was never short of money or commissions, however he cultivated a bohemian image inspired by his admiration for the lifestyle of gypsies. Perhaps the bluntness of Laurence Stephen Lowry’s painting, The Cripples (Political Argument) executed shortly after WWII comes closer to reality. Along with other Lowry’s it is also included in the sale.

Bridget Riley, born to middle-class London parents in 1931, would have been eight years old when war broke out in 1939. Raised in the relative safety of the west country, she was educated at Cheltenham Ladies College before coming up to London to study at Goldsmiths then at The Royal College of Art. Her signature, disorientating Op Art painting style matured at the beginning of the 60s with which it and she became synonymous. At a time when the younger generation, anxious to escape the dullness and squalor of the 1950s, living in the shadow of the Cold War and of the possibility of a nuclear holocaust, experimented with hallucinogenic drugs, these paintings were said to inspire audience participation. Becoming disillusioned when her style was exploited for commercial purposes, Riley abandoned it in favour of pursuing ideas concerned with colour, in so doing backing away from the limelight. She was fifty-one when she painted the strikingly linear Praise 1 at the dawn of the 80s.

The same age as Riley, Frank Auerbach, whose gaunt work, Head of Gerda Boehm, among others is also included in the sale, was born of Jewish parentage in Berlin. Sent to England in 1939 to escape Nazism, his mother and father remained behind and perished in concentration camps. Young Frank was evacuated to Shropshire but ended up attending London’s St Martin’s School of Art and going on to the RCA, where he and Bridget Riley were contemporaries.

Painter, William Roberts, started out as a poster designer and studied at the Slade; leaving the school in 1913 he travelled in France and Italy and fought in the trenches during WWI, the sheer horror of the experience, as with many other artists who went to fight, significantly changing the direction of his work. Roberts was one of the signatories to the first issue of BLAST, the short-lived literary magazine of the Vorticist movement in Britain. He developed an interest for representing and interpreting the predominantly working class elements of metropolitan London’s everyday life and events – visits to the cinema, the dancehall but treating them with dignity and humour. Roberts’ painting:s The Boxing Match, produced between 1919-25 and The Barber’s Shop, circa 1946, along with Bath Night, 1929, are all in this sale.In contrast, Barbara Hepworth’s Mincarlo: Three Curves with Strings, created in 1971, only four years before the sculptor’s death and, although small in size – only 16.5 cm high, excluding black, polished stone base – is unashamedly extravagant and luxurious in use of materials.

Hepworth, from Wakefield in Yorkshire was born in 1903 to middle class parents and died in 1975; her adulthood spans much of the scope of this sale. Aged 17, not long after the Great War ended, she went to Leeds School of Art before being accepted at the RCA, soon becoming well-connected to the up-and-coming art cognescenti including sculptors Henry Moore and John Skeaping. Marrying the latter, the couple regularly exhibited together to great acclaim but drifted apart and separated in 1931. Soon after Hepworth met Ben Nicholson whom she was later to marry and to form a long-standing creative relationship with in which together they moved into abstraction. Both artists benefited enormously from forging links to the continental avant gardists – Picasso, Mondrian, Brancusi – and from those artists who fled Europe and came to England prior to WWII – Gabo, Walter Gropius, Moholy-Nagy. When the war began Hepworth and Nicholson relocated to St Ives in Cornwall where they continued to work and succeeded in their efforts to attract international attention. In the 50s, after divorcing Nicholson, Hepworth confirmed her reputation as one of Britain’s major artists producing two sculptures for 1951’s Festival of Britain and retrospective shows in Wakefield and at London’s Whitechapel. Both the 50s and 60s were good to her; Hepworth’s international stature grew. She was awarded the CBE and later, the DBE. She had a further retrospective in 1962 at the Whitechapel, became a trustee of the Tate and had a retrospective exhibition there in 1968. Barbara Hepworth died in St Ives in 1975 – her studio and garden there are now a museum administered by the Tate – after a long battle with cancer. Celebrating her achievement and named in her honour, 2011 saw the opening of the Hepworth Wakefield gallery in her home town.

Sold earlier this year through Christies and significantly surpassing its estimated sale price of £70,000 – £100,000, ($112,980 – $161,400) selling at £145,000 ($236,612), the Mincarlo: Three Curves with Strings, sculpture is of 18 carat gold (Apparently, the best gold you can get for making precious objects, 22 carat is too soft). Deep in the current world recession, apparently far worse than that of the 30s and in post WWII Britain, and as gold prices head towards $5,000 (£3,127) an ounce, curiously in Sotheby’s Modern & Post-war British Art sale the estimated price for this piece exactly matches the earlier Christie’s estimate.

Works from top
Bridget Riley, Praise 1, circa 1981. Estimate £150,000-250,000
Augustus John OM, RA, David at the Table. Estimate £20,000-30,00
Dame Barbara Hepworth, Mincarlo: Three Curves with Strings, 1971.
Estimate £70,000-100,000
Frank Auerbach, Head of Gerda Boehm, 1971. Estimate £180,000-250,000
William Roberts RA, The Barber’s Shop, circa 1946. Estimate, £70,000-100,000

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Look out for The Blog’s posts on art, architecture, gardens, books, design and anything else that interests me and I think might interest you

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Photography & Art | Munch in Heaven or Hell

Tuesday, September 20th, 2011

Munch\’s photography as continuous film
< Click to view

Edvard Munch, L’oeil Moderne
Centre Pompidou, Paris. September 21st, 2011 – January 9th, 2012

The exhibition which was first shown at Tate Modern in the spring opens today at the Centre Pompidou in Paris and will move on to the Schirn Kunsthalle, Frankfurt, in early 2012.
I am grateful to the Centre Georges Pompidou and the Munch Museum in Oslo for their help in providing this astonishingly well-put-together film of Edvard Munch’s photographic work.

Tell us what you think of it
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Art | ‘Bank’sy?

Saturday, September 3rd, 2011

Stop & Search

Kezsler Gallery, The Hamptons

Not that I would equate the two but if it’s acceptable in the 21st century to hang a 13th century renaissance fresco, torn, by persons unknown, from the Tuscan chapel for which and where it was created in situe, in the likes of London’s National Gallery, The Louvre in Paris, or New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, why then is it deemed unacceptable by curators and Banksy fans to carefully slice out a five and a half ton section of a concrete, butcher’s shop wall in Palestine defaced by the artist, sell it to an art dealer, transport it across the Atlantic Ocean to a gallery in The Hamptons, where it is put on sale, restored and stabilised, for around around $450,000.

Authenticated Banksy pieces can sell for as much as $1.6m. The deed, and the story that ensued, of those who removed it trying and failing to sell Stop & Search – it shows an Alice in Wonderland-like young girl figure frisking a soldier – on eBay, at which point the gallerists came into the picture, one of whom defends himself by saying: ‘I have never been involved in the actual removal of Banksy art – I would view that as grave-robbing!’, have lent the piece mythical status’. It might be said that by transforming the graffiti into a 3D object akin to sculpture, the perpetrators of the ‘crime’ have, albeit inadvertedly, lent it more than mere gravitas and that thus it should be a very bankable asset. However, Banksy’s people, Pest Control, rarely authenticate his public works and have refused to endorse Stop &Search and another piece, Wet Dog, which was part of the same consignment.

What is a Banksy worth?

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Auction | Less Artless

Tuesday, June 21st, 2011


Contemporary Art Evening Auction
Sotheby’s, London. Exhibition 25-29th June. Sale 22th June 2011

It would seem that almost overnight – I wrote and posted my previous blog, below, only last Friday, so I can’t claim that my criticisms had any bearing on the rehash –  Sotheby’s have changed their style of video presentation. This one begins with an animated discussion between two of the company’s contemporary art specialists – one male, reasonably well-dressed, and one female, wearing an interesting top, in a gallery situation. There’s lots of hand movement: lots of changes of camera angle, from an obviously hand-held camera, zooms and wide shots. A third expert arrives and joins in with the discussion. A little later it reverts back to the more static presentation, however the first, lively couple make another appearance, which makes for a happy end. It’s really a big improvement.

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Auction | The Art of the Artless

Friday, June 17th, 2011

Sotheby\’s video

Impressionist & Modern Art Evening Sale
Sotheby’s, London. Exhibition opens today. Sale 22nd June 2011

One gets, I suppose, so used from watching seasoned TV presenters on arts shows like The Culture Show, with the confiding, sometimes almost whisperingly confidential Andrew Graham Dixon and The South Bank Show’s urbane and smirkingly jovial Melvyn Bragg, to being invited in by come hither looks, knowing surreptitious winks or an exuberant gesturing of hands into the worlds of art and artists that we have come to expect a certain showmanship from those who deliver it into our homes.

I said in an earlier post how pleased I am to be on the emailing list of Sotheby’s; how wonderful it is that any member of the public is free to wander into their London galleries and see rare items of painting and sculpture that go on show for a very brief few days in the run up to an auction. Sotheby’s emailed updates often come with a Watch Video button that links to almost unbelievably static and dry, short films. The format is virtually always the same; one single or a series of Sotheby’s specialists talk for a very short time about the highlights of the forthcoming sale, waving their hands around a bit, otherwise expressing little emotion other than, maybe, mild embarrassment. They might just as well be presenting the weather. The latest update is a taster for their forthcoming Impressionist & Modern Art Evening Sale, the exhibition for which starts today. I find it oddly disconcerting that such experts appear to be so inhibited and uncomfortable standing in front of a succession of artworks spouting their stuff into a video camera with, apparently, little direction other than not to look directly into the lens – at least the weathermen look you in the eye. You get the impression that no-one else is in the room: that the camera operator, bored out of his mind, has perhaps wandered off somewhere and only pops back in afterwards to zoom in on details – later to be cut into the films –  of the works, in this case, a beautiful and emotive, finely-crafted, group sculpture by Alberto Giacometti, a passionately painted, double portrait by Pablo Picasso or a rare and exquisite townscape from Egon Schiele.

Sotheby’s website is well-designed – they know what they are about – so perhaps there’s some well thought through psychology at work here that goes over my head. Used car salesmanship techniques or barrow-boy yelling would undoubtedly frighten off reclusive art collecting billionaires, after all, the auction house wants itself taken seriously but surely, in return for parting with their millions, even billionaires deserve a little free, good quality entertainment.

Will you attend this Sotheby’s sale?
Any embarrassing public speaking moments you’d like to tell me about?

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Stop it and buy one

Friday, February 4th, 2011

The VIP Art Fair
January 22nd – 30th. See ‘A Very Private View’, posted on January 22nd, 2011

Unlike at a certain gallery in Dresden, which was so crowded that Dostoyesky leapt up on to an attendant’s chair – much to the embarrassment of his wife and to the anger of the attendant on his return – to get a look at a particular painting he was interested in getting a good look at, there was no crowd at The VIP Art Fair, or perhaps only an invisiblel one, and I missed physically going the private view and the customary offer of a glass of wine.

Despite all the tremendous efforts of the VIP Art Fair organisers: their assiduous attention to other details; the daily bulletins; the walk and talk interviews with international art collectors describing their purchases and the reasons behind them; the very well-designed website with its virtual galleries – they even put in little figures to give a sense of scale – which I could scroll through at my own pace, lingering if I wanted to or hurrying by if I wasn’t interested or was pushed for time – I could zoom in on any art piece that caught my eye and bring a detail up to full screen – art online just didn’t do it for me.

Did anyone else attend? What did you think? Please leave a comment

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Friday, January 28th, 2011

Filip Dujardin

Despite a friend’s reassurances, I remained dubious when I received the link he sent me to the I Love Belgium blog. Forming part of the site’s logo, the black ink-blot thing, which I think is supposed to represent the very unmemorable shape of the country and is yet another reference to Milton Glaser’s iconic INY, seemed to me to say it all. However, the post of 27th June 2010 that my friend had suggested I look at, called Filip Dujardin – Fictions, is really great. His surname sounds fictitious but Dujardin is a talented architecture photographer who creates compelling, bizarre but somehow totally believable photomontaged images – the original photography and the subsequent retouching are beautifully done –  of contemporary buildings, domestic and commercial.

Filip, I discovered, also likes to shoot sheds. These images, on his own site, remind me somewhat of the austere work of the German, heavyweight photographer/artists Bernd and Hilda Becher, who produce deadpan ‘portraits’ in the form of extensive series of among other seemingly banal subjects: workers’ houses, gasometers and water towers, almost exclusively in black and white. They and Dujardin would appear to share the same sort of bleak, mainland North European tradition. The latter’s images are in colour but deadpan, too, however, whereas the Bechers are deadly serious, his are more artful than fine art; one knows instinctively that Dujardin walks around with his tongue stuck very firmly in his cheek.

What do you think of Fiilp Dujardin’s work? Please post a comment

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Very Important Private View

Friday, January 14th, 2011

VIP Art Fair

January 22nd – 30th

Being on Sotheby’s mailing list is useful. I often pop into the auction house just for the chance of seeing something amazing that after its brief public appearance will promptly disappear, once more, into the private collection of whichever buyer – often anonymous – makes the final bid.

I’m on the mailing list of a couple of other galleries too. The other day, one of these, Timothy Taylor Gallery, emailed me a complimentary pass – with the same sort of proportions and curved corners as those of a credit card – to something called the VIP Art Fair, which lasts for a week and is exclusively online. I’m keeping an open mind but for me, it’s important to experience a piece of art in the flesh to be able to tell whether it moves me, or not – for similar reasons, I’ve never bought anything on ebay. Even with something like a flat colour screen print, it’s the effect of it at actual size that gives it allure. I suppose video art may be an exception but even then I like to view it within a gallery context. Online art, though, by definition is produced specifically to be viewed online and not to exist in any other format, so that might work.

My pass has a rather sombre black background. I can’t help wondering whether richer invitees, according to their degree of status, have been sent gold or even platinum versions.

It would interesting to hear what you think. Please leave a comment

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