The photo accompanying the New York Times’s article announcing that Chicago’s Ken Griffin had filed for divorce from his accomplished wife Anne Dias Griffin on the first day of her Summer vacation shows Jeff Koons sitting in the background at a gala event. How fitting!
The couple shared a passion for art, an interest that stretches back to when they had one of their first dates at a museum. As recently as this year, they were ranked by ArtNews as two of the most active collectors of art, with a focus on Post-Impressionist works. Their collection includes Jasper Johns’s “False Start,” which they bought from the media mogul David Geffen for $80 million, and pieces by Cézanne and Monet.
Ms. Dias Griffin helped elevate Mr. Griffin’s status within the art world, where many other hedge fund billionaires seem at home, according to people close to the couple. She is a director of the Museum of Modern Art, a trustee of the Foundation for Contemporary Art and the Whitney Museum of American Art.
The story tells us the couple had been negotiating their uncoupling quietly for months before Griffin’s surprise move.
This interview with Acquavella Galleries’ Michael Findlay comes from Art Media Agency‘s regular weekly newsletter about the art market. You can subscribe to that newsletter here.
Michael Findlay is one of the four directors at Acquavella Galleries, one of New York’s best known and established art galleries. Opened in 1921, the Galleries specialised in Italian Renaissance, before turning towards Impression, Cubism and Surrealism; and today represent some of the most iconic names in art — Monet, Giacometti, Miró, Braque, and Freud —, to name a few. Transferring his knowledge from Christie’s auction house to the world of dealing, AMA talked to Michael about making this career change, how Acquavella operates and the Galleries’ plans for the future.
You officially retired from Christie’s as Head of Impressionist and Modernist Paintings in 2000. Why did Acquavella Galleries appeal to you?
It was while I was on a long-haul flight, reading through some material from human resources, that I discovered you could retire at 55, which I didn’t really forget! I’m not someone that’s planned their life; things just seem to happen at the right time, or at least this did.
I was with Christie’s for about 15 years — it was an experience that broadened my outlook and brought me in touch with artists and genres that I wouldn’t have necessarily have known anything about as a dealer. But it is a very demanding, 24/7 kind of life, that doesn’t leave a lot of room for much else. I was recently remarried, and although the gallery business is busy and exciting, it allows one to have a reasonable personal life as well — which was what I was looking for.
I’ve known the Acquavella family for a very long time. When I came to New York aged 18, I was aware of the gallery and knew the father of the current owner. My first job was at Richard Feigen’s gallery which is literally two blocks from where I’m sitting today, so in 50 years I’ve managed to come two blocks! It’s a small world and I’ve been in it for a long time…
Where are the majority of Acquavella’s collectors buying from?
The majority from America, after that Europe, and then Asia. That’s a general comment, I don’t know what people’s passports are — they may have homes in several places. Unlike auction houses we don’t keep track!
Acquavella sells pieces by artists who are regularly present in auction houses – what kind of relationship do you have with sellers like Christie’s and Sotheby’s?
The gallery has sold a great many Impressionist and 20th century works in its 90 years of existence and many of them are bound to — during their lives as second hand paintings — go through auction. A lot come back around to us as well. One of the problems with the media is that it often looks at the obvious, they mostly take their cues from auctions that represent less than half of the art market, it counts for something like 47% of a global art market at any price level. So, there are great paintings and expensive paintings, and paintings that aren’t so expensive or great, which are sold every day by galleries like ours.
How does the gallery obtain most of its works?
[laughs] Well, certain things have to remain secret! We still have some living artists, so we get our works from them — James Rosenquest, Enoc Perez, Wayne Thiebaud, Nigel Boselo — and private collectors who sell pieces with us, in the same way that auction houses get their works. Sellers have a choice of going with an auction house or privately; and I think it’s about who you feel comfortable with, who you have a good track record with; and it’s whether you want to something in public, or more privately.
In your opinion, what is the gallery’s strength?
As a family business with a 90-year history Acquavella incorporates an unrivalled experience and expertise in the fields of Impressionist and Twentieth Century art and sources great works of art from long-time private clients in the U.S. and Europe. Moving forward with the third generation into contemporary art, we can offer our international clients top quality works by Monet and Degas, Picasso and Matisse, Warhol, Lichtenstein and Freud, as well as the living artists we represent. Another strength has to be our team: in addition to the four members of the Acquavella family; there are four directors — two European-born, one Japanese and one Chinese —, so our backgrounds are very diverse.
Acquavella Galleries began specialising in Renaissance painting – how has its taste developed since then?
Shortly after William Acquavella started working with his father Nicholas, the founder, in the early 1960s, the focus shifted from Old Masters works to Impressionist, post-Impressionist and Modern. Over thirty years ago the gallery was devoting exhibitions to artists such as Anthony Caro and Robert Rauschenberg, while more recently we have invited guest curators like Dieter Buchhart, Judith Goldman and Vito Schnabel to work with us on high-profile exhibitions — designed just as much for the general public as for our collecting clients.
In your career, you’ve worked predominantly with more traditional media — painting and sculpture. How do you feel about performance art and other experimental practices?
Personally I do not believe that what is traditionally conceived as “fine art” should simply mean painting, drawing and sculpture. Since the 1960s I have attended and sometimes participated in many performance events by pioneers of the unconventional, like Ray Johnson. In my book, The Value of Art, I describe a fire event by John Van Saun that I “produced” in SoHo in 1969.
Acquavella host four to five exhibitions per year: what are your criteria?
Other than shows by the artists we represent, we seek to innovate either by showing the work of artists we think deserve attention (Manolo Millares, Zeng Fanzhi, Miguel Barceló, Fausto Melotti) or by way of exhibitions that illuminate and educate by examining groups of works that have significant affinities, such as “Robert and Ethel Scull: Portrait of a Collection” and “The Pop Object—The Still life Tradition in Pop Art”. Some of these exhibitions are loans from museums and private collections, and many works may not be for sale.
With the current trend for relocation and expansion among galleries and museums, do you see Acquavella staying in the same place?
I know of just a handful of galleries today following what one might call the Marlborough Gallery model of satellites, but this seems to be very much the exception, rather than the rule. For almost 50 years we have had generous space in a high-traffic area, close to major museums and this continues to serve us well. Obviously, I can’t rule out any kind of future expansion but where we are and how we are seems to be working, for us.
What are Acquavella’s plans going forward?
Helping serious collectors build great private collections takes time and patience. This is our core business and although our clients’ tastes may develop and change, we will continue to work hard to find top quality works for them, whether they are putting together Impressionist or Minimalist collections. We also get new clients through our reputation and friendships with existing clients, as well as the art fairs that we participate in — Frieze Masters, ArtBasel, ArtBasel Miami, ArtBasel Hong Kong and our domestic Art Dealer’s of America art fair in New York City.
We want to continue to offer exciting and unusual exhibitions to the public such as our most recent, “Jean-Michel Basquiat Drawing – From the Schorr Family Collection” — which was a loan exhibition of extremely high quality works still owned by the artist’s first private patrons.
The Business Standard talks to Christie’s Sonal Singh about the company’s future plans in India:
What next after Christie’s maiden auction in India, held last year?
We were overwhelmed by the response. We are now planning for the next auction that is likely to be held in the first half of December. The date and venue will be announced soon. The team has already started sourcing for the sale.
While last year, most of the lots were from the estate of Kekoo and Khorshed Gandhy with 30 lots from other private collectors, this year 80 to 100 lots will feature both modern and contemporary works. We are in a privileged position to sell non-exportable national treasures within India. Last year we featured six of the national treasures.
Amrita Sher-Gil and the three Tagores — Rabindranath, Abanindranath and Gaganendranath — are on our wish list. The idea is to showcase the growth of Indian modern and contemporary art across the country — be it the Bengal school, the Progressives in Mumbai, the Baroda school of art and the Chennai style. The auction should be representative of all regions and schools of art prevalent in India.
The auction brought VS Gaitonde into the spotlight in the international art market. What is the international standing of Indian art?
VS Gaitonde is one of our most important art abstractionists along with Nasreen Mohamedi. It’s not easy to get a Gaitonde piece, he made only six to eight a year. Last year, we had one very early painting and another one from the 1970s. So these two represented two very different aspects of his career. We promised to loan the works to Guggenheim for the Gaitonde retrospective, no matter who bought it.
We work with museums for things like that, it is about building the art market. We also supported shows of MF Husain in London this year. As far as the international art world is concerned, India is already on the map. There is a Nasreen Mohamedi exhibition at Tate Liverpool till October 5, 2014.
Christie’s next auction in India to be held in December: Sonal Singh (Business Standard News)
Kishore Singh raises a fascinating question about the expatriate Indian Modern Masters and their turn toward abstraction to find a relevant visual language in a world that lacked access to their cultural and religious referants:
How did they manage this? By changing from a figurative genre to another where absolute distortion was key to their practice. Many of these artists preferred to express themselves as abstractionists. This elimination of cultural reference gave them a chance of being able to express themselves. The prime instance among these is of S H Raza who made his home in France for six decades. An impressionistic landscape painter, he turned to abstraction following Mark Rothko’s diktat of a gestural style, before switching to geometric abstraction coincidentally at a time when interest in Indian modern art began to grow.
Raza might be among the country’s better known artists, but a number of others who lived abroad have similar stories to share. Among these is Ambadas, one of India’s finest abstractionists who chose to give up India for Norway. At first sight, there is little that is ‘Indian’ about his abstract paintings, till one sees a seething mass of brushstrokes and a warm palette at odds with the cold weather and sterile atmosphere of his chosen habitat. In an interview a few years back, Ambadas confessed to missing the country of his birth, its sounds and smells – and food. Sohan Qadri took up residence in Copenhagen, a cultural cul-de-sac for an artist from the subcontinent, where he was a yoga teacher, and an artist whose brilliantly coloured works were evocative of his homeland. V Viswanadhan, in Paris, arrived at a abstract formulae before Raza did, and in London, S K Bakre found buyers for his works among the local population.
Away from the homeland (Business Standard News)
Richard Feigen lost his bid to get a tax refund on the Max Ernst painting he sold in 2004 but later, long after the statutory time limit, found out was a fake and refunded the money he received from the buyer (and was refunded in turn by the dealer who sold it to him.) But he says he’ll keep appealing:
While not responsible in any way for the fake Max Ernst painting sold under the name “La Forêt,” dealer Richard Feigen was deemed ineligible for a $215,625 sales tax refund because he filed too late to qualify under state Tax Law §1139(c), Division of Taxation ALJ Winifred Maloney decided.
“It is unfortunate that it took so long for the painting to be determined to be inauthentic, but that is a risk petitioner assumes every time it makes a sale,” Maloney wrote in Matter of Richard L. Feigen & Company, 824996. […]
Feigen sold what he believed to be a piece that surrealist Ernst had painted to Anna-Marie Kellen in January 2004 for $2.5 million. About four months earlier, Feigen had bought the painting from a Paris art gallery, the Galerie Daniel Malingue, for $2.325 million.
In February 2015, the Feigen dealership paid the sales tax to the Department of Taxation and Finance on returns it filed for the period Jan. 1, 2004, through Jan. 31, 2004.
Maloney decided that Tax Law §1139(c) was clear in providing a three-year window after filing sales tax returns to make a refund claim, or two years from when the tax was paid.
Art Dealer Denied Tax Refund for Forged Painting (New York Law Journal)
Forbes profiles Michael Egan, David Koch’s wine sleuth, who has an encyclopedic knowledge of classic wines and how they age in long-term cellaring. Here he describes work he did for collector Russell Frye:
One immediate red flag: Those magnums of 1921 Pétrus. Egan had come across similar bottles before—and refused them—at Sotheby’s; they had become something of a calling card for the notorious German bon vivant and alleged wine counterfeiter Hardy Rodenstock, who was then being sued in New York. One of Rodenstock’s famous 1921 Pétrus magnums had scored a perfect 100 from the world’s leading wine critic, Robert Parker. But for Egan the wines presented a wee problem: Pétrus didn’t bottle any magnums in 1921. And even if some of its winemerchant customers who bought the wine in barrel had actually filled magnums—and there was no record of that, either—where were all these bottles suddenly coming from?
Egan soon began pulling suspect wines from Frye’s collection and breaking them down by component parts. Some of the labels, he realised, were photocopies that had been distressed—as he puts it, “scuffed in a weird way you wouldn’t see in normal cellaring”. Though the photocopies were expertly done, under his jeweller’s loupe the letters were revealed as pixilated, as from a laser printer. By the time he was done, Egan had identified 30 very expensive fake wines in Frye’s collection.
The whole story is a great read and includes some details on how Egan was recruited to work on the Rudy Kurniawan case.
Sniffing Out Fake, Expensive Wines (Forbes)
Artnet seems to have released a report based upon its price database, though the news story on artnet provides no link to where one might acquire the report, that says sales in 2014 are up 19% over the same period in 2013.
The US, in this period, had the highest portion of the art market’s value (33%) on a smaller portion of sales volume (19%.) The numbers show little increase in sales volume while the value of works shot up a dramatic 27% in the US.
Here are Artnet’s top 10 artists for the first half of 2014:
- Picasso ($345.8 million)
- Andy Warhol ($299.2 million)
- Francis Bacon ($236.5 million)
- Monet ($177.6 million)
- Qi Baishi ($168.9 million)
- Gerhard Richter ($159.2 million)
- Mark Rothko ($146.4 million)
- Jean-Michel Basquiat ($131.9 million)
- Alberto Giacometti ($115.7 million)
- Zhang Daqian ($115.5 million).
artnet Data Shows Global Art Market Boom Continues (artnet News)
Loretta Würtenberger, together with Daniel Tuempel, runs Fine Art Partners in Germany. The firm advises artists’ estates and provides financing to dealers for both the fabrication of primary works and the acquisition of works for secondary market deals.
This conversation ranges over the challenges of financing art deals, how works are bought and sold in this new market environment as well as a discussion of guarantees and auction strategies. The interview also addresses the challenges facing artists’ estates.
You can download a transcript of the interview here: Loretta Würtenberger Artelligence 2014 transcript.
James Tarmy on Bloomberg tries to take a bite out of Felix Salmon by supposedly showing the persistence of big names at the top of the art market. And though there is a strong persistence over relatively short periods—read, a decade or two—Tarmy doesn’t address why he chose to focus only on living artists. The argument Felix Salmon makes is that art indices conveniently drop poor performers and gain strong replacements. Tarmy counters by saying, look at the number of artists who are still in the top ten a decade or two later.
But when you look at these lists from 1993 and 2003, you see that only four artists carry over (several drop out because they died.) It isn’t clear what the charts or lists really tell us because the comparisons still suffer from the selection bias Salmon was deriding.
(We know, however, that artists who achieve substantial value tend to retain that value over these periods but not necessarily over much longer periods:)
Hoping to quantify the chance of making money in the art market, I requested a report from Artnet that compiled the top 10 living artists in 1993 and 2003 and followed their sales through 2013, expecting to see a story of booms and busts. Surprisingly, almost all the artists at the top of the rankings maintained or expanded their market value.
Let’s go back about 10 years. It’s impossible to track all the ways that art is sold, but there are databases of auction sales that give us a rough idea of According to Artnet, the top 10 living artists of 2003, ranked by total auction sales, were:
Gerhard Richter: $32,127,829
Cy Twombly: $10,716,969
Jasper Johns: $8,625,096
Frank Stella: $8,392,128
Ed Ruscha: $7,335,674
Agnes Martin: $6,037,900
Tom Wesselmann: $5,880,799
David Hockney: $5,135,596
Zao Wou-Ki: $5,133,200
Damien Hirst: $5,084,114
And here’s what their growth looks like:
Total sales for every one of these artists grew. For eight out of 10, the increase was more than 200 percent in a decade. Most had not only seen an increase from 2003 but (with the glaring exception of Damien Hirst) have now exceeded their sales in 2008, the last art market peak.
Maybe 10 years is too short a period to see the bust. How about 20 years back? Here are the sales of the top 10 artists in 1993:
Roy Lichtenstein: $3,898,219
Fernando Botero: $3,624,240
Sam Francis: $3,186,429
Gerhard Richter: $3,041,133
David Hockney: $2,887,245
Willem de Kooning: $2,802,658
Frank Stella: $2,723,597
Cy Twombly: $2,652,662
Karel Appel: $2,567,574
Roberto Matta: $2,102,424
Not too shabby. Even if, like Karel Appel or Frank Stella, their prices haven’t gone gangbusters like Gerhard Richter’s — and no living artist has gone gangbusters quite like Gerhard Richter, whose auction sales have exceeded $100 million for six of the last seven years– everyone’s sales are solid. There’s certainly no evidence that their work is unsellable. Sales for four out of 10 went up more than 2,700 percent over that period, an astonishing number for any asset category.
In Art the Safest Bet is the Biggest Bet (Bloomberg)
There’s been a lot of talk over the past few years about expanding the art market beyond the same top names. Supply of the best work has been dwindling and prices for the select few artists have been going through the roof. The logical response would be for demand to spread among the numerous very talented artists whose work is undervalued. Some new businesses emerged trying to map a genome of artists and their work but without having a significant impact upon the market, at least, yet.
Meanwhile, Colin Gleadell delves into the auction houses’ own efforts to attract new clients to under-appreciated selling categories. After all, Francis Bacon was once a star of the British art market, not the global Contemporary market. With that in mind, Christie’s moved its Modern British sales to quickly follow the marquee Contemporary sales in London in the hopes of catching interest from global collectors:
One such client, an overseas property developer, viewed the Impressionist sales and was struck by an abstract sculpture by Barbara Hepworth that was in the Modern British sale. The eight and-a-half foot tall bronze, Figure for a Landscape, was being sold by the Kunsthall Stavanger in Norway, a public gallery that was on the brink of closure due to lack of funds.
After the piece swiftly reached its £1 million estimate, the saleroom then witnessed a prolonged battle between two determined bidders. Matthew Bradbury, the head of Bonhams’ Modern British art department, was on his mobile phone and believed to be taking bids on behalf of billionaire Yorkshire businessman Graham Kirkham, who paid a record £2.4 million for a sculpture by Yorkshire-born Hepworth last winter. Standing behind him in the doorway was the London dealer Stephen Ongpin, bidding for the overseas property developer. As the price edged up over £2 million, Bradbury began looking anxiously over his shoulder to see who the opposition was, only throwing in the towel after Ongpin bid £3.65 million – or £4.17 million after auction charges had been added.
The price confirmed Hepworth’s position as the second most expensive female sculptor of all time, after Louise Bourgeois, and Ongpin tells me the buyer will put the work on public display at one of his developments in London.
Other international buying came from a US collector bidding through the Eykyn MacLean gallery, who bought a Stanley Spencer painting of a scarecrow hung in crucifixion mode for £2.9 million, an Indian collector chasing sculptures by Henry Moore and Lynn Chadwick, and a French Impressionist art collector pursuing one of the Scottish Colourists.