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.