This commentary by Marion Maneker is available to AMMpro subscribers. (The first month of AMMpro is free and subscribers are welcome to sign up for the first month and cancel before they are billed.)
Louvre Requested Salvator Mundi for Autumn Show
The Telegraph has a terrible piece of sensationalism dressed up as a news story about the Leonardo Salvator Mundi. Ignoring that for a moment, there is news in the story. The Telegraph confirmed twice this weekend that the Louvre has requested the work for its October show:
- “On Friday, the Louvre confirmed that it had requested a loan [….] On Sunday, the museum said that it is awaiting a response from the painting’s owner on a loan.”
The rest of the self-contradicting story basically presents an uninvolved third party’s opinion about the painting—expressed in a letter sent the French President six months ago—as evidence that the museum had dropped the work from the exhibition.
The Old Master Market Stirs with Competition
While we’re discussing French hyperbole, there was an interesting story in La Tribune de l’Art last week flagged for us by a reader. The story was not interesting for its argument. That had Didier Rykner complaining that the Louvre had massively overpaid at $459k for a gouache by Cornelis Troost during the New York Old Master sales last month. Rykner’s complaint is that Troost’s watercolors and pastels normally sell for €50k maybe higher but not into the six-figures even in dollars.
There were two works in the Sotheby’s sales by Troost that had higher estimates than normal (to Rykner that in itself is just more evidence of manipulation) the first with a $300k low estimate and the second, the work the Louvre acquired, for $250k low estimate. The Louvre bid on the first but could not keep up with the eventual winner who was willing to pay $639k. So it had to settle for the second work. But they were still forced to pay above the estimates.
For Rykner, the success of the first sale is immaterial to the Louvre’s manifest incompetence.
- “This price can not serve as a comparison since the Louvre was underbid, and only referred to the second because it had missed the first.”
In fact, to anyone familiar with the functioning of the art market, the way the two sales played out is telling. Here’s a minor artist with some particularly good works either because of the quality of the images or the provenance of the works. Perhaps both contributed to the high estimates.
The real point here is the strength of the bidding and the surfeit of bidders. The first work took out one bidder. The second sold for a slightly smaller margin above the low estimate. So taking out one bidder did have an effect on the second price.
Nevertheless, there were sufficient bidders—2?, 3?, 4?—to drive both sales. Let’s pause for a second on that. There were a handful of bidders (or more) for the work of a minor artist. One of the bidders was a major institution—and it got out bid!
Cutting Off Your Rothko to Spite Your Acquisitions Budget
On Friday, Sotheby’s announced that it had secured Mark Rothko’s work 1960 work for auction. The $35m low estimate surprised some. Even more surprising for a museum that would like to maximize the value of its sale was this quote in Artnet’s report on the consignment (again, sent by a reader):
- “SFMOMA’s painting and sculpture curator Gary Garrels told the Chronicle that the Rothko is “a very good painting, but it’s not of the first rank.” (He notes that it hasn’t been on view since 2002, while other Rothkos in the collection, like No. 14 (1960), are considered more prime examples.)”
One can easily see the institutional pride and defensiveness that would impel a curator to make this kind of public statement. I doubt anyone believed the work to be “of the first rank.” Otherwise, the estimate range would have been slightly higher. Though Garrels has done Sotheby’s no favors by declaring it not only a secondary or tertiary work but reinforcing that by reminding everyone the painting hasn’t merited exhibition for 17 years.
At the same time, every attempt to protect the museum by demoting the painting will only cut into Garrels’ acquisition budget once the painting is sold. This kind of behavior might be one of the hidden risks of a guarantee. With Sotheby’s locked into a number that peers peg at $30m, Garrels can eat his cake and have it too.
Is Joe Lewis Behind the “Wall Street Bull” Market?
On March 1st during Sotheby’s Contemporary Curated sale there will be an example of Arturo di Modica’s Charging Bull on offer for with a $250-350k. The work is a small stainless stell version of the tourist attraction that di Modica dropped in the middle of Wall Street on October 19, 1987. The 16-foot bronze was left in the middle of the night. That day, the stock market crashed 22%. The bull was removed as quickly as it had been dropped but not before the news media covered it.
Charging Bull was placed on a traffic median outside of Bowling Green a few months later. Since that time, it has become a well-recognized symbol of Wall Street and finance. It hasn’t had much of an afterlife as a work of art. That is, until last fall.
In October, Phillips guaranteed and found a third-party guarantor on top of that for one of these same stainless steel sculptures. The work was estimated at between £250-350k and sold for £309k which suggests it was sold the guarantor.
That hasn’t put off the consignor for this example who is selling without any assurances. The sale is interesting too because recent reports about the art collection housed on Joe Lewis’s yacht cited a work by Arturo di Modica as among the objects aboard. There’s also an example of Charging Bull at Lewis’s Bahamas development, Albany; Lewis also puts the image on the label of his Tavistock Wines.
Why Mary Boone Got 30 Months
The government’s sentencing memorandum for Mary Boone explains in clear language why there was no leniency requested. They cite the three-year course of the tax fraud which involved “dummy financial machinations at the bank, falsifying bank check registers, providing the false check registers.” They didn’t buy her claims of emotional distress blinding her to the consequences of her actions or that irrational fears for her business drove her to “$800,000 of it on renovations for a high-end Manhattan apartment and hundreds of thousands more on personal credit card charges for Louis Vuitton and other luxury purchases.” Most of all, the Feds objected to Boone claiming she had stepped forward and made amends thus saving the government the time and effort of prosecuting her:
- Boone had been aware of the Government’s investigation since 2012 and expressed no interest in admitting her crimes or paying restitution until 2018, after the Government executed a search warrant at the Gallery. The fact that following her plea, in an effort to get a lesser sentence, Boone finally paid back the money that she had stolen from the U.S. Treasury with interest and civil penalties is not a mitigating factor that should affect Boone’s custodial sentence.