Gagosian’s Online Viewing Room scores with Oehlen; Christie’s Asia Week = $79.2m; Bonhams African art dominated by Ben Enwonwu.
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Three hours. That’s all it took for Gagosian Gallery to sell Albert Oehlen’s untitled 1988 abstract painting priced at $6m and featured in their Online Viewing Room (OVR) less than a week before Art Basel Hong Kong opens.
Gagosian has been experimenting with its OVR before major art fairs as a way to add capacity beyond the fair hours and overcome some of the limitations of geography as well as combatting fair fatigue. For Art Basel Hong Kong, Gagosian took a different approach. Instead of treating the online viewing room as an enlarged backroom to the fair booth where prospective clients can acquaint themselves with various works, the ABHK viewing room was structured around a single painting getting virtual front-of-booth, star treatment.
The first OVR made $1.8m in sales including $1.1m for a single painting by Albert Oehlen. Since that time, Sam Orlofsky, the Gagosian director who has been leading the OVR effort, has been trying to think through the implications of the OVR. First Orlofsky established the value of the OVR functioning in sync with real-world events like art fairs. Then, Orlofsky was curious to see how far the OVR could push the price level. In other words, Gagosian learned it could sell a $1.1m painting from the viewing room. Could it sell one valued at $3m? $5m? or more?
For a number of reasons, Oehlen was the best place to start. His market has been building in volume and value. Just last year, the artist’s work crossed the $4m barrier at auction, a figure that Gagosian believes is significant market signal. Because the dealer has represented Oehlen for a decade or so, they had relationships with the sellers and buyers. The market momentum gave them the opportunity. All that was left for Orlofsky to do was to figure out how to coordinate and focus supply and demand using the OVR.
At midnight on Saturday in Hong Kong, Gagosian opened the OVR to reveal the large 1988 abstract painting that Gagosian believes will help boost Oehlen’s market accelerate his prices toward those of his painterly peers, Christopher Wool and Rudolf Stingel.
Gagosian’s ultimate goal is for you to think of Oehlen in the same price category as the giants of abstraction like Richter and de Kooning. Gagosian has a large, diverse and very wealthy clientele. Larry Gagosian’s secret was always to focus on building the relationship with and trust of his collector base. With a loyal base of well-heeled collectors, Gagosian’s way of enhancing its business is to convince those collectors that there are more art historically important painters out there (that Gagosian’s collectors don’t already own) and whose value is not only justified but might even be seen as a bargain soon.
Believe The Hype
That’s where the OVR comes in. Having run the OVR in June and October for Art Basel and Frieze respectively, Orlofsky wanted to see whether he could take advantage of timing of Art Basel Hong Kong to position Gagosian to do something that might have an impact similar to making a splash at auction.
Gagosian wasn’t conducting an auction for the work but it was replicating many of the forces that help paintings make high prices there. Gagosian’s marketing team created highly focused materials, including videos, presenting a thorough case for the importance of the work on offer and justifying the price. The value of having two seasoned salesmen—Andrew Fabricant and Orlofsky—use the intimacy of video to present the same sort of pitch they might give to a wealthy buyer should not be underestimated. High-value art is sold person-to-person, through relationships. Gagosian’s OVR, in this case, is replicating the experience of the private viewing room where the client gets to spend some time with the work in the presence of the sales team talking about art, art history and the market.
The coordinated global reveal of the Oehlen also gave potential buyers the motivation to make a decision or risk having the decision made for them by another buyer. The complaint about the big global dealers is that dealing with them is not a level playing field. A buyer’s status as a collector, relationship with museums and the amount of business he or she does with the gallery might influence which works the buyer is shown and even what price he or she is quoted.
Transparency By Another Name
Part of the OVR strategy, Orlofsky has explained, is to accept a trade off. In exchange for the greater visibility and efficiency of the OVR, Gagosian gives greater transparency. The price is presented in the viewing room; works are sold on a first-come-first-serve basis. The buyer who responded with some urgency by making a big decision in three hours was responding to the threat that some other buyer packing for the weekend in the Western Hemisphere, leaving the office in Europe or yet to wake up in Asia might cut a deal before her.
This isn’t really an auction (though it is kind of a Dutch auction); and it isn’t online buying. There’s no buy-with-one-click for $6m button on the site. All queries for the OVR works are routed through a Gagosian director. The buyer of the untitled Oehlen was already a client of the gallery but not one who had bought Oehlen’s work before. And though the $6m price was quoted, there’s no telling the discount the collector received. All Gagosian will say is that the final price was above the artist’s public auction record.
Even with all of those caveats, Gagosian has done something it had never been able to do before, draw attention to a single sale, price-setting sale in a way that made a public case for one of its artists without sharing the spotlight with Sotheby’s or Christie’s or competing with dozens of other big name lots, let alone other Oehlens.
That may not be transparency. But it is innovation.
Christie’s Asia Week = $79.2m
Christie’s Asian Art Week sales realized USD $79,285,375 (£14,714,299/ HK$150,895,145). The eight live auctions ended with 87% sold by lot. Across the 856 lots sold, 46% achieved above the high estimate and 14 lots sold for over $1 million. Deep bidding was witnessed from Greater China across all categories and there was active participation from registered bidders across more than 42 countries with representation from 5 continents.
The Irving Collection accounted for $31.2m of the total with significant results in other sales including:
- a long handscroll of Fourteen Poems on Planting Bamboo by the scholar-official Li Dongyang (1447-1516), which sold for $4,575,000, realizing more than five times its low estimate
- Maqbool Fida Husain (1913-2011), Untitled (Horses), which sold for $1,035,000
- a rare Northern Qi gilded grey stone figure of Buddha, which sold for $1,455,000
- Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849), “Red Fuji” that achieved $507,000, five times its estimate
- a painting of Vaishravana, Tibeto-Chinese, 18th century, which realized$447,000, more than ten times its estimate
- The Shao Fangding, a rare and important bronze ritual rectangular food vessel, late Shang dynasty, Anyang, 11th century BC, which sold for $1,095,000
Bonhams African Art = £1.8m
Bonhams had a tough African sale this week but still managed to pull off some strong prices especially for Ben Enwonwu whose Negritude (above) made £137k over a £60k high estimate. Enwonwu’s work accounted for four or the top ten prices in the sale, including the most valuable work sold, a sculpture Anyanwu that sold for £187,563.