Art Market Italy: The Italian Sales

LONDON – Christie’s and Sotheby’s will celebrate Italian art with Italian sales on Oct. 16 and Oct. 17 as the attention paid to Italian postwar artists continues to grow. Numerous exhibitions dedicated to Italian artists opened in the British capital in recent days: Pace Gallery has dedicated a show to Mario Merz (until Nov. 8), Dominique Lévy opens her new London space with Enrico Castellani along Donald Judd and Frank Stella (on Oct. 13), Luxembourg & Dayan shows Alighiero Boetti’s monochromes (from Oct. 13) and plans other exhibitions of Italian artists such as Mario Schifano, Enrico Baj and Alberto Burri. Other galleries exhibits Italian postwar art in their booths at Frieze Masters: Marian Goodman will bring Giovanni Anselmo, Giulio Paolini and Giuseppe Penone; and Luxembourg & Dayan will present Manzoni, Fontana and Burri.

The same artists are the protagonists of the Italian Sales, annual events that have grown tremendously in recent years. It is enough to say that when Christie’s started the Italian sales, in 2001, the total result was £4 million pounds, while at the last sale, in 2013, the total result reached £27 million. Last February the sale of the Italian collection “Eyes Wide Open, An Italian Vision” achieved £38 million.

So, what shall we expect this year?

Christie’s auction will offer a half-century Italian art from modern artists like Giorgio Morandi, Giorgio De Chirico and Marino Marini. By the latter there will be a sculpture of Cavaliere strongly reminiscent of The Angel of the City, the famous work of art at the entrance of the Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Venice (estimate: £800,000-£1.2 million). There will be, of course, the masters of postwar art Alberto Burri with Red Black (estimate: £1 million-£1.5 million) who will be celebrated next year in October with a major retrospective at the Guggenheim in New York on the occasion of the centenary of his birth; Lucio Fontana with Concetto Spaziale, a work realized at the dawn of the space age, the year after Yuri Gagarin’s first trip in space (estimate: £1 million-£1.5 million); Piero Manzoni and Enrico Castellani, the two founders of Azimut / H, a gallery and magazine to which the Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Venice devotes an exhibition these days (until Jan. 19).

And Arte Povera will not miss: Christie’s will offer a masterpiece by Alighiero Boetti, the Column from 1968, which marks the culmination of the artist’s earliest experiments on Arte Povera and the beginning of the more conceptual direction of his production (estimate: £1.5 million-£2 million). It is a column of classic appearance made by assembling an ordinary and modest material such as the paper doilies for cakes, stacked one above the other on a central rod of iron. It is a unique piece made for one of the first exhibitions dedicated to Arte Povera in Rome and the first of a group of nine columns that Boetti realized during 1968.

Sotheby’s selection goes back to the early 20th century with a major work on paper from 1913 by Giacomo Balla. The work, titled Flight of Swallows, comes from the collection of Alfred Barr, the legendary founder and director of the MoMA in New York, who had purchased it during a trip to Rome in 1948 as a gift to his wife, Margaret Scolari Barr (estimate: £180,000-£250,000). Then, there are works from the 1930s by De Chirico and Morandi, and also here there is a sculpture of Cavaliere by Marino Marini (estimate: £750,000-£1 million). Among the most important works on sale there is also a horizontal painting by Domenico Gnoli titled Waist Line (estimate: £2 million-£3 million). It was made at the height of his career, shortly before his death in 1969, and belongs to a series of 43 works that represent fragments of everyday life with aesthetic and nostalgic tones that were revolutionary in the tradition of figurative painting.

From the 1960s there will be also four important works from the collection of the engineer Giobatta Meneguzzo: Teatrino Bianco by Lucio Fontana (estimate: £400,000-£600,000), Bianco by Agostino Bonalumi (estimate £300,000-£400,000), Bianco by Turi Simeti (estimate: £80,000-$120,000) and Superficie Bianca by Enrico Castellani (estimate: £1 million-$1.5). The four works form a sort of manifesto of the Zero Group titled “The beetle under the leaf,” from the name of Meneguzzo’s house, built in 1965 by Giò Ponti and Nanda Vigo. Zero Group, is currently object of much attention due the exhibition “ZERO Countdown To Tomorrow,” which opens Oct. 10 at the Guggenheim in New York. Already in 2010, Sotheby’s offered a private collection of works by the Zero Group, that of Austrians Anna and Gerhard Lenz, which doubled the preauction estimate making £23 million.

Finally, Sotheby’s will auction a masterpiece by Piero Manzoni, exhibited at the Tate in London in 2005 and the Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna in Rome in 1971: a monumental “Achrome” painting from 1958-59. There are only nine works of this size, one of which is at the Pompidou, one of the GAM in Turin, one at Mumok in Vienna and one in the Rachowsky Collection in Dallas. The work is estimated to realize £5 million-£7 million.