London Eye: September 2008
On Sept. 16, controversial British artist Damien Hirst drove a chainsaw through established conventions governing the art trade by selling £70.5 million ($127 million, inclusive of buyer’s premium) worth of new art at Sotheby’s in London. Sidestepping his dealer agents – White Cube in London and Gagosian Gallery in New York – Hirst consigned directly to Sotheby’s, which also broke the rules by agreeing to auction literally new artworks.
Fears that a plummeting global economy might deter bidders proved unfounded as the main evening sale witnessed a feverish demand for the artist’s signature pickled animals, spot-and-spin paintings, and pill cabinets. Top price of the sale was £10.3 million for The Golden Calf, a taxidermied Charolais bull calf with 18 carat gold horns and hooves, while The Kingdom, a tiger shark suspended in formaldehyde, realized £9.6 million.
Meanwhile, the more sedate realm of English furniture has been occupying minds over at Christie’s, who this week made its first formal announcement of the planned Nov. 20 sale of the combined stock of two of London’s oldest and most venerable antique furniture dealerships – Hotspur and Jeremy.
Founded in the 1920s and 1940s respectively, Hotspur and Jeremy became bywords for quality and rarity. Located opposite each other in the smart London enclave of Belgravia, the two distinguished family firms have, for decades, dispensed outstanding examples of fine English and Continental furniture to a discerning international clientele of private collectors and museums, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the J. Paul Getty Museum, and the Victoria and Albert Museum.
The deepening crisis in the world’s financial markets may prompt some to question the timing of such a sale. Indeed, the decision by the directors of both companies to cease trading is itself being viewed as a further indication of the steady softening of the UK antiques trade. However, the continuing strength of the top end of the market seems to suggest that the kind of objects that will be up for sale – of impeccable quality, rarity and good provenance – are less affected by prevailing economic trends.
Mark Dodgson, Secretary General of the British Antique Dealers’ Association (BADA), told Auction Central News, “It is very sad, and we are very sorry to see the passing of two such prestigious firms as Hotspur and Jeremy, who were so high-profile and very widely loved. But others will continue their role because although it is true that there has been a general detraction in the number of antique dealers in the UK, there is always a demand for rarity value and intrinsically fine quality.”
The highlight of Christie’s sale is the so-called Cusworth Suite, a magnificent set of eight carved mahogany dining chairs dating from circa 1755-65, with their original needlework upholstery. The suite is estimated at £500,000-800,000 ($900,000-1.4 million).
Determined to benefit from the extensive media interest and commercial energy surrounding the much-hyped Urban Art, or Street Art movement in the UK, a group of French artists has formed a loose affiliation under the slightly ill-advised title ‘So Feucking French’ (SoFF). From Oct. 15-19, representatives of SoFF will be in London to introduce their new patron – illustrious Parisian auctioneer Pierre Cornette de Saint-Cyr.
“The dynamism and diversity of the French art scene are obvious, and so is the quality of the French artists,” said M. Cornette de Saint-Cyr. “France should be proud to have so many artists, confirmed creators, highly potential mid-career artists and a vibrant emerging scene in perpetual motion.” Perhaps SoFF should start with their Web site. When we visited, most of the artists’ links led nowhere.
Here in London, the British alternative art scene is as lively as ever. Many of the more prominent names of the cultish Urban art movement, such as Banksy, Anthony Micallef, Jonathan Yeo, and Paul Insect, are managed by London’s Lazarides Gallery. On Oct. 16 they will contribute to ‘A Lazarides Extravaganza’ – “a carnivalesque riot of music, games and burlesque, set to inject mayhem, irreverence and fun into the London art scene.”
Tickets to the Extravaganza cost £5,000 each. Only 250 are available, and each guarantees the holder an original artwork by Yeo, Micallef, Faile, JR, or Paul Insect. “This night is all about putting as much energy and attitude into the London art scene as these artists put into their work,” said gallerist Steve Lazarides.
As soon as the Hirst frenzy has died down, attention will turn to the next big thing in the London art calendar – the Frieze Fair in Regents Park, from Oct. 16-19. This year the fair sees a significant expansion of its sculpture park, hitherto a relatively lowkey component of the event but now clearly aiming to tap into the extraordinary activity currently surrounding sculpture in the UK.
Sixteen sculptures will be on show this year in the English Gardens of Regent’s Park, a short walk from the entrance to the fair. Entrance to the Sculpture Park is free. Artists presenting work at the 2008 Sculpture Park include American artists Robert Melee and Michael Craig-Martin, Indian artist Subodh Gupta, Ugo Rondinone from Switzerland, Norwegian artist Gardar Eide Einarsson and British artist Harland Miller. Other highlights will include work by Brazilian artist Ernesto Neto, a collaboration between Iranian artist Shirazeh Houshiary and British artist Pip Horne, and Angela Ferreira, an artist who was born in Mozambique but now lives and works in Portugal.
Finally, UK architectural salvage specialists, Salvo, have produced a useful environmentally aware guidebook to architectural salvage in the UK. The emphasis, which will resonate with many people in these straitened times, is on reclamation and recycling, and the guide is chock full of handy advice, addresses of suppliers, and so forth. To grab a copy, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call +44 (0) 20 8400 6222.
Tom Flynn is a London-based writer and journalist. His monograph on British sculptor Sean Henry has just been published by Scala.