The Back Room: The Klimt Connection
This week: the intrigue swirling around Dame mit Fächer, the flood-proof Hamptons art trade, the fairs getting small to get ahead, and much more.
Every Friday, Artnet News Pro members get exclusive access to the Back Room, our lively recap funneling only the week’s must-know intel into a nimble read you’ll actually enjoy.
This week in the Back Room: the intrigue swirling around Dame mit Fächer, the flood-proof Hamptons art trade, the fairs getting small to get ahead, and much more—all in a 7-minute read (1,865 words).
Top of the Market
From Austria to Asia
Is Gustav Klimt the latest modernist to enter the echelon of Picassos, Monets, and other must-haves-at-any-price in the eyes of Asian’s ultra-wealthy? The evidence is mounting, and the implications for the market are substantial.
On June 27, Klimt’s Dame mit Fächer (Lady With a Fan) became the most expensive artwork ever to sell at auction in Europe—as well as the priciest Klimt—when it traded for a premium-inclusive £85.3 million ($108.4 million) in an evening sale at Sotheby’s London. That’s a nearly 10X increase since it last crossed the block to sell for $11.6 million in 1994.
But the work bears a closer look for two larger reasons: first, as our colleague Katya Kazakinawrote in last week’s Art Detective, “the Klimt is the brightest spot at a rather uncertain moment for the art market”; and second, because the mystery around the winning bidder(s), if not the consignor(s), seems to at least flow toward the Asia Pacific region.
Tale of Two Markets
Spending within most price tiers has undoubtedly cooled alongside sentiment, taking the overall market down a peg. For instance, Christie’s grudgingly acknowledged last week that its global sales, at $3.2 billion (£2.5 billion), were down 23 percent from the comparable period in 2022.
And yet, in Katya’s words, “There remains a bracing desire at the top of the market to compete for rare and exquisite artworks.” The boisterous bidding for Dame mit Fächer reinforces the emergence of a bifurcated trade familiar to financial types.
The links between the painting and the Asia Pacific region go much further than its perceived use of an East Asian motif. Recently, enthusiasm for Klimt seems particularly acute among Asian collectors. Worth noting…
- Four bidders went after Dame mit Fächer; three of them represented Asian clients.
- The winning bidder, former Sotheby’s rainmaker Patti Wong, said she was competing on behalf of a Hong Kong buyer (whom she declined to identify).
- The sale marks the third major Klimt painting won at auction by a client based in Asia since November 2022.
The region’s willingness to pay dearly (at least when compared to U.S.- and Europe-based buyers) may relate to the giddiness still felt from this year’s long-awaited lifting of Covid-related restrictions on international travel and massive gatherings such as art fairs. But an even more compelling question about the Klimt is who, exactly, bought it—and why.
Process of Elimination
Wong, now helming her own eponymous art advisory, is known to have at least three clients who might have been able to buy Dame mit Fächer. But one option stands out based on facts on the ground (assuming we take Wong at her word).
Client #1 (Least Likely): Hong Kong-based collector Joseph Lau. Although he too has paid tens of millions of dollars for modernist masterpieces, none is known to have topped the $67.4 millionprice of Picasso’s Buste de femme in 2015. More importantly, Lau is now a fugitive in Hong Kong, and he has recently sold off some of his holdings in wine, Chinese works of art, and Hermès bags due to an apparent personal liquidity crisis.
Client #2 (More Likely): Financier Pierre Chen. He has spent huge sums for modern and contemporary artworks. Now on display in a Tate Modern show of his foundation’s holdings is David Hockney’s Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures), which sold for $90.3 million at Christie’s in 2018. However, Chen is based in Taiwan, not Hong Kong.
Client #3 (Most Likely): Collector and entrepreneur Rosaline Wong. Described as an “aggressive” buyer who won’t flinch at spending nine figures for an artwork, Wong may or may not be the end client in several major transactions she’s paid for. But the most intriguing links between her and Dame mit Fächer include that…
- Her company HomeArt loaned two major Klimts to an exhibition at the Van Gogh Museum last year: Wasserschlangen II (1904-1907), sold by Dmitry Rybolovlev to an anonymous Asian buyer for $170 million in 2015; and Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer II (1912), sold privately for $150 million in a 2016 deal brokered by Larry Gagosian.
- She has surfaced as a partner in an art investment fund set up by Zheng He Capital, for which Larry Gagosian is an advisor.
- She’s rumored to be in the midst of launching a fractional ownership fund specializing in museum-quality works.
Rosaline Wong declined to comment to Artnet News. But regardless of her possible involvement in the latest Klimt mega-sale, the deal highlights a broader trend in art buying.
The Bottom Line
In financial terms, a so-called flight to quality is already in motion. At the high end of the market are bidders like the Klimt buyer who are…
- Savvy enough to know that a work like Dame mit Fächer only comes up for auction every few decades.
- Confident enough in their choices to act decisively at auction.
- More likely to be immune to interest-rate sensitivity.
At the other end of the market there are fair-weather flippers, speculators who rely on financing (possibly even on financing from the houses themselves), and the smart but careful buyers—investors whose coffers were overflowing when interest rates were at historic lows and opted to diversify into art but may now be buying bonds.
If the market stays rocky, the division between the two extremes is likely to grow from a gulf into a chasm. But if so, expect to find some whales from the Asia Pacific region swimming confidently on the high side.
This week’s Wet Paint was still being mixed at newsletter time, so here’s what else made a mark around the industry since last Friday morning…
- Art Basel named veteran dealer Bridget Finn director of Art Basel Miami Beach, a role she’ll assume in September. Reyes | Finn, her Detroit-based gallery with business partner Terese Reyes, shut down this week in a move Finn says was unrelated. (Artnet News)
- Two former employees say that Sotheby’s has laid off at least 10 senior staffers since April, including general manager Jamie Durkin and vice president and director of client experience Molly C. Berry, and now has only three employees working on NFT sales. As well, Phillips has eliminated two senior-level positions in San Francisco and Seattle as part of a plan to consolidate its West Coast business in Los Angeles. (ARTnews)
- A pair of French investment companies, Vesper Investissement and Groupe Chevrillon, jointly acquired a 30 percent stake in Paris-based Drouout, one of the world’s oldest and largest auction operations. (Artnet News)
- In mega-gallery roster news, Tiona Nekkia McClodden left Mitchell-Innes and Nash to join White Cube, with her first U.K. solo show slated to debut there in February 2024; and David Zwirner now reps choreographer, dancer, and artist Sarah Michelson, whose signing coincides with the gallery’s announced plan to launch a residency dedicated to dance. (Press releases)
- A slew of other representation announcements have come down the pipeline, including conceptualist Diamond Stingily heading to Greene Naftali; Clearing taking on Japanese-born, Berlin-based painter Shota Nakamura; 99-year-old Spiral Group veteran Richard Mayhew joining Venus Over Manhattan; portraitist Robert Pruitt (not to be confused with post-conceptualist Rob Pruitt) coming aboard Vielmetter; and Margot Sameladding Glasgow-based Amy Winstanley. (Press releases)
- Austrian billionaire Ingrid Flick‘s $670,000 donation to the Tel Aviv Museum of Art in 2014 is under review by the museum for her fortune’s purported Nazi ties. The reassessment follows the museum’s cancellation of a Christie’s-organized restitution conference, which drew outcries from Jewish groups after the house’s sale of Heidi Horten’s jewelry collection. (Artnet News)
- The next executive director of the equity-focused Black Trustees Alliance for Art Museums will be Diane Jean-Mary, an ex-partner at cultural strategist LaPlaca Cohen. (Culture Type)
- Dealer and collector Massimo De Carlo signed a declaration of intent to build a major private foundation dedicated to international contemporary art in his home country of Italy, in the province of Asti, “in the coming years.” (Artnet News)
Tech and Legal News
- Seventy-one stolen objects worth nearly $69 million have been recovered from Met donorShelby White’s Manhattan apartment by investigators over the past two years, along with a further 17 that White had loaned to the museum. The items include ancient Greek vases, a Chinese funerary artifact, and several ancient bronze sculptures. (New York Times)
- Armando Pereira, cofounder and former COO of Patrick Drahi’s telecom giant Altice, was detained in Portugal amid a three-year investigation into private corruption, tax fraud, and money laundering. Authorities allege that Altice Portugal may have been victimized in the scheme. While there is no apparent direct connection to Sotheby’s, one observer noted that “no distraction is helpful in a weakening market.” (Artnet News)
- Collector and Venus Over Manhattan founder Adam Lindemann was arrested for alleged criminal trespassing at the Ranch, the gallery owned by neighbor and fellow dealer Max Levai, as well as harassment in the second degree for an alleged physical altercation with Levai. An attorney for Lindemann called the charges “absurd” and said that his client will plead not guilty. (Artnet News)
“After we had to turn off the lights, there were actually galleries selling paintings in the dark. I couldn’t believe it. People were buying the works and walking out with them.”
—Rick Friedman, executive director of last weekend’s Hamptons Fine Art Fair, contending that business kept chugging along even as torrential rains forced the tented expo to close early for safety reasons. (Artnet News)
Last week saw 38 exhibitors converge on the island of Ibiza for the second iteration of Contemporary Art Now (CAN), one of the latest entries in a growing group of boutique art fairs counterweighting the global giants.
While the works on offer at CAN “were mostly eye-catching, figurative paintings priced around the €10,000 level,” per the intrepid Melanie Gerlis of the Financial Times, the fair nevertheless attracted some internationally known dealers more often seen at larger expos, including the Hole, Carl Kostyál, and Over the Influence.
A grand total of 38 galleries sounds microscopic out of context. But a quick accounting of fairs following the “less is more” model reveals that CAN isn’t even among the six smallest to welcome an esteemed exhibitor or two.
Among those that have either completed their 2023 edition or confirmed their exhibitor lists for later this year…
- Two fairs tied for the most compact. The first was Basel’s June, whose 20 exhibitors just a short stroll from Messeplatz included Tara Downs (New York), Fabian Lang (Zurich), and Misako and Rosen (Tokyo).
- The second was 1-54 Marrakech, whose own 20-pack featured Galerie Nathalie Obadia (Paris, Brussels) and Templon (Paris, Brussels, NYC).
- Placing fifth on the list with 34 exhibitors was another recent summer favorite: Art Monte Carlo, where Almine Rech, Hauser and Wirth, and White Cube headlined the participants just two weeks ago.
Even though the roundup above is not comprehensive, it’s still evidence that an audience on both the buy and sell sides of the trade believes that, when it comes to art fairs, bigger isn’t always better.
Thanks for joining us in the Back Room. See you next Friday.
Follow Artnet News on Facebook:
Want to stay ahead of the art world? Subscribe to our newsletter to get the breaking news, eye-opening interviews, and incisive critical takes that drive the conversation forward.