Modigliani’s Nude reclines in a Taxi Driver’s Collection

Paying tens of millions of dollars for a painting or a sculpture is nothing new. For decades now, auction houses have been doing a remarkable job and one record after another came tumbling down. Among the ‘usual suspects’ were Picasso, Rothko, Bacon, and a whole bunch of Pop artists and Post Impressionists.

This week, a 1917 nude painting titled ‘Nu Couché’ by the sensational Modigliani was sold for $170.4 million at Chrtistie’s New York, becoming the second most expensive work of art ever sold at auction. Till here it would have been just another piece of news, but…

The painting was acquired by a Chinese billionaire called Liu Yiqian, and the fact that he had started his career as a taxi driver caused an uproar among several self-righteous experts and critics that rushed to label him as a culture vulture with a stock exchange mentality and no taste. Nevertheless, his story is –to my mind- way more interesting than the purchase itself. New York Times reported the story of Liu Yiqian, the taxi-driver that turned into a billionaire and an extraordinary art collector:

As a teenager growing up in Shanghai during the tumultuous years of the Cultural Revolution, Mr. Liu sold handbags on the street and later worked as a taxi driver. After dropping out of middle school, he went on to ride the wave of China’s economic opening and reform, making a fortune through stock trading in real estate and pharmaceuticals in the 1980s and 1990s. According to the 2015 Bloomberg Billionaires Index, Mr. Liu is worth at least $1.5 billion.

“To me, art collecting is primarily a process of learning about art,” Mr. Liu said in an interview with The New York Times in 2013. “First you must be fond of the art. Then you can have an understanding of it.”

Mr. Liu, together with his wife, Wang Wei, is one of China’s most visible –—some say flashy — art collectors. Over the years, they have built a vast collection of both traditional and contemporary Chinese art, much of which is displayed in their two museums in Shanghai: the Long Museum Pudong, which opened in 2012; and the Long Museum West Bund, which opened last year. Ms. Wang, 52, is the director of both museums.

“I first came up with the idea that the Long Museum should collect international objects about two years ago,” said Ms. Wang, adding that her husband has been very supportive of her work.

The couple’s collection includes a 15th-century silk hanging, called a thangka, bought by Mr. Liu for $45 million at a Christie’s auction in Hong Kong last year. The purchase made headlines when it set the record for a Chinese artwork sold at an international auction.

With that purchase, Mr. Liu broke a record he had set months earlier when he paid $36.3 million at a Sotheby’s sale for a tiny Ming dynasty porcelain cup known as a “chicken cup.” Soon after, he caused an uproar after a photograph that showed him sipping tea from the antique cup spread online.

For both record-setting acquisitions, Mr. Liu reportedly paid with an American Express credit card, earning him many millions of reward points.

The couple’s self-promotion tactics have prompted some in contemporary art circles in China to draw comparisons with the “taxi tycoon” Robert Scull and his wife Ethel, voracious collectors of what came to be known as “Pop Art” in the 1960s but derided by some in the art world as crass nouveaux riche.

Speaking about Mr. Liu and Ms. Wang, Philip Tinari, director of the Ullens Center for Contemporary Art in Beijing, said: “These are collectors that have so much money that they acquire taste or they don’t have to have to taste because they buy everything in sight.” He added: “There’s very little discrimination, they just buy the most expensive things. They’re not connoisseurs.”

Source: New York Times. Click here for the full article.


New Era in the Art Market: Art sold for $ 495 million

It seems that the term ‘global crisis’ is alien terminology to the international art markets. Check this piece of news from BBC:

A contemporary art sale at Christie’s in New York has made $495m (£325m), the highest total in auction history.

The sale included works by Jackson Pollock, Roy Lichtenstein and Jean-Michel Basquiat.
The sale established 16 new world auction records, with nine works selling for more than $10m (£6.6m) and 23 for more than $5m (£3.2m).
Christie’s said the records reflected “a new era in the art market”.

The top lot of Wednesday’s sale was Pollock’s drip painting Number 19, 1948, which fetched $58.4m (£38.3m) – nearly twice its pre-sale estimate. Lichtenstein’s Woman with Flowered Hat sold for $56.1m (£36.8m), while another Basquiat work, Dustheads, went for $48.8 (£32.1m).

All three works set the highest prices ever fetched for the artists at auction.
Christie’s described the $495 million total – which included commissions – as “staggering”. Only four of the 70 lots on offer went unsold.

Brett Gorvy, head of post-war and contemporary art, described the amount as “the highest total in auction history”. “The remarkable bidding and record prices set reflect a new era in the art market,” he said.
Steven Murphy, CEO of Christie’s International, said new collectors were helping drive the boom. “Twenty-five percent of our buyers last year were new to Christie’s,” he told Reuters. “And four or five of the key lots tonight went to people who have never bought here before.”


Dustheads by Jean-Michel Basquiat - $49m

Number 19 by Jackson Pollock - $58.4m

Woman with Flowered Hat by Lichtenstein - $56m

Mark Rothko’s Prophecy: Artworks Vandalized

“A picture lives by companionship, expanding and quickening in the eyes of the sensitive observer. It dies by the same token. It is therefore a risky and unfeeling act to send it out into the world. How often it must be permanently impaired by the eyes of the vulgar and the cruelty of the impotent who would extend the affliction universally!”Mark Rothko

The Russian-American artist famous for his ‘multiforms’ produced a multitude of abstract and color field compositions that earned him both fame and fortune. Coincidently, on the day he committed suicide, his ‘Seagram Murals’ were on their way to the Tate Gallery where they would be displayed. I say coincidently because, a few days ago, one of these murals suffered what he himself had called ‘eyes of the vulgar and the cruelty of the impotent’. Here is what happened as the Tate put it:
“We can confirm that at 15.25 this afternoon there was an incident at Tate Modern in which a visitor defaced one of Rothko’s Seagram murals by applying a small area of black paint with a brush to the painting.” – Tate spokesperson, October 7th, 2012

Rothko joined a long list of artists whose works have been vandalized: from old master like Michelangelo and Rembrandt and all the way to names like Tracey Emin. The man who defaced Rothko’s painting had something to say about his act: “Art allows us to take what someone’s done and put a new message on it.

Earlier this year, Rothko’s ‘Red, Yellow, Orange’ had sold for $ 87 million in an auction in NY.

Mahmoud Said: Alexandria’s Paintbrush breaks Christie’s Record?

My latest article in Ahram Online is about an artist that painted dancers and dervishes, aristocrats and nudes. The best appreciation he ever received during his lifetime was –as he himself said- a spit on the face from a man that was ‘moved’ by the sensuality of the nude figures in that painter’s works. Our artist, who left his law studies in France and dedicated himself to art, eventually became ‘Alexandria’s paintbrush’ and one of Egypt’s most iconic modern painter: Mahmoud Saïd (1897-1964).

In 2010, his name made the news headlines as one of his masterpieces; ‘The Whirling Dervishes’ (1929), sold for a record $ 2.546 million through Christie’s Dubai. The estimated price prior to the sale was no higher than $ 400,000. The sale sent shockwaves through the art market, setting the world auction record for the artist
and the world record price for any Arab painting sold at auction. Earlier that year, another painting of his; ‘Les Chadoufs’ (1935), had sold for $ 2.43 million. Now, two of his paintings might break a new record next week. Read on:

It’s a happy day for Christie’s: Miró and Moore break records

It’s a happy day for Christie’s, for they managed to sell a Joan Miró for a record price, and so they did with a Henry Moore sculpture.

Joan Miró’s ‘le corps de ma brune’ sold for $ 26.6 million. The 1925 painting is part free-form painting and part poetry, in a way reminiscent of Dadaism and influenced by surrealism.

Henry Moore’s ‘Reclining Figure: Festival’ is an abstract cast bronze statue of a reclining woman, one of the masterpieces by the British artist. It sold for $ 30 million.

Moreover, three paintings from the collection of Elizabeth Taylor were sold for $ 22 million: a Van Gogh landscape, another by Pissarro, and a Degas self-portrait.

Tomorrow marks the last day in Christie’s ‘Art of the Surreal’ and ‘Impressinist and Modern Art’ auction nights (7 – 9 February 2012).