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Chardin buyer battles Louvre over national treasure sale

Despite art dealer Adam Williams winning a still life by 18th-century artist Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin at auction for a record-breaking €24.3mn, his client might yet not end up with the picture, if the Louvre has anything to do with it.

The Louvre’s director, Laurence des Cars, has confirmed that “The Basket of Wild Strawberries” (1761) should be classed as a “national treasure”. This means the work can be held for 30 months under French law, giving the museum time to raise funds for the acquisition. Artcurial, the auction house which sold the picture, stressed that the possibility of pre-exemption was mentioned in the conditions of sale.

Chardin’s ‘The Basket of Wild Strawberries’ (1761), which sold for €24.3mn © Artcurial

Williams says: “I perfectly understand why the Louvre is blocking the sale but if a museum has 41 paintings by Chardin, does it really need 42? This would be a great advertisement for 18th-century French art in the United States.” He adds that the buyer of the work, for whom he was bidding, has offered to lend the painting to future exhibitions in France.


Swedish auction house Bukowskis has been acquired by Bonhams

“We are not going to buy an auction house a week,” says Bruno Vinciguerra, chief executive of Bonhams, which has made waves in the art trade with its acquisition of three auction houses this year: Skinner in New England, the Swedish company Bukowskis and, most recently, Denmark’s leading auction business, Bruun Rasmussen. Bonhams had a turnover of $800mn in 2021 with a total staff of 850 worldwide.

Bonhams’ private equity owner, Epiris, is on a buying spree — so is the plan to acquire other auction houses, possibly in Asia? “We have other discussions ongoing; the extension of our network is something we’ll keep doing because it makes sense,” Vinciguerra says. “We buy local auction houses that have excellent reputations, depth of expertise and great relationships with local art market players; we will bring a global audience to their sales, that is the upside.”

Some in the industry have speculated whether this extension of Bonhams’ global network is a push to bolster the company ahead of a resale. “We want to create something that does not exist today which is a global platform that serves all price points, all departments and all geographical areas. Resale is not a short-term objective,” Vinciguerra says.


Drone performance by artist duo Drift © Drift/Aorist

It had to happen — the NFT (non-fungible token) phenomenon is coming to Venice as the art world descends for the 59th art biennale, which opens later this month.

Aorist — described as a “climate-forward NFT marketplace” — is organising CodeX, a three-part project (April 19-May 3). Under Aorist’s auspices, artist duo Drift will stage their first indoor drone performance, in the Church of San Lorenzo, while the Dutch-Brazilian artist Rafaël Rozendaal will show an immersive installation with mirrors and screens in the Navy Officers’ Club. These events are accompanied by a series of NFTs available on the Aorist platform.

In the final part, Swedish conceptual artist Jonas Lund will present 512 works online for a project called MVP (Most Valuable Painting), which previews in London at W1 Curates and then shifts to Venice. Intriguingly, Lund’s paintings “optimise their features and composition to mimic the characteristics of the more ‘desirable’ paintings” based on digital user engagement such as likes, “swipe rights” and previous sales. The series culminates with the “Most Valuable Painting”, whose appearance is influenced by the sales of the previous 511 MVPs. The first pieces start at $384 and increase in price as more works are sold.


Amoako Boafo’s ‘Hands Up’ (2018) © Christie’s Images, 2022

A new edition of ArtTactic’s Modern & Contemporary African Artist report, which explores auction sales trends in 2016-2021, highlights a surging sector. Auction sales increased by 44 per cent in 2021, from $50mn in 2020 to $72mn last year, passing the pre-pandemic total by far too. “This is the highest total ever for the African modern and contemporary auction market,” says ArtTactic.

West African artists saw the strongest growth in auction sales: total sales were up 111 per cent in 2021 over the year before, with $89.4mn generated over the five-year period. Njideka Akunyili Crosby, who was born in Nigeria, achieved $16.3mn in total sales, with an average price of $855,000. Ghana-born Amoako Boafo was another art-market star, his work fetching $14mn with an average price of $400,000. Lisa Brice, born in South Africa, had the highest auction sale last year for a female artist: $3.2mn (with fees) for “No Bare Back, after Embah” (2017) at Sotheby’s. Sales for central African artists dipped, however, only generating $881,000 in 2021.

Lisa Brice’s ‘No Bare Back, after Embah’ (2017) © Lisa Brice/Salon 94, New York and Stephen Friedman Gallery, London

The report analysed more than 23,700 lots across postwar and contemporary sales in locations such as London, Dubai, Nigeria and South Africa. The report is timely, coinciding with the 1:54 Contemporary African Art Fair at Christie’s in Paris (until April 10).


Untitled by Paulo Nazareth, from ‘Notícias de América’ series (2011)

As the art world springs back to life following the pandemic, New York is consolidating its position as the world’s contemporary art hub. Mendes Wood DM is opening a 7,000 square foot gallery in Walker Street in Tribeca, downtown Manhattan, early next month, incorporating three exhibition spaces.

The gallery, founded in São Paulo in 2010, previously ran a space on the Upper East Side, which closed in early 2021. “The experience of opening in New York has been so rewarding; now we want to take it to another level,” says co-founder Matthew Wood. The space launches with a survey of work by Brazilian artist Paulo Nazareth (Nosotros los otros, May 6-June 10), including his Notícias de América (News from America) photographic series (2011-12). Prices are undisclosed but pamphlets will be available for $1. “Paulo makes his work available for anyone to purchase,” Wood says.

White Cube plans to open a gallery on the Upper East Side in a 1930 building at 1002 Madison Avenue in spring 2023, marking the gallery’s 30th anniversary. Programming details are to be announced, while White Cube will retain its office and private viewing rooms at a separate Madison Avenue location.

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