“auction”

Data: Hockney or brazen youth

After the Tate in London, and prior to the MoMA in New York, the Centre Pompidou in Paris is celebrating the artist’s 80th birthday. Landscapes, portraits and drawings show the incredible vitality of this British painter, the author of a dense, colourful, polymorphous body of work that is more sought after than ever – as figures show. A thin silhouette in front of a monumental work, David Hockney poses before The Arrival of Spring in Woldgate, East Yorkshire, a 2011 painting that the Briton recently donated to the Centre Pompidou. It’s Tuesday 27 September, and the 80-year-old artist, donning a cap as always, has a green cardigan and a raspberry-coloured tie… The painter has a knack for matching colours. He’s smiling of course. He also makes jokes, it’s almost a habit for him. Hockney, we all know, is good-natured. This donation marks the retrospective that the Beaubourg in Paris is devoting to the artist until 23 October. No less than the most spectacular retrospective, in the painter’s opinion, for visitors can see, the artist confided in July 2017 to Éric Dahan for the magazine Vanity Fair, “one hundred and sixty works including my biggest painting, currently conserved in Australia – Bigger Trees Near Warter ou Peinture sur le motif pour le nouvel âge post-photographique –, as well as small paintings from my youth that I painted in Bradford sixty years ago.” This donation also enriches a French collection that has left little room for the pop artist. But can we reduce, to this adjective alone, the work of this Briton who can be considered the spiritual son born of the Picasso-Matisse union, this master illustrator and genius of colours, this artist who championed hyperrealism at a period when abstract expressionism was the only path to salvation in painting? “Abstraction dominated everything...

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The tribal art market at auction in 2016

Growing sharply since 2000, tribal art has not been spared of upsets in the last three years: a dilution of the historic Sotheby’s-Christie’s duopoly, consolidation of the intermediary market, mainly in favour of African pieces whose average value is dropping. The past inertias are shifting… If there’s one sure thing about this market – an extremely heterogeneous one as it is made up of classic African, Pacific, Pre-Colombian and North American arts –, it would be its growth. The turnover from auction sales, despite a little fluctuation, is following an upward trend, jumping up from around ten million euros in 2001 to flirt with 60 million euros in 2013, up to the excellent year in 2014 when it exceeded the symbolic bar of 100 million euros – an absolute record for the auction market. Meanwhile, the number of lots placed on sale has varied greatly, but its growth is just as indisputable. An average of around 3,100 objects has been presented every year from 2000 to 2005, compared to 5,800 in 2014, 7,050 in 2015, and over 8,300 in 2016. The evolution of the Artkhade price index makes the phenomenon all the clearer: between 2000 and 2016, the price level for classic African and Pacific objects has tripled. However, the last three years have sent out contradictory signals, seemingly sanctioning the market’s mutations. Certain historic dealers and collectors have withdrawn, to be replaced by young buds; the market has globalised; Internet has changed the habits of both professionals and amateurs. Since 2014, the rise in the number of lots presented at sales – following a first phase of growth between 2006 and 2009, nonetheless incomparable with the current one – has been accompanied by a significant drop in the turnover of the tribal-art auction market. Following the absolute record...

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The Old Masters market

Between a reality often distorted by figures, and the legendary discretion of art dealing, it’s difficult to grasp the health of the Old Masters market. While the July sales in London struck it lucky, where does the Old Masters segment really stand? An investigation. The market is a drama… nourished by signs and symbols. Every year, it is played out, once again, according to a perfectly rehearsed staging, by big auction sessions, report publications and grand dinner occasions. According to whether prices are up or down, whether interest rates flash green or red lights, we scream bloody murder or else murmur congratulations at fairs, all the while speculating on art-market bubbles. In the meantime, the media monitors the scene, rushing to spread news on the latest favourites on the stage of this worldly theatre. According to dealer Arnaud De Jonckheere, “these figures conceal the reality”. Figures, in fact, reflect auctions and reports. They are indicators that are necessary for objectivising a market which begs for analysis and commentary. The problem is that these curves are today largely indexed on a few records that bring joy to major auction houses, with an inclination towards sourcing out new works. Meanwhile, reports rely on resources that are necessarily incomplete, often data on the dealing world, dependent on the goodwill of professional syndicates. Hence a bothersome dialectic: figures and reports hide as much as they reveal. The paradox comes to the fore all the more in a world marked by secrecy, as remarks Bertrand Gautier, from gallery Talabardon & Gautier: “We used to be a profession based on a certain notion of secrecy, and we remain discreet people. But in the last ten years, the profession has changed in colossal proportions.” How exactly, we might very well ask. A globally stable market The...

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Wolfgang Tillmans, at the frontiers of the visible

As one exhibition concludes, another opens… While the solo show dedicated to German photographer Wolfgang Tillmans is finishing at the Tate in London, the retrospective on him at the Fondation Beyeler is starting up in the Swiss city of Basel. Perfect timing for a closer look at this artist whose experimentations have taken him far and wide… Contemporary photography – unfortunately – doesn’t always have many superstars to boast about. Even if the medium has achieved recognition in the last decade, its ecosystem still remains closed: it has its own dedicated galleries, themed auction sales, mono-medium fairs, specialised journals… In this respect, Germany’s Wolfgang Tillmans emerges as something of a phenomenon. Earning steady recognition from institutions and art critics from a very early stage in his career, he is already counted amongst the most fashionable photographers… And yet we can sense that this artist still has more tricks up his sleeve. Born in 1968 in Remscheid in West Germany (near Cologne and Düsseldorf, and therefore also near Europe-focused Belgium and the Netherlands), he discovered the photography of Polke, Richter and Rauschenberg while he was still a teenager in the museums of big neighbouring cities. After three years in Hamburg, Tillmans continued his studies at the Bournemouth and Poole College of Art and Design in South England. He then moved to London before staying in New York for one year in 1994. This is where he met gallerist Andrea Rosen, who would be the first to support him, as well as his lover, painter Jochen Klein. The two Germans would return to Europe where they lived together in the British capital until the death, in 1997, of Klein, a victim of AIDS. Tillmans was not yet 30 at the time. In 2000, the artist suddenly emerged from obscurity by becoming...

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The economics of uncertainty

In public sales, we know that the final bidder is the one who wins. But at what price? Game theory is a way to resolve this conflict. An hour with Françoise Forges, economics professor at the Université Paris-Dauphine. Everything you need to know on strategic bidding behaviour. The topic, we have to say, is a bit tough, not so easy to swallow: game theory. In other words, the secret life of numbers. Or how to formalise conflictual situations within communities of individuals when they interact, for example, at public sales. How can the strategic behaviour of bidders be analysed, anticipated, or even thwarted? So… In very basic terms, game theory deals with the formal resolution of conflicts. First of all, there’s one name you need to keep in mind: William Vickrey, who in 1961 matched game theory with auction mechanisms for the first time. A winner of the Nobel Prize in Economics, he was recognised for his research contribution to “the economic theory of incentives under asymmetric information”. This was the man who namely theorised on the interaction of strategies used by bidders. Let’s say that here, we flirt with the concept of the “Nash equilibrium” whereby a player cannot modify his or her strategy unilaterally without weakening his or her position. All clear? It may not exactly be straightforward stuff… but understanding it can also pay off… Thanks to game theory, it’s possible, for example, to identify the symmetries at work in auction rooms. Game theory also offers very practical applications for military defence, where the modelling of nuclear dissuasion can prove handy. In short, the field is vast, starting off from the economic sciences and the analysis of competing logics, and spreading to the political sciences, where game theory can apply to electoral jousts. In the social...

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