Memorabilia, the great revival?

For several years now, auction sales related to pop culture have flourished. From French music to video games via the Star Wars saga, auction houses have been exploring new segments. A panorama of these wide-appeal niches. Mylène Farmer’s military jacket, Maurice Chevalier’s boater, a childhood videogame or the robot R2-D2, the pipe smoked by singer Georges Brassens… The list of fetish objects from what is known as “pop culture” is long… and sells well! Once reserved to an obscure minority of underground collectors, for several years in France now, the purchase of memorabilia from childhood, the stars of music, film or television, has been transposed to auctions. So is this an auction-house strategy to reconquer market shares? Or is there a genuine demand for these objects? In any case, this new category of memorabilia is gaining more and more fans. Of course, it’s not new for these astonishing relics to exercise a power of fascination. In the 1970s, MGM studios would auction off objects from every category in their possession, including over 350,000 costumes. “Marilyn Monroe dresses and Elvis clothing articles were sold for around $1,000,” explained, in 2011, Darren Julien, founder of the auction house Julien’s Auctions, to Alex Ritman from the website theNational.ae. Around a decade later, in about 1980, Drouot in France began holding auction sales of the personal belongings of Claude François or Édith Piaf. But what is surprising these days is the sudden recurrence, ever since the start of the 2010s, of sales focusing on popular culture: French music, videogames, Star Wars… Is this the emergence of a new market? Culture geek icons In Paris, the auction house Millon & Associés has set up a specific department for pop culture, directed by Alexis Jacquemard. “It was a matter of opening up to a new...

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Maltese Falcon sends prices soaring at Bonhams

New York, 2 December 2013, Art Media Agency (AMA). Bonhams held a cinema-oriented sale on 25 November 2013, entitled What Dreams Are Made Of: A Century of Movie Magic at Auction, curated by the movie channel TCM. The major lot of the auction was the original Maltese Falcon statuette from the eponymous 1941 film noir, which sold for a record $4,085,000. Dr Catherine Williamson, director of the Entertainment Memorabilia Department at Bonhams, commented on the sale: “The spectacular price achieved reflects the statuette’s tremendous significance. The Maltese Falcon is arguably the most important movie prop ever, and is central to the history of cinema.” Other high points of the auction included the car used in Casablanca, a 1940 Buick Phaeton, which achieved a price of $461,000; and the Givenchy hat worn by Audrey Hepburn in Funny Face, which reached four times its estimate, selling for...

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Bruce Lee auction in Hong Kong

Hong Kong, 8 August 2011, Art Media Agency (AMA) An auction held on Saturday in Hong Kong featured thirteen objects that belonged to the famous martial arts instructor and actor Bruce Lee. The sale realised $227,000 or €194,000. Bruce Lee, born Lee Jun-fan, was born in Chinatown in San Francisco in 1940. He grew up in Hong Kong, where his father was an actor and Bruce appeared in several films as a child. At the age of thirteen, he started learning Tai Chi Chuan and was hereby introduced to the martial arts. To validate his American nationality, he studied at the Edison Technical School in Seattle. It was there that Lee became a professional martial arts instructor and opened a school. He continued his film career and made cult films such as Big Boss (1972) or Fist of Fury (also 1972). In 1970, Lee had injured his back severely and he died in 1973, two months before his last film, Enter the dragon, was released in the United States. Thirteen objects belonging to him were thus sold in Hong Kong at the largest sale ever dedicated to the actor in the town where he grew up. The organisers had hoped to realise $112,900, but the objects went under the hammer for $227,000. One of the star lots was the fur-lined coat worn by Lee in The Game of Death, released posthumously. The piece of memorabilia was bought by an American collector for $77,000 – nine times the pre-auction estimate. A member card from his Kung Fu club as well as an identity card also featured at the sale. These results confirm that memorabilia sales realise impressive results on the international art...

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Report on the Irish art market 2011

Dublin, 18 April 2011, Art Media Agency (AMA) The Irish art market has finally found buyers.  Adam’s and Whyte’s, the most well-known Irish auction houses, have shown a large increase in auction prices between 2009 and 2010. In 2009, the sales results of Irish paintings at Adam’s and Whyte’s had already increased by 30 to 50%.  The field of modern Irish art is now considered a stable market with its own followers. Contemporary Irish art, however, is less well-received and professionals do not consider that this field presents any real artistic value.   Yet it should be remembered that some artists from all genres, like Eileen Gray, are amongst the most listed in the world. In 2009, despite the success of the Irish art market, Christie’s decided that it was no longer feasible to auction Irish art separately.  The fact that works of different origin are bundled together makes it difficult to refer to a market as such. In 2010, a work by Jack B. Yeats, one of the most important modern Irish painters, to whom a museum has been dedicated in Dublin, was valued at 1 M€ at Christie’s but found no buyer.  In early 2011, the situation started evolving when Sotheby’s in London opened a specialist section and set a world record of 2,1 M€, the highest ever for a sale. The record for a Yeats was reached by The Wild Ones, a painting featuring a horse, Yeats’s  favourite subject.  The painting was sold for €1,699,404 on 21 May 1999.  John Lavery, also one of the Irish masters, is a close second with The Bridge at Grez, which went for €1,694,471 on 8 December 1998.  One should, however, take into account that these auction prices are not recent.  The best price for a Roderic O’Connor is €1,028,230 for...

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