It was a curious week in the art world, news sneaking out amidst a post-Basel, pre-beach lull. The 75-year old Grosvenor Antiques Fair called it quits, one of the best jobs in the (museum) world got filled and pied-piper Maimi collector Rosa de la Cruz told the Miami Herald she and her husband plan a museum in the city to house their terrific collection. And after Ponzi schemer Bernie Madoff was sentenced to 150 years in jail, his alleged co-conspirator J. Ezra Merkin was forced to sell his art collection to pay off investors. Shoe-horned into all this, virtually unnoticed, may have been the birth of a new art market, or at least of the latest flavor-of-the-month. Phillips de Pury tried out a handful of "New Wave Ukrainian" artists (who knew?) in its London day sales of contemporary art, and they fared pretty well.
This Eastern European invasion wasn't quite out of the blue: Sotheby's last month added Ukrainian works, for the first time, to its sale of Russian art and even toured highlights from the sale to Kiev. About half those works sold. But, at the Phillips sale, several works by Ukrainian artists sold at the higher end of their price estimates. Victor Sydorenko, perhaps best known for his groupings of brightly-painted mannequins, and Matvy Vaisberg, who favors moody abstraction, both made their debut at auction this week. And a record was set for a Vassily Tsagolov, a Ukrainian artist who does figurative work, often with an element of fantasy. (He titled one series featuring blue-skinned creatures "Ukrainian X-Files.")
Meanwhile, at the Phillips evening auction of works by better-known artists, the pickings were slim, at 40 lots, but the results respectable. The sale was 77% sold. It set records for twin-brother futurists Gert & Uwe Tobias and for veteran Ashley Bickerton. (32,450 pounds and 51,650 pounds, respectively, with premium.) An Ed Ruscha that had been heavily marketed "That was Then, This is Now," brought 713,250 pounds and a John Chamberlain, Mr. Moto, sold for 529,250 pounds. In a break with past frenzied bidding for Richard Prince works at Phillips, his 2005 portrait of Brooke Shields went unsold.
A slew of arts institutions sent out frantic last-minute pleas for donations before the fiscal year closed June 30. One of the most impassioned came from Santa Monica Museum of Art director Elsa Longhauser. Her "urgent request" read "Today is the last day of the Santa Monica Museum of Art's fiscal year. This is our final chance to lay the foundation for the coming year's exhibitions and education programs...We need your help."
The good news? It worked, resoundingly. The museum had 2,500 replies in a single day, and most people signing up as new members at the $100 level. Membership is now running 25% above this year's goal, says the museum.
A Snide Aside
Cleveland Museum of Art director Timothy Rub was just named the "George D. Widener Director" of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, much as Adam Weinberg is the "Alice Pratt Brown Director" of the Whitney Museum of American Art. Who is Mr. Widener and why, other than likely some considerable generosity on his part, does he have a job title named after him? Shame on these philanthropists (or, more likely, their heirs or the development officers of the respective institutions) for attaching product placement to prestigious and hard-won titles.
Sensation, Part II
A note to British artists: Paint Fast. July 3 is the final day to apply for the Saatchi Gallery's and Channel 4's "New Sensations" competition. It's open to UK art students graduating in 2009; artists are invited to submit work from their degree shows. Works by the top 20 will go on display during London's Frieze week. Judges include artist Gavin Turk and respected critic and scenester Louisa Buck.