Flash News: Contemporary Art – London – Victor Vasarely – “Defense de mourir” – Centre Pompidou



Every fortnight, Artprice provides a short round up of art market news: Major Contemporary Art sales in London next week… Triple celebrations for Victor VASARELY’s 110th anniversary. “Defense de mourir” at the Centre Pompidou.

Major Contemporary Art sales in London next week…
Every year, London’s major evening sales in June represent a highlight of the global art market calendar. This year is no exception with Sotheby’s sale on 28 June, followed by its rival Christie’s the following day. For these prestigious sales, each house aims to offer the best quality works available on the art market and openly targets new auction records. Sotheby’s has decided to focus on ‘big names’ with an extremely select catalogue of 46 lots by the likes of Keith Haring, Jean Dubuffet, Cy Twombly and Alexander Calder, while Christie’s has focused on rare works such as Johnny Depp’s collection of nine pieces by Jean-Michel Basquiat, including a self-portrait and large painted door, totalling nearly $8 million according to the high estimates.

The market’s unavoidable stars are of course present in both sales with six works by Andy WARHOL, including Two Dollar Bills (shown on the catalogue cover) carrying Christie’s highest estimate (nearly $8.6 million). That’s much less than the $43.7 million his One Dolllar Bills fetched at Sotheby’s in 2009 and not even a tenth of the $105.4 million hammered for Silver Car Crash three years ago! At Sotheby’s, the star lot is Roter Fish (with a high estimate of $6.6 million) by Sigmar POLKE, who is also present at Christie’s with Flucht (blau) estimated $2.2 – 2.9 million. Remarkably, the young Romanian artist Adrian GHENIE is present in both sales with Sotheby’s offering two works, including his Self-portrait as a Monkey estimated $216,000 – 289,000 and Christie’s also offering two works including Lidless eye, a homage to Van Gogh, estimated $510,000 – $790,000.

Reflecting the contraction of the Chinese Contemporary art market, the genre’s leader, ZENG Fanzhi, is being offered at a discount of $2 million judging by Sotheby’s estimate for his 1996 self-portrait of just $2.8 million compared to its sale price of (at the peak of the Asian market). Christie’s is also offering a Zeng Fanzhi self-portrait (2003) the resale of which should be profitable since it was last acquired for $378,000 on 8 February 2007 (i.e. before Zeng’s prices rocketed) and is now expected to fetch $550,000 – 850,000.
In short, these two sales will provide an interesting temperature reading for the Contemporary Art market, the volatility of which is indeed confirmed by current price estimates.

Triple celebrations for Victor VASARELY’s 110th anniversary
As Budapest’s tribute exhibition for Vasarely draws to a close, France is hosting three events in honour of the artist. The exhibition Multiplicity (until 2 October 2016) celebrates a double anniversary: that of the 40th anniversary of the Vasarely Foundation in Aix-en-Provence and the 110th anniversary of the birth of Vásárhelyi Győző (a.k.a Vasarely) in Pécs, Hungary, on 9 April 1906. Considering Vasarely’s status as one of the most popular artists of the 20th century, two other cultural institutions have joined the celebrations: the Vouland Museum in Avignon, with an exhibition entitled Victor Vasarely en Mouvement presenting many original works, mostly from private collections, and the Chateau de Gordes with a show entitled L’Alphabet plastic built around optical illusions and kinetic games that actively incorporate the viewer.
Considered one of the fathers of Optical art (Op art), Vasarely was tolerated by the Hungarian communist regime due to his ‘democratic’ production (his serigraphs being affordable to all budgets). But France is where Vasarely developed into one of the century’s great artists. Based in Paris as a graphic artist in the early 1930s, he participated in the famous Le Mouvement exhibition organized by gallery-owner Denise René in 1955 just as artists like Agam, Soto, Tinguely, Calder, Pol Bury and Jacobsen (unknown at the time) were proposing a new artistic, optical and kinetic vocabulary. Ten years after that historic exhibition, New York began to focus on these new art forms exploiting the power (and diversity) of visual perception. The term « Op Art » was launched in a TIME magazine article (Op Art: Pictures That Attack the Eye, 23 October 1964) and the MoMA opened The Responsive Eye exhibition in 1965. That was the beginning of an international reputation and popularity that is still just as enthusiastic today as it was then. Vasarely is still one of the most widely sold artists on the global art market: his works are exchanged in 35 countries in addition to his principal markets in France, the USA and Germany (which account for 60% of his sales).

“Defense de mourir” at the Centre Pompidou
The title of the next exhibition at the Paris Centre Pompidou (literally… Dying is prohibited, 11 July – 5 October 2016) pays tribute to Gil Joseph WOLMAN (1929-1995), a major figure of the French avant-garde and credited, along with Guy Debord, for starting the Letterist International. A radically creative personality, Wolman produced poetry, collages, paintings and films, and invented Mégapneumes, replacing words with breaths, in a poetry without phonemes. From the 1960s, Wolman took fragments of texts and images from magazines and glued them into his paintings. At the time, this was perceived by many as the ‘death knell’ of traditional painting. However, neither genre died… and his collages are still very much alive today. Although relatively unknown to the public – if not, completely unknown (but for the Centre Pompidou exhibition) – his works are sold through France’s major auction houses (93% of his market), sometimes reaching high levels. Two of his works have also crossed the $100,000 threshold (3 July 2008 at Tajan and 4 April 2011 at Cornette de Saint Cyr). Being relatively unknown, his work is also accessible to small-budget fans of conceptual and avant-garde art, including drawings and original collages that sell for less than $3,000.