PAI’s The week in focus: How to develop 2020 vision

Allen and Beryl Freer's sitting room. Courtesy of Christie's.

As we move into a new year it is probably worth recalling the words of Niels Bohr, the famous Danish physicist: “It is very hard to predict, especially the future.” And with that in mind, let’s not fall into the trap of believing that the year’s early media reports provide pointers for what the rest of the year might bring in the world of art.

Still, let’s start with one development that could turn into a trend, one of the major auction houses offering single art collections for sale.

Single art collections for sale

In the UK, as Christie’s itself reports, on January 23 an extensive collection of modern British art accumulated over many years by a Manchester couple will be for sale. Allen and Beryl Freer accumulated artwork after artwork for decades. Their paintings, prints and drawings eventually covered every spare inch of space in their modest suburban home, often more than one deep. And now the whole collection is for sale.

The Freers are not the only couple of passionate, focussed collectors selling what they have built. As The New India Express reports, in New York in March, Christie’s will also be offering more than 150 pieces of modern Indian art from the painstakingly built collection of Jane and Kito de Boer. That sale could give an indication as to whether the prices of Indian art are recovering from some of the setbacks of the past year. A glance at this year’s first edition of The Pioneer provides a summation of how sales of Indian art organised by Sotheby’s, AstaGuru and Saffronart failed to achieve pre-sale price estimates, and failed by wide margins.

There is also the recently raised, if contentious, question of whether New York might shed some of its attraction as a market for foreign art. As Antiques Trade Gazette reports, Sotheby’s wonders whether the new 15% import tax on Chinese art will divert the market to elsewhere. The new tax on Chinese artworks is irrespective of their age or provenance.

Not that important works of art will necessarily be headed for the States. Foreign governments can be pretty awkward when it comes to shipping out what they consider to be their countries’ national patrimony. In France, Hyperallergic reports, the culture minister has blocked the transfer of a 12th century Florentine renaissance painting, The Mocking of Christ, knocked down for $26.6m last year by French auctioneer Actéon to the Alana Collection of Italian Renaissance painting in Delaware.

The Mocking of Christ. Courtesy of Interencheres

And something similar is happening in England where the export of an “important” Gainsborough landscape sold for $10.3m through Sotheby’s to an American buyer is being held up – while money is being raised to keep the picture in its home country.

Other trends that might persist?

There are the private sales managed by the auctioneers. Restrict entry and would-be buyers could feel special. According to WebWire Christie’s is kicking off just such a sale of the works of the Japanese artists Tadaaki Kuwayama and Rakuko Naito, both of whom have been living in New York for more than 60 years. And that private sale, ARTFIXdaily reports, will be closely followed by another organised by Phillips of works by street artists Banksy and KAWS, again in New York. As Highsnobiety sees it, with this auction Phillips is targeting a whole younger generation of art collectors.

Caveat emptorlet the buyer beware, particularly in coming years. The provenance and beneficial ownership of art being offered for sale are increasingly being scrutinised. By way of example, cases of the ownership of art works allegedly stolen by the Nazis during the second world war are reported by The Art Newspaper, New York Post and others.

If not predictable, this year promises to be interesting. Enjoy it.