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It appears that the art market may be feeling the effects of escalating protests in Hong Kong, despite sellers’ assurances to the contrary. Last fall, fine art sales totaled nearly $702 million; this fall, they are down to $661 million, with 18% fewer lots sold. However, as Tim Schneider notes in his market analysis, correlation is not causation: as data points accumulate, there will be a clearer idea of whether Hong Kong’s art market decline is linked to political unrest.
In London, the Phillips New Now Auction grossed $4.8 million, with 82% of the lots selling. The top lot was William Kentridge’s charcoal drawing “Drawing for Felix in Exile (Nandi’s Cry)” (1993), which sold for $313,000 against an estimate of $196,000–262,000. KAWS’s market continues to be on the rise; selling for $294,000, “Untitled (Chum), Package Painting Series” (2001) almost tripled its high estimate. The sale also set auction records for several artists including Katherine Bradford and Magnus Plessen. Over in New York, Phillips Design auction grossed $3.5 million, led by a 1950s “Ours Polaire” sofa by Jean Royère that went for $487,000.
Meanwhile, Sotheby’s held an auction of Aboriginal contemporary art — the first of its kind in New York, as Aboriginal art is more frequently sold at specialty auction houses in Australia and Europe. The sale, which grossed $2.8 million, suggests that major international auction houses may view the genre as having untapped market potential.
At SCP Auctions, a California-based auction house dedicated to sports memorabilia, the bat that baseball legend Babe Ruth used to hit his 500th home run sold for just over $1 million. While impressive, this price did not set an auction record for Ruth paraphernalia; at $5.64 million, his 1928-1930 New York Yankees jersey is the most expensive sports memorabilia ever sold.
On the acquisitions front, London’s Victoria & Albert Museum received a gift of Auguste Rodin’s bronze sculpture of ballet dancer Vaslav Nijinsky. Made in 1912 and cast in the late 1950s, the sculpture is from an edition of 13. The work fits in neatly with the V&A’s substantial Ballet Russes collection; Rodin was inspired to sculpt Nijinsky after witnessing his dancing in the controversial 1912 Ballets Russe performance “L’Après-midi d’un faune.” The sculpture was donated in memory of Robin Howard, the founder of Contemporary Dance Trust and The Place, who died in 1989.
London’s National Gallery raised $25.5 million to purchase Orazio Gentileschi’s nearly ten-foot-wide painting “The Finding of Moses” (c. early 1630s) from Graham Kirkham. Notable monetary contributions came from the American Friends of the National Gallery, the National Gallery Trust, and the National Heritage Memorial Fund. The acquisition is well-timed: this April, the National Gallery will open an exhibition of work by Orazio’s daughter Artemisia Gentileschi, who recently set a personal auction record with her painting “Lucretia” (c. 1630).
The Pérez Art Museum Miami (PAMM) now has the fourth largest collection of Christo’s work in the United States thanks to a donation by museum trustee Maria Bechily and Scott Hodes. The 16 works gifted feature collages and drawings, two of which pertain to the wrapping of the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago in 1968 and the wrapping of Berlin’s Reichstag in 1981.
The Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University in Durham acquired Derek Fordjour’s “Signing Day” (2019) from Night Gallery in Los Angeles. The acquisition was made possible by a donation by the late Blake Byrne, a Duke University alum. At various points, Byrne served as a trustee at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, co-chair of development for the Nasher Museum, and chairman of the Nasher’s Board of Advisors.