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Swann Galleries Sees Highest-ever Presence of Online Bidders; Schomburg Acquires Harry Belafonte Archive

Also, Art Basel viewing rooms open to the public on March 20, and more.

Pablo Picasso, “Nature Morte à la Pastêque” (1962), color linoleum cut (courtesy of Swann Galleries)

At Swann Galleries in New York, a sale of 19th and 20th Century Prints & Drawings garnered $1,823,105. Pablo Picasso’s “Nature Morte à la Pastêque” (1962), a color linoleum cut, led the sale at $39,000. There were strong results for works by 20th century European icons like Mary Cassatt and René Magritte, while work by Stuart Davis and Martin Lewis led the American cohort. A Martin Lewis print, “Circus Night” (1933), set a record for the image, selling for $22,500. There were more online bidders than in any previous sale in that category at the auction house.

New York Public Library’s Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture has announced the acquisition of the personal archive of Harry Belafonte on the occasion of the Center’s 95th anniversary. The 93-year-old Belafonte, a Harlem-born folk singer, producer, and civil rights activist, was the first African American television producer as well as the first African American to win an Emmy Award. His sweeping archive spans audiovisual recordings, personal and professional written materials, and photographs. Some highlights include notes documenting his friendship with Martin Luther King Jr.; press clippings from the 1940s, including several that reference his performances at the American Negro Theater in the basement of the Schomburg Center; and his first-ever recording, a 1949 acetate pressing containing “Lean on Me.” In 15 months, the collection will be available to researchers on a rolling basis.

Last month, Art Basel announced that while the physical event had been canceled, Art Basel Hong Kong would still take place in online viewing rooms. This digital initiative was already underway pre-coronavirus, but the fair’s cancellation led to it being expedited. Art Basel has now released the list of exhibitors who will be participating in the digital sale. 235 galleries internationally, or more than 90% of the original exhibitor list, will be showing and selling work on the fair’s digital platform. The online viewing rooms will be accessible to the public from March 20 to March 25, following VIP preview days on March 18 and 19. Collectively, the works on virtual display are valued at $270 million, pointing to an increasing comfort with buying and selling high-value work online.

Remember Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss? The bionically good-looking twin venture capitalists sued Mark Zuckerberg for allegedly stealing the concept of Facebook from them and proceeded to use the $65 million settlement to become bitcoin billionaires. Now, they’re investing in the emerging market for digital art. On Tuesday the Winklevii launched the Nifty Gateway Marketplace, a website for buying and selling digital art and collectibles, or “nifties.” (The best-known nifties thus far have been CryptoKitties: adorable googly-eyed virtual cats, some of whom wear outfits, that can be collected and bred in a blockchain game.) Because the Nifty Gateway Marketplace — like bitcoin — uses blockchain as a public ledger, artists are able to sell limited-edition pieces. On the occasion of the launch, the site is selling five digital paintings by Michael Kagan and six digital art Boombox Project sets by Lyle Owerko.

With the stock market dropping to historic lows, many über-wealthy art collectors are not only taking a break from buying art but also increasingly using their art as collateral for loans. Collectors can use art financing to make funds available to offset their losses, pursue new investment opportunities, or simply have capital readily available at a moment rife with uncertainty. Quoted in a Bloomberg piece on increased interest in art-secured loans, Freya Stewart, Fine Art Group’s head of art financing, noted that while her department was already busy, “the last two weeks have seen an approximate two-fold increase in inquiries.” That said, lenders are appraising art at lower values than they were just a month ago.

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