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  1. Wealth
March 18, 2010updated 28 Jan 2016 7:59pm

Art Spins On

By William Cash

How the art world ’ or art circus to be more exact – has changed since we first commissioned artist Adam Dant’s ‘The Art Bank’.

OUR FORTHCOMING ISSUE 15 includes our fourth annual Art & Collecting Special. And how the art world – or art circus to be more exact – has changed since we first commissioned artist Adam Dant to draw the goings-on inside a private bank that traded in art rather than money for its wealthy clients.

Since it was Spring 2006, much of the bank’s grand marble floor lobby was dedicated to a row of flashy teller stalls selling the hottest and most wildly expensive contemporary art, with hedgies queuing up to buy Damien Hirsts waving their platinum cards, while Old Masters were given a humble broom cupboard as a sales office.

Back in 2006, few serious new collectors would have considered venturing into Old Masters. Writing for Spear’s in 2006, the FT’s art market writer Susan Moore said: ‘The likelihood of a non-professional making a killing in this particular market is tiny.’

But today, as Ivan Lindsay notes in his report on the resurgence of Old Master drawings, the market has changed radically. It is dealers and advisors like Helen Macintyre (see her article from TEFAF at Maastricht here) – whose background is as an Old Master specialist – who are now most in demand from Miami to the Middle East. In December, a Raphael drawing called Head of a Muse was sold for £29.2 million – doubling its estimate – to New York collector and financier Leon Black, sources say.

Such is the market interest now in drawings (Old Master and Modern) that the top auction houses have been increasingly slipping nice examples into their sales catalogues, with the unwritten suggestion to the seriously sophisticated collector that a Boucher drawing is going to look better beside the Freud than a Hockney dachshund drawing that might be better suited to the loo in George Club.

I can clearly recall back in April 2002 sitting through one of the Dr Anton Dreesman sales and seeing a Gauguin drawing selling for just £5,000. It was sold to a first-time buyer in the room who couldn’t believe that nobody else was interested. So astonished was he at the price that the Christie’s auctioneer actually went down and shook the hand of the startled buyer.
THIS IS WHAT I have always liked about the art world. It is a planet with its own rules, laws and logic. When I heard that a new record had been broken when Giacometti’s L’Homme qui marche I was sold at Sotheby’s in February for £65 million, my first reaction was not that the art market was back – as the media seemed to insist – but simply to consider how nice that somebody has that amount of cash sloshing around to spend on a work that was originally commissioned by a bank and is part of an edition of six, i.e. not even an original.

It proves not so much that the art market is in recovery but rather that there has never been a better moment – with the world population of high-net-worths continuing to grow by eight per cent a year – to be publishing a wealth-oriented magazine aimed at this new global tribe.

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What makes the art world so thankfully different from the financial markets (where so many decisions are simply made by black boxes loaded up with computerised quantitative trading models) is what Graham Greene called the ‘Human Factor’. Nobody will ever know the real reason why the bidder went up to £65 million for the Giacometti. Did he get carried away? Did he just want it at any price?

The appeal of art to the trophy-buying collector today is that the very best art – like many beautiful and desirable women – celebrate the irrational as much the rational, and so it is with the art world.

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