Date: 26 October 2009
$40 Million Mondrian Reserved as Art Collectors Mull Purchases
A Piet Mondrian painting priced between $30 million and $40 million and a $24-million Pablo Picasso work were on reserve at France’s biggest art fair as wealthy collectors took time to make decisions.
Dealers at the Foire Internationale d’Art Contemporain, or FIAC, in Paris last night said that it took longer to complete sales this year than in 2008 because some billionaires needed convincing that the time is again right to invest in art. Mondrian’s 3-foot-3-inch high abstract, “Composition With Blue, Red and Yellow,” presented by the New York-based gallery PaceWildenstein, was on hold, with the sale yet to be confirmed.
Some owners of high-value works of art are looking to make private sales through dealers, rather than risk offering works at public auction, where prices and failures are recorded on databases. The 2-foot-8-inch high Picasso, titled “Femme ecrivant,” had been consigned to FIAC by a U.S.-based collector and was being presented by the Chicago- and New York-based Richard Gray Gallery.
“Twenty million-dollar deals don’t happen in a few minutes,” gallery director Paul Gray said. The potential buyer’s reserve on the 1934 canvas of Picasso’s mistress Marie- Therese Walter came during the first few hours of FIAC’s VIP preview on Oct. 21. Gray is one of 10 international dealers exhibiting 24 museum-quality works in the new “Modern Project” section of the fair, held under the cast-iron and glass dome of the Grand Palais.
FIAC follows Frieze in the U.K., where dealers last week reported more sales than last year. Demand for art has fallen since Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. collapsed in September 2008. Auction sales of contemporary art have shrunk up to 80 percent, and prices dropped by more than 50 percent in some cases, the London-based research company ArtTactic said in a report last month.
Gray’s gallery is also offering at the “Modern Project” a 1929 Alexander Calder wire sculpture, “Portrait of Eduard Penkala,” that has been in another U.S. collection for 20 years.
“This work wouldn’t have appeared for sale if it hadn’t been for this exhibition at FIAC,” said Gray in an interview. “It should give the auction houses something to think about.”
Mondrian’s painting, dating from 1935 to 1942, is one of the artist’s last ‘transitional’ paintings left in private hands. A 1922 abstract of his sold for a record 21.6 million euros ($32.4 million) at Christie’s International’s Yves Saint Laurent auction at the Grand Palais in February.
The FIAC Mondrian was put on hold for a French collector, said Eleonore Malingue, director of the Paris-based dealer Malingue, which originally proposed the “Modern Project.”
Speaking on behalf of the exhibiting dealers, she said that the work was priced at a similar level to the Yves Saint Laurent painting. When asked to confirm talk that the Mondrian had been reserved by Bernard Arnault, chairman of LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton SA, Malingue said in an interview, “I heard so too.”
When contacted by telephone, PaceWildenstein was not immediately available to confirm this information.
Frantisek Kupta’s 1913 painting, “Architecture Philosophique,” presented by Galerie Louis Carre & Cie with a price of 5 million euros, was another work to attract a formal reserve, said Malingue.
“‘The Modern Project’ is a very important initiative not just for the participating dealers, but for the profession in general,” said Malingue. “We want to show how strong we can be in the fight against the auction houses.”
Among the other works available, Malingue is showing Fernand Leger’s 1921 “Le Grand Dejeuner,” priced between $20 million and $25 million. New York-based L + M Arts is offering Francis Bacon’s 1966 “Portrait of George Dyer Talking,” priced about $40 million.
Neither Malingue nor Gray was able to say that any of the 24 works exhibited in the “Modern Project” had attracted a confirmed sale by 5 p.m. on the third day of FIAC. The fair closes on Oct. 25.
Scott Reyburn writes about the art market for Bloomberg News.