Can auction houses help save the planet?

Sustainability looks to be the buzzword of the art market in 2020, as its players begin the very necessary process of addressing wider environmental concerns. Thumbs up, therefore, to Christie’s, who have committed to halve their print production by the end of 2020. The auction house currently prints more than 700,000 materials per year — mostly catalogues and gallery guides — which puts sending the odd Christmas card into perspective.

The initiative is “not only possible but essential”, says chief executive Guillaume Cerutti. Interestingly, the shift has been driven by a change in client behaviour — Christie’s data show that in 2019 to date, 52 per cent of all lots sold through the auction house worldwide were bought by people who had not received a print catalogue. The proportion is even higher for buyers from its bricks-and-mortar live auctions: more than 70 per cent.

Traditionalists may mourn the loss of weighty, plushly printed tomes — but auction is a swift-moving business and printing books for every session is beginning to look like a very wasteful luxury. Christie’s confirms that all catalogue content will still of course be online, while any cost savings will be re-invested into digital engagement. Cerutti acknowledges that “broader efforts are also required to address our overall environmental impact”; Christie’s travel-related carbon footprint is among the areas also getting a closer look.

The result of the UK’s general election may not be to everyone’s liking, but seems to be good news for London’s beleaguered auction houses. Would-be consignors had been more jittery at the prospect of a hung parliament led by Labour than the relative stability of a majority Conservative government, and a certain Brexit. This sense of security, plus talk of renewed overseas investment in the UK and a stock market rally, has already proved a confidence boost, specialists say. According to Hugo Nathan, co-founder of art advisers Beaumont Nathan: “A Corbyn government threatened a devastating flight of wealth from London and zero clarity on Brexit issues. So even if it’s unpopular with some artists and their galleries, this is a very positive result for the health of the London art market.”

Jean Metzinger, Le Cycliste, 1913, oil on canvas, 100 by 80cm._ 39⅜ by 31½in. (est. £1,500,000 - 2,00,000)
Jean Metzinger’s ‘Le Cycliste’ (1913) is to be auctioned at Sotheby’s in February for £1.5m-£2m

The French futurist painter and writer Jean Metzinger may not be a household name, but he painted some visually striking works. Sotheby’s is to offer one of these, “Le Cycliste” (1913), at its Impressionist and Modern evening auction in London on February 4, for between £1.5m and £2m. “He was a bit of a magpie, an amalgamator of the innovations of cubism and futurism,” says Sotheby’s specialist Thomas Boyd-Bowman. “Then in a couple of instances, such as in this work, you get a unique Metzinger quality, with real visual verve.”

Depicting athletes in motion was a popular futurist theme — exemplified by Umberto Boccioni’s painting “Dynamism of a Soccer Player” from 1913 — and cycling (which Boccioni also painted) had begun to take off as a spectator sport around this time. In Paris, the Vélodrome d’Hiver, where Metzinger himself rode, opened in 1909. The artist also painted an earlier image of a cyclist, “Au Vélodrome” (1912), which is now in the Peggy Guggenheim collection in Venice. The Sotheby’s work has not been at auction since 1927, and is offered without a guarantee.

Art fairs seem to be shutting down left, right and centre, with Art Berlin the most recent casualty. Bucking the trend, however, is Switzerland’s Palexpo, which runs the boutique artgenève and artmonte-carlo fairs, and will open a third next year in Moscow. Fairs director Thomas Hug is planning to alternate between a curated and more traditional fair format, which, he says, will ease logistics for participants who need to commit fewer resources to the curated event. The first artmoscow event will be organised around the theme of large-scale neon and inflatable works in the Schusev State Museum of Architecture between May 20 and 24. In 2012, the fair will run in a more familiar format at Moscow’s Manege exhibition hall. “There is a wonderful opportunity and energy in Moscow,” Hug says, pointing to the city’s young art crowd. About 25 galleries are scheduled to participate in each edition.

Big Complex Diagonal with Emerald and Reds: March 1972 – September 1974, Heron Family Collection, © Estate of Patrick Heron
Patrick Heron’s ‘Big Complex Diagonal with Emerald and Reds’ © Estate of Patrick Heron

British 20th-century specialists Hazlitt Holland-Hibbert now represent the estate of the colourful Cornish artist Patrick Heron (1920-99). The estate, run by Heron’s daughters, worked with Waddington Custot gallery until April this year.

Heron’s market has been “soft” recently, says James Holland-Hibbert, director of the gallery, though he notes there hasn’t been a huge amount of material around. The artist’s auction record of £1m was made back in 2011. Holland-Hibbert kicks off its representation with a part-loan, part-selling show next September of Heron’s mature, abstract work from the mid-1960s to the mid-1970s. Works will come from public and private institutions, as well as the Heron family collection, which offers its “Big Complex Diagonal with Emerald and Reds: March 1972-September 1974”. The exhibition marks the centenary of Heron’s birth, and will be organised by the curator David Anfam.

GERARDO VIZMANOS Dancers, 2018 C Print on Hanhemuhle Baryta paper Edition of 10Photography48.88 x 33.28 x 2cmSigned on ReverseShips from United Kingdom £1,200 IN STOCK
‘Dancers’ by Gerardo Vizmanos

And finally . . . ’Tis the season to turn up the heat, says Natasha Arselan, the founder of AucArt. Her online auction house has a selection of 72 works by recent art graduates celebrating the theme of love and lust (Eros; prices between £200 and £6,000). “Desire doesn’t just belong in February,” Arselan says. “Why not give people a welcome antidote to the Christmas monotony?”

Some works are probably not for sharing around the family dinner table, and there are quite a few intriguing titles (the On Dicks and Ducks series by the Greek-born Stella Kapezanou stands out). For those seeking a subtler kind of eroticism, there are also abstract works incorporating what are described as “sensual, lingering brush-marks”. Eros runs until December 31 on, with more themed auctions in the pipeline. Have yourselves a sexy little Christmas.

The Art Market column takes a seasonal break, and will be back on January 11

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