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Tag Archives: art market

Crime and the Art Market

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Riah Pryor Crime and the Art Market (Lund Humphries, 2016)

How corrupt is the art market?

Riah Pryor is an art history graduate who worked as a researcher at New Scotland Yard’s Art and Antiques Unit. Her experience should have provided more  to the reader. Instead there is a tiny dab of narrative at the start of chapters to suggest something of the author’s experience.

It is difficult to define art crimes; Pryor mentions a Nth Ireland police report where a stolen tube of paint was classed as an art theft. Pryor’s focus is on the economic side of art crimes: stolen art, illegally exported antiquities, art forgery and art fraud rather than art vandalism, art censorship and art as criminalised protests. However, in this did introduce me to other ways that art can be used in crime; one of these is ‘elegant bribery’.

‘Elegant bribery’ where an official is given a fake of little value, the official then puts the fake up for auction, where it is sold at a high price that a genuine work would attract to another member of syndicate acting as if he mistook the fake as a genuine. In this way all the transactions appear legitimate. I can only assume that elegant bribery was detected only through data matching because Pryor doesn’t give many details about this or other the crimes.

No particular crimes are looked at in any depth in the book. The lack of detail might be deliberate in order not to assist in crimes, as attested in an anecdote from an art authentication lab expert but the lack of details makes the book read like a colourless report about art crime from the perspective of law enforcement. It is as dry as a policy paper and her conclusions, although reasonable, are not particularly useful nor informative.

“There is no ‘correct’ reason to care about art crime, or at least no reason which all will agree on. However, determining why someone does or does not care is probably the most effective way to go about working with them to agree on future ways of tackling it.” (p.88)

Dividing the book into “Villains” and “Heroes” is a simplistic strategy and shows Pryor’s police mind set from time her New Scotland Yard. It also fails to work with Pryor’s own solution to get all sectors of the arts industry involved with stopping art crime for their own benefit. 

Art crime is a hot topic, at least for publishers, art historians and the general public, although not for the police who seem to prefer their criminals violent, stupid and intoxicated. Only if you are obsessed with the subject should you read Pryor’s Crime and the Art Market as it is simply the most boring book on the subject. If this has whet your appetite for more about art and crime then please read some of my other posts on the subject.

The theft of La belle Hollandaise

Forgery Trial Book

The Forgery Trial

The Case of Art Forgeries

True Crime and Art

Whaley’s Stolen Paintings

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Alan Bond and art: a posthumous review

After winning the America’s Cup in 1983 Alan Bond toured the piece of silverware around the country where it was displayed in state and national galleries. Sitting in the middle of a gallery the Art Gallery of NSW in a glass case it was an ugly display of a public institution bowing to corporate power.

Also in 1983 Bond’s family company, Dallhold Investment Ltd. paid US $3.96 million for Edouard Manet’s Le Promenade at Christie’s New York. The painting was previously owned by the American financier, Paul Mellon. This purchase received little attention at the time but later the purchase would became a significant fact in Bond’s trial.

Vincent van Gogh, Irises, 1889

Vincent van Gogh, Irises, 1889

In 1987 Alan Bond got a lot more attention when he purchased Van Gogh’s Irises. The painting was previously owned by John Whitney Payson who had inherited from his mother, Joan Whitney Payson, a business woman and avid collector of Impressionists and Post Impressionists.

Bond had paid a record amount for the painting, US $53.9 million, making it still one of the most expensive paintings ever sold, but most of the money was a loan from Sotheby’s. The timing of the purchase was suspicious, just a few weeks after the Wall Street crash of Oct. 19, 1987 and it made headlines around the world. Had Bond and Sotherby’s Inc. colluded to create an artificially high benchmark for a painting and create confidence in the art market? It was enough for rival auction house Christies to make a complaint to the financial regulator about the deal. But who was manipulating who?

Alan Bond did not have control of Irises for long but he made the most of it parading it from the media. It was displayed in his Perth penthouse office for seven months. It then toured five Australian cities just like Bond’s prized America’s Cup. In his speech at the National Galley of Australia Alan Bond had the audacity to compared himself to Van Gogh as “free spirits ahead of their time”.

Sotheby’s then put Irises into storage in mid-September 1988. In 1989 in response to allegations in the British press that Sotheby’s was about to foreclose on the sale, Sotheby’s Financial Services Inc. claimed that Bond was meeting all of his repayments on Irises. In November that year, to help pay Alan Bond’s debt Sotheby’s auctioned Manet’s Le Promenade for US $17 million. There was just small problem, Alan Bond didn’t own the Manet as had been purchased by his family company, Dallhold Investment Ltd.

A few months later, in 1990 Sotheby’s sold Irises to the J Paul Getty Museum for an undisclosed sum and in 1992 Bond was declared bankrupt. In 1996 Bond was jailed for three years for fraud, part of this fraud involved the sale Manet’s Le Promenade.

However, these well known deals was not all of dodgy deals involving art that Alan Bond was involved in. When his business empire collapsed Bond arranged for 13 paintings and sculptures moved from Perth to London to avoid the liquidators as Colin James reports in the Adelaide Advertiser.

Alan Bond cannot be described as an art collector as he saw art as another market to play, high commodities to be traded. Art was something that he could by that would bring him many things that he lacked: attention, respectability and class. His corrupt and self-serving involvement in art and culture was of no significance except to the art market, who if Alan Bond hadn’t come along would have found another mug putter/dodgy businessman to help inflate the market price.


Hot Market Dealers

Street art was very hot in 2011, and in the hot market for street art someone was going to do something dodgy. It was a hot market because everyone knew that Banksy’s works were worth thousands and everyone expected that the prices would keep rising. People were hot to buy and didn’t have the time to do their research. In a hot art market need, speed and greed allow attribution to slip. It is also a hot time for dodgy dealers.

Amos Aikman reports in The Australian, “No-names raised eyebrows on the street” (April 14, 2015) that Sydney-based dealer Avdo Tabakovic was manufacturing street art for auction.

Melbourne-based art dealer Paul Auckett was working with Tabakovic and Lawsons Auctioneers’ then art specialist and sale organiser Giovanna Fragomeli on the 2011 auction. It was promoted as “the first major street art sale”, everyone has to be ‘first’ with street art. It is another sign of a very hot market where being ‘first’ is best.

Auckett told The Australian that “(Tabakovic) was mass producing pictures but masquerading them as by genuine street artists. That was pretty annoying for the artists I invited to consign work. The implication and the innuendo was that all the artists had worked their way up from the bottom.”

The names E-vader and Roy Elder, artists that Tabakovic was selling at the auction, are unknown to street artists. Amos Aikman reports that Roy Eder, an allegedly US based artist has a website that “was registered to Avdo Tabakovic in February 2011 for two years, at an address also used by Tabakovic in company records.” Not that this is criminal but it is dodgy and it is the Mr Brainwash model of producing street art.

Many people in Melbourne’s street art scene could smell this dodgy auction and had no interest. Factor at Invurt was approached for the auction and kept their email:

“My name is Giovanna Fragomeli and I look after the media and sponsorship department of Arthouse Auctions. I really would like the opportunity to discuss being an active sponsor of your blog as I feel it is a fantastic avenue for information in the contemporary and Street Art genres.”

“Arthouse Auctions is the only auction house in Australia that holds stand alone Contemporary and Street art Auctions and exhibitions and our next event is Melbourne next Sunday 3rd July.”

Factor explains what happens next. “They offered me a heap of “sponsorship cash” if I’d write a bunch of articles for them and plaster their name all over the site, basically trying to buy legitimacy. Needless to say I was suss straight out and avoided then like the plague. When I went to the auction and saw that e-vader shit I had to laugh.”

Fragomeli and Tabakovic run Art House Auctions. “Why pay gallery prices when you can buy at auction?” asks Art House Auctions on its website.

If a deal sounds too good to be true then it probably isn’t. Why would the price of art decline after its initial sale? Are dissatisfied customers trying to get rid of bad art and take loss on their purchase? If this is the case then the art is unlikely to be a good investment. The best price that you are likely ever going to pay for a work of art, barring lucky finds in garage sales and rubbish dumps, is to buy from the artist or the gallery that represents them.

Art dealers are the used car dealers of the art world, sure there are some honest reputable ones but there are also the Arthur Daleys. And Fragomeli and Tabakovic are still at it. In January 03, 2015 Amos Aikman reported on Fragomeli and Tabakovic faking aboriginal art from the APY Lands painters. In 2013 the ABC reported on other of Fragomeli and Tabakovic dodgy dealings.


Art Market @ No Vacancy

On Friday night I was at the opening of No Vacancy’s Art Market. It was a mini-art street art fair with over a dozen little stalls. There was free entry, unlike at the major art fairs. There were photographs, stencil art, drawings, illustrations and prints of illustrations; custom toys, soft toys and sculptures; jewellery, badges, cards, packs of cards, t-shirts, skateboard decks, artists books and zines all by young emerging artists and designers. The range of merchandise that is being produced in this young art scene with its street art and illustration influences is amazing. This is not like the stuff on sale at some Sunday market’s craft stalls; it has been better organized than that, even, in a way, curated as there is a consistency of style.

The art market also had a 2nd hand book stall and a stall selling clothes. On Friday night a one-man band was entertaining the hundreds of people making good use looping on a digital delay.

Many young people are participating in an affordable democratic art market. That people are choosing to buy art and fashion from local practicing artists rather than the mass marketed images or picking up the crumbs from the high-end art market. Rock’n’roll, punk and hip-hop have all played their part in forging resilient independent tastes. People know what art is and they know what they like. And the Art Market at No Vacancy gives them the opportunity to buy it.

I didn’t go to the The Weekend Australian Art Melbourne 09 at the Royal Exhibition Building. I’ve been to previously when it was known as the Affordable Art Fair and I’ve been told me not much has changed. I wouldn’t go unless they paid me; I can go to several of these galleries for free four or five days any week, why do I need to pay to go to The Weekend Australian Art Melbourne 09? Art Asia Pacific (#60. Sep/Oct 2008) reported on the proliferation of mega-exhibitions in “Biennials Gone Wild”; where art fairs have grown in budgets and visitor numbers into the millions. The effects of the current economic depression have yet to impact on these events although Art Brisbane 09 has been cancelled. I enjoyed No Vacancy’s Art Market as it is more alternative and more affordable.


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