‘Perfect storm’ of Brexit and Covid impacts Italian art dealers in London
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The double-whammy of Brexit and Covid-19 lockdowns has taken its toll on London’s 20th-century Italian art dealers. Matteo Lampertico, owner of the Milan-headquartered ML Fine Art, is the latest to leave town. “Customs cost more, shipping costs more, but mostly it is the added complications, paperwork and delays. All at a moment when the market isn’t exactly booming,” Lampertico says. He, like many others in the field, opened in London in 2015, when Modern Italian art was all the rage. Clients were rarely from the UK, however. “We benefited from the Europeans in London,” he says, adding that many moved out after the Brexit vote while few are now visiting, because of the pandemic restrictions. He has focused instead on his recently expanded space in Milan, which this week finishes a show of sculptures by Lucio Fontana, Fausto Melotti and Leoncillo Leonardi.
In March, Tornabuoni Art gallery also closed in London citing the “perfect storm” of Brexit-related costs and the “ghost town” of Mayfair. The Florence-headquartered gallery continues to run in Italy, Switzerland and France — and business in Paris is particularly strong, confirms director Ursula Casamonti. A third Italian art dealership, Cortesi Gallery, confirms it has also shut in Mayfair, while continuing to run out of Lugano and Milan. Lampertico and Casamonti say they would like to come back to London, should its art trade be more incentivised. “It is not forever,” Lampertico says.
The pandemic provided some thinking time for the mega-artist Jeff Koons, who has moved on from David Zwirner and Gagosian galleries in favour of Pace, which now represents him worldwide. “Sometimes professionally in life we can find ourselves at a crossroads,” the artist opines in a statement, adding that the change “will bring about tremendous opportunities for my work”.
Koons has held the record as the most expensive living artist at auction since his three-foot, silver “Rabbit” (1986) sold for $91.1m in 2019. Pace plans an exhibition of a “single seminal sculpture” (the mind boggles) at its Palo Alto, California space in 2022 and will show a new body of work in its New York gallery the following year. “Working with Jeff has been an immense privilege. We wish all involved in his next chapter the best of luck,” says David Zwirner; Gagosian gallery did not comment.
Amy Cappellazzo, one of the most high-powered women in the auction industry, is to leave Sotheby’s after five eventful years at the firm. Cappellazzo, chairman of Sotheby’s global fine art division, plans to go in July, after the all-important New York auctions. She has not specified what comes next, though says that there are “entrepreneurial things in the works” that are unlikely to replicate existing art market models. “If you build a new company, it needs to fill a need,” she says.
Cappellazzo joined Sotheby’s as part of an $85m deal struck by its previous chief executive, Tad Smith, to buy the boutique advisory firm Art Agency Partners (AAP). The pricey 2016 acquisition and earn-out, essentially for three senior executives who will all be gone once Cappellazzo exits, was unpopular with many of Sotheby’s staff and catalysed some high-profile departures. The shake-up arguably also helped the company attract its new private owner, Patrick Drahi, who bought the auction house in a deal valued at $3.7bn in 2019. “It was before my time, but the [AAP] deal was as much to secure Sotheby’s position in the contemporary art market, and therefore was successful,” says chief executive Charles Stewart.
Sotheby’s will divide Cappellazzo’s responsibilities between three people from within: Brooke Lampley becomes head of sales (including private sales) and Mari-Claudia Jiménez takes the strategic role of managing director of the global fine art business. Long-timer Grégoire Billault gets promoted to chairman of the contemporary art department, with a role on the auction house’s leadership committee.
The art world is going dotty for the 92-year old Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama. Her major retrospective opened in Berlin’s Gropius Bau museum last week and her sculptures are currently pleasing the crowds in the New York Botanical Garden while the artist’s immersive “Infinity Mirror Rooms” are due to open soon at London’s Tate Modern and Washington’s Hirshhorn Museum. In addition, on May 12, Bonhams will offer a collection of Kusama’s early works — three paintings and eight drawings — that were gifts to her doctor, Teruo Hirose, who died in 2019. The works come to auction in New York and include two of Kusama’s 1960 “River” paintings. These feature the artist’s “infinity net” motif, the webs of dots and semicircles, for which she is best known (est $3m-$5m each).
Kusama and Hirose had both emigrated to the US, though she has since moved back to Japan. Hirose was a pioneering cardiologist and one of two Japanese-speaking doctors in Manhattan in the 1960s, providing out-of-hours medical care to the Japanese community often free of charge, according to Bonhams. The works that Kusama gave him were made between the late 1950s and 1960s and have been confirmed by her studio, the auction house says.
Christie’s reveals a prime work to lead its Old Masters auction in London on July 8. Bernardo Bellotto’s early oil painting, “View of Verona with the Ponte delle Navi” (1745-47), will be offered for between £12m and £18m. If the painting sells even at the low estimate, it would set a new record for the Italian artist, whose uncle was the topographical Venice painter supreme, Canaletto. “Bellotto was a real prodigy, already painting to Canaletto’s standard when a teenager,” says Henry Pettifer, head of Christie’s Old Masters department. The large-scale view painting (2.3m by 1.3m) was “groundbreaking at the time it was made”, Pettifer says, and last sold in 1971, for a then-impressive £300,000. It has been on long-term loan to the National Gallery of Scotland in Edinburgh since 1973 while its original companion piece hangs in the National Trust’s Powis Castle, Wales.
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