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Feb. 4, 2011 

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One complication afflicting the otherwise carefree life of the art journalist is the fact that people are inclined to treat things with many moving parts as if they were a simple monolith. The Whitney Biennial, for instance, is only "good" or "bad," even though it may contain artworks by 75 artists spread over four floors.

Similarly, the inaugural edition of the cyberspace VIP Art Fair, Jan. 22-30, 2011, was greeted with much hype and endured with a considerable amount of grumbling. But now that the fair is over, its organizers are insisting on a cheery view of things, claiming in the fair’s closing release that it saw considerable sales by its participants, a total of 138 galleries from 30 countries.

"We look forward to next year’s VIP Art Fair 2.0," said organizer James Cohan. Dealers Max Hetzler, Pilar Corrias, Ed Winkleman, Daniel Roesler (of Galeria Nara Roesler in Sao Paolo) and Susan Inglett all gave logrolling quotes for the after-sale report.

Details? Well, plenty were included. Sadie Coles HQ sold Rudolf Stingel’s painting Die Birne (2002) for a high six-figure price, while David Zwirner sold Chris Ofili’s sculpture Mary Magdalene (Infinity) (2006) in the mid six figures. Alexander and Bonin sold Mona Hatoum’s unsettling 3D grid sculpture Bourj (2010) in the low six figures, while James Cohan sold Yinka Shonibare’s The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters (2008) for something between £25,000 and £50,000.

The list goes on. In the meantime, VIP Art Fair co-organizer Jane Cohan promises to redesign the fair’s faulty chat feature, so that online conversations between galleries and collectors can take place successfully in the fair’s next iteration.

The recent press release from the Donald Ellis Gallery, reporting its sales results from the Winter Antiques Show, Jan. 21-30, 2011, is also worth sharing (though these things typically tend to end up in the round file). Ellis is a veteran specialist in Native American art whose gallery is based in Dundas, Ontario (and who also has a by-appointment space in New York).

The Yup’ik Eskimo masks in Ellis’ booth, interesting in themselves, also had a notable provenance, with many of them coming from the estate of Surrealist artist Enrico Donati (1909-2008). Donati, along with other Surrealist artists who settled in New York during the Second  World War (including André Breton, Max Ernst, Roberto Matta and Wolfgang Paalen), was an early collector of Eskimo masks, which he first spotted in a small shop on Fifth Avenue in the 1940s.

In all, Ellis sold 36 works at the show for a total of $8.4 million. The two major Donati masks found buyers, the first for $2.1 million and the second for $2.5 million, a new record for a Yup’ik Eskimo mask. Both masks have been requested for the forthcoming exhibition at the Vancouver Art Gallery, "The Color of My Dreams: Surrealism and Revolution in Art," May 28-Oct. 2, 2011.

As for Ellis, he said, "The market seems to have turned incredibly positive."

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