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SALES, SALES, SALES
by Brook S. Mason
 
The International Fine Art Fair, May 11-16, 2007, at the Park Avenue Armory, Park Avenue at 67th Street, New York, N.Y. 10021

The art-market frenzy, spurred by newly minted billionaires, has been affecting top tier fairs in multiple ways while spawning a flotilla of smaller shows. And Brian and Anna Haughton’s 14th International Fine Art Fair, currently on view at the Park Avenue Armory in Manhattan, demonstrates a number of these recent market shifts.

As with the auction scene, this fair is marked by sales, sales, sales. Take German Expressionism, which is more abundant than ever on the floor. At Manhattan dealer Nathan A. Bernstein, a Max Beckmann 1930 pastel of a young girl, Margarethe Wichert, was plucked up by a collector for $1 million-plus on opening night.

"With the opening of the Neue Galerie, interest in German Expressionists has tripled and second tier artists are rising in visibility, but still affordable," said Bernstein. A prime example on his stand is a large painting by Paul Kleinschmidt, Paar (1939), a scene of a hefty couple in a patisserie with the white cake icing practically glistening. At $175,000, the oil is bound to be snapped up.

Then Düsseldorf gallery Beck & Eggeling is a must stop for show-stopping Emil Nolde pictures. A 1950 seascape, Durchbrechendes Licht, is a mass of turbulent color akin to a stormy sea. There’s also an explosive Nolde watercolor, his 1943 Abendrot über dern Meer, and it costs $375,000.

Overall, more dealers have opted for 20th-century material and particularly American paintings. In years past, the fair was crammed with Old Masters, a field now plagued by dwindling supply. A sea change is even noticeable in the 19th-century French art on view. Not so long ago, Degas dancers rendered in pastel, chalk and oil were a mainstay of the fair, as were a bevy of Boudin beachscapes. Taking their place now are landscapes by Henri Harpignies (three at Agnew’s with another at W.M. Brady & Co.) and Alfred Sisley (three at Richard Green).

Chagall, adored by Russians, is plentiful at the fair, with Paris dealer Galerie Tamenga sporting four of the artist’s pictures. Other examples are featured at E. & R. Cyzer and Connaught Brown, both of London, and Simon Capstick-Dale Fine Art of New York. For Cyzer, Chagall proved a wise choice, as that dealer quickly sold the artist’s 1970 Scene Biblique, reportedly for a $2.2 million price. Drenched in the painter’s trademark greens and blues, the oil went to a new client, an American collector. Interestingly, Russians were spotted strolling the fair and that sighting has to be a first.

Sculpture, and not necessarily unique pieces but rather examples cast in a series, are commanding steeper prices. For instance, Rembrandt Bugatti, long considered middlebrow, sports mega-prices these days. At French & Co., the sculptor’s 1909 Hamadryas Baboon, a surprisingly skillful rendition of a hulking creature in a not too brazen homage to Cubism, costs $4 million. It’s one of 11. Elsewhere, small Alberto Giacometti tabletop pieces cost the earth, testifying to the spiking prices for that luxury brand, what with Christie’s chalking up $18.5 million for the sculptor’s Falling Man last week.

Of course, Pablo Picasso claims major league prices. Galerie Fabien Boulakia from Paris is touting a Picasso portrait of Jacqueline, which was on the gallery’s stand at the Palm Beach: America’s Fine Art & Antiques Fair in February. The 1954 oil, Femme Accroupie, is tagged at a spellbinding $11 million. Particularly captivating but with a far smaller price is a Picasso tempera study for the ballet Mercure curtain from 1924, on view at the booth of Manhattan private dealer Hill-Stone. Though slight in size, the figures bristle with energy and the work on paper costs $380,000.

Still, bargains abound. Tucked away on an interior wall at the booth of Connecticut dealer Thomas Colville is a small Louis Comfort Tiffany oil sketch titled Hillside Village. Tiffany glass is common enough but his paintings are rare and this one comes with its original Stanford White gilt frame, textured like woven straw. The $38,000 price seems a relative steal.

Colville, who specializes in American painting, is also touting a choice bit of Warholiana: a Jamie Wyeth 1976 pencil and gouache portrait of Andy Warhol clutching his adored dachshund with the inscription "to my landlord Fred/Jamie." "It’s getting harder and harder to find major Giffords and Kensetts," says Colville, indicating the dearth of name brand American paintings by Sanford R. Gifford, John Frederick Kensett and the like. Even so, by Saturday, Colville had racked up four sales.

Also selling briskly were American modernists at Hollis Taggart Galleries. Red-dotted were four pictures, including a Theodore Stamos and an Arthur B. Carles. Plus, Taggart achieved a hold on a 1963 Hans Hofmann oil for $250,000. "With so many Modern masters out of reach price-wise, clients are exploring a more affordable range of pictures," says Vivian Bullaudy, Taggart gallery director.

Another appealing buy was Belgian painter Alfred Stevens’ stunningly painted 1880 oil, Jeune femme à L’Éventail, with London dealer John Mitchell. Her taffeta gown is painted with such authority that the fabric practically crinkles and rustles. In contrast, the sitter’s oval face is like porcelain. Stevens is well due for a reappraisal and although 60 of his paintings can be found in museums here, Americans by and large know little of his life. He shared a studio with no less than Edouard Manet, and later Stevens went on to teach William Merritt Chase. The picture costs a reasonable $125,000.

Gold-ground paintings can be found with Fabrizio Moretti from Florence. Especially compelling on his stand is a Jacopo Vignali’s Pryamis and Thisbe, illustrating Ovid’s Romeo and Juliet-like tale. A contemporary of Lorenzo Lippi, Vignali set the scene with a rich but somber palette. Dramatically lit, fraught with emotion and filled with exceedingly tactile fabrics, the picture is a stunner. The painting, still in its original gilt frame anchored by robust scallop shells at the corners, costs $1.6 million, a trifling amount in comparison to the Paul Cézanne watercolor hammered down for $25.5 million at Sotheby’s New York on May 9, 2007.

The decorative also seems more in vogue. Brady is touting Edouard-Joseph Dantan’s 1880 Tête de cerf, which looks right in sync with the taste of the late fashion designer Bill Blass. In taupe and grey, the picture is only $125,000 and with the current penchant for trophy deer, certain to be coveted. London dealer Lowell Lipson is showing two William Kent (1685-1748) designs, one a tempting ceiling invention for a posh Berkeley Square home. Gerald Peters, best known for paintings by Remington and O’Keeffe, is featuring two 1931 highly stylized brass plaques from the RKO Roxy Theater in Rockefeller Center. The pair cost $90,000, indicating the rising value pegged to such fare.

The fair has grown by six dealers. Newly joining the roster are the Paris Galerie ALFA; Beck & Eggeling from Düsseldorf; and Nathan A. Bernstein, Simon Capstick-Dale Fine Art, Linda Hyman Fine Arts and Lawrence Steigrad, all of New York. Plus, a number of dealers, including Mallett, Stoppenbach & Delestre and Schiller & Bodo, have returned, indicating the steadfast draw of the event.

The vernissage on Thursday evening was sedate. Among the 500-strong crowd were Michael Eisner and architect Peter Marino, plus social luminaries Audrey Gruss and Anne Bass. Though the opening night was subdued, by Saturday afternoon the aisles were filled and sales were rampant. Last year, John Mitchell alone sold nine paintings and that’s the most telling sign of show success.


BROOK S. MASON is U.S. correspondent for the Art Newspaper, and also writes for the Financial Times, the New York Sun and other publications.