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Flash News: Brancusi – Stafford – Franz West

[07/09/2018]

Constantin Brancusi sculpture at the MoMA

Nancy Cunard was not the sort of woman to surf the privileges of her family name or her social class, and nor did she make much of her nationality or her sexual identity. She was quintessentially pluralist. When she met Constantin BRANCUSI in 1923 in the effervescent Paris of the Roaring Twenties, she rightly identified him as “one of the greatest sculptors of all time”. For Brancusi, she was the epitome of elegance, and although she never posed him, the aristocratic anti-conformist inspired two works from the Romanian artist. Created between 1928 and 1932, his La jeune fille sophistiquée (Portrait de Nancy Cunard) was offered for sale last May at Christie’s New York. The work represents Nancy Cunard as a concentrate of contrasts: depending on the angle it is viewed from, it offers straight lines and curved shapes, smooth and yet twisted, a face, a hair-bun… a body. Going under the hammer for $71 million, the gilded bronze set a new record for the artist, substantially higher than his previous auction record set exactly a year earlier at $57 million (for his better-known La muse endormie (1913), also at Christie’s. In short, there can be no doubt about vitality of the American market despite the artist’s somewhat complicated relations with the country. In 1928 he filed a lawsuit against the American customs service to prove that his Oiseau dans l’espace, which had just been heavily taxed as a utility object, was indeed a work of art and, as such, exempt from customs duties. Different era… different standards. The American market is now in high demand for his best works.

In 1913 Constantin Brancusi participated in his first exhibition in New York at the Armory Show, alongside Marcel Duchamp. His five sculptures elicited disparagement, but their modernity opened up new perspectives that enthralled the most progressive buyers including some collectors who proved loyal customers like John Quinn, Louise and Walter Arensberg and Maurice Speiser. The MoMA pays tribute to this American tradition until 18 February 2019 with an exhibition that focuses on the creative process behind his sculptures. Unlike his peers, Brancusi did not create preparatory models in clay. He carved his pieces directly in wood, marble or whatever material was used as the basis for the molds of his bronze works. He attached particular importance to the plinths or pedestals supporting his sculptures, often as elaborate as the works themselves. His studio was his microcosm and he used all kinds of ‘new’ technologies like photography and film under the supervision of his friend Man Ray. The 11 sculptures from the MoMA collections will be presented for the first time together, alongside drawings, photos and archival material allowing a better understanding of the rich and complex character of the artist and his special relationships with his friends, his sponsors and especially with the New York Museum.

Paris – New York. Sale of the Stafford Collection

The Paris apartment of Elizabeth Stafford (who grew up in New Orleans before settling in Paris) was like a small private museum in tribute to French taste. Over the years, it accumulated a unique collection of art and artefacts carefully selected by the Stafford couple. It included 18th century French furniture, decorative art, porcelain, and paintings and drawings by Old Masters, Impressionists and Modern artists. On 1 November 2018 part of this collection will be dispersed by Christie’s in New York in a strategically scheduled sale, just after the Tefaf, taking full advantage of the collectors and dealers in New York at that time. The works will be on show at Christie’s in the week before the sale.

The sale will offer approximately 290 lots, the highlight of which is a major painting by Claude MONET titled Effet de neige à Giverny estimated $6 – 8 million. Purchased by the Stafford couple in 1949, this Impressionist painting has been lent to several Impressionist exhibitions including the recent Monet exhibition at the National Gallery in London (Monet & Architecture, 9 April – 29 July 2018). There is also a large Camille PISSARRO canvas, Neige, soleil couchant, Eragny ($2-3 million), a Claude LE LORRAIN landscape (Landscape with Apollo guarding the herds of Admetus and Mercury stealing, $700,000 -1 million) and a sumptuous bouquet of flowers by Pierre-Joseph REDOUTÉ ($600,000 – 800,000) among other superb pieces.

According to Christie’s estimates the sale should generate around $14 million, just a fraction of the value of the entire Stafford collection. Various elements of the Collection have already been sold including Constantin BRANCUSI’s La Jeune fille sophistiquée (Portrait de Nancy Cunard) which fetched a new record for the artist at $71 million on May 15 at Christie’s Impressionist & Modern Art sale in New York. Frederick Stafford bought the work directly from the artist’s studio for $5,000 in 1955 and gave it to his wife for her 28th birthday. As with the Monet painting, the Staffords have lent the work generously including to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York for 40 years… adding considerably to its pedigree.

A selection of the Stafford sale will be on display at Christie’s in Paris from 6 to 10 September and in Hong Kong from 28 September to 3 October before being shipped to New York.

At last a Franz West retrospective!

Collected by the biggest names in the art world, Franz WEST (1947 – 2012) is represented by the Gagosian gallery and has a super-impressive CV. The only thing missing was a major retrospective. This is about to be corrected by the Centre Pompidou in Paris with a retrospective (12 September 2018 – 10 December 2018) uniting more than 200 works, including loans from the New York MoMA and Cologne’s Ludwig Museum. The show will celebrate this proteiform and abundantly creative artist throughout all his different periods of creation, from 1972 to 2012. Several collaborative works will also be shown, notably works with Albert OEHLEN and Herbert Brandl. The artist was fond of such exchanges, not just in the visual arts but also in music, writing, philosophy and psychoanalysis. In 40 years of creation, he created an original aesthetic, reversing the codes of “beautiful” and “ugly” with an exceptional capacity for invention.

Awarded the Golden Lion at the Venice Biennale in 2011, Franz West is first and foremost known for his sculptures. The Centre Pompidou’s retrospective will include rarely exhibited early works, including his first sculptures as of 1973. Titled Passstücke (‘Adaptives’), these small sculptures – often made of paper mâché – are mobile and may be handled, worn or played with. One sold last June at Phillips in London for almost $100,000 (Passstück) compared with under $10,000 in the late 1990s. His prices are still rising with Artprice’s price index indicating an average growth of +372% since the year 2000. West’s singular œuvre has therefore become relatively expensive with his best sculptures flirting with the million-dollar threshold. In May 2017 an impressive work measuring more than six metres long (Untitled, 2011) – an indefinable organic shape in bright candy pink – fetched $871,500.

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