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$20 Million Sale at Saatchi Gallery Rides China, Russia Booms

``Counting Down''
``Counting Down'' by Indian artist T.V. Santhosh. Its estimate is between 50,000 pounds and 70,000 pounds at Phillips de Pury & Co.'s ``BRIC'' auction in London of contemporary art from Brazil, Russia, India and China. Source: Phillips de Pury & Co. via Bloomberg

Collectors are to be lured by as much as 13 million pounds ($20 million) of art from some of the world’s fastest-growing economies at an auction planned for the Saatchi Gallery in London this week.

The 438-lot sale on April 23 and 24 is the first dedicated to contemporary art, design and photography from the “BRIC” countries of Brazil, Russia, India and China, its organizer Phillips de Pury & Co. said in an e-mailed statement.

“The most recent sales have shown that demand for Indian and Chinese art is improving,” Finn Dombernowsky, a London- based director at Phillips, said in an interview. “Brazil is a completely new market.”

The sale comes at a time when auction prices for works by some contemporary Chinese, Indian and Russian artists are still as much as 50 percent lower than at the height of the market in early 2008, said dealers. Prices of high-value Chinese contemporary works fell 70 percent during the financial rout from a peak in May 2008. Still, the artist record HK$19.1 million ($2.5 million) paid for Liu Ye’s 1995 painting “Bright Road” at Sotheby’s, Hong Kong, on April 5 was the highest auction price for a Chinese contemporary work for two years.

“We expect, of course, interest to come from the BRIC countries themselves,” Simon de Pury, chairman of Phillips, said in an interview. “There are very active collectors in those four countries. But the most important collectors these days, they just want to buy the best from wherever it may come in the world.”

The sale is the sixth in a series of themed auctions to be held by the New York-based company, which said it expects the event to make at least 9 million pounds.

“The timing of this sale is better than two years ago,” said Dombernowsky. “For buyers it makes more sense.”

Charles Saatchi

Collector Charles Saatchi will give over his entire gallery in Chelsea, west London, to the view and sale, said Phillips. Entrance to the gallery has been free since it opened in October 2008 (with an exhibition of contemporary Chinese art), thanks to an agreement between Saatchi and the auction house. Phillips’s London headquarters is located nearby in Victoria.

The most highly valued work in the sale is the 1995 word painting, “ENTRANCE -- NO ENTRANCE,” by the Russian artist Erik Bulatov, estimated at 350,000 pounds to 450,000 pounds.

The Bulatov -- a second version of a work painted in 1974 and 1975 -- is being offered in a 32-lot evening sale on April 23 by a European collector who acquired it from the artist, according to the 544-page magazine-style catalog. The estimate is less than half the 916,000 pounds a comparable 1985 painting by Bulatov fetched at Phillips in February 2008.

Indian Art

Subodh Gupta’s trademark 2006 painting of metal pots and pans, “Idol Thief 1,” leads the Indian works with an estimate of 320,000 pounds to 380,000 pounds. Two similar paintings by Gupta sold at auction for $1.4 million and $1.2 million respectively in 2008, according to the database Artnet.

“The market for contemporary Indian art hasn’t bounced back yet,” said Conor Macklin, director of the London-based Grosvenor Gallery, which specializes in Indian modern and contemporary works. Comparable Gupta paintings of kitchenware were currently selling for as little as $150,000 in India, Macklin said.

“Overall Phillips’s auction is well-priced,” said Macklin in an interview. “There’s something for everyone. The question is, are there enough buyers?”

Watch Dogs

Frank Cohen, a collector from Wolverhampton in the U.K.’s Midlands, is among the sellers, said dealers. Cohen is offering two works dating from 2008 by the Indian artist T.V. Santhosh. The oil-on-canvas diptych “Enemies’ Enemy II,” and the apocalyptic multimedia installation “Counting Down,” featuring a pack of 30 fiberglass dogs with digital clocks, carry low estimates of 100,000 pounds and 50,000 pounds respectively.

Zhang Xiaogang leads the Chinese contingent with a 2006 painting, “Amnesia and Memory,” valued at 220,000 pounds to 320,000 pounds. Zhang’s “Bloodline: The Big Family No. 3” fetched a record HK$47.4 million ($6.1 million) at Sotheby’s Hong Kong in April 2008.

Just three works by Brazilian artists are included in the evening auction. Lygia Clark, one of the founders of the Neo-Concretist group, is represented by the folding aluminum geometric sculpture “Bicho.” The work dates from about 1960 and is expected to fetch as much as 220,000 pounds, a new price level for the artist at auction.

In recent years Brazilian contemporary artists have not attracted the same levels of speculative investment as their Chinese, Indian and Russian counterparts.

The auction record for Clark is 59,000 euros ($79,600) paid for another 1960s aluminum sculpture at a sale in Germany in June 2006. The price is only one of 20 auction results for the Brazilian artist reported on Artnet.

(Scott Reyburn writes about the art market for Bloomberg News. Opinions expressed are his own.)

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