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Saatchi, Bonhams Boost Art Confidence Amid Market Worries

"1984'' by Alighiero Boetti. The 32-foot-wide work, comprising 192 pencil drawings of magazine covers from that year, is being offered by Bonhams in an inaugural sale of contemporary art in London on Oct. 13. Source: Bonhams via Bloomberg

Aug. 18 (Bloomberg) -- A sale by auction house Bonhams and an exhibition co-organized by the Saatchi Gallery are boosting confidence in the market for contemporary art amid worries about renewed financial turbulence, dealers said.

The Saatchi promotion of young artists -- recalling his 1997 Sensation exhibition of works by Damien Hirst, Tracey Emin and others -- and Bonhams’s entry into the contemporary market will take place in October. They coincide with the Frieze Art Fair, Europe’s biggest commercial event exclusively for contemporary works.

While prices for some artists have recovered to pre-crisis levels, collectors are concerned about economic weakness. Museum-quality art should hold its value best, dealers said.

“Sellers are telling themselves, I might as well do it now,” said Anthony McNerney, a former Phillips de Pury & Co. specialist who now heads Bonhams’s new seven-strong contemporary-art team in London. “If there’s a dip like there was in 2008, it will dry up. Owners know that if they have a great work, there are still wealthy people willing to buy it, almost whatever the price.”

The Bonhams sale of about 30 and 50 lots on Oct. 13 comes between auctions at Phillips in the afternoon and Sotheby’s in the evening.

Bonhams’s top lot is a $2-million work by Alighiero Boetti. The Italian Arte Povera artist’s “1984” is 30 feet (9 meters) wide and consists of 192 drawings of magazine covers. It is the first complete example of Boetti’s four hand-drawn collages evoking years, and is the last left in private hands.

Artist Record

The work, formerly owned by Greek collector Dakis Joannou, has been offered by a European private seller and estimated at 1.2 million pounds ($2 million) to 1.8 million pounds, the auction record for the artist. It is the most valuable contemporary work to be auctioned by Bonhams.

The owner was encouraged to sell because of the planned Boetti retrospective at Tate Modern in February 2012, said McNerney. “The seller hasn’t been offered a guarantee.”

The Saatchi Gallery and Channel 4’s “New Sensations” promotion will collaborate with London pop-up gallery The Future Can Wait to present work by emerging artists priced from 1,000 pounds to 10,000 pounds. Twenty of the artists will be shortlisted for the New Sensations prize begun in 2007, and four will have a television film made about them.

Affordable Works

The event, starting on Oct. 11 at Victoria House, Bloomsbury, is designed to fill the gap left by the demise of satellite fairs such as Zoo, which specialized in affordable works by emerging names.

“We felt this end of the market was neglected,” Rebecca Wilson, associate director of the Saatchi Gallery, said in an interview. No commission is charged on sales by artists, who are of various different nationalities and have recently graduated from U.K. art schools. The Future Can Wait is a curated exhibition of slightly older names. None of the works are owned by the Saatchi Gallery or Charles Saatchi, Wilson said.

“It’s exciting for collectors to think they could be buying the art world’s next superstar and in financial terms it represents a good deal,” Wilson said.

At the Pavilion of Art & Design London (PAD) opening on Oct. 12, 60 galleries will be offering some big-ticket works by established 20th-century names. The French-organized boutique fair is in Berkeley Square, around the corner from Claridge’s and in an area where many hedge funds are based.

Location Appeal

“It’s in a fantastic location and has a selective group of dealers,” said Daniella Luxembourg, who as well as participating in PAD for the first time will be inaugurating a new London gallery space at 2 Savile Row on Oct. 9.

At the fair, Luxembourg & Dayan will be showing a 1930s painted wood mobile by Alexander Calder, priced about $2 million. New York dealer Mitchell-Innes & Nash is planning to bring works by Alberto Burri and Kenneth Noland.

The New York-based fair SCOPE will not be returning to London in October 2011.

“The current climate of social unrest, and poor economic conditions, did not create for the sure environment to re-launch this year's edition of the fair,” Mollie White, director, said in an email. The event plans to return to the U.K. capital after the Olympics in 2012, she said.

(Scott Reyburn writes about the art market for Muse, the arts and culture section of Bloomberg News. Opinions expressed are his own.)

To contact the writer on the story: Scott Reyburn in London at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Mark Beech at

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