ECONOMY/50 billion euro. The estimated global turnover of the art market. A focus on the sector’s trends, while Monaco has the highest concentration of collectors per square metre.
A Dali on one wall section. A Schiele and a Klimt opposite. The corridor leads to a room with UV-proof wallpaper lit at under 50 lux, housing Renaissance treasures and erotic drawings. The golden rule for protecting masterpieces. In this Monegasque apartment belonging to a collector, everything is designed to best protect paintings, sculptures and design furniture chosen with a very sound taste and assumed knowledge of history of art. A real little private museum, where the pieces have been bought one by one in galleries or art fairs throughout the world. From Basel to New York, via London. “The common theme is quality,” explains this collector, who wishes to remain anonymous. Because discretion is a leitmotiv in the very cosy environment of art collectors. One of them refused to answer our questions on the advice of his insurer, for security reasons. “Monaco is the place in the world with the highest number of collectors per square metre,” says one expert in the centre. “In Monaco, there are some thirty serious, large collections,” notes Cristiano Raimondi, NMNM deputy director. “Incredible pieces are found. From ancient masters to the most contemporary. From Leonardo da Vinci to Peter Blake, the forerunner of English Pop Art.” Every collector has their fancy. From jewellery to street art, very fine collections of Chinese porcelain, Italian plates from the 50s and 60s, jewellery or comic books signed by their author. “We all have our own little madness in our heads,” laughs Cristiano Raimondi. “Some collectors have obsessions. They sometimes buy 400 pieces with the same theme for 400 euro for the pleasure of amassing,” says an insurance company approved expert. A real addiction. “True collectors can be recognised by their bulimia of research on art. Investing in works is a necessity that almost becomes a drug,” confirms Cristiano Raimondi.
+1370% in 16 years
This concentration of recent collections in Monaco is a sign of a global trend. The art market doesn’t know the meaning of the crisis. The proof? “While central banks apply negative rates that ruin savers, there has been a 1370% rise in annual revenue recorded in the contemporary art segment alone in 16 years,” analyses Thierry Ehrmann. According to the president of Artprice, the world leader in databases on art pricing and indexes, the financial and economic crisis that the world has experienced since 2007 “makes the art market look like an oasis in the desert”. The latest annual report from Artprice (1) deciphers the current market. Increasing scarcity of old masters (artists born before 1760), “insatiable” demand for 19th century art (artists born from 1760 to 1860, like Van Gogh, Monet, Gauguin, Manet, Degas, Cézanne or Courbet), records for modern art (5.2 billion dollars for artists born from 1860 to 1920, like Picasso, Modigliani and Giacometti). As for post-war art, it is ranked a big winner. Revenues generated by sales of names like Roy Lichtenstein, Cy Twombly, Andy Warhol (all ranked in the top 10 worldwide by sale proceeds) and Lucian Freud have bluntly risen 308% in 10 years! Prices peaked in 2015. The record for the world’s most expensive work was broken by “Les Femmes d’Alger” (Women of Algiers) (version O), an oil painted by Pablo Picasso in 1955, auctioned at Christie’s in New York for 179.4 million dollars. At the same New York sale, Alberto Giacometti’s “L’Homme au doigt” (Pointing Man) (1947) sold for 141.3 million dollars (126.6 million euro), thus becoming the world’s most expensive sculpture.
Monaco, new impetus
Monaco notches up records too. Monte-Carlo Auction House (HVMC) has just made an historic sale. An unheard of painting by “Le Douanier” Rousseau entitled “Deux lions à l’affût dans la jungle” (Two lions on the lookout in the jungle) went for 2.6 million euro on 14 December. “It was an unheard of piece, never seen on the market, which had stayed rolled up for decades before being mounted on a frame in 2007,” explains Franck Baille the cofounder of HVMC, which opened its 300 m2 premises in a former foundry at the port of Monaco. Before HVMC, Tajan organised summer sales of jewellery, watches, design and modern and contemporary art in Monaco at the Café de Paris for over 30 years. Record years for the house before the shift ended in 2014. “In 1993, in Monaco we dispersed the Hussein Pacha collection, with a Canaletto sold for 66 million francs, the French record for an old master. More recently in 2007, we achieved a world record 111,000 euro sale for a grand “Rodéo” desk and its Garouste and Bonetti style chair,” auctioneer Claudia Mercier notes.
All the key players in the art market have well understood that they have an interest in being in Monaco, a land of art collectors and art enthusiasts. “There are 100 big collectors in Monaco,” says Louise Grether, Artcurial Monaco director. While in Tajan, Claudia Marchier reveals that “(her) local file has around 2000 names”.
The world number 2 Sotheby’s has been based in Monaco since 1974. Before concentrating its efforts on Paris in 2001 (after the end of the auctioneers’monopoly in France), Sotheby’s used to dedicate 5 sets of annual sales to the Sporting d’Hiver. “A strong English and Italian clientele came to Monaco when the Red Brigades were rampant in Italy. Our clientele is now highly international. It mainly comprises businessmen and businesswomen living in Europe, the USA, Russia or Switzerland,” explains Mark Armstrong, director of the Sotheby’s office in Monaco. According to experts, the market has changed enormously in Monaco. “In the past, when we ran sales in Monte-Carlo we sold mainly furniture, old masters and 19th century paintings. Now, chests of drawers are less popular, although furniture remains a safe bet when it’s the very best, such as 18th century French. The fashion is for contemporary art, design and impressionist and post-impressionist art,” says Mark Armstrong. “The market was redefined a few years ago according to sociological and lifestyle developments. Classic, bulky furniture is a declining market. Some areas are demand-driven: jewellery, watches, paintings from all eras based on ratings,” analyses Franck Baille of HVMC, for his part. In this new configuration, the 9th art is making headway: “Tintin is very fashionable. Last year a plate signed by Hergé from Explorers on the Moon was sold for over one million euro! Moreover, Artcurial has set up a specialised Comic and Street Art department,” notes Louise Grether, director of Artcurial Monaco.
Monaco has its fair
This changing trend has contributed to a restructuring of the Monegasque galleries market. “There are fewer and fewer of them. It’s a pity,” notes Mark Armstrong, who regrets the closure of the legendary Marlborough on Quai Antoine 1er, or Sem’Art that innovated by offering a restaurant-exhibition concept. “The major collectors who live in Monaco buy mainly abroad. They are known as the “jet rich”, they take their private jet and slum it to Miami or Basel. Even if some Monegasque galleries offer great pieces,” says one of the centre’s accredited experts. Adriano Ribolzi promoted Monaco globally in the world of old masters for years. He was the only Monegasque representative at the Maastricht fair before Maison d’art, specialised in old masters’paintings! For his part, Robert Zehil is the world’s leading art nouveau specialist! “
Centre observers nevertheless agree that they perceive a buzz in the Monegasque micro-market. “Monaco will soon welcome some major new galleries, De Jonckheere, and Fabrizio Moretti, at the Park Palace,” enthuses Mark Armstrong. The De Jonckheere gallery is indeed set to open on Avenue Princesse Grace in May, with a brand new exhibition comparing the Flemish old masters with modern and contemporary art, from Lucio Fontana to René Magritte. This is a sure sign. Just like the 2016 arrival of artmonte-carlo at Grimaldi Forum. It’s the same principle as in Geneva. “Offering a smaller exhibition than the international fairs like FIAC and Art Basel but with the same quality of galleries and institutional exhibitions,” emphasises director Thomas Hug, who offered the concept in Monaco on the advice of international galleries and private collectors. The first event attracted almost 4000 visitors. Thomas Hug hopes to cross the 17,000 mark very quickly, as in Geneva. It is a success symbol, “All galleries present last year want to return and we’ve had to make a selection. That’s a good sign.” From 29-30 April, artmonte-carlo 2017, with an area devoted to design commissioned by Martine Bedin, intends to offer bespoke services to collector customers, between visits to private houses and innovative artistic projects especially in the wealth of the casino. For the general public, an architect’s pavilion should be a landmark on the Grimaldi Forum forecourt, with an inflatable structure by Hans Walter Müller, architect of the ephemeral. As a sign that the Monegasque art market is not ready to deflate…
A treasure quest
At Sotheby’s Monaco, director Mark Armstrong obviously deals with valuation, purchase and delivery of works of art to customers. But the polyglot Brit, based in Monaco since 1985, also has the gift of finding treasures. “I love visiting customers, you never know what you’ll find. In one apartment as part of an inheritance, I saw a painting of extraordinary quality. I took photos and one of our specialists came to confirm my assessment. It turned out to be a picture by Artemisia Gentileschi, the first woman painter to gain her freedom with her brush!” The work, entitled Sainte Marie Madeleine en extase (Mary Magdalene) sold in Paris for 865,500 euro, a world record for the artist.
In 2010, Mark Armstrong also discovered, hidden in an old nook, a painting by Gaspare Traversi, an 18th century Rococo period Italian artist. It went for over a million euro in Paris. During his visits the expert always finds 2 or 3 treasures a year, be it a 17th century Chinese clock or a Roman marble statue of Aphrodite. “I haven’t yet had a find in 2017 but the year has just begun,” says the Brit with a smile. _M.R.
Some Monegasque collectors eager to make legacies to the NMNM because they have no heirs, have approached the Monegasque institution. The donations should be significant, as we are talking about works by Picasso, Modigliani or more contemporary artists, valued at “several hundred million euro,” explains Cristiano Raimondi. “We cannot accept until we can provide sufficient storage guarantees. Consideration is being given to extend Villa Sauber,” he adds.
Another advantage of having collectors in Monaco is boosting Nouveau Musée National exhibitions. An anonymous collector allegedly loaned 47 Gilbert & George works to the NMNM. “It’s not easy to convince people to exhibit their collection but we manage it,” says Cristiano Raimondi with a smile. He adds, “Locally-sourced exceptional works, that’s something green.”
As “matters related to lack of transparency and authenticity impair trust and credibility in the art market” the Art Law Foundation and the Art-Law Centre have launched the RAM initiative (The Responsible Art Market Initiative). One of its objectives is to put guidelines in place to prevent money laundering and terrorist financing. With “red flags” regarding a customer, a work or a transaction (in cash) alerting the buyer or seller of potential risks. “Doubling a price or on the contrary halving it should set off alarm bells in the buyer,” the experts say.