LONDON—On the eve of the major spring sales of Impressionist, modern and contemporary art in New York, there was a flurry of activity in London as houses held several sales of work from areas including Brazil, Russia, India and China, as well as such emerging art markets as that for Turkish contemporary works. Christie’s also did well with a sale of Arab, Iranian and Turkish art at its Dubai venue (page 2).
In April, Bonhams and Sotheby’s both held Turkish contemporary-art sales in London, while Phillips de Pury & Company hosted a selling exhibition at the Saatchi Gallery.
As it is a relatively new market, prices are still comparatively low for the majority of Turkish artists. Demand comes primarily from local collectors, especially for modern art of the mid-20th century, but there is growing international interest in the more fashionable younger artists. For sellers, the attraction of London is the increase in international exposure that Turkish art gets.
Bonhams held its first sale of contemporary Turkish art on April 5. The sale realized approximately £1 million ($1.6 million) but only 28 out of 84 lots were sold. While the list of artists selected bore a resemblance to those in Sotheby’s previous two sales, too many works, said dealers, were already familiar on the Turkish market.
More than half the sale’s proceeds came from three works by the same artist, Erol Akyavas (1932–1999), who studied in Paris in the 1940s and worked in New York from the late ’60s, and whose massive painting The Siege, 1982, sold at Antik AS auctions in Istanbul in April 2010 for a record €1.3 million ($1.7 million). Bonhams had a large diptych by Akyavas, End of an Encounter, 1988, from a U.K. collection, which sold for £535,200 ($863,454), compared with an estimate of £280,000/340,000, as well as two smaller works on paper with calligraphic elements from the 1980s, Untitled, n.d., and Miras VIII, 1986, which sold for £78,000 ($119,064), compared with an estimate of £50,000/70,000 and £96,000 ($154,880), against an estimate of £50,000/70,000, respectively.
Another strong result was for Ömer Uluç (1931–2010), who studied in the United States in the 1950s. A swirling abstract, Untitled, by Uluç from the late ’90s sold for £68,400 ($110,125), on an estimate of £20,000/30,000.
Sotheby’s third contemporary Turkish art sale, held on April 7, brought in £2.3 million ($3.8 million) against an estimate of £2.1 million/3 million, with 67 or 66 percent of 102 lots sold. The total was slightly below last year’s £2.4 million ($3.7 million), but closer to the estimate.
As in previous sales, the top lots were dominated by works from the 1950s to the 1980s. Burhan Dogancay, whose colorful wallpaper calligraphies have become a staple of these sales, led proceedings with Whispering Wall II, 1985, which sold for £277,250 ($451,087), against an estimate of £120,000/180,000.
But the sale was just as much about setting precedents for recent works by younger artists, where the link between primary and secondary markets becomes exceedingly close. The record for 33-year-old hyperrealist Taner Ceylan, for instance, has been broken successively in each of Sotheby’s three sales, rising from £70,000 ($138,202) in 2008 to £229,250 ($353,994) this time. That price was given for 1879 (From the Lost Painting series), 2011, fresh from the artist’s studio, against an estimate of £50,0000/70,000.
In all, 24 records were set, eight for artists new to auction, and of the works generating these prices, 17 had been created in 2010 or 2011. The question is whether the auction room is used just to set new benchmark levels for such artists.
Sotheby’s head of sale, Elif Bayoglu, called the results “in line with what we achieved this time last year, demonstrating the continued strength of this segment of the art market. Buyers came from across the globe: North America, Middle East, Continental Europe, the U.K. and, of course, Turkey.”
The interaction between the primary and secondary markets was emphasized by an exhibition of Turkish contemporary art, “Confessions of Dangerous Minds,” held at the Saatchi Gallery and sponsored by Phillips, which opened on April 16. The show was selected by two young independent curators, Jason Lee and Carlo Berardi, who have been studying the emerging markets of India, China, the Middle East and Turkey. Before the doors had even opened, nearly half of the 70 or so works by 19 different artists, most of whom had never exhibited in London before, had been sold.
Several artists in the Saatchi exhibition had also been included in the Sotheby’s sale the week before. But, anticipating high prices at the auction, collectors who knew the artworks and prices in the exhibition in advance, made their purchases not only before the exhibition opened, but before the auction took place, said Lee. A satin-and-embroidery work depicting the Pope engulfed by fire, The Sacred Fire of Faith, 2010–11, by 43-year-old Ramazan Bayrakoglu was one of the first to go, says Lee, selling for £40,000 ($65,344) to a French collector.
A similar-size, less controversial embroidery by Bayrakoglu, estimated at £12,000/18,000, then sold at Sotheby’s for £61,250 ($99,917), making the Pope look like a bargain. A digitally manipulated photograph, Guns of War, by 32-year-old Ansen Atilla, was presold at the exhibition for £25,000 ($40,840). At Sotheby’s, a similar work by Atilla, estimated at £22,000/28,000, sold for a record £39,650 ($64,681).
Treacherous Wolf, a bronze sculpture from an edition of seven, depicting a child casting the shadow of a wolf on a wall, by 30-year-old Yasam Sasmazer, doubled its estimate of £4,000/6,000 at Sotheby’s to sell for £13,750 ($22,430). The original wood carving for it, theoretically worth much more after the auction, sold at the Saatchi Gallery before the auction for £20,000 ($32,672). Je t’aime Peggy, 2008, a classic hyperrealist painting by Ceylan, was also sold before the auction, though at an undisclosed price. None of the buyers, says Lee, were Turkish.
The Saatchi show was the last under the auspices of Phillips, which has had a sponsorship arrangement with the gallery since it opened in Chelsea two and a half years ago.