Amoako Boafo’s ‘The Lemon Bathing Suit’
Amoako Boafo’s ‘The Lemon Bathing Suit’ set an auction record of £675,000 with Phillips earlier this year © courtesy of Phillips

It is back to school — but not as we know it — for the art market this week. As for most industries (and indeed schools), the next few months look far from normal while cases of Covid-19 are closely monitored around the world. The latest in-real-life art fair cancellations stretch from the already-postponed Photo London and Liste in Basel, to South Africa’s FNB Art Joburg and — announced this week — Art Basel in Miami Beach, the franchise’s third cancellation of 2020. Fiac in Paris — determinedly due to take place on October 22-25 — could yet get hit by further lockdowns in France. A decision on the Paris fair is expected next week. 

Smaller-scale events look the most secure just now. Laurent Mercier, managing partner of Belgium’s Maruani Mercier gallery, has therefore pulled together 11 of the city’s respected galleries for a new mini-fair, Warehouse (November 12-15). “When Art Brussels got cancelled [in April], it seemed a pity not to have a local rendez-vous for this city’s important collectors,” Mercier says. He is offering (free of charge) his 15,000 sq ft space in Zaventem, very close to Brussels airport. Participating galleries include Templon, Mendes Wood DM and Sorry We’re Closed. When it comes to the thorny issue of where in the building each gallery gets its slot, Mercier has found the perfect solution. “We pulled names out of a hat,” he says.

Belgium’s Maruani Mercier gallery
Belgium’s Maruani Mercier gallery, with its Warehouse pictured here, has pulled together a collection of respected galleries for a new mini-fair © Dave Bruel

One piece of cheering news for UK galleries and auction houses is that the crisis has prompted a likely extended deadline to register under the new Anti-Money Laundering (AML) regulations. The updated rules came into force in January and require that businesses that trade in works worth €10,000 or more need to register with the government’s tax agency, conduct a risk assessment of their business and verify the identity of their customers before any transactions.

The proposed compliance date has now been pushed back to June 10 (previously January 10), tucked away in a draft statutory instrument that will get presented to parliament this month. “After it has passed — and we see no reason for objection — the change of registration deadline will become law,” explains Susan Mumford, chief executive of ArtAML, a new company that provides compliance support. She welcomes the delay at such frantic times but warns that “It should not be seen as an opportunity to push compliance down the order of business priorities.”

British artist Frank Bowling
British artist Frank Bowling © Sacha Bowling, courtesy the artist

Frank Bowling, the 86-year old British artist who in 2019 had an overdue retrospective at Tate Britain, is locked in a legal battle with Hales Gallery. Bowling left the London gallery last year because, he says, “They had not paid me a large amount of money they owed me.” At the beginning of this year, Bowling applied to London’s High Court for the return of more than 100 paintings worth around £14m, for a payment of £1.8m owed for previous sales of his work and for the provision of “a proper account of what was due to me,” the artist says.

Hales Gallery submitted a counter claim which, according to London’s Evening Standard newspaper, alleges that Bowling’s sons are trying to take control of his legacy away from his wife. The gallery countersued for up to £14m in lost commissions and damages, according to the newspaper. Bowling says that for more than 20 years it has been his intention that his wife and sons look after his estate together and that “Hales’s account of the relationship between me and my family is distorted and deeply distressing.”

Representatives from Hales Gallery did not respond to repeated requests to comment. 

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There’s seemingly never a dull moment in James Murdoch’s bid to invest in MCH Group, the owner of Art Basel and majority owner of the Masterpiece fair. At the beginning of August, MCH announced that a majority (71.5 per cent) of its shareholders had approved Murdoch’s SFr74.5m ($79m) investment for between 33.3 and 49 per cent of the business, through his company Lupa Systems. But on August 20, the Swiss Takeover Board (TOB) ruled against the so-called “opting-up” part of the tabled deal, limiting Lupa Systems to 33.3 per cent of MCH. On Monday, MCH lodged an appeal against the decision with the Swiss Financial Market Supervisory Authority, saying that the TOB’s reasoning, based on how abstained votes are counted, “contradicts the Statutes of the MCH Group Ltd.”


Meanwhile Art Basel has announced two new Online Viewing Rooms this season, one for new art (running September 23-26) and one focused on the 20th century (October 28-31), for a maximum 100 galleries apiece. Participation will cost SFr5,000 ($5,500) per gallery, the first time that the fair has charged for its platform.


Antonia Showering with her paintings ‘Maisie’ (2020), left, and ‘Projections’ (2020)
Antonia Showering with her paintings ‘Maisie’ (2020), left, and ‘Projections’ (2020) © Antonia Showering

Predicting which emerging artists will hit the bigtime has long proved a game of chance but Phillips hopes to get ahead with its new partnership with Articker. The family business mines thousands of publications and other information sources and puts them through a weighted algorithm in order to find spikes that could alert users to artists before they are more famous (and expensive). “It’s a way of quantifying culture that isn’t about tracking prices,” says Konrad Imielinski, a data scientist, who co-founded the business with his father, Tomasz, a computer science professor.

Their example is the now-ubiquitous painter Amoako Boafo, for whom Phillips set an auction record of £675,000 in February. Articker shows that media attention surrounding Boafo witnessed an initial spike a year earlier, when the artist had his first exhibition at Roberts Projects in Los Angeles and was selling for considerably less. 

Not everyone is a fan of measuring artists, but there’s something addictive and certainly informative about Articker (which also links artists to their collectors, related practitioners and galleries). A daily newsletter, via phillips.com, includes some of its findings. At time of writing, this notes the most media coverage in one day for the young London artist Antonia Showering, whose online show runs on whitecube.com until this week — and who now has one more media mention.

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