Monday 20 March 2023 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Monday. 20/3/2023

The Monocle Minute

Opinion / Christopher Lord

Young at art

With spring on its way, the global art circuit is kicking into high gear. This week, Art Basel Hong Kong returns bigger than ever after a troubled couple of years, closely followed by fairs in São Paulo, Brussels and Chicago, before Frieze New York lands in May. Those with the constitution for it could (almost) roam the globe for the next nine months, going from one convention centre full of art to the next. Even after a moribund year for stocks and with the global economy on an increasingly bumpy ride, the art market is firing on all cylinders. The highest end of that market is being stoked by an auction scene that shows no sign of slowing down.

This year’s elevated offerings

Image: Getty Images

I spy a bargain

Image: Getty Images

A new report from Sotheby’s has taken a close look at the lots that sold for more than $1m (€940,000) at its auctions, as well as those at Christie’s and Phillips, between 2018 and 2022. Despite the pandemic-related dip, there has been a rapid, robust bounceback. It’s not just Old Masters and the Impressionists; the report also reveals that a generation of young artists, born in or after 1977, can now command prices in excess of $1m for a single work. Adrian Ghenie, for instance, is a Romanian painter of Francis Bacon-esque canvases and a superstar at 45. Then there’s the extraordinary results for works by the late, brilliant landscapist Matthew Wong.

Since 2018, the total value of work by so-called “young contemporary” artists sold at auction has jumped from $36.9m (€34.7m) to $194m, an extraordinary 425 per cent rise. How to make sense of this clamour for all things current among collectors? No doubt the pandemic-era shift to digital auctions brought new buyers and there was the brief rush for NFTs – but what’s clear in Sotheby’s report is that there’s a collector base that is hungry for newer voices and ready to spend big. Those zipping between the fairs this season will certainly have a spring in their step.

Christopher Lord is Monocle’s US editor, based in Los Angeles.

Image: Reuters


Joining forces

As Xi Jinping visits Moscow today for the first time since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Japan’s prime minister, Fumio Kishida, will be meeting his Indian counterpart, Narendra Modi (pictured, on right, with Kishida), for a three-day summit in New Delhi. Following the announcement of a Japanese humanitarian-aid package for Ukraine – and with the country’s security considered to be at its most perilous since the Second World War – Kishida is clearly seeking to beef up Japan’s diplomatic outreach. To counter Beijing and Moscow, Kishida will attempt to bring India closer to the US-led bloc and strengthen Tokyo and New Delhi’s strategic partnership. Defence-technology collaboration and investment could be a fruitful avenue, with Japan looking to grow in the sector. While containing Chinese assertiveness and opposing Russian aggression in Eastern Europe will be the focus of the talks between Kishida and Modi, India’s penchant for diplomatic independence and hesitance to criticise Russia and China mean that any public declarations of realignment could be cautious at best.

Image: Getty Images


Moment of truth?

Boris Johnson (pictured) faces a pivotal week as he prepares to give televised evidence on whether he misled MPs over lockdown parties, after a report found that he and his aides had been aware that they were breaking coronavirus rules at the time. If he is found to have misled parliament following Wednesday’s hearing, Johnson could face suspension, triggering a by-election for his seat. The former prime minister has responded by dismissing the findings as politically motivated. Given that he was recently re-selected as the Conservative candidate for Uxbridge and South Ruislip, it is not unrealistic to suggest that he could survive another scandal.

“The outcome partly depends on whether Rishi Sunak decides to protect him or rid himself of a nuisance,” Andrew Blick, professor of politics and contemporary history at King’s College London, tells The Monocle Minute. “It is tempting to conclude that Johnson’s years of relevance are largely behind him. But he has proved such assessments to be wrong in the past.”


Greasing the wheels

Heard the one about the marauding band of olive thieves? It appears to have made its last pit stop after the Spanish gendarmerie, the Civil Guard, arrested 16 people at the end of last week. The suspects are accused of stealing 17 tonnes of olives from villages south of Madrid and turning them into oil. This is by no means an isolated case. The Civil Guard has had to deal with a number of irate calls from farmers; in the past month alone, there have been stolen-olive cases in and around Madrid, Andalucía and Extremadura. So why has oil suddenly become a lucrative business for criminals? It is, in part, the result of a drought in Spain. The current harvest is down almost 48 per cent on the previous year, causing prices to spike. Calling olive oil “liquid gold” no longer seems like much of an exaggeration.

Image: Alamy

ART / Italy & Benin

Rich pickings

Benin will be represented at the Venice Biennale for the first time in 2024. African nations are increasingly getting involved in the arts festival: in 2019, Ghana and Madagascar made their debuts, followed by Cameroon, Uganda and Namibia in 2022. Benin’s pavilion will be curated by Azu Nwagbogu (pictured), who heads the Lagos-based non-profit African Artists’ Foundation (AAF).

Nwagbogu has also served as director of the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa in Cape Town. He will “allow Benin to sustain and deploy the great artistic potential that springs from its land and has traversed its various diasporas”, according to a statement from the country’s government. Other nations stand to gain from the announcement of Benin’s participation too. The biennale has always promoted the exchange of ideas and creative concepts. Making its pavilions more diverse and getting more countries involved will only make these discussions richer.

Image: Michèle Margot


Collectible, Roca, Kachorovska

We visit the Collectible design fair in Brussels, while designers Inma Bermúdez and Andreu Carulla talk us through their work for Spanish bathroom firm Roca. Plus: Ukrainian footwear designer Alina Kachorovska discusses the challenges of production, a year on from the Russian invasion.

Monocle Films / Sicily

Sicily’s tropical produce

Climate change is prompting fruit farmers to diversify and coffee roasters to start considering areas beyond the so-called bean belt to source their raw material. In Sicily, Morettino, a forward-looking family-run roastery, has already started growing coffee plants in Palermo, creating an espresso that is truly made in Italy. To discover more surprising business opportunities, subscribe to Monocle magazine today.


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