Showing seminal works, such as Andy Warhol's Guns and Chairman Mao, alongside developing, or new and up-and-coming artists, Opera challenges what we know to be commercially valuable, and what we perceive might be valuable.
The assembled collection spans several decades, and introduces us to a complete variety of textures and materials. From paint poured on aluminum, to busts made from coat hangers, collages made up of tiny strips of photographs and portraits made of vinyl, our expectations are challenged. But there is humour in these works - they’re designed to titillate us as much as please any sense of aesthetics.
Another example of the mundane made new is the paper sculpture of a Big Mac 2010 by Pavlos. Initially amused, I was drawn into the incredibly elaborate and detailed folds of paper - movement is created by interleaving different colours and patterns together until the burger comes into complete focus. I mentioned this piece to Jean-David, and he informed us that Pavlos is now nearly ninety and suffers from Parkinson's disease – although does not suffer while he’s working. I can’t imagine how long such it would take to conceive and make such a piece under those circumstances, but the effect is mesmerizing.
There are also two Opie’s on display: In Elly, gallery assistant 3 (2001), you’re particularly drawn to the warmth of the material – these portraits are made from layered vinyl and are both textured and smooth, but have depth engendered by layering the vinyl to achieve minute highlights. Again I’m tempted to sweep my hand across that silky surface. Julian is another artist who is working in many different arenas, from these portraits, to sculpture, to filmed compositions combining filmed moving images and music, and animation. There is an increasing trend for contemporary artists, including Danien Hirst who is also represented in the show, to explore a range of avenues - not to eliminated them, but as a further expression of their artistic sensibilities.
Close by is another rendering of Marilyn - this time Mach has created her from hundred and hundreds of tiny cut strips of photographs. Part montage, part mosaic, Marilyn shimmers under our scrutiny and you have to step back to see her as a whole.
Also on show is an example of Jean-Michel Basquiat, whose Orange Sports Figure sold last week for £4.03m, well above its estimate of £3-4m, following the discovery that Basquiat had signed the painting with invisible ink. On display in the Opera Gallery is Basquiat’s Logo (1984), created two years later and equally powerful. Since his death in 1988 Basquiat continues to influence the market, with a new generation of artists inspired by his style.
This show sets out to question our relationship with the commerciality of art, and last weeks auction surpassed all expectations. At Christies, over £109m of sales were achieved, a record for London, and seventeen lots sold for over £1m. One portrait by Francis Bacon sold for £21.2m, the highest price for a contemporary artist at this sale since February 2008.
At Sotheby’s over £66m was achieved, with Gerhard Richter dominating their sales with six painting achieving over £17.6 million. Richter also had four paintings in the ten most expensive sold over the two days and the increase in prices reflected the record prices set for his work in November auctions in New York. Confirming his place as one of the most desirable artists, every available piece in the London auctions sold as collectors sought to secure their own piece.
There is absolutely no doubt that the modern and contemporary markets are buzzing. For just a few days you can go to the Opera Gallery yourself and see what Jean-David thinks is interesting, challenging and up-and-coming work. We may not be able to afford these prices, but we should all take the opportunity to see some of these pieces first-hand, before they disappear into the hands of the collectors.
We took the opportunity to ask Jean-David what we should be looking out for when purchasing contemporary art for ourselves:
What flash of recognition do you get when you identify a new artist, and how are you able to define so accurately what you think will sell?
I am watching art and discovering new artists and new art all the time. What I like best is when an artist or his work really catches my attention, makes me physically stop to watch it longer. I am always looking for something unique, different and I am interested by artists who push the boundaries of physical possibilities and show how far we can go with the making of art. I am passionate about art and when you really believe in the artist you are selling, your clients and collectors will follow your passion and trust you.
Is there a way for us to identify those trends for ourselves when looking to invest in new pieces?
A good knowledge of art history and of the art market is the only way to identify these. But my first advice is ALWAYS to buy pieces that you like. Whether they turn out to be a good investment or not, you get to enjoy them and that's the most important thing about a piece of art! Other than that, if you yourself do not have the knowledge needed to invest wisely on the art market, seeking professional advice is the safest thing to do. As an art dealer, I have worked with people with bigger or smaller budgets but great passion and trust and I have helped them built strong and valuable art collections over the years.
How can galleries, particularly very smart galleries, do more to encourage the public to come in and view their pieces, without feeling that they are required to buy?
Art exhibitions are the best way. Selling is necessary for a gallery to survive, but art exhibitions are the window of their activity. Not anyone can buy a piece of art, but everyone can enter an art gallery and get a glance at the art of the moment. Creating a fun and entertaining event and yet ensuring a display of good quality is the key for a gallery to gain visibility and raise its public image.
With an increasingly multi-disciplined market which new mediums do you think will become more readily available to new collectors?
I believe that Photography is the genre of the century. In November 2011, the ever most expensive art photograph was auctioned in Christie’s in New York for 3.1 million euros. It is a photo of a landscape by Andreas Gursky, and an amazing piece. At the occasion of the sale, Pierre Cornette de Saint Cyr said: “I am thrilled that one finally understands photography is a major art! 90% of graphic creations from the 19th and early 20th centuries have been disregarded! We used to think that a portrait by Nadar was not art! The renowned painter Ingres himself said in 1860, while “stealing” and hiding Nadar’s photographic plates: “Photography is such a beautiful thing that they must not know about it!”.
Apart from photography, I always find mixed media artworks and installations that use unexpected materials both very exciting and entertaining. I shall of course mention Royal Academician David Mach sculptures - they're breath-taking!