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A new buzz around Butzer

André Butzer, N paintings

Just when it seemed that the work of Berlin-based André Butzer was close to imploding into a sticky mess of extravagant viscosity, the artist presents us with a complete volte-face - and an extraordinarily beautiful one, at that.

Although Butzer's contribution to a revival in geometric abstraction is hardly pioneering - even rather tardy - it certainly heralds a new direction of his own.

Very new indeed, in fact, despite the efforts of an accompanying press release to pinpoint a logical dialogue between previous work and the so-called N Paintings: " opposition between the 'grey' and the 'colourful' is dissolved in favour of a heightened form of 'potential coloration'. What seems to be a light grey actually tends towards a shade of white containing the primary colours blue, red and yellow; fine nuances of these colours flare up in different sections of the pictures before receding back into them again." Quite.

But however packed with the concealed vestiges of Butzer's previously colour-saturated outings these new works might be, they're quite simply good enough to negate any need for peripheral spin or theoretical justification.

Nice one, André.

(And for those who need it, Butzer before and after)

André Butzer
André Butzer

Building abstractions

If you've not yet noticed the stealthy increase in painting that blurs former boundaries through sculptural manipulation, dissection and general de-/reconstruction, it's time to get acquainted with a trend which, while particularly marked in current US practice, is equally a factor in recent European art.

Could this be the most important artistic development so far this century? You decide ....

Art markets

Boosted, no doubt, by a larger-than-ever Frieze art fair which delighted most dealers with brisk blue-chip sales, London's latest round of contemporary art auctions also seemed to indicate that art market recovery is well underway.

Global economic uncertainties may continue to blight many, but deep-pocketed collectors ensured that prestigious evening sales at Christie's and Sotheby's netted each auction house £19.6 million ($31.4 million) and £13.3 million ($21.2 million) respectively.

Alongside high-performance stalwarts such as Richter, Warhol or Polke, newer artists proved - or established - their credentials.

At Sotheby's, Ged Quinn's 2005 Jonestown Radio broke a record price set for the UK artist just a day before at Christie's to gain a new high of £187,250 ($299,974) on an estimate of just £20-40,000.

And a first auction appearance for Iraqi-born painter Ahmed Alsoudani garnered a jaw-dropping £289,250 ($463,378), over four times the presale estimate of £70-90,000.

Mid-career Jules de Balincourt established a new record at Christie's with his 2004 The People that Play and the People that Pay (est. £70,000-100,000) which shot to £217,250 ($347,817) on the back of fierce telephone bidding.

Even Damien Hirst's recent rollercoaster ride at auction looked to have settled somewhat with the £2,000,000 plus sale of a massive (and exquisite) butterfly work.

While certainly falling well short of its £3,000,000 top estimate, it nevertheless commanded one of the evening's highest prices.

The rise of the finissage

While healthy high-end sales spell welcome good news, confidence in the work of emerging artists may take longer to recover. And for smaller galleries still feeling the downturn crunch, any ruse to lure punters through doors has to be considered.

Hence, perhaps, the growing popularity of the 'finissage' - a close-of-show shindig held in addition to the usual 'vernissage', or opening night booze-up.

Long popular in Berlin, the finissage and its opportunities for last-minute sales is stealthily on the rise in rival art capitals such as London and New York.

Let's hope such revelries increasingly provide true cause for celebration.

Lehman's loss; Mehretu's gain

Sotheby's recent sale of art amassed by the ill-fated Lehman Brothers group proved far more successful than the fortunes of the former banking heavyweight.

Totalling $12.3 million to achieve its high estimate, star of the show turned out to be Julie Mehretu's large, 2001 composition on canvas which soared to a record $1,022,500, smashing her previous high of $394,038 (£241,250) which was set at Sotheby's, London in 2009 (see multiples by Julie Mehretu).

Of particular interest, perhaps, to modernedition readers was the equally extraordinary price set by a multiple - Gerhard Richter's 1991 Betty, a colour lithograph issued in an edition of 25.

Estimated at $100-150,000, it brought in an eye-watering $458,500.

Back to Mehretu. The conservative (and notoriously well-protected) production of the US artist provides stark contrast to the prolific output of Damien Hirst, whose Beautiful Inside My head Forever auction famously took place the day after Lehman Brothers' demise.

Our prediction at the time that Hirst's subsequent saleability would plunge now appears to have been confirmed (see below). Ironically, too, he was also one of the few major casualties of the Lehman sale.

Buckminster Fuller; the folded photograph

References to Buckminster Fuller, inventor of the geodesic dome, seem suddenly in vogue.

Predominant in the work of Matthew Day Jackson, US artist Oscar Tuazon similarly shows predilections for Fuller's designs.

Tuazon is also an advocate of the folded photograph, currently much in evidence as an extension of photography's recent exploration of abstraction, materiality and form.

By folding 'tetrahedal' outlines into shots of (rare) domestic use of Fuller's designs, Tuazon connects the two trends rather nicely. A synergy, in fact, that Bucky himself would no doubt have approved of.

Form and the photograph >

Smart art

No more easy art rides; one-liners are out and intellect back in vogue.


Hirst sales plummet

It had to happen - but even the most vociferous critics of Hirst's over-production (such as ourselves) can hardly have expected such a bloodbath.

According to a recent article by The Economist, the artist's auction sales for 2009 shrunk by an astonishing 93%, and 2010 is expected to produce even lower figures.

In financial terms, this means that $19m of art went under the hammer in 2009; an extraordinary figure by most standards, but paltry compared to 2008's auction sales of just over $270m, a world record for a living artist.

While Hirst's galleries continue to claim sell-out shows, it may be time for the artist - and collectors - to reevaluate his worth.

Murakami vs Versailles

With a retrospective of superflat maestro Takashi Murakami's work due to open in the gilded surroundings of Versailles, the Japanese artist appears to have fallen foul of a certain patriotic French spirit.

With objectors claiming that works such as Lonesome Cowboy (an oversized sculpture of a manga-style youth jauntily waving a lasso of his own ejaculate) tarnish the prestige of France's greatest palace, an online petition condemning the show has already received thousands of signatures.

Perhaps the disdain might have been better directed at Jeff Koons, a previous Versailles exhibitor whose occasional dalliance with the sexually explicit certainly overshadows Murakami's erotica.

A further irony is that the disputed works were not even due for inclusion in the show. C'est la vie.

Arts funding

As governments deal with unprecedented debt, cost-cutting is bound to hit the arts hard. Further pain in store for those already feeling the pinch.

The white cubes

Those squeaky-clean commercial spaces are starting to lose their lustrous edge; time for a return to far more interesting alternatives. Viva the car park, bedsit, or broom cupboard.

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