Sotheby’s Isaure de Viel Castel: Auction as a Boundless Idea 

Guy De Rougemont, Red Cloud Table
Isaure de Viel Castel, Head of Boundless Sales at Sotheby’s Hong Kong
Guy De Rougemont’s Iconic Furniture
Pablo Picasso, Twenty-Eight Gold Medallions
Yves Klein, Petite Vénus Bleue (brooch)
Fernando and Humberto Campana, Cartoon Sofa
Yoshitomo Nara, Die schwartze catze
Zao Wou-ki, Les Bateaux
Keith Haring, Untitled
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CoBo Social Chinese Abstraction Series

There are now signs that the current growth in top-end art sales is slowing. In such a situation, it is obvious that auction houses are trying to diversify their profile and branch out, providing more affordable pieces.

Boundless: Contemporary Art at Sotheby’s, which is now in its 5th year, aims to introduce a boarder spectrum of Western art to Asia. Inaugurating the 2017 auction season, it provides the market with a more inclusive and refreshing angle on contemporary art and design that attempts to bring new names to the region, according to Isaure de Viel Castel, Head of Boundless Sales at Sotheby’s Hong Kong. This year will be a testing ground for the design pieces of the French artist Guy de Rougemont, whose work is being presented for auction in Asia for the first time. Isaure talked to CoBo about the mentality and challenges of contemporary art auctions, about her heavy emphasis on design, and gave tips to collectors who are interested in exploring collectable design.

TEXT: Elise Yau
IMAGES: Courtesy of Sotheby’s Hong Kong

Guy De Rougemont Red Cloud Table 2
Guy De Rougemont, Red Cloud Table

 

It has been five years since the launch of the Boundless sale. How has its theme and scope evolved over the years?

It first started in December 2012 as a platform to offer Western art at auction in Hong Kong. At first, there was a larger number of Asian works than Western, but it has since stabilised. It is definitely still a pioneering platform to introduce collectors to Western art here in Hong Kong, which was its original concept. It hasn’t really evolved, but what has changed are the sections that I wanted to develop. I have always loved design, so I always wanted to include more new designers.

Since joining the auction I have offered a long and diverse list of names like the Garouste and Bonetti tables, Elisabeth Garouste mirror, Campana Brothers chairs, Angelo Mangiarotti table and lamps, and the Roger Tallon staircase.

I have always tried to promote as many designers as possible, from what I can find in Asia or sourced in Europe or the States. There are also designers that we haven’t sold, but presented. For example the French designer Hubert Le Gall, who had a very nice small mural. It didn’t sell, but I did try, so that’s okay. That’s the concept of the sale, to push the boundaries and to bring new artists and new names to Asia.

I love photography and you will see a small section of photographs in the upcoming sale with very classic images by the big names of modern 20th-century photography, including American, Hungarian and French photographers who are quite new to the Asian market. I want to bring them to a new audience. I chose to start with the less expensive prints, rather than the classic ones, so that the prices are affordable and to familiarise the collectors here.

 

Isaure de Viel Castel, Head of Boundless Sales at Sotheby’s Hong Kong
Isaure de Viel Castel, Head of Boundless Sales at Sotheby’s Hong Kong
Guy De Rougemont’s Iconic Furniture
Guy De Rougemont’s Iconic Furniture

 

In that sense, the concept of the sale can evolve according to what I find or what I want to promote, including street art. In January 2015, we offered the first major artwork by Invader at auction and broke the record price for Invader at auction. It was the Hong Kong Phooey piece. After that, I had a lot of requests to sell street art at auction in Hong Kong. The street art scene is actually quite good, as there are a lot of collectors here. I can curate the sale and evolve it, according to the taste of the collectors I meet here.

Last January, I started a section of artist jewellery with many different names, from Picasso to Calder to Anish Kapoor and Lalanne. They were presented altogether in a section and it was quite successful. Some were sold during the auction and just afterwards when people who missed the auction came and bought everything. I was very pleased because there hadn’t been an artist jewellery section at Sotheby’s before. Again, as I have carte blanche with this sale, I can push and introduce new things here.

This time I have photographs, design and a few items of artist jewellery, with the Picasso medallions and Lalanne bracelet. The new thing is this section is dedicated to Guy de Rougemont, the French designer, who has never been presented before in Hong Kong. He is well known, not only in France, but also in the States, and collected internationally. It is very playful with easy pieces that are not too expensive.

 

Pablo Picasso, Twenty-Eight Gold Medallions
Pablo Picasso, Twenty-Eight Gold Medallions

 

You speak of Guy de Rougemont, who is the highlight of this auction, and a latecomer to the Asian market. Could you explain on the artistic and investment value of his work and compare him to his counterparts? 

He is in his 80s now and was trained as a painter, but started creating his sculptures in the early 70s, which had no real purpose at the time. As a painter, he was always interested in pushing the boundaries between the social, public space and art. He would paint huge frescos or columns with geometrical and colourful shapes in hospitals and administrative buildings in France.

He has always been interested in lines and really round and colourful shapes, and converted them into 3D sculptures, which he called volumes. At some point, he realised that one volume could be a lamp, another a screen. From there he switched to creating a design for each piece. We have two vintage pieces in the sale. One volume is the cloud coffee table and the lamp. He is still affordable as his top price at auction is around $200,000. The top price for the cloud table, the painted volume, is around $40,000. It is what I call affordable design for collectable design.

In design, you have different markets. You have designers who create limited edition pieces, who are the ones you can find in galleries and museums. Then, you have the ones who collaborate with big companies, like Vitra or Cartel, who do more important edition pieces. They can do both at the same time. Guy de Rougemont has always worked on very limited edition pieces and never worked with big brands, just galleries.

He has never been to Asia before because his primary dealers have always been in Paris. His market was more western centred and so no one thought of developing it in Asia.

I am sure some collectors knew about his work. One of his dealers, who I met in Paris, said she received an enquiry from a Chinese collector who liked one of the lamps we have, which reminded him of a Chinese character, and he contacted the gallery. Apart from that, his dealers have never interacted with Asia. I am French, so maybe that helps, but I know his work and have always wanted to promote him. I think it is playful and fun with a price point that is good for Asia. This is why we have this section in the sale.

 

Yves Klein, Petite Vénus Bleue (brooch)
Yves Klein, Petite Vénus Bleue (brooch)

 

For the design section, can I say that you target affordable, collectable pieces that are also the most expensive?

Yes, you can. At the same time, we have the Ron Arad chair in the sale, which is stunning and beautiful. That is a really important piece. Only one similar example has come up at auction and it made around US$200,000.

As you can see, we sell a wide range of designers. We have sold Prouvé and Charlotte Perriand in Asia, in the NIGO Auction. This is more classic and there are collectors looking for these works, especially in Japan and Korea. I think it is good to bring new names to collectors here in Asia. Some are successful, some are not, you just have to try. The price is usually affordable.

 

Has there been a trend in recent years for auction houses to carry design pieces made by artists?

Design has always been a component of auctions and Sotheby’s. I think what has changed is the collector base for design. Before, it was a very small market of connoisseurs but now it has exploded and it’s worldwide. Now, every serious collector that collects mostly modern and contemporary art will also buy some design pieces. Some people don’t just want to buy paintings and put them on the walls, they want to live with art, which means having art as your coffee table or as your seat.

These objects are functional but with an artistic twist. There is something very avant-garde about them. They relate very much to the contemporary art world. There is much more crossover between categories, which explains the success of a platform like Boundless, which sells modern, contemporary and design at the same time, including both Western and Asian. Nowadays, collectors are much more aware of what they can find on the market and are not limited by categories. They want to see more things and their interests have broadened a lot.

 

Fernando and Humberto Campana, Cartoon Sofa
Fernando and Humberto Campana, Cartoon Sofa

 

Is this collecting behaviour limited to a certain demographic group? How would you describe these collectors?

From all of the collectors I have met, no. Our generation and those in their early 40s absolutely love contemporary art and design, and are less interested in the old masters or 18th-century furniture. The younger generation is absolutely into the contemporary art world and embrace design as well.

In 18th-century France, people were buying the paintings and the furniture of the time from big dealers, like interior designers. They were creating these ensembles, sometimes with rooms displaying a theme, but they were contemporary paintings and furniture. So, in a way, collectors have always liked to mix contemporary furniture and contemporary paintings. I am pushing the limit a little bit.

 

Are collectors here educated about design?  

Yes, I was quite surprised. I have presented well-known names and was very surprised to see people in Asia knew about them. People are educated, travel and study abroad, so they go to museums and exhibitions everywhere. They are well connected to major galleries in any field and are very aware of the market.

 

Do you have any tips for young, entry-level collectors who want to get into the design collecting world? How should they start to do their homework?

There are a few things. First, the auction houses like Sotheby’s are a good source of information. They have a lot of design auctions and sell different artworks at various prices. We have a sale in Paris called Now and it is for entry-level collectors. It includes larger edition pieces, but it is nice. It ranges from Scandinavian design to industrial design from the 70s. Everything is very affordable. Nothing is really expensive. There were chairs that I loved and it was $600 for four chairs. We do have an auction we created in Paris for young collectors; people who want to live with design, but cannot afford the very limited edition pieces or unique pieces.

 

Yoshitomo Nara, Die schwartze catze
Yoshitomo Nara, Die schwartze catze

 

Then, we have the major auctions – New York, Paris and London – which offer very important pieces, but also sometimes have more affordable pieces too. I think if I was to start looking at the design world, I would consult all of these catalogues because they are a huge source of information. You can learn the names and then figure out the style you like, whether it is Scandinavian, Italian, French, Post-war, the 90s or contemporary. Once you understand what you like, you can go and research specific designers. For contemporary design, there is a fantastic gallery in Paris called Galerie Kreo, who have Bouroullec, the French designers.

If you are just starting, you can check auction houses and galleries and find the style that you are attracted to. If you don’t have a lot of money, go to the large edition – to Cappellini, Flos and Cartel – and buy some good stuff. If you have more money, then you can go to galleries or auctions and buy. I always try to have affordable prices at Boundless, so I can balance my market and attract both new collectors and more experienced collectors at the same time. There are some designers that you can follow by putting alerts on ArtPrice and ArtNet.

I think France is a good sourcing market because there are a lot of designers and small auction houses. For example, there is a deceased designer who I love. Her name is Line Vautrin and she is well known for her convex mirrors. I absolutely love the technique.

 

Is it a special technique?

Yes. She is famous for that. She does those convex mirrors, which are absolutely beautiful and in the shape of a sun, with the special technique of the talosel. I would love to have that in the sale. For affordable prices, there is a designer called Mathieu Matigot who does shelves that are really fun. He was one of the first ones to work with perforated steel, folding them and creating nice round shapes.

In two weeks, at Sotheby’s Paris, we are going to have a special exhibition for Diego Giacometti, who is very popular in Asia. I think Sotheby’s Paris will have a sale dedicated to Diego Giacommeti in the spring as well.

 

Zao Wou-ki, Les Bateaux
Zao Wou-ki, Les Bateaux

 

Is authenticity a problem?

Yes, sometimes you have fakes and sometimes you have works that are over-restored, which is also a problem, so you need to be careful. That was a joke when I was in the Paris office. You would receive I don’t know how many fakes of artworks by Diego Giacommeti. We have learned how to really look at the piece and, we are also very close to a blacksmith who worked with him and can help us to authenticate things. Authenticity can be a problem with all modern design and post-war design, but not contemporary designers. Their pieces are being made, so authenticity’s not a problem at all.

 

What is your prediction for 2017? Will political uncertainties affect the art world?

The most expensive lot in the sale is $400,000, so it is an entry-level market and not affected at all by the political or economic environment. From a personal point of view, all of the sales at the end of 2016 were actually quite good for Sotheby’s. Our top collectors are very much buying. We have seen a lot of new collectors coming in 2016 and people are still very eager to buy art and want to buy good quality, interesting pieces. I think that will remain the case in 2017, regardless of the political and economic issues. Our top collectors are still there.

Nothing really happens in January in the art world, so it has been a successful date for Boundless, especially in Hong Kong, because people can focus on it and attend the exhibition. Cocktail is usually very popular, maybe because it is just before the Chinese New Year. It is a very festive season, so it is perfect for buying gifts for your family.

I once had a client who came to the Boundless sale and stormed through the room saying, “I need to buy red for Chinese New Year,” and he bought all the red artworks he could find in the auction.

 

Keith Haring, Untitled
Keith Haring, Untitled

 

Boundless: Contemporary Art Auction
19 January 2017, 6:00 PM HKT, Hong Kong

 

 


Elise YAU (Editor of CoBo)

Elise YAU is an editor and journalist specialises in design, lifestyle and luxury topics. She has written extensively for Ming Pao Weekly, City Magazine and HK01, and she is the author of book projects regarding design, architecture and Hong Kong culture. Currently based in Hong Kong, Elise is immersing the art world after joining CoBo, the first Asia community platform for collectors.

eliseyau@cobosocial.com

 

 
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