Greek art sells abroad

In the last few years a great number of 19th and 20th century Greek works of art have gone under the hammer at various international auction houses. Christie’s began the trend with a series of sales which took place in Greece, but following the auction house’s departure from Greece in 2001, the action was transferred to London, exclusively at Bonhams and Sotheby’s. Known as the Greek Sales, these have been highly successful, both in terms of the number of works exchanging hands as well as in revenues. At a recent gathering, members of Art Expertise, the company of art consultants representing Bonhams and Christie’s in Greece, informed members of the local press about the developing situation in the market for Greek artworks, including the difficulties and opportunities. Small but good market Company representative Terpsichore Angelopoulou noted that while this specific market is considered small – in the sense that most of the buyers are Greeks living either in Greece or abroad – it does offer a number of opportunities given that quality works are being sold at competitive prices by European standards. On this subject, a few months ago the Sunday Times had mentioned that the Greek Sales were being promoted primarily for their investment value. A number of non-Greeks have also purchased Greek works at the auctions, though they tend to go for works in the 10,000 to 25,000 pound sterling (10,000-37,000 euros aprx.) range. Meanwhile, it appears that more and more people are interested in collecting and therefore, there are new faces among the buyers at every sale. According to Angelopoulou, these days it is works by celebrated 19th century Greek artists, such as Constantinos Volanakis, that have secured maximum prices at the auctions. Others, such as Maleas and Lytras, are also being heralded as the coming artistic forces together with the 1960s generation (Fassianos, Spyropoulos, Gaitis, Kessanlis). Contemporary works are also on the rise, yet those investing in these works are aware that their investments will offer returns in the long run. Ten percent of works at every Greek Sale are signed by contemporary artists. A recent dispute At the meeting, Angelopoulou also discussed the recent dispute that arose between Bonhams and prominent Greek artist Takis. On December 1, Takis used a felt-tip to damage one of his own works. Together with a number of his other works, «Musical» had been on display at the Hellenic Foundation for Culture prior to a Greek Sale which was scheduled for December 14. The artist’s aim was to prevent their sale since he had given them himself to Alexandros Iolas in the 1970s, in view of the museum that the noted art collector and gallery owner was planning to establish. The museum was never founded and the works, along with many more, ended up in the hands of Iolas’s two heirs. In the end, the works were withdrawn from the auction due to their bad state. Speaking on the subject of the artist’s rights at a recent lecture at the School of Fine Arts in Athens, Takis noted that the Greek state does not have the structures necessary to protect artists. On the specific issue of Takis’s actions prior to the auction, Angelopoulou stressed the lots going on sale had documents regarding the legal owners. She also revealed that prior to the auction, Takis had already sent an extra-judicial claim that his works should not go under the hammer because they were not in a very good state and not because the heirs were holding them illegally. The Art Expertise representative added that works by Takis belonging to the same group of works had been auctioned a while back, and at the time the artist did not protest.