Phillips is hosting a BRIC-themed sale. But does this term have any meaning?
Phillips de Pury rejoices in the fact that it is not Sotheby's or Christie's: instead of putting on the same sales every year, successful but staid, it innovates, using its themed sales to cross chronology and genre and medium. It may never sell a $100 million Giacometti, but it captures the middle market much better, with flair and thought.
After Sex and Now: Art of the 21st Century, next on the block is the BRIC sale, possibly the world's first to group the countries in the auction room thus. The sale has all the big names: vases by Ai Weiwei, Yue Minjun's 'laughing' face, Alexander Rodchenko, Hélio Oiticica.
But does this grouping have any meaning? Having read the FT's series on the BRICs a couple of months ago, I think that Jim O'Neill's snappy name is perhaps correct if what they have in common is that they have nothing in common. They are at different stages of economic maturity, have different natural resources, no clear political continuities, varied class structures and sizes.
There is not cultural parity either, if we can judge by the content and proportions of the sale: in the day sales, there are approximately 120 Chinese works, 70 Indian, 105 Russian, 100 Brazilian, India somewhat lagging behind (tho' it is not clear whether productivity or popularity or something else is responsible). The evening sale is mostly Russian and Chinese. India and Brazil offer furniture.
It is a clever move for Phillips to capitalise on BRIC mania, and there are plenty of nice items on the block, but more than uniting them, this sale reinforces doubts about the mortar between the BRICs.
Pictures from top:
99 Idol Series No. 73, 1996
Oil on canvas. 25.5 x 20 cm (10 x 7 7/8 in)
Maquette for a box of Esmeralda cigarettes, 1925
Gouache and paper collage on cardboard box. 9.6 x 12.7 x 2.3 cm (3 3/4 x 5 x 7/8 in)