Collector buying sight-unseen mistakes inches for feet and other art world gossip

Collector of Chinese contemporary gets more than he bargained for..

Eyes bigger than his front door

Work by the Beijing-based siblings, the Gao Brothers, is much sought after, with their latest ­auction triumph a ­perfect example of the ­current mentality amongst new collectors of Chinese ­contemporary art.

So excited was one collector (who shall remain anonymous in his embarrassment) at the image of the Brothers’ 2006 Miss Mao sculpture (right) which came up for sale at Phillips de Pury in May, that he specially placed a pre-emptive bid to secure it at $54,000. Having won the lot, this canny money-manager looked forward to ­placing the garish object on his executive ­desktop as a sort of up-market paperweight. Only then did he discover that the work ­measured 7x5x5 feet rather than inches, and was so big it would not even fit through any of his doors or windows. Proof of the perils of buying sight-unseen whilst catalogue-shopping in the panic of a hot market, poor Miss Mao may well end up unloved out in the garden.

Disputed Peyton

When the quirky Manhattan artist Rainer Ganahl, currently showing at the Venice Biennale, ­discovered, late in the day, that his portrait by Elizabeth Peyton (below) had been hammered away by Phillips de Pury last year for a chunky $15,600, he alerted the Art Loss Register to the work, alleging that it had been stolen from him. “That provoked immediately big claims against me…and all the galleries involved. So we are already in court [legal proceedings have started in New York] and I am paying and paying. The money involved is about $50,000, in case I should lose, but a thief cannot pass title!” Peyton ­produced the drawing in 1992 when Ganahl was sharing an apartment with curator Meg O’Rourke which he then moved out of. But left behind in their abode was Peyton’s sketch, which Ms O’Rourke, working for the gallery D’Amelio Terras, sold to her employers, albeit for just a grand. “She told me she trashed it,” claimed the artist. Working its way through varied dealers, as Peyton’s prices ascended, the portrait finally ­re-emerged at auction. Ms O’Rourke has a rather ­different take on things: “Not that conceptual loser once again! He left so much stuff behind, never paid the rent and left that stupid little sketch as a ­present on the fireplace—and it’s not even signed.”

Amphibian tribute for Beard

African Rainforest Conservancy’s grand ­annual benefit always features their New Species Award naming a plant or animal from the Tanzania rainforest after longtime supporters. Past recipients include actors Harrison Ford (butterfly) and James Gandolfini, who improbably gave his name to a flower. This year they honoured artist Peter Beard (below), for his lifetime achievement, bestowing his name upon a newly ­discovered caecilian (worm-like amphibian). So the artist can boast not only of being ­repeatedly painted by Francis Bacon but also having his own species of “unique amphibian subterranean predator” named after him. Beard contributed a photo-collage diptych ­complete with smeared blood to the event’s ­auction. The work is set to go to a board ­member of the conservancy who has a personal connection to the artist, having lost all his other Beard works in the collapse of the Twin Towers.

Frank Stella’s memorial to curator

Megalomaniac curators take note of a bizarre maquette at Frank Stella’s Metropolitan Museum show “Painting into Architecture” (until 29 July): an extravagant architectural structure entitled Remembering Henry. For this is actually a ­proposed mausoleum for Henry Geldzahler, the Met’s late contemporary art curator. Even the ­amusingly self-important Henry might have been taken aback by the scale and drama of this brand new, 2007 proposal. Stella himself is not sure of its practicality as he admitted to Flotsam in his famous growl: “Well he’s actually already buried out some place, I don’t know if this building would really have his body, but this guy was my friend.”

Originally appeared in The Art Newspaper as ‘Collector of Chinese contemporary gets more than he bargained for'

Appeared in The Art Newspaper Archive, 182 July 2007