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Art market: ashes for sale


Captain Shit and the Legend of the Black Stars Chris Ofili/ V. Miro Gallery

On May 26, 2004, 50 works by Patrick Heron, 22 works by Gillian Ayres, 40 by Adrian Heath went up in flames in the Leyton warehouse Momart in London by an enormous fire. In addition to these ones, there were many artworks by the young British artists, belonging to the Saatchi collection such as 16 Damien Hirst's, some works of Rachel Whiteread, the Chapmans' installation The Hell, the first Ofili's hilarious Captain Shit series and the famous of Tracey Emin Everyone I Have Ever Slept With 1963 -1995. Britain has certainly suffered from the big loss of most young British artists' artworks, emblematic in the development of the phenomenon known as Brit Art. London's fine art insurers has already begun figuring out exactly how much they will have to pay for the damage caused by the fire that has destroyed millions of pounds worth of work. It is impossible to guess the approximate price damages as the financial value of the works continuously floats in the last twenty years. Back in 1988 the young British artists' reputation was confined to London art scene. Recognition of the young British group came with the exhibition Sensation. The same year Rachel Whiteread's sculpture, Untitled, Double Amber Bed, fetched GBP 150,000. The following four years prices for the YBAs peaked, as their work was sold through the major auction houses in New York and London. Collectors that invested in YBAs Art in the early '90s made a fortune six years later as prices went up hugely, e.g.: Damien Hirst's God was bought for GBP 4,000 in London and resold in1998 for GBP 170,000. More fortune to come for Hirst when his artpiece Something Solid beneath the Surface of all Creatures Great and Small was sold for USD 1.05 million at the Phillips, De Pury & Luxembourg in New York (USA) on May 13, 2003; namely, a new achievement for him and the entire group.
Although the major works are still doing well in the market, prices have been falling over by 28% between 2001 and 2003. Tracey Emin has experienced sharp falls in the prices of her sculpture since 2001. Last records of her sales say her unsold installation Bring me the Head of Tracy Emin at Christie's South Kensington was estimated at GBP 8,000 on April 1, 2004, and one year before her installation Sleep was sold at GBP 2,000 at Sotheby's.
Hopefully, the prices of Saatchi's collection pieces stored at Momart will be calculated around the time of the Sensation exhibition in 1997 as it has now a lower resale value. All in all, things could be worse: the most important masterpieces of Saatchi's Collection were stored or exhibited somewhere else. According to Marcel Duchamp, readymades (works of art created not manually but by the mind and decision of the artist) can be infinitely re-created. If lost or destroyed, a readymade could be re-constructed by anyone, giving a kind of longevity to the masterpiece.
Rumour has it in London that Saatchi's intends to purchase the site of the fire and name it Brit Art's ground zero.

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