Early this week, when the art world braced for the potential fallout from "Brexit," at least one auctioneer was resolute.
Helena Newman, the worldwide co-head of Impressionist and Modern Art for Sotheby's, had presided over the first sale of the spring season in London last week, bringing $63.7 million for Picasso's "Femme Assise" (1909), the most expensive Cubist painting ever sold at auction.
Sotheby's grossed 103.3 million pounds from the sale, or about $151 million, with just three of 27 lots failing to sell. The previous year's sale was significantly larger with 50 lots and brought £178.6 million, or about $282 million. Ms. Newman also sold a 1919 portrait by Amedeo Mod igliani, "Jeanne Hébuterne (au Foulard)," for $56.7 million that night.
Those are the two highest prices on the London market in the last five years (the Modigliani, unlike the Picasso, was guaranteed to sell because of a third-party "irrevocable bid").
The sale made Ms. Newman, 49, the first woman to preside over a major evening sale in London since the 1990s.
As a result, sitting over tea on a rainy afternoon in Mayfair, Ms. Newman — who has been with Sotheby's for 28 years — sounded undaunted by the political turmoil and Europe's depressed currency, which has convulsed London.
"Whatever is going on, if you have something really great or really rare, that will ride out any concerns," she said. "There continue to be global collectors who are looking for museum-quality work." (Indeed, she had bidders from 29 countries in her sale.)
While inventory has considerably contracted — the Impressionist & Modern Art sale was almost half the size of last year's — Ms. Newman said the market continued to show "healthy depth."
"Though we didn't have a lot," she said, "what we did have performed well."
This resilience, Ms. Newman said, is largely because of the influx of new buyers from all over the world. She also noted that while many pundits have predicted a shift to private sales, the Picasso and Modigliani came to auction "in this year and this market."
Ms. Newman has handled day auctions before, but "the evening sale is a different level of scrutiny and theater," she said. "It's a barometer of the strength of the art market. We treat those as our flagship auctions, in terms of reflecting our brand."
When the auctioneer Henry Wyndham lef t Sotheby's in February, Ms. Newman rose to the opportunity, knowing there would be a lot riding on her performance.
"This will send a very clear message to the market that women auctioneers should be up there with men auctioneers — this is a new era," she said. "Had the sale not been successful, people might have had a different view."
Being on the rostrum is an art form in itself — placing major lots in key strategic positions ("not too early, not too late and not too close together," Ms. Newman said); knowing how to control the pace, energy and mood in the salesroom.
Ms. Newman's style stems from her training as a serious violinist (she also studied French and German literature at Oxford — languages that come in handy with clients).
"Some approach it like an athlete, some like an actor," she said. "I approach it as a musician, with crescendos and diminuendos. What you absolutely have to avoid is monotony and boredom."
"With the Picasso, I slowed down considerably," she added, "because it's very high numbers and you need to give people time."
She said, "There's no reason why London shouldn't continue to be — alongside New York — the great hub of the global art market."
Wade Guyton Exhibition
Having known Wade Guyton for some time — and even rafted with him — Heidi Zuckerman, the director of the Aspen Art Museum, gave the artist an open invitation to mount an exhibition.
About a year ago, Mr. Guyton asked to do a solo show alongside the work of Peter Fischli and David Weiss, who were recently featured at the Guggenheim. (Mr. Weiss died in 2012.)
In their exhibition, scheduled for next June, the artists will collaborate on walls comprising their sculptures that will camouflage distinctive parts of the Shigeru Ban-designed building — "almost like erasing thes e known elements," Ms. Zuckerman said.
The show will take up all the galleries, as well as previously unused spaces at the museum, like the roof deck sculpture garden and the front commons.
"There's a sense of humor, there's a sense of focusing on the process," Ms. Zuckerman said. "The idea is that each of the artists have the opportunity to have work on their own and also to collaborate with each other."
Emerging Artist Award
"Ellsworth was very interested in giving things to underrecognized artists," said the artist Glenn Ligon, speaking of Ellsworth Kelly.
Mr. Ligon serves on the board of the Foundation for Contemporary Arts, which has received a $1 million gift from the Ellsworth Kelly Foundation to endow a new annual award.
The gift is the largest single cash contribution ever received by the Contemporary Arts foundation, which was established by Jasper Johns and John Cage in 1963.
The donation includes a $40,000 grant to support a solo exhibition by an emerging, midcareer or little-known contemporary visual artist at a regional art museum, or university or college art gallery in the United States.
The first Ellsworth Kelly Award is going to the Institute of Contemporary Art at the University of Pennsylvania for a solo exhibition of film, video and sculpture by the Chicago-based filmmaker and artist Cauleen Smith in the fall of 2018, curated by Anthony Elms.
"Cauleen is at this funny moment where she's done a huge amount of work in Chicago," Mr. Ligon said, "but she's not doing the kind of show that lends itself to big gallery support."
A Nine-Hour Film
Adrian Cheng, the Hong Kong business leader who founded the K11 Art Foundation, which supports Chinese contemporary art, has established a three-month residency at the New Museum that will culminate in an exhibition for the artist Cheng Ran; he will start Aug. 1, and the exhibition opens Oct. 19.
Mr. Cheng, who was born in 1981 in Inner Mongolia, proposed as his project a nine-hour film about three people who have disappeared. "In a way, it doesn't matter whether anybody can see it all," said Massimiliano Gioni, the museum's artistic directo r. "The time that the viewer puts into seeing it — that is, to me, a form of culture."Continue reading the main story
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