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Archive for August 18th, 2011

In terms of transparency in engaging suppliers of services, NAMA seems to be burrowing itself deeper and deeper down Alice in Wonderland’s rabbit hole. Whilst the agency started out by advertising all contracts for services and there was, by all accounts a rigorous procurement process to appoint an army of professionals, it seems these days that the agency is satisfied with a brief beauty contest before making appointments. Rumour has it that agents HT Meagher O’Reilly has been appointed by NAMA to let all the commercial property under its control in the south Docklands in Dublin. Whilst HT Meagher O’Reilly is a perfectly reputable company and there are some obvious advantages in avoiding destructive competition between NAMA-owned/NAMA-controlled buildings, the arrangement, if confirmed, might give rise to competition and price-fixing concerns. Also there doesn’t appear to have been any public procurement process for an engagement that might be worth millions of euro. NAMA has not commented on the appointment which sources have suggested followed a brief “beauty parade”.

And today, Michael Parsons in the Irish Times reports that NAMA is to dispose of what remains of Derek Quinlan’s art collection – 14 individual pieces which the Irish Times reports include works by Irish artists Paul Henry, Jack B Yeats and Roderic O’Conor, and by non-Irish artists including Alex Katz, Andy Warhol and William Scott. The newspaper goes on to report that the 14 paintings have been “independently valued” by NAMA (where was the tendering process for that work?) and are said to be worth €1.7m, which it claims might be 60% off purchase prices. NAMA has previously donated one work, and subsequently sold another work, to the National Gallery.

And what company has NAMA apparently selected to conduct the sale of the 14 paintings? Step forward Christie’s. Christie’s is one of the Big Three international auction houses, alongside Sotheby’s and Bonhams but the company has a troubled recent past in the art auction arena. In 2002, the European Commission held that Sotheby’s and Christie’s had operated a cartel which, in the words of the Daily Mail, “defrauded sellers out of £290 million”. Back in 2002, Sotheby’s and Christie’s controlled 90% of the international art auction business, and it was held that the two companies had adopted measures to reduce expensive competition and increase profits, the most important measure being the agreement to raise sellers’ commission.

NAMA has not commented on the appointment, or the process used to select Christie’s or on Christie’s past malfeasance. The sale is reportedly to be held in Londonand New York- presumably split between British Islesand US artists – later this year? The Irish Times cites sources in the Dublin art trade who are not happy that the contract has been awarded to Christie’s. Quelle surprise, but NAMA’s lack of transparency in awarding contracts in the present day is troubling.

UPDATE: 19th September, 2011. Christie’s has issued a press release (available here)announcing the auction which also contains images of the paintings and estimated prices. Oddly, Christie’s says that the NAMA debtor is co-operating with the sale! The maximum estimated prices total €2m approximately which if realised would likely give Christie’s fees of c€300-400,000 for the sale. The auctions will be held on 9th November, 2011 in New York and 17th November, 2011 in London. NAMA claims that there was a competitive tendering process for the auctioning service and that four auction houses – two Irish and two international – were invited to tender for the work. NAMA says that it has complied with government tendering rules and regulations and has implied that the value of this work to NAMA was nil.

UPDATE: 10th November, 2011. The New York auction took place yesterday and three of the Quinlan works were up for grabs. Two sold, one didn’t reach its reserve. Possibly the jewel in the crown of the Quinlan collection, Warhol’s Dollar Sign did sell for USD $650k against a guide of $400-600k; including fees and buyer’s commission the price was USD $782,500, meaning Christie’s took a cool USD $132,500 from the sale. Nice! The other sale was of the lesser-known Robert Motherwell’s “Arches Cover” which had a guide of USD $60-80k and the sale price including buyer’s commission and fees was USD $74,500; the hammer price for this second sale has not been published. A third work, Katz’s “Aces Airport” didn’t sell – it had a guide of USD $150-200k and the highest bid was USD $140k. The auction at the Rockefeller Plaza yesterday was split into two parts and you can see the results (including images of the works) here and here – in total the two auctions raised USD $70m.  Christie’s in London will be auctioning nine works from the NAMA/Quinlan collection on Thursday 17th November 2011, alongside a major Lowery collection and other non-NAMA works.

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