Contemporary Art Market: Sculpture spectacular fails to tempt buyers

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Grandiloquent shows do not necessarily sell art. That seems to be the message from the spectacular, multi-gallery presentation of recent sculpture by the Italian artist, Mimmo Paladino, that Leslie Waddington has mounted in Cork Street.

He has even spent pounds 13,000 on shipping a six-ton bronze from Italy and mounting it - with the help of cranes - in the Economist Plaza off St James's, central London.

That has not sold either. Titled Sud II, the bronze takes the form of two 19ft doors, applied with primitive masks and motifs, with a tall guardian figure gazing out between them. Waddington advanced the pounds 132,000 cost of having the doors cast and is asking dollars 500,000 ( pounds 355,000) for them. It could be the cost that is putting buyers off; the doors come in an edition of four.

The show is a smaller version of a major outdoor exhibition mounted at the Forte di Belvedere in Florence last summer. Political scandals have driven the Italian art market into recession and little seems to have been sold there.

Paladino was born in southern Italy in 1948 and had an early success with his drawings. But he sprang to international fame in the early 1980s when 'neo-Expressionism' swung into fashion - expressive, figurative painting, laced with history and myth in Paladino's case. He added sculpture to his repertoire in 1982 and creates figures that carry the air of archaeological finds - whether in bronze, rusted iron or stone.

Waddington's galleries seem to be filled with the left-overs of an ancient civilisation. It only exists in Paladino's mind but his creations have a magical presence. His 5ft Vicenza stone figures, each with unreadable symbolic attributes, cost dollars 95,000 ( pounds 65,500) each and none have found buyers.

A 4ft bronze of a kneeling man with greyhounds, Assediato, has proved the most popular image, with two bronzes from the edition of four selling at dollars 100,000 ( pounds 69,000) each.

The Annely-Juda Gallery (23 Dering St, W1) has mounted an exhibition of Anthony Caro's sculpture of almost comparable grandeur - except that they do not have so much space. This mini-retrospective, Sculpture Through Five Decades 1955-1994, is designed as a celebration of the artist's 70th birthday.

Annely-Juda represents the artist internationally and he has dug out some intriguing, unsold early works for the exhibition. Caro's 1950s vintage 2ft bronze, Pulling on a Girdle - a woman whose body has turned to abstraction with the effort of pulling on her corset - is now a slice of history and costs pounds 27,500. In the 1960s he embarked on his characteristic iron girder pieces, civil engineering lookalikes adapted with humour to a human dimension. They range in price from pounds 24,000 for a 2ft Writing Piece (1979) to pounds 260,000 for a 12ft outdoor structure, Ordnance (1971).

Caro's sculpture has influenced artists all round the world. Echoes can even be traced in the work of a young German sculptor, Thomas Bernstein, who is showing at the Victoria Miro Gallery (21 Cork Street).

Bernstein has updated the idiom, turning his twisting metal bars into conceptualist jokes. In Shepherd's Bush ( pounds 6,200) the swirling branches are topped with partially deflated punch balls; the extremities of a second bush are capped with rubber gloves ( pounds 3,000).

(Photograph omitted)

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