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Irish art houses snubbed by Nama

IRISH art auction houses are so concerned about lucrative sales of art arising from bankrupt Nama developers going to auction houses in London that they have forcefully made their concerns known to the Government.

James O'Halloran of Adam's auctioneers wrote to Finance Minister Michael Noonan and Arts Minister Jimmy Deenihan about the way Nama seemed to have automatically gone to Christie's of London for a recent high-profile sale of art works belonging to developer Derek Quinlan.

The sales, held in London and New York, saw the offloading of works, including an appropriately named Andy Warhol 'Dollar Sign', which sold for €573,000. The London sale amassed about €2m.

Mr O'Halloran told Mr Noonan that his firm was prepared to waive the auction fees and not charge buyers in return for keeping the business in Ireland.

He received a detailed response from Mr Noonan -- but with no guarantee that the process would be more open in the future.

Irish auctioneers believe that the process should be subject to public-procurement policy, given the large sums of money involved and the fact that Nama is a State agency.

According to Ian Whyte of Whyte's auctioneers, a sale worth €500,000 could create work for up to 20 new people in the auction market.

Surprisingly, sales on the Irish art market have been robust in the run-up to Christmas.

By contrast, the London sale by Christie's was poorly attended and it is widely believed that the paintings by the most prestigious of Irish artists -- such as Roderic O'Connor, Jack Yeats and William Scott -- might have sold for better prices in Dublin.

Ian White has said it is regrettable that NAMA had "decided to sell Irish art assets in England". He makes the point that Quinlan's art collection, "both Irish and international, was bought with money made from Irish investors and is now owned, through Nama, by Irish taxpayers".

Although two Irish firms were asked to quote for auctioning the works, the contract was awarded to Christie's, who charge buyers 20 to 25 per cent commission and stand to make an estimated €500,000 profit on a €2m auction estimate.

Despite the value of the contract, it was not put out to public tender and Nama chose only five firms to quote -- two Irish and three English.

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According to Ian Whyte, he was contacted by an accountant on behalf of Nama, suggesting that he make a valuation for the sale of art works held by the former developer Bernard McNamara. However, nothing more came of it and that contract also went to Christie's.

Mr Whyte was told that debtors like Derek Quinlan and Bernard McNamara would have a say on the choice of auction house.

It is expected that a flood of art works could come onto the market from various bankrupt Irish tycoons and developers who have gone into Nama, although it is understood that the notoriously secretive agency regrets the publicity that such sales inevitably attract.

Among the developers who are understood to have built up impressive collections is solicitor and developer Noel Smyth, who is said to have over 400 art works coming on to the market.

Mr Smyth had a set of Harry Clarke's stained-glass windows installed in his south Dublin home.

It is also understood that there is warehouse in Naas, Co Kildare, that is full of general Nama-related art works, including half-a-dozen Jack Yeats paintings.

Among other developers associated with Nama who have valuable art works are David Daly, David Arnold, of D2 Private, and Paddy Kelly.

Mr Whyte also believes that Nama is not getting value for money for the Irish State.

He points out that it has already given one of the paintings, Sir John Lavery's The Return From The Market, for which Mr Quinlan paid over €800,000 for in 2001, to the National Gallery, rather than sell it to decrease the loss to the taxpayer on Mr Quinlan's bank debts.

Another painting -- an oil by Jack Yeats, which Mr Quinlan bought for over €300,000 -- was sold privately to the National Gallery for €170,000.

"Over €1.1m of taxpayers' assets have been disposed of by Nama for less than 20 per cent of their original value," he argues, although many will be happy to see the State at least gain such works for its national art institutions.

However, there will many more art works to dispose of as all too visible trophies of the now vanquished Celtic Tiger.

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