The Reality of Feb 09 Art Auctions – artmarketblog.com
The first round of major art auctions for 09 have proven that there is still a considerable amount of money available to be spent on top quality and rare works of art provided the price is right. Fresh works from private collections appeared to be particularly sought after, a sign that solid and extensive provenance continues to be a big draw card. Even some of the less impressive works were eagerly fought over which suggests that the low prices and the excitement of the year’s first major auctions may have induced a bit of over-enthusiasm. The conservative estimates gave buyers plenty of reason to open their wallets and the smaller sales encouraged healthy competition for the top works.
Christie’s Impressionist and Modern Art Evening Sale was the most impressive sale realising a total of £63,428,750 / $91,210,543 / €70,088,769 with 83% sold by lot and 88% by value. Sotheby’s Impressionist and Modern Art Evening Sale wasn’t quite as successful as Christie’s bringing in a total of £32.6 million with 76% sold by lot and 68% by value. Sotheby’s failure to mention the sold by value percentage of their evening sale even though they did mention the sold by lot percentage suggests that they weren’t quite as impressed with their results as Christie’s were.
With the Impressionist and Modern Art Day Sales, Sotheby’s trumped Christie’s with the sold by lot and sold by value percentages but Christie’s sale total was higher than that of Sotheby’s. Christie’s sold £14,131,975 / $20,307,648 / €15,841,944 work of works with a 76% sold by lot percentage and an 81% sold by value percentage where as Sotheby’s sold £11,292,825 / $16,179,230 / €12,687,503 work of work with 83% sold by lot and 90% sold by value.
The figures look impressive considering the events of the past six months but were the auctions really as successful as the figures suggest?. In short, no. And here’s why. First of all, Christie’s 2008 Impressionist and Modern Art Evening Sale realised £105,372,000 which is considerably more than the £63,428,750 taken at this years sale. Sotheby’s 09 Impressionist and Modern Art Evening Sale faired even worse when compared with their 08 sale which realised £117 million pounds, more than three times what the 09 sale achieved. Yes, the sales were much smaller, but the auction houses conducted smaller sales because there is not as much money available to be spent on art and the buyers are much more discerning. A smaller sale means that there are less works to fight over thus increasing the chance that the chance that the bidding will be far more competitive. Low estimates provided even more encouragement for bidders to get involved and, as I am sure many of you know, once you get involved in a bidding competition with someone else you don’t want to come out the loser.
Had this years sales had the same number of works and the same estimates it is unlikely that the results would have been as good as they were. Because of this, the only way that they true state of the art market could have been measured using these auctions was if the circumstances (auction size, estimates) were the same as they were the previous year. Sold by lot percentages and sold by value percentages are easily manipulated by the auction houses using the tactics that I have mentioned above. What can’t be manipulated by the auction houses is the total number of people that are willing and able to spend money on art and the total dollar value that they are able to spend. The success of a business such as Sotheby’s is determined by the dollar amount of profit that they make. Common sense would suggest that the dollar amount of profit that Sotheby’s and Christie’s made from their significantly smaller auctions would be far less than the dollar amount of profit they made in the much larger sales of 2008. Adjusting to the conditions to achieve results that appear to be positive is not the same as achieving a positive result.
To be continued…….
**Nicholas Forrest is an art market analyst, art critic and journalist based in Sydney, Australia. He is the founder of http://www.artmarketblog.com, writes the art column for the magazine Antiques and Collectibles for Pleasure and Profit and contributes to many other publications.
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