NY Art Auctions Feel the Heat – artmarketblog.com
Since January 2008, prices in the Impressionist & Modern Art segment have posted a cumulative fall of roughly 30% and they contracted no less than 10% in the first quarter of 2009 alone. So, inevitably, the first day of the Impressionist & Modern Art sales in New York was awaited as a test of the top-end of the market. By the end of the two evening sales at Christie’s and Sotheby’s the verdict was clear: with sales revenues just half their previous year totals and some major works bought in or withdrawn from sale, the market appears to be demanding even larger adjustments to price estimates.
Anticipating weaker demand, the auctioneers had diminished the size of their catalogues by roughly half compared with 2007 resulting in a low bought-in rate (20% on average), but drastically reduced total revenue figures. The correction has been particularly severe for Sotheby’s who were expecting $81.5m from their 5 May sale but only generated $52.9m. Remember that on 7 May 2008, Sotheby’s fetched $208m for its Impressionist & Modern Art sale. This disappointing result is partly due to the financial context, but it also reflects buyers’ overall sentiment with respect to the two aggressively priced star lots: Alberto GIACOMETTI le Chat and Pablo PICASSO’s La Fille de l’artiste a deux ans et demi avec un bateau both of which were bought in at just a couple of million dollars below their low estimates of $16m. In the more favourable context of May 2008, Sotheby’s fetched $15.5m for Picasso’s Le baiser, a large painting executed in 1969. Today, bids above the $10m line are much less common: only Christie’s managed to generate a successful 8-figure bid over the 2 days of sales and that was for Picasso’s Mousquetaire a la pipe which fetched $13m. The same piece was last sold at auction for $6.4m by the same auctioneer in November 2004.
This year, the two major auction houses were both seeking to set new records for Tamara LEMPICKA de whose paintings appear rarely at public sales. In 2008, for example, only 5 of her paintings were auctioned compared with 12 in just two days this year as Sotheby’s offered 10 works from the collection of German fashion designer Wolfgang Joop. On 5 May, Portrait of Marjorie Ferry set a new record for the artist at $4.3m. The following day, Christie’s substantially exceeded that score with $5.4m for Portrait de Madame M.
At the end of the two evening sales, Christie’s posted a better overall result than its rival with a revenue total of $89.4m from 38 lots. Apart from the disappointment of a Max ERNST’s Malédiction à vous les mamans that was expected to generate a record but was finally withdrawn from the sale (estimated at $7-9m), Christie’s generated a number of respectable results including $6.8m for Buste de Diego (Stele III) by Alberto Giacometti and $6.8m for another Picasso, Femme au chapeau, (just below its low estimate of $8m). Sotheby’s best result came from a 1932 Piet Mondrian painting which doubled its estimate at $8.2m. This result was undoubtedly carried by the recent record of $24.6m (€19.2 m) generated by Christie’s at the famous Y.Saint Laurent & P.Bergé sale in Paris in February of this year.
Although Sotheby’s sales figures signal a serious depression on the New York market, the majority of art market players seem relatively optimistic (the AMCI at over 40 points on 11 May) buoyed by excellent purchase opportunities after recent price reductions.
**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.
- The Coming Out of Private Art Sales – artmarketblog.com
- November New York Art Auctions Confuse Market – artmarketblog.com
- Greek Financier Wins Picasso’s Lover in Art Auction Stoush – artmarketblog.com
- How to Avoid Dirty Art Auction Tricks – artmarketblog.com
- Sotheby's Contemporary Art Surprises – artmarketblog.com