Well, I guess this report may be ‘old news’ to some of you since reports of the current state of the art market have been making front page news across the world. This past month, New York was in the limelight with numerous public and private sales taking place every week and the final results were staggering.
The month began with reports that David Geffen had struck again … this time selling, privately, Jackson Pollock’s No. 5, 1948 for a reported $140 million! If true, this would be the record price for a contemporary painting … actually it would be a record for any period of art.
On the heels of that news came the Impressionist and Modern sales. These included four of the five restituted Gustav Klimt paintings (returned to the heirs of Mr. & Mrs. Bloch-Bauer) … the fifth was purchased by Ronald Lauder for a reported $135 million in a private sale. Everyone knew this was going to be a week to remember and in the end, nobody was disappointed … especially the Bloch-Bauer heirs!
In all, there were 901 works offered for sale with quality ranging from Great to Awful and in the end 708 of those traded hands (the balance being returned to their previous owners). It was also interesting to note that while there were a number of ‘fresh-to-the-market’ works, there were also many recent returns … and unlike the market of just a few years ago, with a few exceptions, most people didn’t seem to mind.
One of the first items offered was Alfred Sisley’s Moret, vue du loing – après-midi de Mai, a pleasing work from 1888; last on the market in 1994 when it sold for $1.6 million, this time it cost the new owner $3.04 million. Also early in the week was Cezanne’s Nature morte aux fruits et pot gingembre (1895) that was being sold by Acquavella Gallery; who bought the work in a London sale in 2000 for $18.2 million. Just 6 years later the new owner paid $36.9 million. Vincent van Gogh’s small (15 x 18 inch) A Pair of Shoes, a powerful yet somber work, was last on the market in 1999 when it brought $4.8 million … this time around, $8.97 million. Modigliani’s Le fils du concierge (1918) was last on the market in 1997 when it sold for $5 million. This time around it carried an estimate of $14 - $18 million and when the action was over the new owner paid $31.09 million. George Seurat’s Casseur de pierres, a tiny study (6 x 10 inches), which failed to sell in 1998 sold this time around for $1.36 million and Giacometti’s sculpture La jambe, which last sold in 1989 for $880,000 brought $7.1 million.
Of course, the stars of the week were the Klimts. The four works offered for sale made a combined $192.7 million; with Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer II coming in first at just under $88 million; Birch Forest taking second with $40.3 million; Apple Tree I coming in third at $33.05 million and bringing up the rear was Houses at Unterach on the Attersee at $31.37 million. Seems like all the horses in that race were winners!
As I stated earlier, not all the works found buyers and some of the ‘Big Boys’ were among the hardest hit. Monet’s La plage a Trouville went unsold with an estimate of $16.5 - $20 million; Picasso’s Le Sauvetage, which last sold in 1993 for $4 million, this time had an estimate of $12 - $14 million, found no takers (just shows you that even Picassos have a price at which they will not sell) and van Dongen’s rather unattractive La gitane-tete de femme failed to find a buyer at $2 - $3 million.
When the week ended and the numbers were tallied, the art world was amazed … the total achieved for the 708 sold works was $847.2 million. With the number of wealthy buyers ever increasing and the number of great works dwindling, it will be interesting to see what happens next in the Impressionist and Modern market.
The following week brought out a parade of Contemporary pieces and the fireworks continued.
The two most anticipated offerings: Francis Bacon’s Version No.2 of Lying Figure with Hypodermic Syringe and Willem de Kooning’s Untitled XXV (1997) provided a great deal of excitement; with the Bacon bringing an auction record $15.02 million and the de Kooning taking the top spot for a postwar work at auction … $27.12 million. Another highlight was Clyfford Still’s 1947-R-No.1 which carried a high estimate of $7 million and finally sold for $21.29 million … that was 7 times the previous auction record for a Still painting.
Works by Andy Warhol were as plentiful as ever and once again, many brought outstanding prices; with his large Mao (1972) fetching $17.37 million; a small Orange Marilyn bringing $16.25 million (this work sold back in 1998 for $2.8 million and again in 2001 for $3.1 million); his Sixteen Jackies (1964) selling for $15.69 million and a host of others bringing prices in the millions.
In all, over 40 new auction records were established and among those not already mentioned were Richard Diebenkorn ($6.17 million), Sam Francis ($4.04 million), Louise Bourgeios ($4.04 million), Josef Albers ($912,000), Piero Manzoni ($2.59 million), Anish Kapoor ($2.25 million), and Robert Rauschenberg ($1.41 million).
By the time the week was over, just over $525 million worth of Contemporary art had changed hands. If you add that to the previous week’s haul of $847 million you arrive at a two week total of just over $1.372 billion; and the season has just begun! To put this in perspective, back in 2005 the total for the same two weeks was $760 million and in 2004 the total was $632 million.
Everyone’s questions are: When will this end? Has the market reached its peak? While we do not have the exact answers to these questions, we can say that all the art markets are enjoying a buoyant period and are not only seeing an increase in demand from established collectors, but a great deal of ‘new’ blood is entering the market. New wealth is being created across the globe and as long as the global economy continues to increase, there is no reason to believe that we are going to see a huge downturn in demand for great quality works of art. Now I am not saying that at some point we will not hit a very hard ceiling and find ourselves in a slow period of appreciation, but in the long run it is our belief that art will become a more ‘mainstream’ asset class ... attracting more and more individual buyers.
Comments from One of Our Readers
Among the thousands of people who regularly read our newsletter is an acquaintance and major collector of Contemporary art; his initials are C.E. After receiving last month’s copy C.E. shared some of his views on the art market and why he buys works of art. I thought many of you would enjoy reading what he had to say about some of the works in his collection, his passion for collecting and the current level of interest (and profits) in the works he owns.
C.E. began by listing a few of his more recent purchases and what has happened to them in the past 10 – 15 years. The first was a John Currin, bought in ‘96 (1996 not 1896) for $16,000, [a major New York gallery] offered $1,500,000 [for it] two weeks ago. Charlie Ray: a lucite table with vessels growing out of the top. Bought in ‘97 for $65,000, asked to “name my price” (probably $1,000,000). Chris Wool: “Prankster”, bought in early 90’s for $55,000, [a] similar painting sold at auction recently for $1,800,000. Ruscha, Basquiat, David Hammons, Richard Prince...same kind of stupid appreciation in less than 20 years.
Will this hold? Probably not. Do I sell now? Probably not.
This weekend the Moderna Museet comes from Stockholm to see our collection. The
Guggenheim was here this summer. SF MoMA followed them. The Whitney just called... This is what we live for, to feel special and be able to share our choices and our taste and pride of acquisition with others. Collecting was never supposed to be about profits. It was all about discovery, shared judgments, and the joy of looking at what you’ve assembled.
If you sell you’re out of the game. You get some money and some cocktail conversation, but on the wealth ladder you haven’t hit the first rung. You sell if you have to, or if the work stops grabbing you. Selling art because “it’s worth a lot” does not seem to be a proper goal.
This is what collecting art is all about. It is the excitement of the hunt, the thrill of the acquisition and the pleasure you derive from not only owning it, but allowing others to enjoy your passion.
Gallery Updates: For those of you who receive our weekly (or daily) sales updates, you know that November proved to be an unbelievable month. Among the numerous works sold were Corot’s Souvenir des Dunes de Scheveningue; Eugene Boudin’s Hôpital-Camfrout, Le Bourg; Aston Knight’s Summer Evening, 7 Cortes paintings, including: Porte St. Martin - Winter, La Madeleine au Crépuscule vue du Boulevard, Soir de Neige, Pont Alexandre III, and Concorde and Rue Royale, 1900, 3 Swatland paintings, including Sunrise in the Valley and First Snow in the Valley; Allan Bank’s Street Musician; and 3 Gregory Harris’, including Now, Only Memories and his monumental The Eventide of Spring Comes Gently.
Web Site Updates: New works by the following artists have been, or will be, added to the web site this month: Ridgway Knight, Charles F. Daubigny, Eugene Boudin, Diaz de la Pena, Cortes, Blanchard, Holly & Allan Banks, Swatland, Harris, and Kuhn.
Next Month: I will wrap up my Art Market update and will try to answer the question: What is a Masterpiece?