The art market, in descent, reveals stars both rising and falling. Evening auctions are always great aids at understanding trajectory, and those of Sotheby’s and Christie’s London, in early October, were especially so.
At Christie’s October 4 sale, 31 works from a total auction of 56 were either bought in or sold at or very close to the low estimates or on guarantees. Sotheby’s did somewhat better with 27 out of 67 works bought in or sold at or very close to the low estimates or on guarantees.
Andy Warhol, after having commanded the highest sales records for years, was virtually excluded from the London sales. Sotheby’s had one modest work for sale, Joseph Beuys (Diamond Dust), which eked past its low estimate, whilst Christie’s locked the artist out for the night. Warhol’s market, both private and auction, has been quiet—one could almost say moribund—during
the last 18 months or so.
Christopher Wool sold one picture on a guarantee and a buy-in at Sotheby’s. He also experienced a buy-in at Christie’s.
Mark Grotjahn, the decorative artist whose remarkable rise was fueled by less sophisticated “pretty painting” buyers, found only one place at auction at Christie’s. No bids were evident, other than the house bids: another buy-in.
Rudolf Stingel suffered a double buy-in at Christie’s and hit a single buy-in at Sotheby’s, scoring a negative three for three. Decorative art seems on the outs these days.
Lucio Fontana had a slash painting at Sotheby’s (yes, another buy-in) and another at Christie’s, where it squeaked by and into a buyer’s hands.
Gerhard Richter’s Skull was dead in the water, while a modest painting sold on the guarantee at Christie’s. Sotheby’s left Richter out of the sale; the artist’s market has been trending lower for the last few months, with this auction sealing the coffin.
Jenny Saville at Sotheby’s set a new record for a living woman artist: £9.5 million in a £3.0-£4.0 estimate.
Kaws won a big price for a big image at Sotheby’s: £1,030,000 against £250,000–£350,000 estimate.
Albert Oehlen doubled to tripled estimates at Christie’s but had no pictures at Sotheby’s.
Nothing is forever. The stars of yesterday sometimes fade in the night, sometimes reilluminate. When the market enters round two, rebound, art sought for quality rather than price progression or style will again be in the winner’s circle. Recognition by price is always short-lived. For success, look at the art, not the price.
There is more than psychic return on investment in this. If you look and learn, you’ll be buying more than décor. You will see greatness sooner than others and then you’ll profit twice.