New York Contemporary Sales Charts, 2004-2014

NY Cont 2004-2014

The New York Contemporary art sales totaled $1,703,991,563 this season. It’s a very large number but only fully comes into focus once one sees it in relation to the previous years’s totals. Above is a chart of the New York Contemporary art sales from the Fall of 2004 until the week we just saw pass. You’ll notice that totals increased dramatically in 2012, finally surpassing the 2007 peak of the previous market. But even with the increase in the Fall of 2013 and the Spring of 2014, nothing could prepare us for the leap forward taken this season.

For convenience sake, we’ve broken the charts down into two eras and provided an average total volume for that period. For the four years from 2005-2009, the average sales volume was $523m. From 2010-2014, the average volume was nearly double at $1.003bn.

NY Cont 2004-2014 w avg

Matisse Odalisque to Lead Sotheby’s London Imp Mod Sale

Odalisque au fauteuil noir (9-12m GBP)

Sotheby’s continues to build aggressively on its strength in the Impressionist and Modern market announcing today Matisse’s Odalisque au fauteuil noir, estimated at between £9 and 12m, for its London sale of Impressionist and Modern art:

Helena Newman, Sotheby’s Co-Head, Impressionist & Modern Art Worldwide, said: “This exquisitely coloured painting is one of the finest of the artist’s celebrated ‘Odalisque’ paintings to come to the market.”

An exquisite portrait depicting Princess Nézy-Hamidé Chawkat, the great granddaughter of the last Sultan of Turkey, Odalisque au fauteuil noir (dated 1942 and estimated at £9-12m) is one of Henri Matisse’s finest paintings from his famed ‘Odalisque’ series, his depictions of the notorious concubine figure, with which he created one of the most recognisable emblems of eroticism in Modern art.

Princess Nézy, as she was known, was sent to live with her grandmother after the proclamation of the Turkish Republic and was spotted in the street by Matisse in 1940, who was drawn to her striking dark looks. Following a formal request, the Princess’s grandmother granted permission for the princess to sit for Matisse – accompanied by a chaperone – and over the course of almost two years she became his favourite model. Writing about Odalisque au fauteuil noir in a letter dated 17th January 1942, Matisse wrote, ‘I have also begun an important canvas of ma petite princesse de rêve’. It was only when the princess left Nice to be married in 1942 that Matisse sought a new muse.

Trophy Museums Are Not Just for Billionaires

Harvard Museum Renovations
Harvard Museum Renovations

The New York Times ran a thin, a poorly reported piece on the trend of big new museums underwritten by billionaires like Carlos Slim, Francois Pinault, Bernard Arnault and Elie Broad.

What does it take to become a world-class art collector? These days, you need to build not only a great collection, but a great museum to house it in. Over the past few years, a rash of art-loving billionaires have dedicated themselves, or their foundations, to the construction of spectacular new venues to show off their finest acquisitions.

Continue Reading

Inside Ruprecht’s Decision to Let Go

Bill Ruprecht

The New York Times has added to their story on Bill Ruprecht’s decision to move on from his role as CEO. Although they take a poke at Dan Loeb and suggest the hedge fund manager is too thin-skinned to have worked with Ruprecht over the long term, “Of the various counterpunches that Sotheby’s threw during the boardroom battle,” the Times says, “criticisms of Mr. Loeb’s art expertise proved some of the most irksome to the financier.”

Art expertise is hardly the point at this juncture in Sotheby’s history. The firm faces tremendous pressure from its position as an independent company and one that is public. It’s chief rival is a wholly owned subsidiary of a much larger luxury goods retailer and it seems to be evolving into an online luxury retailer under the big tent of its prowess in the Contemporary art market.

That Artemis, Christie’s owner, is a luxury goods conglomerate is far more important than the fact that it is a private company. Those who imagine taking Sotheby’s private would material improve the company’s value would have to ask themselves, how? A private independent Sotheby’s would need a great deal of capital investment to pursue a broader retailing strategy.

It’s hard to remember now, but the great imbalance between Sotheby’s and Christie’s in Contemporary art is only a very recent phenomenon. One could date it to 2011 or possibly back to the Yves Saint-Laurent/Pierre Bergé sale in the depths of the financial crisis. Whatever the sign post, the firms diverged in strategy some time ago. The irony is that Sotheby’s strategy was to focus on the higher value lots but they were outflanked by Christie’s aggressive focus amping up Contemporary art.

And, the Times makes a point of telling us that the decision has been long in the works, not that it was a reaction to last week’s sales much in the way that Tobias Meyer exited the company a year ago:Continue Reading

Wealth-X Puts Global UHNW (Assets of $30m or More) Population at 211,275, Up 6% from 2013

UHNW Luxury Spending

Wealth-X has released it’s 2014 report on the Ultra High Net Worth population. These 211,275 households with $30m in liquid assests or more are huge drivers of the global luxury business and cultural markets that are bound up in their emergence. As the chart above suggests, art is a central part of their identity. Owning globally recognized art, is a badge of membership in this rapidly growing global class and one reason the auction houses are seeing a strong influx of new buyers, often at the very top of the market.

Here’s Wealth-X on the luxury market in general:Continue Reading

Ruprecht to Leave Sotheby’s

Bill Ruprecht

The New York Times’s Dealbook is reporting that Sotheby’s CEO William Ruprecht has confirmed that he will relinquish his position:

Mr. Ruprecht, 58, who has led the company for the last 14 years, had been under fire during the battle with Mr. Loeb that lasted for months. Its board, which now includes Mr. Loeb, has been considering changes to the company’s leadership since August, people briefed on the matter said.

Here’s Sotheby’s release:

Ruprecht, who has served as CEO since 2000, will continue as Chairman, President and CEO until his successor is in place to ensure a smooth transition.

The Board has formed a Search Committee to oversee the recruiting of a new CEO and has retained Spencer Stuart, a leading executive search firm, to assist in the process.  The Committee is led by Domenico De Sole, Lead Independent Director.Continue Reading

Georgia O’Keeffe Jimson Weed = Record $44.4m

Georgia O'Keeffe, Jimson Weed 44.4m USD

The Georgia O’Keeffe museum in New Mexico sold Jimson Weed at Sotheby’s today and got a huge surprise:

Sotheby’s New York auction of American Art, Georgia O’Keeffe’s iconic flower painting Jimson Weed/White Flower No. 1 achieved a remarkable $44,405,000, more than three times the previous world auction record for any female artist*. Seven bidders immediately jumped into the fray, but it was a prolonged battle between two determined bidders that drove the price to this record height – nearly three times its high estimate of $15 million

The New York Times adds this interesting bit of price history:

Sotheby’s sold the painting twice before, first in 1987, when it was included in property from the estate of the artist’s sister and went for $990,000, and again in 1994, for $1 million.

A White Flower by O’Keeffe Blooms Green: $44.4 Million  (

Swiss Museum Debates Expensive and Unsought Responsibility of Gurlitt Hoard

Cornelius Gurlitt

The Bern Art Museum seems to have decided to accept the Gurlitt Hoard and the research responsibility that comes with it. The decision will be a relief to those who have become overwhelmingly frustrated with the German government’s inability to make progress on this festering problem, Swissinfo explains:

US litigation lawyer, Nicholas O’Donnell, who specialises in wartime restitution claims and produces Art Law Report, has been following the case closely. He believes that the Bern museum will accept the gift, but would likely request some kind of indemnification from Germany to face either the expense of receiving the collection, or restitution costs.

“Germany must be considering the possibility just to get rid of the problem,” he told

The Wall Street Journal gets behind the doors to hear what’s at issue with the museum’s decision:

The Kunstmuseum Bern’s legal team has been researching the artworks’ provenance since the museum was informed of the bequest on May 7. Barring a last-minute legal discovery that could scuttle the deal, the museum’s board of directors will accept the gift at its meeting on Saturday, the last of half a dozen deliberations regarding Mr. Gurlitt’s bequest. […]

Much of the delay in accepting the trove has come because the tiny museum needed to secure seven-figure private funding from Swiss donors to be as free as possible of German funding that the museum thought could taint the neutrality of their provenance research, people familiar with the deliberations said. […]

“It was obvious from the start, and a huge source of angst, that accepting the works would fundamentally change the identity of our museum forever,” said one major decision maker at the meetings. […]

“Either way you’re screwed. Not taking the works still leaves you with no paintings to bargain for exhibitions with. Taking them makes you ’the museum with the Nazi-Gurlitt art,’ ” said an art historian close to the Bern situation.

But for many voting Saturday, the temptation to establish a new identity for the museum overrides any qualms.

“If you had told us before he died, ‘Would you like to deal with the collection of some recluse whose father worked for the Nazis and have that tied to you forever?’ then we would have said ‘No way,’” said a person at the board meetings. “But ultimately when something like this falls into your lap of course you’re going to vote to take it.”

The Gurlitt art collection no one – and everyone – wants  (SWI

Swiss Museum Close to Accepting Nazi-Era Art Bequest   (WSJ)