Stalking the Billion-Dollar Art Auction


There’s no way around it. The single question on the minds of everyone who follows the art market—accepting the thundering momentum of recent sales and the failure of the broader economic environment to restrain it—is whether Christie’s will be able to top last season’s record of $975,222,500 in Contemporary art across two evening sales and two day sales.

Of that total, the Evening sale proper brought in $745m on the sale of 68 lots or just shy of an average Evening sale lot value of $11m. This season, Christie’s will have 82 lots in the Evening sale estimated in the region of $600m. If Christie’s is able to match last season’s average lot value and sell-through, the sale will weigh in close to $850m. That’s still not what the auction house was able to achieve by holding a second sale.

How high is high? We won’t know until November 12th



Heffel Capitalizes on Canadian Art as Emily Carr Opens at Dulwich Picture Gallery

Emily Carr, Totem Poles, Kitwancool Village (400-600k CAD)
Emily Carr, Totem Poles, Kitwancool Village (400-600k CAD)

Canada’s Heffel is gearing up for it’s November 27th sale of Canadian art just as one of Canada’s most valuable artists, Emily Carr, gets a UK exhibition at the Dulwich Picture Gallery. Last year, Heffel sold Carr’s The Crazy Stair for a record C$3.4m. This year, the auction house has five works by Carr led by Totem Poles, Kitwancool Village (400-600k CAD), above.

Other highlights of the Heffel sale include (all quotes from Heffel’s press release):

“Jean Paul Riopelle is an undeniable favourite each season, with five works represented at the fall auction for a total combined estimate of between $1.3M to $1.9M. His 1955 masterpiece Ombrages was first sold at the Pierre Matisse Galle Aventure Picaresque comes from the private collection of Riopelle’s late Montreal dealer Gilles Corbeil, and Sanstitre is a fine example of his working method using the palette knife.”Continue Reading

Haring & Basquiat, Pioneers of Rogue Public Art

Keith Haring, Untitled (250-350k)

One of the biggest challenges facing the art market is finding new ways to educate buyers about artists. A good example of what the auction houses are trying to do comes in the form of Glenn O’Brien’s essay on Christie’s website that tries to situate Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat within a broader transformation of art. Although Basquiat has gone on to be the more valued artist—and one wonders how much longer that will last—Haring was an innovator who could teach someone like Banksy a thing or two about dealing with aggressive souvenir hunters:

Both artists were workaholics, creating in vastly diverse media virtually non-stop. Their lives were work. I don’t believe it had anything to do with ambition per se, or greed, or any kind of obsessive compulsive mental states, but with an almost magical desire to reclaim the power of the visual artist with the public. It’s no coincidence that both became close with the idol Andy Warhol, because he was another relentless worker who ranged seamlessly from painting, sculpture and prints, to film, video, theater and publishing, but also because Warhol seemed to want to make art itself bigger—to achieve the level of influence by the pop stars he knew like the Beatles and the Stones. […]

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The Modigliani Trapped in Legal Limbo

Modigliani, Seated Man with Cane

The story of Oscar Stettiner’s Modigliani has been around for some time, including the Nahmad family’s use of an arm’s length entity to assert that they are not in possession of the work. Why the Wall Street Journal is running their story now isn’t readily apparent. But the paper does provide this interesting reminder of the problems with restitution cases. The Journal provides a look at the provenance and how a good faith buyer can end up in a spot:Continue Reading

A Portrait of Picasso Without Paint

Richardson Picass Camera Video

John Richardson has run out of women to build Picasso shows around but that doesn’t mean he’s run out of Picasso shows. Carol Vogel helps him explain the latest Gagosian venture which revolves around the artist and cameras:

“It’s a subject few people have gotten into,” Mr. Richardson said the other day, perched on the edge of a sofa in his Manhattan loft near Union Square, poring over images of Picasso, his studio and his work, as well as snapshots he took of his wives and mistresses. “It’s proved much more complex, fascinating and eye-opening than I’d ever imagined,” he said. “Picasso always had cameras, Leicas mostly, although we can’t find any surviving ones.”

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Caravaggio & the Experts: Science v. Connoisseurs

Caravaggio, Card Sharps

It has been a busy week for Caravaggio experts. A long-simmering court case involving the Card Sharps, above, is finally reaching court in London just as a connoisseur is claiming to have found the true original to the painters Mary Magdalene in Ecstasy, according to The Guardian:

Mina Gregori, 90, president of the Roberto Longhi foundation of art history studies in Florence and author of several books on the baroque painter, said she was 100% sure she had found the original Mary Magdalene in Ecstasy.

“I have become a connoisseur,” she said. “And I know a Caravaggio when I see one.”

A number of elements had combined to give her complete certainty, she said, that the oil on canvas she was presented with this year was the real thing.

There are several different versions of the Mary Magdalene in Ecstasy, and until now the one thought most likely by art historians to be the 1606 original was lying in a private collection in Rome.

Gregori, however, believes the game is up for all the pretenders. What she describes as the “memory archive” that all connoisseurs carry within them was activated, she said, when she saw the newly discovered painting.

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Knight Frank Makes Long Term Luxury Projections: Art Lags Cars & Coins In Near Term

KFLII 1510 proj

Knight Frank has a new report out capturing its view of the future of luxury goods over the next year, five years and 10 years. It’s always dangerous to make long-term projections (Knight Frank thinks Gold will be a long-term winner despite recent travails) and the reports author is quick to say as much. He cites the difficulty in predicting taste which has given us very cheap Old Masters and very expensive Contemporary art.Continue Reading