London’s week of Contemporary art sales isn’t finished yet. We’ve still got tonight’s “curated” sale at Christie’s that seems to have lost its impact in the wake of the UK’s political calamity. But the litmus test of the market is already coming clear.
Brexit has had little or no appreciable effect on the art market. Larger global macro trends—the rise of committed Chinese buyers, the increased focus on lower price points and rotation into “newer” names—have held sway all week.
In part because Christie’s held back its biggest ticket items for its anniversary sale, we can see in last night’s £39m sale a better snapshot of the market.
First, let’s dispel some of the knee-jerk 10%-discount talk we’re hearing as if dealers, auctioneers, collectors and advisors had been issued talking points from Art Market HQ. The Antiques Trade Gazette plucked a factoid—that 25% of the buyers in the Evening sale were British residents—from Christie’s post-sale press conference:
Christie’s reported notable strength in particular from British clients with 10 of the 39 works knocked down to buyers living in the UK. Jussi Pylkkanen, Christie’s global president who conducted the sale from the rostrum, said: “I’ve not seen a statistic like that in all the time I’ve been taking Contemporary sales.”
While we’re dealing with Brexit hysteria, let’s also stipulate that the withdrawal of the night’s cover lot, a Gerhard Richter abstract painting targeted for a £14m sale, was an indication of the exhaustion of the trophy Richter market and a sign of how fragile the market for works above £10m is at the moment.
The wonder isn’t why the work was withdrawn by its American “naked” consignor but how Christie’s convinced itself that the Richter market still had demand at this level. If the cover lot had sold at its reserve level, it would have more than doubled the total sales volume for Richters this year, according to Katya Kazakina’s figures on Bloomberg:
Richter’s auction sales declined from the high of $262.8 million in 2012 to $178.7 million last year, according to Artprice.com. In 2016, $17.6 million of his works have sold at auction. In February, another abstract painting by Richter, estimated at 14 million pounds to 20 million pounds, was withdrawn from Sotheby’s in London.
Look at those numbers! The eight-figure Richter market has shut off. Halfway through the year, Richter’s public sales volume is 10% of the previous year. No one doubts the artist’s importance but clearly there’s been change of heart on the demand side. Kazakina spoke to one art advisor:
“There was a froth to that market,” said Wendy Goldsmith, a London-based art adviser. “There’s been so many that have come up. Most likely everyone who wanted one has one.”
It should be pointed out, especially with Phillips selling its minor Richter abstract, that the pros in this space will tell you Richter’s market remains strong under $10m.
Formerly a name to conjure with, Richter’s not the only artist who seems to have lost his spell. Here’s Judd Tully on two works with sterling provenance by market-driving artists that both sold below modest estimates:Continue Reading