The International Herald Tribune’s Art Market Reporter Covers Asia Week
Art market reporters have been predicting a crash for years now. There are good reasons for this but they mostly all under the competitive pressures of journalism and a certain desire in the press to mock the wealthy. But Souren Melikian’s wrap-up of certain sales during New York’s Asia Week opens with a gleeful account of a few bad sales:
A massive cleansing of the art market is beginning. At Sotheby’s, which was the first to test the waters here since the financial tempest broke out, more than 43 percent of the Chinese and Japanese works offered on Tuesday crashed unsold, and at Christie’s larger and decidedly better sale on Wednesday, the failure rate was still 41 percent.
Just for the record, the comparable sales at Sotheby’s of a year ago had a sell-through rate of 56.4 % against last year’s 51%. So it went up. At Christie’s the sell-through was 63% vs. 70% a year ago. There it went down for the three sales that Christie’s reports together.
So Sotheby’s actually sold more of their lots this year. With slightly more lots, Sotheby’s had a 15% increase in lots sold. Christie’s had a slight decline. All of these numbers merely show that Melikian is focusing on the aspect of the sale that was not a “crash.”
Had he looked at the sale totals, there would have been a different story. Christie’s Fine Ceramics and Works of Art sale dropped 10.6% from last Fall’s Asia week: $19,342,550 vs. $17,298,788. Sotheby’s fell further on lower numbers: $7,657,238 down to $6,348,432. Less money for the same number of lots or more means the prices are falling in the aggregate.
Melikian blames the fall on the absence of young dealers from the mainland and Hong Kong:
As they surveyed the room, the more experienced members of the Christie’s team involved in the oversight of the main session may have had a sinking feeling. The young dealers from mainland China, so noticeable in the March sales for their big appetite for downmarket porcelain, lacquer, and sundry traditional items, were not to be seen. The top Hong Kong professionals and collectors were there, with the renowned dealer William Chak in the front row. But gone were many younger Hong Kong professionals who used to compete for the more modest pieces. Their absence made itself cruelly felt. Indifferent lots of modest or no merit fell unsold by the dozen while the finer works sold much as they used to in the past.
But we’re back to our logical contradictions with Melikian. In one paragraph he notes that quality still attracts great prices and he does his usual excellent job of describing the quality works, their appeal and the interested parties. As the numbers show, there were several lots that were fiercely contested and sold for multiples of the high estimate. Combine that with the lower aggregate number and you get a separation of the market into higher prices for high quality and lower prices for average works.
Later he suggests the market has corrected but claims there are great buys to be had:
Indeed, in the new market now reverting to where it stood before the mad inflation of the last two years, the good news is that speculation is receding fast. Great buys are again possible at every level.
Which doesn’t comport with his earlier disdain for the unsold works and his depiction of scrappy battles for the best items.
In the new Chinese market, gems soar dizzily, but duds crash (International Herald Tribune)