The Economic Earthquake Has Created a Unique Auction Season
The auction houses held their previews this weekend. A few days beforehand, they invited the press to look at the works on offer. At both houses there was a tension in the air, a mix of giddy relief and somber resignation. Three years of vertiginous growth has created sales that are more directly the product of specialists seeking out great works from collectors than ever before. That has created some of the best sales ever presented with a broad range of very good works on offer.
“This is really going to be one of the last opportunities to find fantastic material,” Christie’s Brett Gorvy told AFP. “If we go in any period of downturn — and I’ve lived through this in the Nineties — the sales are going to be much smaller.”
For passionate collectors, turning off the supply of great art is worse than the financial sector’s threat to their ability to pay for it. There’s much talk of serious collectors who had been sidelined by the free-for-all market being tempted back in with the dual prospect of once-in-a-generation buying opportunities and the promise that reckless money will be staying home.
“There’s no question there’s a fair amount of uncertainty and fear worldwide, which makes a significant number of people cautious about using money for art,” Sotheby’s chief executive Bill Ruprecht to another press outlet.
Whatever does happen, one thing is clear. Everyone recognizes that these sales are a special moment. Rarely does the economic outlook change so dramatically and quickly. The sales were assembled after a period of market caution when the art market was impressed with its own resilience in the face of economic uncertainty. The idea that the art market would not correlate to other assets allowed the auction houses to assemble these sales. The financial markets crash has allowed a wholesale revision in expectations. Its an exciting mix.