Souren Melikian went to the Asia Week sales in New York and the Islamic and Indian sales in London and comes to some convenient conclusions in the New York Times. The noted scholar has a point, the sales of Asian works of art were very strong especially for works with great provenance like the Sackler collection at Christie’s.
That success, however, can hardly warrant this grandiose and sweeping conclusion:
In the art market as in war, the worst danger is often unexpected. Professionals dreaded the decline of demand in the current recessionary gloom and it did not happen. The market is as bullish as ever. It is the drying up of supplies that is threatening to cause havoc.
The latest sales of Asian and Middle Eastern art demonstrated that the problem now affects all areas of the market. Buyers pounce on art — when there is something to pounce on.
There’s also the usual issues of basic logic in Melikian’s market reports. Here the strong sell-through in the Sackler sale is adduced as evidence of this raging demand
What remained in family hands was a mixed assortment of some extremely fine pieces and a large contingent of middle-of-the-road works covering the whole range of Chinese art, from Shang bronzes of the 12th century B.C. to Qing porcelain of the 19th century.Miraculously, bidders wanted nearly all of the above, spending $10.87 million on 198 of the 199 lots in a historic session unique in Chinese art market annals for this 99.5 percent success rate.
Melikian, himself, concludes that the Sackler sale was helped by strong participation from Mainland and Hong Kong buyers and that top items were blessed with what amounted to an Imperial provenance. But the real pretzel logic comes when Melikian reverses the formula for London’s Islamic sales. There buyers sat out because the quality of goods was so low. This may be the case but all we have to measure that assertion with is Melikian’s assurance that he knows what’s good and what’s not.
As the spotlight switched to London where Christie’s was holding a sale of “Art of the Islamic and Indian Worlds” on March 31, the paucity of goods was painfully obvious and only 140 of the 237 lots found takers, realizing a total £2.46 million, or $3.94 million. This failure rate did not reflect a lack of eagerness from would-be buyers, but only the scarcity of anything desirable. Extremely modest items sold brilliantly for what they were
Another interpretation of these sales is that they have little in common. They may be strong demand in Chinese works of art while there is weakening interest in Islamic objects. It may also be that the Islamic sales were just weak due to perceptions of a economic dislocation in the Middle East. Prof. Melikian may be right about the demand far outpacing the supply in these fields but there ought to be a little more evidence undergirding his view.
Bidders Clamor for Dwindling Art (New York Times)