The story of the last two evenings in London seems to be the lack of a story. Since the financial crisis—and the YSL sale—we’ve been repeatedly told that we’re in a masterpiece market where buyers are parking money in superlative works by the biggest names because of the dearth of investment alternatives.
This sale cycle there is a lack of big-name works from big-name artists but the stalled, sub-estimate bidding and sales on Basquiat, Bacon and Richter works suggest the top of the market may be starved for oxygen (that is, good work for sale.)
And yet both sales at Sotheby’s and Christie’s, along with Sotheby’s day sale, have shown spirited aggressive bidding for works that are not by marquee names. It is almost as if those who buy with their ears (we know, everyone says they don’t do it but others do) are taking a backseat to those who buy with their eyes.
Big multiples of the high estimates were made for Pistoletto, Polke and Soulage—top-drawer but not really marquee names. Judd Tully has this comment about one of the Polkes that sold well:
Sigmar Polke’s admired “Menschen wir Du + Ich (People like you + 1)” (1988), a kind of sociological parody of German life that sold to a telephone bidder for £1,665,250 ($2,605,617) (est. £800,000-1.2 million). It last sold at a Christie’s New York day sale in November 2004 for $477,900.
“Polke is a great artist,” said underbidder Nicolai Frahm. “I don’t think it was too pricey because to me he is more important than Gerhard Richter.”
Below the £1m-market there was still plenty of action for works by Urs Fischer, Cindy Sherman, Andreas Gursky, Jeff Wall, Antony Gormley, Thomas Schutte and Wade Guyton. These are all recognized artists but hardly names or works that are easily valued and exchanged as an art investor would prefer.