The Art Newspaper’s Melanie Gerlis has a tut-tutting story about the number of recent works that have gone from museum shows to the auction block. In the case of a Magritte from the MoMA retrospective, the work was sold while the exhibition was in mid-tour.
Why this trend should be considered a bad thing—aside, of course, from the short-sightedness and inconvenience of disrupting a traveling exhibition—is not clear. The unstated premise seems to be that art gaining value because it has been recognized by curators is a bad thing. But isn’t that what the market needs to see more of?
Too many observers complain that the top prices go for works that are not of the “best” quality. That’s true but besides the point. The art market measures the distribution value of available works, not the art historical value of works. For the latter, we have museums. But when museums do their job and identify the art historical value in a work, we hear complaints when the same value is recognized in the distribution market.
Is there room for abuse in this process? Yes. But not as long as museums take their role seriously. And would it be a terrible thing for the public and the art historical establishment to have collectors eager to make loans, even becoming solicitous of curators?
Last month, a European collector sold René Magritte’s Les Chasseurs au Bord de la Nuit (the hunters at the edge of the night), 1928, at Christie’s in London for £6.6m. The auction came just weeks after the work was shown in New York’s Museum of Modern Art (in “Magritte: the Mystery of the Ordinary, 1926-38”, which closed on 12 January). At the time of the sale, only two other works by Magritte had sold for more.
This month, Sotheby’s is due to sell three works by Lowry that were on the walls of Tate Britain until 20 October, as part of its auction of 15 works from the collection of the businessman Tony Thompson, who died just after the Tate’s exhibition (“Lowry and the Painting of Modern Life”) opened. […] A key work by Christopher Wool, Apocalypse Now, 1988, which had been promised to the artist’s retrospective at New York’s Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, sold privately before the show opened last October and was then sent to auction at Christie’s the next month. This was not, however, before the work had been heavily promoted. It sold for $26.5m, the artist’s record price at auction; his previous record was $7.7m, in 2012.
Pump up the value (The Art Newspaper)