The news that Sotheby’s has purchased Mei Moses Art Indices which will now be, according to Sotheby’s release will be known as Sotheby’s Mei Moses, has reminded Noah Kupferman of Christie’s Education of a previous incarnation of a Sotheby’s art market index.
He points to this reference from Philip Hensher writing in in the Guardian during the run-up of prices a decade ago:
In 1967, Peter Wilson, then chairman of the board of Sotheby’s, initiated the Times-Sotheby Index, which charts the cost of pictures just like any other commodity. It proved a self-fuelling engine. By demonstrating that pictures could be thought of in this way, the index guaranteed that they would be. […] The effect of the index was to encourage people, whatever their personal taste, to seek out good investments. There are, now, only relative bargains, not absolute ones. […] Under the influence of the Times-Sotheby Index art now is more expensive in real terms than it has ever been. Historical prices achieved are nowhere near the prices paid now.
Which brings us to the question many are asking right now. Why did Sotheby’s buy Mei Moses?
The answer would appear to be something of a follow up to the original purpose of the Sotheby’s-Times index and the numerous other indices that have followed. Namely, the work of an art index has been done. Art isn’t a commodity. These indices don’t make it so no matter how many times that comment is raised.
Some art has become, it is undeniable at this point, an asset. Now Sotheby’s is less oriented toward creating a public index to provide confidence and transparency for its customers than it is looking to provide its customer base with data that might support their decision-making.