Art + Auction‘s Impressionist and Modern sale report from New York’s May sales is available on line. At this juncture, it’s most interesting for Souren Melikian’s anguished view of the market. There is, he says, too much money and not enough right thinking out there. The report is titled Trophy Hunting but Melikian doesn’t think these trophies are any prizes. When the market values something he disapproves of, the buyers are status seekers; when they overlook a big name artist like van Gogh, they’re uneducated. But when the pieces he likes go for high prices, that validates his opinions.
Here’s Melikian on Christie’s May sale:
Enormous prices were paid here and there, and six world records were set, while mediocrities fell unwanted. It was one of the most curious sessions I remember attending, with intense interest, triggered by true rarities, alternating with moody boredom as works of limited merit came up and nevertheless sold, sometimes quite well.
So they were bored but still bidding?
An even more revealing record was set moments later, as Monet’s 1873 Le pont du chemin de fer à Argenteuil fetched $41.5 million. Described in words, the work sounds fantastic. ( . . .) Yet this is far from being Monet’s greatest work. Sadly for new institutions and trophy seekers, not much from this early Impressionist phase of his work remains outside museums, so they must chase the second-tier pieces.
And, of course, the benighted art buyer missed out on the best works in the sale passing up the opportunity to get a van Gogh Melikian admires:
In short, in the market today, discourse matters more than artistic merit. Even famous names may fail to help works jump their reserve hurdles when connoisseurship is needed to apprehend their beauty . . . .
Foolishly bidding on some lesser Degas paintings:
The buyer may have felt that these acquisitions were bargains. Unfortunately, they betray closer familiarity with price charts and other market research than with art.
Trophy Hunting (ArtInfo)