Godrey Barker Has the Last Word; Anders Petterson Doesn’t Really Disagree.
Godfrey Barker has a fine summary of the stakes invovled in the upcoming Hirst sale:
Those Hirst pieces that deal with the themes of death, decay and here today, gone tomorrow are the works museums want, the art by Hirst that is likely to last. The doubt lies elsewhere – with the mass-produced spot, spin and butterfly pictures manufactured by Science Ltd to which Hirst’s main, if not only, contribution is the concept, and which have become exceedingly numerous over the past decade. ( . . . ) One of his major backers, the Cork Street dealer Helly Nahmad, has gone public with his disillusion. He announced this year that “he no longer believed in Hirst at these prices” and that he’d sold up and grabbed his profit. Nahmad was one of the 1990s forcers of the Hirst market, the bidder who broke the six-figure barrier for his work before Charles Saatchi dared. What will make the sale at Sotheby’s an unmissable piece of theatre is that the world will get an answer to the question: how many others think like Nahmad? Rubbish, says the Hirst circle to the disaster theory. The best Hirsts are headed for £25m each ; the auction will be fine.
As far as the suggestions that White Cube has an un-sold “mountain” of work, Barker breaks the numbers down and puts the sale in perspective:
Hirst’s output isn’t a mountain – one estimate puts it at between 3,000 and 4,000 works; it’s tiny compared with Warhol’s (19,000-plus artworks) or Picasso’s (over 24,000). But the 223 lots at Sotheby’s have been carefully calculated. Hirst knows what his buyers in Tokyo, Los Angeles and Hoxton want and he’s made it for this auction. No, say his people, he hasn’t been starving the market and driving up prices since 2006 by hoarding works for this auction. He’s been selling new art quite normally through dealers as well; 223 lots isn’t flooding the market and breaking the rules, it’s an exact flood to fill an exact hole.
Bloomberg ran a story last night based on a report that attempts to make the Hirst sale a crucial litmus test of the market. According to Art Tactic’s Anders Petterson:
“It’s a very important event,” said Petterson in a telephone interview. “It will set the tone for the autumn season of contemporary auctions and potentially further than that.”
Bloomberg offers some quotes from one of the most skeptical market participants:
“I’d be surprised if Sotheby’s didn’t sell at least 85 percent of the lots,” said the New York-based art adviser Todd Levin, director of the Levin Art Group, in a telephone interview, when asked to comment on the report. “Hirst and (his manager) Frank Dunphy are smart guys. Do you think they’re really going to ask a question they don’t know the answer to?”
There are two problems with trying to make Hirst a barometer of the overall art market. The first is that Hirst has consistently defied expectations. Art Tactic–which issued the report on sentiment surrounding the Hirst sale–originally predicted the Pharmacy sale would flood the Hirst market and drive down his prices. The Pharmacy sale had the reverse effect by adding liquidity to the Hirst market and exciting interest from new collectors. The current sale extends that logic to global buyers but at a much higher price point. The Pharmacy sale grossed one tenth of the estimate for this sale.
Though Art Tactic is predicting a successful sale, his past performance might suggest the smart money would want to fade the sale (not that the art market has the mechanisms to do that):
ArtTactic predicted that the Hirst sale would perform well. In a poll it conducted among 51 market insiders, 78 percent felt the total would fall within Sotheby’s estimate range, said the report.
The second reason not to use the Hirst sale as a market barometer is that Hirst’s market is not a proxy for the entire art market in any form. The one thing that has been abundantly clear over the last four years is that various markets are too deep and varied to use any artist as a bellweather. As the reaction to the Indian show and the Hamptons event proves, Hirst is a very particular artist with some interesting audiences but no where near universal appeal. How Hirst’s sale would signal the performance of the Old Master market let alone works of Modernism or, say, Latin American art is hard to discern.