What Really Happened at the Frieze Auctions?
The Master, Judd Tully, sounds a remarkably somber assessment of what the Frieze sales mean for the art market:
[C]ontemporary sales yielded the highest percentages of unsold material in recent memory, echoing the circa 1991 decline from that era’s art boom. The situation does not auger well for the more major series of auctions coming up in New York next month, when a newly sober art market will reassess the value of its greatest stars. [ . . . ]
“I definitely had higher expectations,” said a somber Michael McGinnis, head of contemporary art at Phillips and a senior partner in the firm, moments after the spirit-dampening sale. “I think it’s just a matter of mood, and the mood couldn’t be worse. [ . . . ] I’ve never seen anything like it. It looks like we need more focus and fewer lots.”
But the excellent Colin Gleadell offers some insight:
But these results obscure the point that big profits were still being made. A wall hanging made from bottle tops by the African artist El Anatsui, for example, bought two years ago for £30,000, sold for almost £350,000. At Phillips’s, a bronze sculpture of an airport luggage trolley by the Indian artist Subodh Gupta, bought two years ago for around £45,000, sold for £139,000. [ . . . ] At Christie’s, [ . . . ] a late Willem de Kooning painting that was bought two years ago for £1.7 million sold for £2.7 million.
The sales were also assisted by an element of opportunistic buying. If the market continues to go down, the thinking goes, great works are less likely to be sent for sale. As a result, collectors made bids, even though there were no other competitive bids, to ensure they grasped their treasure. A small, early portrait of a girl reading by Lucian Freud sold on a single bid for £2.2 million to a buyer who feared that if it was unsold, it would not return to the market.
Similarly, a classic double portrait of Marilyn Monroe by Warhol was snapped up by art adviser Hugues Joffre for £3.7 million, nearly £1 million less than estimated, not because it was a bargain, but because it was a great painting.
Funereal Mood at London Auctions (ArtInfo)