Christie’s Couldn’t Attract Bidders to the Star Lots
Fresh to the market is a common phrase at the auction houses and private collections are usually the best source of works that get called “fresh to the market.” That held true last night at Christie’s–even with the dis-connect between estimates and economic reality–for many of the lower priced lots, especially the Surrealist lots by Magritte and De Chirico. But the big works by Manet and Rothko, which could have carried the evening as they did at Sotheby’s on Monday, didn’t attract bids.
Lindsay Pollock has this:
“There were some wonderful bargains to be had for people who have cash,” said Nash, after the sale. [ . . . ] `Prices are at the levels of two years ago,” said New York dealer David Nash. [ . . . ] Last night’s sale was an addition to the usual calendar, an auction comprised of fresh-to-the-market, but uneven estate material. “In a bull market, they would have got away with this,” said London dealer Guy Jennings, of Theobald Jennings Fine Art. “It was overly ambitious.” Jennings said that when these sales were organized in the summer, it was “a different world” and art prices were better.
The Master, Judd Tully, had these observations:
In total, 41 of the 58 lots offered found buyers for a respectable buy-in rate of 29 percent, but the majority of sold lots went for substantially reduced, and in some cases fire-sale, prices. There were plenty of bargains for those willing to make bids. “I bought exactly what I wanted,” said London dealer Libby Howie, who acquired two works on paper: Pablo Picasso’s pen-and-India-ink drawing Trois Nus (August 5, 1938) for $578,500 (est. $700,000–1,000,000) and Henri Matisse’s Le Modèle for $362,500 (est. $600–900,000). [ . . . ] Long Island dealer David Benrimon acquired three significant works, including two bargain-basement deals: Georges Braque’s Nature morte à la corbeille de fruits for $842,500 (est. $1.2–1.8 million) and Joan Miró’s Femme et oiseau devant le soleil for $2,154,500 (est. $2.5–3.5 million). “Tonight you had great opportunities,” said the dealer. “It’s between 20 and 25 percent below market value,” he added of the works he purchased. [ . . . ] Benrimon’s also acquired Rene Magritte’s gouache-on-paper L’Empire des lumières, for which he paid $3,554,500 (est. $2–3 million), a record price for a work on paper by the artist. Though this was one of the few works to exceed its estimate, the dealer speculated that six months ago, it would be have been worth $4 million. [ . . . ] Another high achiever was Alice Neel’s stunning portrait Robert Smithson, which went to a telephone bidder for $698,500 (est. $300–400,000). The work was chased by at least four bidders, including dealers Jeffrey Deitch, David Zwirner, and the ultimate underbidder, Andrew Fabricant of New York’s Richard Gray Gallery.
(The bad news after the jump.)
Carol Vogel adds this:
Of the 30 works from the Lawrence collection, the highlight was expected to be “No. 43 (Mauve),” a classic 1960 Rothko painting. The dark abstract canvas was estimated at $20 million to $30 million, far beyond the $1.5 million the couple paid for it at Sotheby’s in 1988. Mr. Burge opened the bidding at $10 million, but he had no takers. (Before the auction, experts grumbled that the painting had condition issues.) [ . . . ] Other casualties were a 1970 abstract drawing by de Kooning, estimated at $500,000 to $700,000, and a 1964 crushed metal sculpture by John Chamberlain, estimated at $900,000 to $1.2 million. [ . . . ]
After the sale, many people criticized Christie’s for trying too hard to market what were not perceived as great collections. The auction house had printed separate hardbound catalogs for each collection and several promotional brochures trumpeting the sale.
Here’s Reuters Christopher Michaud:
Taken with Sotheby’s auction of Impressionist and modern art on Monday, which while buoyed by a $60 million Malevich and a new Degas record, fell $110 million short of its low estimate, the Christie’s $47 million total was another sign the days of ever-increasing art prices have come to an abrupt end, at least for the time being.
“It was all down to packaging,” Mr. Roundell said. “It was mutton dressed as lamb.”