Sotheby’s took its medicine last night selling $125 million worth of art against a $202 million low estimate. Some of the biggest lots failed to find buyers or were bought at big discounts from the prices in mind when they were consigned.
Still, some bidders and buyers were grabbing with both hands. There was Valentino Gravani in the front row bidding hard. Eli Broad, who rather vocally has been staying out of the market these last few years and predicting a round trip on prices much like the one we’re seeing right now, bought $8 million worth of art, according to Carol Vogel. Larry Gagosian was buying too. He bested Valentino for Roy Lichtenstein’s Study for New York State Mural (Town and Country) with a $3.9 million bid. Later, auctioneer Tobias Meyer looked toward Gagosian with a wide-eyed, beseeching glance as Lichtenstein’s Half Face with Collar fell without a bid.
An anonymous telephone bidder backstopped the market buying Jeff Koons’s Cheeky for $4 million; Willem de Kooning’s Untitled VI for $4.6 million and Figures in a Landscape for $1.8 million; Lichtenstein’s Interior with Red Wall for $7 million; and Tom Wesselmann’s Still Life #58 for $2.4 million.
The wholesale buying is a good sign. It suggests that someone sees value in these works that will return sometime soon. Carol Vogel closes her story with Eli Broad making exactly this point:
Buyers were clearly careful about parting with their cash, wondering if better bargains were around the corner. “I don’t think we’ve reached the bottom yet,” Mr. Broad said as he was leaving Sotheby’s after the sale. “We may be close.”
If that’s true–and it seems pretty quick to be calling a bottom–the Contemporary art market at 2006 prices is not so dreary after all. Though, Lindsay Pollock suggests we’re not there yet:
“Bonuses are going to be really bad this year” on Wall Street, Dallas-based art economist David Kusin said. “That’s going to be the single biggest hit for the newest, freshest, least-seasoned work.”
Pollock also quotes Broad in a gleeful mood:
“It’s a half-price sale,” said Broad, a 75-year-old billionaire who predicted for years that prices would fall. “Things are a little more reasonable.”
Judd Tully adds to the cheering from collectors:
“It’s a bad night for Sotheby’s,” said Berlin dealer Heinrich zu Hohenlohe, “but a good night for the art market.” Six of the 26 guaranteed lots failed to find buyers [ . . . ] New York collector Aby Rosen bought Jean-Michel Basquiat‘s huge oil painting on paper Ribs Ribs from 1982 for $626,500 (est. $1-1.5 million). “When the price was right for great objects,” said Meyer after the 70-minute sale, “the audience responded and bought it.”
A Dreary Night for Contemporary Art at Sotheby’s (New York Times)