Staying with Scott Reyburn’s story in Bloomberg previewing the Contemporary art auctions, the overall mood of the sales is restraint. Dealers and experts alike are looking for an orderly retreat to a more stable and manageable market. Though “anchoring,” the behavioral psychological idea that sellers are reluctant to let go of price once it gets fixed in their minds, remains a serious issue.
Here’s Sotheby’s Cheyenne Westphal with a frank assessment of the problem:
Westphal said she hoped the auction would help establish new pricing for contemporary art. “We’d like people to say, ‘The damage has been done, this is the market now, let’s move on from this,’” said Westphal.
The fact that price levels remain a mystery has helped keep work off the market:
“A lot of people are holding off selling,” Pilar Ordovas, Christie’s European head of contemporary art, said in an interview. “They want to see where prices are going.”
Dealers also recognize that their fate is tied to an orderly market:
“The auction houses have found it difficult getting material. On the other hand they didn’t want to take on a lot,” said London dealer Thomas Dane. “It’s difficult to value things at the moment. The market will settle down and opportunities are going to emerge. Dealers are still doing business.”
So the auction houses focus on creating a sale that can be seen as successful. Echoing comments previously made by Sotheby’s Tobias Meyer–in their marketing film on the state of the Contemporary art market Meyer expressedly took on the mission of showing that there is an orderly market for Contemporary art–Cheyenne Westphal sums up the ambitions for London’s sales:
““We wanted to create a small, attractively estimated auction that’s going to achieve a high selling rate and some good prices. A lot of time was spent thinking about estimates.”