Colin Gleadell does a little math and comes up with the observation that London’s Contemporary sales have 41% of the number of lots on offer compared to the previous year. The estimate level is even more dramatic with £48 million this year vs. £204 million last year, that’s less than a quarter of 2008. But the number to watch is the average price and there a crucial opportunity awaits. Gleadell says the estimates work out to an average estimated price of £102,000, which puts the sale in the range of a soft landing.
If you look at the charts here, you can see that an average price anywhere North of 100,000 pounds–even with the rapidly weakening pound–will put the price level within the range established from 2005-2007 and leave 2008 as a bubble anomaly. That’s a hopeful statement. Getting there won’t be so easy. And Gleadell explains why:
The dilemma for the auctioneers is that, on the one hand they need to persuade sellers that the market is still intact, that the rarest, and most desirable works have not fallen in value. On the other, they want to attract buyers with bargain prices.
“We judge each work on a case-by-case basis,” says Pilar Ordovas of Christie’s. Her top lot is Man in Blue VI, a dark, early portrait by Francis Bacon, which is being sold by the insurance and pensions conglomerate Aviva with an estimate of £4 million to £6 million. “The price is the same as it would have been six months or a year ago,” says Ordovas.
But the majority of works have seen a significant readjustment. A Mark Rothko painting on paper, Green, Blue, Green on Blue, was sold in November 2007 for $6 million, and is back again with a £2.5 million ($3.6 million) estimate.
A Jenny Saville painting, exhibited by Christie’s at the Maastricht Art Fair in 2007 with a £900,000 price tag, is on offer for £300,000.
On the other hand, Gleadell finds a number of signs that could make the cash-rich feel they’re living in a window of opportunity:
For those who bought at the beginning of the art boom, there are still gains to be made. At Sotheby’s, a 1969 painting of a woman on a reflective stainless-steel background by the Italian Michelangelo Pistoletto, bought in 2000 for £48,800, is now priced at £250,000.
Jeff Koons’s kitsch sculpture Stacked was bought in 1997 for what then seemed a princely $250,000, and is now offered for £2.2 million ($3.2 million).