Might Provide Clarity We Don’t Have
Despite all the fury about the closing of the Rose Museum at Brandeis University, there’s no indication any of the works will be sold any time soon. The conceit of New York’s Art World Fears Brandeis Sale piece is that the Rose has A+ Contemporary work that, if sold in today’s lower market, would set benchmark prices lower than the last three years of outrageous prices.
That would embarrass those who bought art recently. Unfortunately, there’s little to save the 2006-2008 buyers from red faces except time and inflation. Does anyone, especially the dealers, think otherwise?
If the Rose art went on the market, it would be clear how much less everything is actually worth. “So far, there’ve been no new quality benchmarks that would indicate the real values of art, whether high or low, in today’s market,” said New York art dealer Perry Rubenstein. “A Rose sale would, sadly but certainly, add clarity.” In other words, the last thing dealers want now is lower “comparables” for prices.
Doesn’t Rubinstein mean that he feels the Rose collection should not be sold when he says “sadly.” Whatever his intent, even with the pain involved, the clarity would only be good for the market. Like any other market, the problem isn’t falling prices. The problem is the inability to discover a price. Sotheby’s London sale showed that there are prices buyers and sellers can agree upon. And though those prices are down something like 50% from the peak, they’re still not bad prices.
Rubenstein seems to be saying that establishing any price would be good for the market. Which makes sense because the Contemporary art market is bigger than the transactions that took place in the last three years. If you want to sell that work you bought in 1990, you need a price. It doesn’t matter if the price is 50% of what it would have been last year or the year before. You didn’t need to sell then; you may need to now. But you can’t find a buyer if they can’t see established prices.
Perhaps we’re putting words in Rubenstein’s mouth. More to the point, no work from the Rose museum will come to market soon enough to help buyers or sellers find clarity. Brandeis has already made it clear that, even if the Mass Attorney General were not involved, they would be taking some time to go through the collection and determine what art, if any, can be sold.
Actual Price (New York)