Last week’s Impressionist, Modern and Contemporary sales gave many a sense that confidence was returning to the art market just as it was to equity markets. Both rallied for days on end. This week it’s a different story; after the US equity markets rolled over, Christie’s had what seemed like a dismal Post-War and Contemporary sale. Here’s what Bloomberg said about the event:
“There were a lot of empty seats in the room,” Offer Waterman, a London-based dealer, said in an interview. “I was surprised by the number of failures. The material wasn’t as strong as last week and the mood was down.”
Names that were formerly something to conjure with–Bacon, Rothko, Prince and Riley–had no magic today. There is, however, something to be hopeful about in this sale. The problem with so much of the auction coverage is that it fixates on yesterday’s news. If a Bacon makes $80+ million in the last sale, then all Bacons going forward must be worth $80+ million. Any Bacon that fails to sell at the level perforce becomes evidence of weak market. (We exaggerate. But only a little.)
In a market shrouded by uncertainty, we shouldn’t be surprised that Bacon, a Rothko that was just recently on the market, a Richard Prince and some recent Bridget Rileys didn’t sell. (One might turn the question around and wonder who thought the Bacon could sell given the shellacking the artist’s work has taken recently.) What is interesting is that there were a number of smaller works from lesser known artists that produced bidding wars. The contemporary art market would seem to be rotating into new names. Names that are at a much lower price point.