The financial news and opinion service Breaking Views tries to show its savvy with a brief entry on the art market. Though the conclusion is correct: the YSL sale does not portend a return of last year’s over-heated art market. Many of the assumptions in the analysis are wrong-headed. Here’s Breaking Views’ Jeffrey Goldfarb:
The impressive take was underpinned by a number of one-time factors. There was the setting: In a bid to put Paris back on the auction circuit, President Nicolas Sarkozy made the glamorous Grand Palais available for the event. Next was the cachet of Saint Laurent himself, whose taste was highly regarded. One of the Mondrians sold was the inspiration for one of his most popular collections. Then there was the Christie’s stamp of approval. Bergé owns an auction house, yet he saw fit to call on the global auctioneer’s star power to elevate the event’s profile further.
Finally, the Middle East added to the excitement. The quality and rarity of the collection attracted strong interest from Abu Dhabi and Qatar, which are accumulating masterpieces for the desert museums they are building from scratch. Buyers representing the emirates reportedly made multiple offers to buy the whole lot. Bergé is said never to have seriously entertained selling in that fashion. Nevertheless, the interest of the Gulf states was well known, and more than a few of the pieces are certain to turn up in the Middle East.
With wealth on the wane, many of the world’s rich are sellers, not buyers, of art these days, so it would be foolish for anyone to be too exuberant about the sale’s implications. Christie’s may have oversold the event as the sale of the century, even if it might have been the sale of the decade.
But just because a few billionaires dug deep for some scarce works owned by a single collector in a unique setting does not mean the art market can outrun the economic downturn.
It’s not clear where Goldfarb thinks he’s hearing talk of the art market out-running the economic downturn. The market–if thousands of individual actors can be said to have on intention–is looking for signs that it can survive the next few years. What the YSL sale tells us is that the very wealthy have enough confidence in the future of the world economy that they’re willing to spend some of their increasingly valuable cash on items for this one-time event. Many of the buyers are purchasing a connection to what they perceive as glamorous era.
In economic terms, it isn’t important whether they’re getting any real value with their purchases. What’s important is that they expect to replace their cash with enough cash in the future to make it worth their while to own that connection.
Any way you cut it, that’s a good sign for the future of the art market once we get past the dark days ahead.
Look Around for the Successor at News Corp. (International Herald Tribune)