Souren Melikian has been making the case of late that the art market is not depressed on the demand side but lacking in supply that can excite it. Central to his point of view is a rejection of the current rage for late Picasso, which he refuses to follow the band and praise. To his thinking, Sotheby’s sale was only marred by the two over-estimated lots:
But consider the rest of the sale. It could not have done much better at any time. Remarkably thin, it managed to take in $61.37 million with 29 lots out of the 36 that were offered. Given the weakness of some, the 80 percent success rate was brilliant. Anything remotely saleable found a taker. Pictures recycled after having spent only three years out of the art market left their consignors with a whopping profit. This began with Lot 1, a view of “The Seine Valley at the Damps, Octave Mirbeau’s Garden” done by Pissarro in 1892 in a sketchy Neo-Impressionist manner. When seen at Christie’s London in June 2006, it had cost its buyer, Richard Greene, £960,000, the equivalent of $1.76 million at the time. This week it rose to $2.54 million. Granting that the London dealer naturally took his cut when selling it to the consignor, the latter still did pretty well with his little flutter in the art market.
As for the astonishing success of 10 Tamara de Lempicka portraits, Melikian has a novel–and keen–explanation:
Looked at from a broader perspective, Lempicka’s success ties in with the accelerating preference given to art that can be taken in at a glance and has an instantly recognizable style, like branded handbags or shoes.
Its immediate punch accounts for the ever-rising popularity that Expressionism has enjoyed in the last two decades. Edvard Munch’s ultra-simplified riverside view of “Rowboats at Asgardstrand,” bought for $176,000 at Sotheby’s New York in May 1983, was sold this week by its inspired owner for $1.98 million.
A Scarcity of Goods Hovers Over Art Market (New York Times)