It depends on how you look at last night’s sale at Christie’s. Viewed in the context of last season, it was a slight retrenchment to $140m. But viewed against the expectations—only 62% of the 82 lots on offer found buyers (many of those the top lots with biggest estimates)—the sale was a gut punch to Christie’s team.
Clearly something else is going on in the market right now. The big lots that failed were not only works trying to scare up buyers in the harsh glare of auction publicity after failing to find takers on the more discreet private market they were also the name-brand artists—Degas, Picasso, Renoir, Giacometti—where serious price gains had already been recorded. On the other hand, Hepworth, Archipenko, Nicholson and Vuillard all had strong showings that back up previously strong sales and suggest artists who might populate these sales more and more down the line.
Three years ago, few professionals foresaw the interest in surrealist works that seems to be driving these sales more and more today.
A final note: One reason the sale was overstocked with lots last night was that Christie’s had collected a substantial number of works before a group of estates finally committed which left the auction house with little wiggle room. Christie’s went from having a light sale in late summer to an over-stocked sale by Autumn: