The Wall Street Journal’s long story on the Munch auction culminates with this interesting unpacking of the potential sale price. Stripping away the popular interest in the work which may have little bearing on the ultimate buyer’s behavior (earlier in the same piece Sotheby’s Philip Hook estimates that one would need a net worth of $8bn or greater to be a serious bidder: Hook puts that at about 10 serious collectors.) The WSJ goes on to trace Simon Shaw’s campaign to develop the top end of the Munch market (which has been slightly muddied with interference by his cross-town rivals)
Sotheby’s has long been laying the groundwork for the Munch market, engineering eight of the top 10 Munch sales in recent years. “We have quite consciously and strategically attempted to build his profile and build a global marketplace,” says Mr. Shaw. In 2008, Sotheby’s sold “Vampire,” a moody painting of a flame-haired woman kissing a man’s neck, for $38 million, the artist’s auction record. It went to an American after a contest against Russians and others, according to people familiar with the bidding.
But because so few Munchs have come up for auction, collectors don’t have much of a sales history to rely on, which could hurt bidder confidence. “Fertility,” a Munch pastoral scene that adorned a 2010 Christie’s catalog cover, failed to sell at all.
That’s not strictly correct. Fertility was guaranteed by a third party who bought the work. The question is whether that buyer—not rumored to be a collector but another intermediary—has been able to sell the painting. If they haven’t, a record sale for Scream would likely be to their advantage.
Interestingly, David Nahmad puts an oar in here (though let’s all remember that the Nahmads are talking their book):
Monaco art dealer David Nahmad says he might bid on “The Scream” if the action stays around $80 million, though not if it soars higher. It’s a fraught investment, he says, arguing that the name “Munch” is not as instantly recognizable as others and the resale value is not guaranteed: “If I have the choice to buy a Picasso or a Munch, I would prefer to buy a Picasso,” he says. “Everybody knows everything about Picasso, Matisse, Cézanne, Monet. If you go to somebody in South America and say there’s a Munch to buy, he’ll say, ‘Who’s he?'”
Nahmad, however, is not alone in wondering whether the Munch painting has strong interest from real buyers:
New York art dealer David Nash, who ran Sotheby’s international Impressionist and modern department for many years, says that though he expects the work to fetch a high price, he’s still surprised by the auction house’s “Scream” strategy. “There doesn’t seem to be much justification for such a high estimate,” he says. “They’d be better off to put a more realistic estimate and let the market determine what the final price is going to be.”
Finally, we get some non-helpful guesstimating that seems more geared to claiming later that one got the price than actually having any real knowledge of who might pay what:
Others are more bullish: Skate’s Art Market Research, a global art market analyst, estimates the work will sell between $92.5 million and $123.4 million, a figure it arrived at in part by looking at sales of other famous works by artists such as Paul Gauguin and Vincent van Gogh.
Selling the Scream (Wall Street Journal)