A tone of blasé resignation seems to be creeping into the inner circle of the Contemporary art market even though Sotheby’s $294m sale showed demand for a broad range of established artists and a smattering of new names. After Monday’s free-for-all charity sale at Christie’s market observer Josh Baer called a top. Last night at Sotheby’s despite many strong prices for a range of works and nary a Warhol to be seen, the response was more resignation than excitement.
Out on the sidewalk after the sale, Carol Vogel got this reaction:
“I guess a million dollars doesn’t buy you much anymore,” remarked Stephen Mazoh, a private dealer.
And Judd Tully got an explanation for the failure of the night’s big Bacon (see below) followed by an echo of Baer’s market top call:
“Still,” remarked New York dealer Roland Augustine later, “it was a very strong sale and it’s remarkable that the market continues this way. We’re pretty close to the top now, so I think it will plateau soon.”
Interestingly, Katya Kazakina spoke to an art advisor who sees hot money coming back to the market though it is unclear whether he is referring to the works offered straight from artists to benefit the Whitney, the startling prices for Nate Lowman and Dan Colen or the trophy sales:
“The speculative element is returning to the market,” said Jonathan Binstock, senior adviser in postwar and contemporary art at Citi Private Bank. “There’s more money to spend on riskier opportunities, ones that would have seemed unappealing just a few years prior.”
On the failure of the large Bacon portrait that had not been seen in public for decades, Judd Tully had this explanation:
“It’s very simple,” said Faggionato, “too high of an estimate. It’s not complicated and it didn’t attract any bids.” The dealer also said the painting had changed hands fairly recently at a high price, close to the over-reaching estimate.
The other artist who surprised to the downside was Jeff Koons. Peter Brant’s provenance could not put two familiar works over at the prices quoted even after the opening success of the rare early work was a raging success selling for nearly three times the high estimate at $9.4m:
Dealer David Nisenson compared the later lots with the Koons light box, whose appeal he understood. “It’s early, it’s totally deadpan, conceptually it’s very much what early Koons is about,” he said, “and it’s a unique piece. You have to be a real purist to pay that much for it, but that’s really a piece for purists.”