Sotheby’s $290m Evening sale of Impressionist and Modern art ended with loud and sustained applause last night from the Sotheby’s staff. Ostensibly they were congratulating the winner of the last doggedly battled-over work, a Soutine that two buyers were unexpectedly tenacious about. But the real expression was heartfelt relief, under external pressure from the several camps, Sotheby’s performed exceptionally well.
Indeed, the sale lacked the fireworks—though there were several exciting skirmishes—and the overall sense of a central make or break sale. Instead, steady commerce put together what was possibly their best Evening sale ever in the category despite being the second highest total.
During the press conference, Sotheby’s David Norman remarked that 15 years ago he had estimated the late Picasso that sold for $30m to David Nahmad. At the time, he told the consignor it would make $1.5m at auction. That’s a 20-fold increase in 15 years.
The art trade is aware of that. The evening’s top lot was sold to William Acquavella who made sure that Josh Baer, Kelly Crow and Carol Vogel reported the fact. Increasingly the art trade needs publicity to match buyers and sellers and source new work, another wrinkle in the ever-changing art market
Katya Kazakina captured some of the relief from the trade:
“I felt depressed after yesterday,” said Paris-based art adviser Loic Malle, referring to the $144.3 million tally at Christie’s Impressionist and modern art sale. “Today we are back to the history of art, not just the branding. The works deserve the prices.” […]
“There’s plenty of money,” said David Nash, co-owner of Mitchell-Innes & Nash gallery, exiting the salesroom. “There’s lots of bidding for good pictures as long as they are fresh to the market and properly estimated. You see this again and again and again.”
After the auction, collectors and dealers milling around the salesroom seemed far more positive than they had been just 24 hours ago. “The material was more interesting and hadn’t been on the market recently,” said Richard Nagy, a London dealer.
Could there still be cracks in the market?
“Cracks?” he replied. “They were papered over.”
Judd Tully got the same message from his sources as they filed out of the room:
“Wouldn’t you agree it had a better feel tonight?” said Nancy Whyte as she strode out of the salesroom with two of the more important buys of the evening. “I feel there’s a resistance to high estimates. People are savvy and it has to be the right estimate. That’s the mantra of the week.”
That sentiment percolated among the dealer set, including London’s Jonathan Green of Richard Green Gallery, who bought two Impressionist works from the Zieseniss group. […] “Last night [at Christie’s] made people nervous,” Green said. “Over-estimating pictures doesn’t work. You scare people away. Tonight good pictures sold incredibly well and the market is absolutely fine.”
As if to underscore the point, Tully pulled out the previous sales figures for some works that have transacted perhaps too quickly:
“Femme a la robe rose” (1917), with the seated model’s dress painted in a pale shade of terra cotta pink, brought $4,197,000 (est. $4-6 million). That painting last sold at Christie’s New York in May 2010 as part of the Michael Crichton collection for $4,562,500, so it was another quick return. The seller was lucky in that it found itself amid something of a buying frenzy. […]
Henry Moore’s bronze “Working Model for Reclining Figure: Prop” (1976) sold for $2,285,000 (est. $2 million-$3 million), close to the £1,497,250 ($2.4 million) it made at Christie’s London in February 2012
Dan Duray of GalleristNY chatted with one of the lions of the art market:
Leaving the room around lot 30, the dealer Richard Feigen was characteristically surly, calling most of the bidders unsophisticated.
“The Mondrian was one of the most interesting paintings and it didn’t sell,” he said. “Look at this Picabia,” he said, flipping through a catalogue to Volucelle II (c. 1922), which set the record for the artist at $8.79 million. “It’s a piece of decorative garbage.”
Other pieces of “decorative garbage” seem to be clogging up the market as Duray points out with this sedulous piece of research, not all boats rise in flood:
Still, if the idea that art appreciates reliably had been the motivation for some of the purchases last night there were a number of counterarguments available in the sale. In three consecutive lots: Joan Miró’s Tête, oiseau, étoile (1976) failed to sell at $1.7 million, even though it had sold for $1.3 million (with premium) at a Sotheby’s day sale in 2006; Marc Chagall’s La fuite (1911) sold for just $605,000 tonight, though it sold for $728,460 at Sotheby’s Paris in 2011; and Femme à la robe rose (1917) by Picasso sold for $4.2 million when it sold at Christie’s New York for $4.6 million in 2011. One of the final lots, Femme attablée (1959) by Picasso, passed at $1.1 million despite having sold for $1.4 million at Christie’s London in 1989.
Kelly Crow picked up on where the buyers came from:
The art market is a high-stakes table all its own, and Sotheby’s said collectors from 13 countries anted up on Wednesday—notably those hailing from the U.S., Switzerland and Latin America. Collectors from the last group, including Brazilians, took home Francis Picabia’s $8.8 million “Volucelle II,” a confection of black-and-white stripes dotted with colorful, bowling ball-shaped orbs, as well as works by Marc Chagall. Chinese collectors also underbid heavily for classic examples of Impressionists like Camille Pissarro and Claude Monet.
Sotheby’s Soaring Night (Artinfo)
Sotheby’s Strong Sale Anchored by $50 Million Giacometti Bronze (Wall Street Journal)