Scott Reyburn uses the price differential between Contemporary works and Old Masters to preview the Barbara Johnson collection of drawings coming up for sale at Sotheby’s in their London Old Master sales this July and some of her paintings that will be on offer at Christie’s. He’s right. These works are cheap. Reyburn offers this quote to explain why:
“Old Masters just aren’t sexy,” said the London-based art adviser Wendy Goldsmith, a former head of 19th-century pictures at Christie’s. “Supply is a problem. There’s so little on the market and it’s difficult to learn about. There are no young dealers coming through the ranks, and there just isn’t the same financial upside that you get with contemporary art.”
But there’s a little more to it than that. The lack of young dealers is a tell but also the absence of significant young collectors. What the Old Master market needs is a taste-making figure who can incite the competitive spirits of his or her peers to make a virtue of the field’s need for erudition and historical interest. A young dealer might fill that role but better that it be a dashing collector. That may seem far-fetched buy certainly no more bizarre than seeing some of the Contemporary artists we venerate today attract eight-figure prices. Ideally, buyers will be attracted by the value to be had. Which is a point made by Todd Levin:
“Brand-recognition is important,” said the New York-based art adviser Todd Levin, who curated many of the contemporary art purchases of the American hedge fund manager Adam Sender. Nineteen works from the Sender Collection sold for $44.6 million at Sotheby’s, New York, on May 14, doubling its presale estimate.
Mr. Levin also advises clients about buying Old Master paintings. “At the moment, for the price of a Christopher Wool you can buy a group of significant works by top-name Old Masters. The key is to be where everyone else is not. There are some amazing historical things to buy simply because they are amazing things.”
Where’s the Appetite for Old Masters? (NYTimes.com)