Christie’s Impressionist and Modern sale continued the auction house’s streak in the category of gauging the market wrong. Last year at this time, the department seemed to have learned its lesson and presented a tight sale with a strong sell-through rate. Though last night’s tally exceeded the previous year’s by 45%, the failure of so many works, the over-reliance on Giacometti (where Sotheby’s was doing better with Picasso) and dealer complaints about quality have furthered the idea that Christie’s does not have a steady hand on this category.
Christie’s isn’t the only house to have had a tough Impressionist and Modern Evening sale in the midst of a market boom. It’s just had more than its fair share in recent years. But in the context of the current market where asset price inflation should work to the Impressionist and Modern category’s favor, the momentum continues to shift toward Contemporary art. With the near universal opinion offered around that no one sees danger ahead for the art market as a whole, the liability for Impressionist and Modern art as a category lies in the feeling that it is becoming a sleepy backwater.
Kelly Crow captured these comments:
After the sale, Amsterdam collector Matthÿs Erdman said Christie’s set estimates that appeared too high, particularly for some material that looked mediocre compared to Sotheby’s offerings the night before.
“People go for trophies, and I think Christie’s had trouble getting their prices right,” Mr. Erdman said. “Even in this market, you can’t get away with everything.”
Christie’s Chief Executive Steven Murphy said the house had a “bumpy night” and that his staff would look harder at their estimates moving forward. But Mr. Murphy said he didn’t think the sale portended a downturn in the market overall.
“The masterpieces still flew,” he said.
Carol Vogel caught some of the frustration in her coverage:
“Some of the works were too esoteric,’’ Mary Hoeveler, a New York art adviser, noted. “They simply didn’t have broad commercial appeal.’’ […]
“It was day-sale material,” commented Dominique Lévy
Judd Tully heard similar complaints:
Still, the sale left a flat taste to some observers.
“Like always,” said London dealer Richard Nagy, who attended but didn’t bid at the sale, “overestimated things of mediocre quality don’t sell. It’s a really simple formula.”
As if to prove the point, the few works that did stand out drew determined and sustained bidding (as well as deeper interest from those on the sidelines as Katya Kazakina found out about the evening’s top lot, a Kurt Schwitters:
“It’s so obvious that collectors are focused on rarity and great quality,” said Skarlet Smatana, curator of the George Economou Collection in Athens, which specializes in modern German art.
The 43-by-31-inch painting was considered large for the German artist (1887-1948), experts said. It came from the estate of well-known German collectors Viktor and Marianne Langen, whose holdings have been selling at Christie’s since May.
“It was the only work of its size and year left in private hands,” Smatana said. “We were interested but not at $20 million level.”
Christie’s ‘Bumpy’ Sale Anchored by $23.8 Million Schwitters (Wall Street Journal)
At Christie’s London Auction, Little Action (New York Times)
Christie’s Falls Flat on High Expectations (BLOUIN ARTINFO)