For a strong set of sales last night at Christie’s, the mood the following morning was surprisingly down beat. Here’s what Bloomberg’s Mary Romano caught:
“There are several things at play: a general sense of caution given the recessionary concerns, inherent weakness in the euro, fair and auction fatigue and a market preference for superior-quality works,” Clayton Press of Linn Press LLC, an art-advisory firm based in Ewing, New Jersey, said in an e-mail.
Just shy of 90% of the lots on offer at Christie’s sold and yet there’s a feeling of caution. Certainly Phillip Hoffman of the Fine Art Fund seems to have been overcome with caution when he was seen making—and then withdrawing—a bid on top lot of the evening which ended up selling on one guaranteed bid.
Perhaps the perception problem comes from the lack of explosive upward movement in prices. The art market has come so far that it may be difficult to remember that these sales are still records even if there is little in the way of eye-catching bidding.
Colin Gleadell captured some of noteworthy action—like Joe Bradley’s almost £1m sale—even if the numbers didn’t set off alarm bells:
Eleanor Acquavella paid £578,500, or $922,129, against a £300,000–400,000 estimate for Rachel Whiteread’s Untitled (Twenty-Five Spaces) (1994–95), consisting of 25 resin casts of the space beneath as many chairs. The artist’s previous record was the £445,250, or $887,305, paid in July 2008.
There was profit taking last night:
Martin Kippenberger’s Falsches Zeichen der Lord Jim Loge (False Sign of the Lord Jim Loge) (1985) was sold in February 2006 for a low estimate £142,400 to UK property investor Guy Delall, and sold to the same Asian telephone bidder as the Kiefer for £302,500 or $482,000 (estimate: £250,000–350,000). The difference in performance between the two paintings over the years was largely due to the different levels of demand previously, which is never scientifically predictable.
And some loss making too:
Anselm Kiefer’s Lasst Tausend Blumen Blühen! (Let a Thousand Flowers Bloom) (1999), bought reportedly by Georgian business tycoon Bidzina Ivanishvili in February 2007 for a record £1.8 million against a £300,000 low estimate. Now the estimate had increased to £700,000–1 million, but the price went down, selling to an Asian buyer for £1.2 million, or $1.9 million.
All of which represents a health market.