Bloomberg tries to stir the pot on the bottom end of the market. But the analysis of the emerging artists who were bid up a few years ago at auction somewhat misses the point.
“No one is folding tent because auction prices have declined,” said Casey Kaplan, whose gallery is opening the artist’s solo exhibition in New York next month. Prices for fresh works by Scott-Douglas range from $25,000 to $80,000.
There are several reasons to sell low, according to Kantor.
“Some people are looking for a tax loss. Some people didn’t pay much. Some people bought for an investment,” he said from Los Angeles. “These are large works. You are paying storage and insurance.”
The headline is about works being sold for 90% losses but that’s only a shock to anyone who doesn’t follow the art market at all. Emerging artists have always been risky acquisitions. Whether works by Lucien Smith or Hugh Scott-Douglas can hold their value over time isn’t really an interesting question. Few artists have seen their markets rise steadily without pullbacks.
What’s more interesting is the prospect of an active market for these artists at all. Indeed, Bloomberg’s story takes for a fact that which still needs to be proven.
Scott-Douglas’s untitled canvas, one of several resembling a sheet of blueprint grid paper, is estimated at $18,000 to $22,000 at Phillips’s “New Now” sale. The work was part of the artist’s sold-out exhibition at Blum & Poe in 2013, when it garnered $25,000.
Kantor acquired the work privately in July 2014. Four months later, a similar piece from the series went for $100,000 at Christie’s. Kantor expected the prices to keep surging, but in February 2015 another canvas from the same series failed to sell at auction.
Before consigning his piece to Phillips, Kantor tried selling it privately for a year — through Blum & Poe, the work’s former owner, even on EBay. At one point he was asking $50,000 but couldn’t get an offer.
There are two open questions about this sale at Phillips. First, will the work sell at all? If it does, that’s an extraordinary sign that Scott-Douglas still has a market, it’s just priced at a different level. (Or, if we’re all being honest, the likely story here is that Kantor is trying to force Blum & Poe to support Scott-Douglas’s market and buy the work back from him publicly or risk having a failure.)
The second is that the story ignores the changes in the broader structure of the market for emerging art.
Christie’s is no longer holding in-person First Open sales. Sotheby’s has shifted its mid-season sales—once the venue for overflow consignments of hot emerging artists—to themed sales ‘curated’ by demi-celebrities.
These types of works have traditionally been Phillips’s bailiwick. A quick browse of this week’s sale in New York reveals fewer fallen angels than usual suspects. Even the Lucien Smith rain painting that’s on offer doesn’t fit with the article’s thesis. This one at Phillips is merely three feet tall, not one of the 100 or so works around eight feet tall that commanded the big money. It was also bought directly from the artist’s LA gallery.