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Kelly Crow had the big reveal for last night’s sale at Christie’s. The owner of the Monet grainstacks was a Colorado fund manager who made strong gains maybe because he bought before the big bull market in art started a dozen years ago:
Fourteen years. That’s how long famed Denver stock picker Tom Marsico owned Claude Monet’s pink-and-purple painting of a “Grainstack,” having bought it around 2002 when it was worth roughly $12 million.
Fourteen minutes. That’s how long it took for Christie’s to auction off Mr. Marsico’s masterpiece, as five collectors locked in a dogged bidding war pushed “Grainstack” to a final sale price of $81.4 million—breaking Monet’s record and sending a boost of confidence into the beleaguered art market overall.
If it was hard to price the Monet—they were looking for $45m and got nearly twice that—it was even harder to get a bead on where to put the estimates on the second lot of the evening. Here’s Ermanno Rivetti:
Wassily Kandinsky’s late work Rigide et courbé (1935), which once belonged to Solomon Guggenheim, was the second artist record of the night, selling for £20.6m ($23.3m with fees) after some especially slow bidding which, at one point, was going up in $100,000 increments. The work, which was guaranteed by a third party, was eventually bought by a US adviser in the room. “This work was the most interesting pricing exercise I’ve done all year. We had no comparative work to go on; it’s utterly unique and has been off the market since 1964,” said Olivier Camu, the deputy chairman of Impressionist and Modern art for Christie’s Europe.
The next work was another surprise buyer, this time designated collector of the moment, Yusaku Maezawa. Here’s Katya Kazakina on the buying from Asia:
Collectors from Asia accounted for 11 percent of bidders and buyers at Christie’s on Wednesday. Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa snapped up a jewel-like 1938 portrait by Pablo Picasso of his lover Dora Maar for $22.6 million, Christie’s said after the auction. It was one of 11 Picasso artworks in the sale, 10 of which found buyers.
The sale also included a late Picasso that was bought at the height of the last market but still in the middle of the rise for this particular subset of the master’s work. The seller got a solid return according to Nate Freeman:
Homme à la pipe (1969), which sold for a within-estimate $18.4 million. Its high estimate had been $20 million. The work had last appeared at auction in November 2007, at Sotheby’s New York, where it made $11.8 million.
What did this all mean? Well, for some, this was an exercise in allaying fears, both about the slowdown in top line sales numbers and about the recent election in the US. Katya Kazakina got this:
“We needed to have this auction cycle to boost market confidence,” said Christophe van de Weghe, an art dealer in New York. “We can clearly see tonight that very high-quality art brings very high prices.”
And she got this, as well:
“People held back on the supply because they weren’t certain about the demand,” said David Norman, a private art dealer and until recently co-chairman of Impressionist and modern art at Sotheby’s. “Now that it’s clear the demand is there, the question is will the supply return?”
What’s particularly interesting about those comments is that they come from two private dealers. That raises a question: are the private dealers also seeing a reluctance to put out feelers to sell what might be sought after works?
A third private dealer told The Art Newspaper something different:
“it was a good, solid sale,” said the London- and New York-based dealer Nicholas Maclean, although he also believes that there is more activity in the private sphere.