This round-up of the coverage of last night's Postwar and Contemporary Art Sale at Christie's is available to AMMpro subscribers. Monthly subscriptions come with a grace period of one month. Feel free to subscribe and cancel if you're not satisfied with our coverage and analysis.
The near universal response to Christie's $450m Postwar and Contemporary Evening sale was one that tried to balance the mammoth total with the dead room. Christie's expertly managed sale saw 96% of the 71 lots sell leaving little or no room for doubt that the auction house would make sure its merchandise transacted in one way or another.
This disconnect between strong totals and weak market temperature is being explained in a number of different ways from surrounding economic and political uncertainty to estimates getting beyond appetites to thinning ranks of potential buyers. All or some of these may be true (and we'll try to address each of them below,) but there is a question that takes precedence.
Why did Christie's bring so much art to auction after a year of sales that were substantially lower than the previous peak years of 2014 & 2015? A $450m evening sale would have fit in those years but seems out of place today. Indeed, the Christie's sale dwarves its competitors at a time when there's a lot of talk in the market about how thin the collector base is at the top end of the market.
Luckily, we don't have to guess. Christie's provided us with not one but two explanations. Now we just have to choose between them. At the press conference after the sale, Christie's CEO Guillaume Cerutti gave us the first explanation. The newly installed CEO seems to have been tasked with renewing Christie's drive to dominate the Contemporary art market as it has since 2012.
When Cerutti addressed journalists he left no doubt that Christie's main corporate concern is projecting strength, as The Art Newspaper's Dan Duray quotes him:
“If we needed the proof of the strengths of the art market, we have it,” said Christie's new CEO Guillaume Cerutti at a press conference after the sale. “If we needed the proof of the strength of Christie’s, we have it. If needed the proof of the strength of our teams we have it.”
The last time Christie's put its foot on the accelerator like this, it ended with the CEOs of both Sotheby's and Christie's sitting on the sidelines. At Christie's, it also resulted in the departure of the firm's long-serving head of Contemporary art. The young team who inherited the department seemed to be signaling in the press conference that they stacked the sale as proof of their business-getting prowess. Nate Freeman captured this in ArtNews:
“I had a lot of people saying to us, ‘Are you going to make it without Brett?’ ” said Loic Gouzer, who last month was named Post-War and Contemporary chairman, sharing that title with Alex Rotter, a rainmaker who Christie’s poached from Sotheby’s last year. “We miss him a lot, but we’re also very happy that we can do it by ourselves.”
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