“The market is solidifying rather than moving, and that’s not a bad thing. The bubble is not bursting, it remains intact,” Vessegh said. “Buyers are becoming more discerning and, despite the stability in the market, sellers want the assurance of a guarantee.”
Take this quote from The Art Newspaper:
The results across the auction houses this week indicate the market is in full recovery after slumping between 2014 and 2016.
That impression comes from the pull back at the very top of the market during 2016. The period from 2014, when the market last peaked, to today has been a prolonged consolidation of prices. That is one reason the flipping at the very top of the market hasn’t been able to generate big results.
That long-term consolidation in prices, as well as what appears to be a great deal more activity at lower levels of still quite valuable market, has created a dynamic sales band in the low to middle seven digits:
“There’s a real sweet spot around the $3m-$4m mark,” said Alex Branczic, Sotheby’s head of contemporary art in Europe.
With so much activity in the middle market, there is mis-match between seller’s expectations on pricing and buyer’s estimation of value. That may explain the continued presence of guarantees in a market that ought not to require them given the pricing stability.
Phillips had guarantees on a third of their Evening sale lots. Probably the highest proportion given the small size of the sale. But the auction house is in a different competitive position from its rivals.
Whatever the arrangements, Phillips proved that it is market for pickers, as Judd Tully points out:
Allen Jones’s highly stylized composition of a pair of legs in vampy stiletto-heels, T-riffic (1966), which sold to Nick Acquavella of New York’s Acquavella Galleries for £580,000 (£705,000 with fees), well above its high estimate of £350,000.
Lucian Freud’s nearly 16-by-22-inch Small Naked Portrait (2005) in oil-on-canvas sold, again to Acquavella and again for above its high estimate, for £650,000 (£789,000 with fees).
Colin Gleadell noticed that some big collectors with ties to larger auction houses took advantage of the pricing arbitrage to get their works featured prominently:
Then there was an early painting by Georg Baselitz, P.D Idol (1964), that also carried a notable provenance, if more discreetly. Though not stated in the catalogue, the seller was Dallas collector Howard Rachofsky, who acquired it from Hauser & Wirth in New York in 2006. The unsettling image, looking like something out of Alien, sold just within estimate for £1.8 million ($2.5 million).
Three works thought to have come from the collection of GAP founder and major collector Don Fisher all had third-party guarantees. Anselm Kiefer’s 12-and-a-half-foot-wide painting Der Meistersinger (1981-2) received one bid from the artist’s dealer Thaddaeus Ropac before selling on the low estimate for £1.8 million ($2.5 million).
Sigmar Polke’s double-sided, semi-transparent painting on polyester, Untitled (1989), slightly disappointed, selling on a single bid at its low estimate for £969,000 ($1.3 million), so probably to the third-party guarantor. And a 1964 Cy Twombly, similarly guaranteed, sold on the low estimate for £609,000 ($840,000). […]
However, it was interesting to see that Dutch corporate collection Triton, which had sent work for sale at Sotheby’s and Christie’s, also included Phillips in the mix. Five works from its holdings were sold over the course of the evening, all above estimate, and none were guaranteed. They included […] an erotic bronze sculpture in an edition of 10 by Marcel Duchamp that sold to Thaddaeus Ropac for £501,000 ($692,000), the second-highest price for the edition.
With Phillips playing an increasing role in the market, the dynamics of this stable environment may soon shift. How is anybody’s guess.