Ebsworth Collection Makes $323m
This commentary by Marion Maneker is available to AMMpro subscribers. (The first month of AMMpro is free and subscribers are welcome to sign up for the first month and cancel before they are billed.)
The Barney Ebsworth collection wrapped up with a day sale of $5.23m with the majority of the top ten lots selling for multiples of the high estimate and only one unsold lot out of the 49 offered. Ebsworth’s well-known eye seems to have benefited the lower priced lots across the board. The Evening sale’s total of $317m was driven by the strong sale of Ebsworth’s Edward Hopper painting, Chop Suey, which made $91m once the third-party guarantor received his or her rebate for making the early commitment. The buyer remains unknown but Christie’s hints that the work would be on display for the public in the future had several collectors speculating the buyer was Alice Walton for her Crystal Bridges museum in Arkansas.
The other big ticket items by Willem de Kooning, Jackson Pollock and Jasper Johns all sold for prices at or near the low estimates reflecting both the strong estimates and Christie’s advance work to secure third-party backers and bidders.
Imp-Mod Estimates Battle Buyers
The Impressionist and Modern sales totaled $368m for Sotheby’s and $355m for Christie’s, no small business. The very visible failures of a $40m van Gogh at Christie’s and a $30m Marsden Hartley at Sotheby’s may have given the sales the feeling of coming up short. Each house seemed to choose different path toward a similar result. Christie’s relied heavily on Picasso and Monet, the market stalwarts even if bidders were reluctant to meet the seller’s expectations. Sotheby’s, on the other hand, moved toward a different body of primarily Expressionist work but the firm wasn’t willing to defend its sell-through rate at all costs.
‘I’m not in the business of owning art.’
With all of the talk of speculators taking risks that might blow up, it is rare to see one of those speculators step forward so publicly and express panic. The Fine Art Group’s Philip Hoffman spoke to the New York Times’s Scott Reyburn and all but begged for mercy. After The Art Newspaper’s attempt to turn third-party guarantees into The Big Short, we’re finally beginning to see where the damage lies when the guarantee market goes too far. The impact falls on speculators for whom owning art is a threat, not an opportunity. This is particularly poignant in Hoffman’s case because his business began as an art fund and would have presumably benefitted from owning art had it been able to combine providing guarantees with holding art.
Beauford Delaney Joins African-American Artists Seeing Contemporary Success
In Phillips day sale today, this untitled 1967 work by Beauford Delaney sold for nearly four times the high estimate. Add Delaney to the list of artists who might make the leap from African-American category sales to Contemporary sales in future seasons.
Mark Tobey Returns to Prominence in Day Sales
Anticipating the demand for Mark Tobey’s work, James Tarmy published a long piece on what’s been holding the artist’s market back. The story is a lesson in market infrastructure and its effect on an artist’s reputation and long-term value. Tobey was represented by legendary Basel dealer Ernst Beyeler but his last gallery show there was in 1991. Since then, the artist’s estate has been a confusing mess with two warring committees authenticating the work of an artist who was once considered a peer of Jackson Pollock. Tarmy details the battle and the nascent growth in Tobey’s market:
- “Tobey’s reputation has begun to flicker back to life. Last year, the Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Venice held a retrospective of Tobey’s work, the first in Europe in nearly 20 years. It then traveled to the Addison Gallery of American Art in Andover, Mass. In June, one of his paintings sold for a record-breaking $1.6 million at Sotheby’s in Paris, double his previous auction record. In October, Pace Gallery in New York opened a show of Tobey’s art that will run through Jan. 12. ‘It’s a very mysterious market, because things rarely come to auction,’ says Joe Baptista, the Pace dealer who spent two years organizing the show. ‘But I’m hoping with the exhibition that beyond the market, we’re allowing people to get intimate with a large body of work and really get a sense of who Tobey is—and what his contribution is.’”