Last week's sales demonstrated there's a very wide gap between the $90m art works and the rest of the market.
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.)
Live Auction Art’s Chart of New York Contemporary Sales
The Hidden Masterpiece Market
If this last week’s sales are any indication, the art market has made a decisive shift. Some would like to see this as a shift toward valuing historically under-represented populations. In this view, the market has come to recognize the importance and value of previously marginalized artists opening a space for their future success. And that may be so.
But there’s equal evidence to suggest the top of the auction market has fundamentally changed. Where there was once a nine-figure masterpiece market and a high eight-figure market for works driven by aggressive bidding, there now seems to be a limit to the top of the masterpiece market at $90m—and an empty gulf down to the $30m level with very few works residing therein.
The very top of the market, now the exclusive property of Christie’s which has shown it will go to great lengths to own that position, was Barney Ebsworth’s Edward Hopper painting Chop Suey and Joe Lewis’s David Hockney double portrait, Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures). These are two very different paintings by very different artists with greatly different historical significance that converged at a remarkably similar price point.
Measured by price history for the artists, the Hopper was probably sold as a bit of a bargain when one of the expected no-limit bidders decided to drop out at $75m. The Hockney took a bit more effort—including the threat to sell the work to any bidder with cash in hand—to get two hopeful buyers to drive the painting to the $80m low estimate. By many accounts, the consignor fully believed the painting to be worth quite a bit more than that but the market remained predominantly skeptical.
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