Does it matter that women artists are guaranteed far less than men? Maezawa sells some low value works; David Martinez sells some higher value ones; Sotheby’s wrangles Bouguereau into its HQ..
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Is 47% of Next Week’s Sale Guaranteed?
The Financial Times picks up on a report from Arttactic that examines the guarantees in major sales over the last four years from 2015 to 2018. The report says that nearly half of the value of next week’s Contemporary Evening sales or $361m has been guaranteed. According to Arttactic, this is up from 39% in in 2016 but down from 58% in all of 2018.
It should be pointed out that the guarantees represent a percentage of the value, not the lots. By lot, the guarantees are closer to a third or a quarter of the works on offer. Arttactic suggests the guarantees are some sort of a dark force in the art market representing, “an invisible hand in driving the direction and sales levels of the market.”
There’s a good argument to be made for the opposite view. Guarantees are a form of transparency. Given the huge volume of art being sold in New York next week, it is safe to assume that a large number of the works being sold with guarantees would trade hands privately were it not for the guarantor giving the seller the option of attracting a higher bid. If, as has been the case in many instances in recent years, the guaranteed works sell to to those offering the early backing, we can assume that privately negotiated price was the right one and would never have been recorded publicly in an earlier era.
We haven’t read Arttactic’s full report. But some of the select findings offered on the company’s sight promote some confusion about guarantees. Take this example:
- Is the Guarantee market fueling gender bias in the auction market? Female artists only accounted for 5% of guaranteed value in Post-War & Contemporary evening sales between 2015 and 2018.
Using guarantee levels as a measure of an artist’s merit or a measure of gender equality seems misguided. One might as well measure artists by their square footage. This is in no way meant to be an argument for gender inequity or complacency about the issue. One simply has to ask whether having more works by women artists guaranteed would do anything to promote their stature. Guarantees are a measure of market liquidity, not value.
Arttactic offers another murky example that might help explain the issue. Richard Diebenkorn’s reputation as an artist has not changed in any meaningful way over the last five years. But his market has expanded due to a flood of material that recently arrived in the marketplace. Just before Arttactic began to collect data on guarantees, $32m worth of Diebenkorn’s work was sold in the Bunny Mellon auction with a guarantee from Sotheby’s (the guarantee would have been lower than that strong prices achieved in that sale.)
For the most part, Diebenkorn’s work doesn’t trade often on the market. But in 2018, a major collection of his work from the Zuckers came to market with a global guarantee from Christie’s. The guarantee was a big risk for the auction house. It was not clear that so much material by the thinly traded artist could come to market in one season. But Christie’s made it work selling all of the Zucker’s Diebenkorns and some others for nearly $50m. That was in May of 2018 which gave both sellers and specialists time to consider the market and bring another guaranteed work to sale in November. It would make more than $22m.
This is how Arttactic presents the same scenario:
- Richard Diebenkorn was among the top 10 artists by levels of guarantees between 2015 and 2018. In 2017, $1.25m of his work was guaranteed but in 2018 $72.1m of his work was guaranteed.
All that Arttactic has captured here in its guarantee research is a measure of actively traded markets.
Maezawa Not Broke … Yet
A few months ago, an active art trader suggested because Yusaku Maezawa’s Zozo internet fashion retail company had seen its stock fall substantially from a July 2018 high of 4700 yen to a low of 1670 yen in early February (it’s now back to around 2000 yen or the price it was in January 2017) that we might see some of his dramatic art purchases on the market again before too long.
Over the weekend, the trader was proved sort of right. Maezawa posted on Twitter that he was selling an Ed Ruscha painting and a Warhol flower painting at Sotheby’s this season. The combined low estimate is $3.5m. That’s not really a sign the Japanese collector who has spent hundreds of millions of dollars on art is puking up his assets.
David Martinez Probably Isn’t Broke Either
Over the weekend, Katya Kazakina posted on Bloomberg a short note identifying David Martinez, an active buyer and seller of art, as the consignor of Andy Warhol’s $50m Double Elvis and Frank Stella’s rare $25m black painting Point of Pines. The Stella had been purchased directly from the artist ten years ago and was being sold, according to Christie’s, with the artist’s blessing.
This would not be the first time Martinez has resold work within a relatively short time-frame.
Scenes from the Bouguer-rodeo
A cast of thousands—okay, several—at Sotheby’s appear in this New York Times saga of the $25m Bouguereau’s journey from Paris to New York. Published last week, the story examines the process of removing, packing, shipping, re-stretching and mounting the massive painting in Sotheby’s new galleries.
Like a giant flat-pack furniture assembly project, Sotheby’s drafted all of is in-house talent, including materials expert Jamie Martin:
- “We have to know what will stick to what,” Mr. Martin said of the painting’s eventual restretching. “The question is, is it wax resin or glue paste? And I don’t guess — I analyze it with straight-up science.” (It turned out there were two waxes and one synthetic adhesive.)