Anticipating the art market is never easy. This season, the Impressionist and Modern market was particularly hard to read. Christie’s ran sale with heavy emphasis on the big names—Picasso, Monet, Giacometti—that drive the Imp-Mod market; Sotheby’s tacked off in a different direction with a mix of Expressionist and other names that don’t normally carry a sale in this category. Christie’s managed their sale to a solid sell-through rate at the cost of a strong headline number; Sotheby’s pulled off strong sales for its most important offerings (save one) and seemed to abandon the latter quarter of the sale to market forces and consignor pride achieving a strong sale number with a devil-may-care sell-through rate of 75%.
At both houses, the bidding was fractured, halting and wary. Buyers were happy to slice the salami in thin bidding increments or hold their fire until another bidder showed his or her hand. All of that suggests the high asset value Impressionist and Modern market is burdened by seller expectations. In response, buyers are staging something of a strike.
That is, the buyers who were not engaged in attention-seeking stunts. Several reporters were charmed by the collector who brought his dog to Christie’s auction. But when Judd Tully tried to speak to the buyer of two works, he got this reaction:
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