New York art season chalks up solid sales
The autumn art auction season has wrapped up in New York with successful sales of just over $2 billion albeit in a more cautious market than the bonanza records chalked up in the spring. The star of the season was an Amedeo Modigliani nude, “Nu Couche”-which went for an eye-watering $170.4 million at Christie’s. The second most expensive piece of art ever sold at auction, the Modigliani nude was bought by Chinese taxi driver turned billionaire Liu Yiqian, one of his country’s biggest art collectors. The record, also set by Christie’s earlier this year, is held by Pablo Picasso’s “The Women of Algiers (Version 0),” which fetched a staggering $179.4 million in a record-breaking spring season.
The fall’s second highlight was Roy Lichtenstein’s iconic pop art “Nurse,” which Christie’s sold for $95.37 million in the same auction. Sotheby’s parted with $1.15 billion of Impressionist, modern, post-war and contemporary art, narrowly beating Christie’s $1.1 billion, but there were fewer star lots than in May and a smattering of empty seats.
The rival houses, both founded in 18th-century London, claimed success and dismissed talk that the art market was in jeopardy due to a flagging Chinese economy and a plunge in world markets in September. But on Friday Sotheby’s announced it was offering staff voluntary severance packages following a summer review that decided “the company would benefit from a lower and more flexible cost structure.” “We elected to begin limited cost reduction with voluntary separation programs that enable staff who choose to leave to do so with enhanced benefits,” it said in a statement. Sotheby’s paid tribute to the “tremendous talent” within the firm and said it looked forward “to entering the promising new year fresh, optimistic, and ready to invest to realize even more success.” After the company’s evening sale of post-war and contemporary art on Wednesday that well surpassed conservative estimates, Sotheby’s auctioneer Oliver Barker rejected talk of a stagnating industry.
Bit of readjustment
“A lot of money has traded hands over the last 10 days and I think actually in many ways, that is proof enough that the market is still very strong and resilient,” he told AFP. The November sales set new auction records-for Modigliani, as well as for a string of 20th century artists including Cy Twombly, Lucio Fontana, Louise Bourgeois and Lichtenstein. “The market is strong,” Christie’s auctioneer and global president, Jussi Pylkkanen, told CNBC television. “But there’s also a little bit of readjustment,” he said. “People are a little bit more rational, perhaps a little bit more cautious, which I think is a very good thing.” Among the other big sellers were Picasso’s “La Gommeuse” and a Vincent van Gogh, “Paysage sous un ciel mouvemente,” which sold for $67.4 million and $54 million respectively at Sotheby’s. But the week began and ended with a whimper. Sotheby’s laid on great fanfare, donning black tie and offering drinks and canapes before the sale of art collected by its late chairman, Alfred Taubman, who served time in jail for price fixing in 2002. The two and a half hour auction saw strong bidding but it just scraped the bottom end of its pre-sale estimate, and top lots failed to sell-an Edgar Degas and a Jasper Johns, both valued at $15-20 million.
Christie’s final Impressionist and modern art sale on Thursday scored no records and exacted some criticism for not including any lots with estimate prices in the $10 million or above category. But much of the most dynamic bidding of the season was at the lower end of the market, where some works valued $1-3 million or less went for way over their pre-sale estimates. “Clearly, there is a longer, stronger” clientele at the lower value range, Barker said.
Dancers Matthew Baker and Jeremy ‘Jae’ Neal with Abraham performing a scene from ‘The Gettin’ during a dress rehearsal before opening night at the Joyce Theater in New York. — AFP