New York art sea­son chalks up solid sales

Kuwait Times - - LIFESTYLE -

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

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