Over the last two weeks, $2.3 billion (R32.9 billion) worth of art was sold on auction at Christie’s, Sotheby’s and Phillips in New York. It’s a heady number, though several insiders seemed to feel it’s evidence that the art market is actually cooling down: if every artwork had reached its high estimate, the final tally would have been much higher.
Sure, the auctions could have done better, but it might be advisable for everyone to take a step back and put these seven-, eight- and nine-figure numbers in perspective.
The top five lots sold during New York’s November auctions totalled $457.8 million, which is $35 million more than it cost to build the entire 61 000m2, Renzo Piano-designed Whitney Museum of American Art in New York’s Meatpacking District. The top 10 lots totalled $678.8 million, which is the same number as the five-time European champion Barcelona soccer club’s total 2014 annual sales.
This isn’t to say that people shouldn’t buy art, or that they should value boats, planes or mansions over paintings; there are arguably far more frivolous things to blow $30 million on than a Picasso. But for insiders and casual observers alike, it’s easy to get swept away by the numbers that are airily tossed around during the sales. So, we’re bringing them back down to earth (see sidebar).