DE­SIGNS OF THE TIMES

Re­cent sales fig­ures from five of the world’s top auc­tion houses sug­gest that the over­all col­lectible-de­sign mar­ket is on the rise and con­tem­po­rary styles could be poised for a big come­back.

Robb Report (Malaysia) - - Money & In­vest­ments - By LARRY BEAN

The over­all mar­ket for 20th-cen­tury de­sign made a strong re­cov­ery in 2016, even af­ter a sharp fall in 2012 fol­lowed by three flat years. Art deco pe­riod fur­nish­ings and decor ac­counted for the great­est value of sales in 2016, but the vol­ume of sales from that era de­clined com­pared to 2015. Mean­while, in­ter­est in post­war-mod­ern and con­tem­po­rary works trended up­ward.

Twen­ti­eth-cen­tury de­sign can be bro­ken up into roughly five styles and time spans: art nou­veau (1900–1920), art deco (1920–1945), post­war-mod­ern (1945–1970), post­mod­ern (1970–1990) and con­tem­po­rary (1990–2011). Detnk — which is an on­line mar­ket­place for col­lectible de­sign, a show­case for de­sign­ers, and a self-pro­claimed think tank ded­i­cated to in­te­rior de­sign — re­leased a re­port that analy­ses sales prices and vol­umes for each pe­riod. Us­ing sales data from auc­tion houses Christie’s, Sotheby’s, Phillips, Dorotheum and Wright, the re­port also in­cludes the Detnk De­sign In­dex, which sum­marises data into a sim­ple num­ber to as­sess the mar­ket’s cli­mate year af­ter year.

For 2016’s mar­ket ac­tiv­ity, that sim­ple num­ber is 145. This fig­ure be­comes mean­ing­ful only when you com­pare it with the num­ber for 2015 and find that it’s nearly 12 points greater, in­di­cat­ing strong over­all mar­ket growth. It’s also more than 50 points

greater than the De­sign In­dex for 2008, when the mar­ket bot­tomed out dur­ing the Great Re­ces­sion. How­ever, ac­tiv­ity is still down from 2012, when the in­dex peaked at 175.

“I was sur­prised by the fall in the mar­ket in 2013,” says ar­chi­tect and de­signer Rabih Hage, who founded Detnk. “But since then, we have seen a steady ma­tur­ing of the mar­ket, which is re­main­ing more steady with­out much volatil­ity.” Hage views the 2013 in­dex de­cline as more of a cor­rec­tion than a crash. “Af­ter the fan­tas­tic year of 2012, peo­ple started of­fer­ing a great deal of lots for sale be­tween 2013 and 2015, think­ing they would be able to sell as they had in 2012. Un­for­tu­nately, the great suc­cess of 2012 didn’t con­tinue, but now we have more sus­tained growth.”

In­deed, ac­cord­ing to Detnk, the to­tal value of the global 20th­cen­tury de­sign mar­ket in­creased 36 per cent from 2015 to 2016, and the av­er­age sales price jumped nine per cent.

In 2016, art deco ac­counted for 25 per cent of the value of all 20th­cen­tury de­sign-mar­ket sales, the largest por­tion of the to­tal mar­ket value. Con­tem­po­rary works made up the small­est por­tion at just 11 per cent. The mod­ern pe­riod ac­counted for the largest por­tion of the over­all vol­ume with 36 per cent and con­tem­po­rary was also the small­est by this mea­sure­ment at just eight per cent.

Detnk found that only 66 per cent of art deco items of­fered at auc­tion in 2016 were sold, but they also gar­nered the high­est av­er­age price. The re­port notes that a sin­gle ex­tra­or­di­nary sale can greatly af­fect this av­er­age-price fig­ure.

The av­er­age- price fig­ure sug­gests that col­lec­tors have an in­creased in­ter­est in art deco. But with a third of the items go­ing un­sold, the prices may be too high, says Hage. “We’re see­ing an in­cre­men­tal re­treat from art deco.” Ca­rina Villinger, the head of Christie’s 20th- and 21stcen­tury de­sign de­part­ment, also notes a re­treat from some items that Detnk’s time­line cat­e­gorises as art deco. “The 1940s mar­ket is usu­ally as­so­ci­ated with more or­nate work and a more or­nate aes­thetic is not do­ing so well now,” she says.

“Those prices have lev­elled off and peo­ple have turned to other pe­ri­ods that re­flect a more con­tem­po­rary look.”

Detnk’s find­ings sup­port this ob­ser­va­tion. Post­war-mod­ern items

“We have seen a steady ma­tur­ing of the mar­ket, which is re­main­ing more steady with­out much volatil­ity.”

had the low­est av­er­age sell­ing price, but 74 per cent of the works that went to auc­tion were pur­chased. Post­mod­ern also sold at a 74 per cent rate. Some of the more sig­nif­i­cant re­cent sales at Phillips have in­volved artists that fall into Detnk’s post­mod­ern cat­e­gory. “We have seen an in­creased in­ter­est in works of hand­crafted Bri­tish mod­ernism

Some of the more sig­nif­i­cant re­cent sales at Phillips have in­volved artists that fall into Detnk’s post­mod­ern cat­e­gory. POST­MOD­ERN ON THE RISE

— par­tic­u­larly stu­dio ce­ram­ics and tex­tiles,” says Meaghan Roddy, Phillips’ se­nior spe­cial­ist of de­sign.

In De­cem­ber 2016, Phillips set a new auc­tion record for Rie when a circa-1978 white glazed bowl of hers sold for US$212,500 (S$286,200) in a New York sale. “Works with a hand­made or hand­crafted ele­ment tend to evoke an emo­tional re­sponse, which re­ally holds ap­peal for col­lec­tors,” says Roddy. “And this can cer­tainly ex­plain the re­cent surge in in­ter­est for works of the stu­dio move­ment.”

An­other re­cent no­table Phillips sale from the post­mod­ern era in­volved Marc New­son’s circa-1990 Lock­heed Lounge, which fetched ap­prox­i­mately US$3,700,400 at a 2015 sale in Lon­don.

Like art deco, art nou­veau may have also reached its peak, ac­cord­ing to Detnk. Only 67 per cent of items that went to auc­tion in 2016 were sold. The world record for any piece of 20th- cen­tury fur­ni­ture be­longs to what Detnk would clas­sify as an art nou­veau item: Eileen Gray’s Fau­teuil aux Dragons (Dragon Arm­chair). This piece sold for over US$28 mil­lion at a Christie’s sale in Paris in 2009. Not­with­stand­ing Detnk’s ob­ser­va­tions about the re­cent ac­tiv­ity re­lat­ing to art nou­veau works, one seg­ment of that mar­ket has been do­ing well at Christie’s, ac­cord­ing to Villinger.

“We’ve seen a re­newed in­ter­est in French art glass,” she says, specif­i­cally cit­ing the work of Emile Galle. “That mar­ket had def­i­nitely shrunk a lit­tle, but we got a great re­sponse to a sale we had in March 2016.”

Dur­ing that sale, one vase by Galle sold for US$72,500 and an­other for US$106,250. The for­mer had a pre­sale es­ti­mate of US$30,000 to US$50,000 and the lat­ter, US$50,000 to US$70,000.

“I think the French art-glass mar­ket is the sort of mar­ket that is al­ways alive, even if it’s not nec­es­sar­ily in­cred­i­bly con­tem­po­rary and sexy,” says Villinger. “It’s a mar­ket that is very well sup­ported by col­lec­tors who truly love the ma­te­rial and the de­signs of these pieces. They tend to be slightly older col­lec­tors. It’s def­i­nitely a mar­ket that ap­peals to a more sea­soned col­lec­tor who has a more his­toric out­look. A young col­lec­tor of con­tem­po­rary art would not want some­thing from Galle.”

Those young col­lec­tors, ob­serves Hage, will be the strong­est in­flu­ence on the col­lectible-de­sign mar­ket for the next decade and they will be driv­ing de­mand for items from the con­tem­po­rary pe­riod.

“The con­tem­po­rary mar­ket is com­ing back slowly and this trend will con­tinue with the younger buy­ers,” he says. Con­tem­po­rary

“Works with a hand­made or hand­crafted ele­ment tend to evoke an emo­tional re­sponse.”

FU­TURE BUYS

works had the sec­ond-high­est av­er­age sale price in 2016, and 71 per cent of the items that went to auc­tion were pur­chased.

In of­fer­ing gen­eral ad­vice on buy­ing col­lectible de­sign, Roddy sug­gests those younger col­lec­tors should con­sider items such as French art glass. “You should fo­cus on buy­ing what you like and — es­pe­cially with de­sign — buy­ing what you need. Buy­ing de­sign for in­vest­ment pur­poses shouldn’t be your ob­jec­tive. You should fo­cus on works that speak to you and those you gen­uinely want to live with. I would, how­ever, rec­om­mend that you not buy only what makes you feel com­fort­able. You should al­ways chal­lenge your­self a bit and broaden your hori­zons. That’s of­ten how the most in­ter­est­ing and suc­cess­ful col­lec­tions are made.”

Col­lec­tors seek­ing to ac­quire work by a de­signer for in­vest­ment pur­poses should not wait un­til he or she is in the spot­light — not if they want to avoid pay­ing a premium. “If a de­signer is the sub­ject of a mu­seum ret­ro­spec­tive or a new cat­a­logue raisonne, this in­creased at­ten­tion to their life and work will of­ten lead to stronger auc­tion re­sults,” says Roddy.

Hage agrees, adding that if you are read­ing about a de­signer, the price for his or her work has al­ready risen. “When peo­ple have the name on their minds,” he says, “sell­ers can take ad­van­tage of this by putting items at auc­tion, judg­ing it as the right time to sell.” ¬

Col­lec­tors seek­ing to ac­quire work by a de­signer for in­vest­ment pur­poses should not wait un­til he or she is in the spot­light — not if they want to avoid pay­ing a premium.

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