Earlier this year Christie’s Impressionist, Modern & Contemporary departments managed to turnover 1.7 Billion USD worth of Art in under two weeks. Yes, you read that right, 1.7 billion USD. And from only one auction house too.
The reason for this extraordinary figure? Their crossover/curated sale titled Looking forward to the Past, which linked two buying databases (Impressionist & Modern as well as Contemporary) of extraordinary wealth. Competing categories created competition between two buying classes, which led to some amazing prices. In one fell swoop, in one single sale, the record for the most expensive painting and the most expensive sculpture was broken. (Picasso’s Femmes d’Alger fetched 179m USD and Giacometti’s Homme au doigt sold for 141m USD.)
It was announced last week that Sotheby’s and Christie’s will each hold mixed period sales of works from the late 19th century through to the early 21st century – thus blurring the lines between two of the most important departments in the two houses. Sotheby’s will hold the Masterworks sale on Wednesday 4th November and Christie’s will hold the Artist’s Muse sale on Monday 9th November. The Taubman Collection will form the basis of the Sotheby’s sale with over 500m USD of Art works coming to sale in several different categories but including some exceptional Modern Masters such as a Modigliani portrait and a stunning mid-career Picasso. Christie’s will boast a Modigliani Reclining nude of real class that must be worth well in excess of 70m USD.
Historically the four top performing Sotheby’s departments were Contemporary, Impressionist & Modern, Old Masters and Jewellery with the remainder making up the numbers (unless an extraordinary Stradivarius/Pre-Raphaelite painting/Breguet made a splash.) When the two top departments pool their buyer databases out of necessity it leads to phenomenal results.
The contemporary art databases at the auction houses are full of excited new buyers waiting to invest in exceptional works of art by famous, fashionable artists. These tend to be the very artists that divide professional opinion as to actual long-term investment quality. When such collectors discover that for the same outlay they could be acquiring truly great works by modern masters such as Magritte, Miro and Picasso, their collecting tastes find a new target.
The result of the May sale was important and will, in my opinion, lead to very high numbers this November. Hundreds of potential consignors will now be keen to cash in and use this new curated-sale/multi-department marketing tool to sell their very best works. This is a seller’s market and with great prices come great artworks.
My advice to top end collectors is not to pay too much attention to the results of these curated sales – the marketing machines of the two houses will always try to push the experience as much as the work of art – the key is that the painting or the sculpture itself should deliver. Bidding in an auction is exciting. Competing at an auction is a great buzz for highly successful, competitive collectors but it should not overshadow the importance of getting the acquisition choice right.
My thoughts are to take these curated sales with a pinch of salt – it is a marketer’s dream and all in all, arguably a bit of a trick. Collect slowly and carefully, without getting caught in the hype.