This will be a great sale series for those with funds to spend. There is a huge amount on the market, and it is difficult to see even the best work finding bids at the low estimates. Christie’s have said they will be tough on reserves and that is savvy business given the low sell through rates in May (although London in June was better). Following the sticky sales in Hong Kong in the early part of the Autumn season the art trade was fearing a dearth of real quality in the forthcoming New York Sales. The 70% sell through rates were well below par in the Far East and were it not for the fabulous fairs in London (Frieze) and Paris (Paris+) in the last few weeks there would be a significant reason for pessimism going into these vast, impressive auctions in the US. But the sales look very good indeed and the main collection, that of Mrs Fisher Landau, is a stunner!
As I was always told when I started in the art trade almost two and half decades ago – the art world is nothing without the power of the US market, and with it the US Dollar, to steer the art market ship. It is the wealth and taste of the East coast of the US that has formed the backbone of the art market over the last 50 years. Although there has been a significant lean on the Far East in recent times, notably China, it seems that those two megaliths, Japan and China, have fallen on harder times in 2023 than we might have imagined, or indeed hoped. The USA is home to the biggest museums, the most impressive array of galleries, and the finest collections of the 20th Century. There is a commanding fiscal backing to the arts in every major city and with it the most vibrant and interesting contemporary art scene in the world – bar none. So, yet again, it is with serious hope and concern that the market looks, with confidence but with finger’s crossed, to the West to hoover up the vast quantity of works in these November sales. The highlights are varied but extremely exciting with a world class single owner collection up for sale (as mentioned) and the most wonderful series of mixed-owner sales across the three main houses.
The Fisher Landau collection is up for auction this week and with it the main picture of the week: Pablo Picasso’s ‘Femme à la montre’. Executed in 1932 the painting is a puzzle of colour, Cubist but readable, it is a marketer’s dream and will surely be on the shopping list of every watch-company magnate around. However, 120m USD is a vast sum for a work that is not tip top. The greatest of the ’32 Picassos are sensual, sexy, dangerous but this painting seems rather flat and soulless. That said, any work from this period is a treasure and I am sure it will provide a strong indicator of the top end this week. The Ruschas are all pretty mesmerising with the ‘Boss’ work particularly wonderful. But the best picture of the group is the Jasper Johns ‘Flags’ which is a real joy – the most iconic of subjects held up for inspection by an artist that challenged the very idea, the very notion, of Nationalism and its symbols. I hope it makes its daunting estimate of 35m USD but I have every faith. There are simply too many great works to run through, but this is a real collection that really stands up against the best, be it Allen, Rockefeller or Cox.
The mixed owner sales are striking too, and Sotheby’s have nailed the best of the Impressionist works with a glorious USD sign (as once described by the mighty Philip Hook!) by Monet – a ‘Peupliers’ picture of rare quality being offered for 30m USD. That’s a lot of money for a Monet ‘Money’.
Over at Christie’s their sales are more mixed but they have a number of pieces that would satiate any museum collection. My favourite of the week is a Cezanne Still Life up for sale at 35m USD. His work at this time, around 1890, is a generation ahead of its time. The links to Cubism are so well noted in this piece with the composition flattened and nigh on perfected. The size may be its undoing at this estimate which would be a real pity. The Christie’s Joan Mitchell of 1959, offered at 25m USD, is a better picture (earlier, more similar to her masterpiece in Chicago) than the Sotheby’s work, Sunflowers, and deserves the higher estimate. It all depends on the depth of the market at this top, top level for buyers.
It promises to be a very good couple of weeks and please, use an advisor if you are keen to buy at significant figures.
The sales and links are as follows:
8th November 2023
16th November 2023