Last week saw nearly two thousand lots being offered in the New York auctions at Sotheby’s and Christie’s alone. The figures achieved were quite astonishing; with a total between the two houses of 1.65 Billion USD in just five days of auctions. Christie’s highlights were the Brancusi Sleeping Muse which fetched over 57m USD and a similar result for the Twombly Leda and the Swan which made over 52m USD (all prices include premium). Over at Sotheby’s their big moment was the Basquiat, Untitled, 1982, which made 110m USD – the highest price for an American artist at auction.
Overall the sales were successful but there were still clear examples of value being available if one looked carefully. The main issue for the houses is that in offering such a vast quantity of work in one week it is frankly impossible to view all the works physically without a professional eye that can quickly sort the wheat from the chaff. Sotheby’s were showing all their sales over eight floors of their vast York Avenue building. I spoke to several VIP clients that had visited New York specifically for the sale and yet had only viewed one quarter of the lots on display. Having all the sales in one week is good for the learned collector and dealer but perhaps too awesome for newer buyers.
Ultimately the top prices were paid for those works that had seen the best publicity. However, there was one major failure over at Sotheby’s in that their somewhat over-priced Egon Schiele was withdrawn from sale at 30-40m USD, probably due to a lack of demand. However, notable prices from the Impressionist and Modern Art Evening Sale included the stunning Suprematist work by Malevich of 1915 that made over 21m USD, and a very fine Ernst Scultpure that fetched nearly 16m USD.
One of the best stories of the week came from a source at Sotheby’s who informed me that the wonderful Archipenko of c. 1917 (lot 1 at Sotheby’s) had been slated for a minor sale at one third of the estimate until a specialist in the department spotted the piece and immediately ensured it was placed in a more exposed and expensive context. It was a superb sculpture and fetched over 550,000 USD from an estimate of only 100,000-150,000 USD.
Christie’s Impressionist and Modern Art sale was more successful given that they exhibited a greater number of ‘blockbuster’ works that were always going to attract top bidders. The Brancusi mentioned above was as rare as great works of art come and easily a museum class work. I was a little surprised by the price of the Picasso, Femme Assise Robe Bleu, which was an important, though fairly ugly, painting from October 1939 – it fetched over 45m USD and just shows the appetite for museum quality works in this climate.
The Day Sales were strong in both the Impressionist and Modern and Contemporary categories though prices were perhaps more subdued for Modern works than in recent years. This is possibly due to estimates being pushed and thus value being sought in a more contemporary landscape.
Overall it was a great week and the art market continues to flourish. As I always advise: do use an art consultant when buying works at auction, or indeed privately, to avoid the many pitfalls in collecting great works of art.