Money Brings Signs of Hope at NY Auctions
If you think the art market was dead or dying, think again. Sothebys Impressionist and Modern Auction this week took more than $181 million, after its rival Christies opened the week of big sales with a mere $65 million.
Records at Sothebys were set for artists like Kees Van Dongen, with a painting from 1910 called Young Arab and Andre Derain, not usually blue chip names. And Alberto Giacomettis (below) 1951 sculpture, Falling Man, a symbol of uncertainty and dread, sold for almost $20 million. I guess theyll now have to say that the existentialist figure was falling over from pure joy.
Why did Sothebys do so well, when the conventional wisdom is that everyone is feeling discouraged and cautious? Sothebys will tell you that the best material will sell, even under the worst of conditions, but that doesnt explain why the worst of Modiglianis and the most ordinary of Pissarros were also selling. Dont blame it on the Bronx frenzy of winning the World Series, because that didnt happen until a few hours later, and bidders were on the phone from Paris and Hong Kong.
One theory is that Sothebys just worked hard on the sale, bringing in the estate of Arthur Sackler, and the collection of the Dutch financier Louis Reijtenbagh — and locating buyers who would bid on it all.
Over at Christies, did the companys owner Francois Pinault order a retrenchment? Did he mandate costs cuts and demand that pretty things be put in the sale to attract new buyers from Asia, where theres still lots of money to buy art?
At one end at Christies, you had the top lot. Edgar Degass Danseuses a gauzy pretty backstage view of two ballerinas sold for $10.7 million. The Picasso Tete de Femme, from the dark days of World War II Paris, that was supposed to be the top lot, didnt sell. At the other end, you had Rosace, a paper cut by Henri Matisse, done in 1954, the last year of his life, It was a roundish cut-out in brown and reds of pomegranate shapes and floral patterns. But unlike Matisses radiant bursts of color and light at the end of his life, this work looked like something for an old ladys grave. And it was. It was a maquette for a stained glass window in memory of Abby Aldrich Rockefeller. No surprise, it didnt sell, not even to a Rockefeller.
If that werent bad enough, Sothebys set the auction record or a painting by Andre Derain (left), thanks to bidding from Guy Bennett, the former head of Christies Impressionist and Modern Department. Bennett, now a private dealer, would not say who his client was. My guess is that it wasnt Francois Pinault of Christies.
Any predictions for the Contemporary sales this coming week? Only that indicators in the economy seem to be pointing in the right direction — for people who buy art, at least. We can probably assume, for better or worse, that the Koons/Warhol index should be on the rise.