Return of market effervescence

[17 May 2010]


With a large number of major collectors clearly back in acquisitive mode, the results of the big sales in New York during May amply covered the price expectations and were a far cry from those posted in May 2009. At the end of the prestigious Impressionist & Modern Art sales on 4 & 5 May, Christie’s and Sotheby’s posted a combined revenue up 205% compared with the previous year’s total and their combined results from the Contemporary Art sales (11 and 12 May) were nearly 230% better than the previous year. The bought-in rates were particularly low: ranging from 6% (Sotheby’s Contemporary Art sale) to 22% (Christie’s Impressionist & Modern Art sale). Twelve new records were set including a new world record for a work of art at auction which allowed Pablo PICASSO to recover the place he lost to Alberto GIACOMETTI just two months earlier (L’Homme qui marche).

Picasso and the best ever auction result The new record auction price for an artwork of $95m for Picasso’s lascivious painting of Marie-Thérèse Walter entitled Nude, Green Leaves and Bust is $2m higher than his previous record for Garçon à la pipe set in 2004. The work came from the Frances Lasker Brody collection and sold at Christie’s on 4 May 2010 generating almost one third of the sale’s total revenue ($296.5m from 56 lots sold). Picasso’s friend and peer, Georges BRAQUE, also renewed his personal record after 24 years (Femme lisant) when his La Treille fetched $9m against an estimate of $3m – $5m.

The Impressionist and Modern successes
Sotheby’s Impressionist & Modern Art sale on 5 May 2010 generated three times the 2009 revenue total ($171.2m, 50 lots sold, 14% bought in) and fetched 43 hammer prices above the $1m line. It also saw a significant return of Asian buyers who carried off two major works by Claude MONET (Effet de Printemps à Giverny at $13.5m and Fin d’après-midi, Vétheuil at $5.5m) as well as Amedeo MODIGLIANI’s superb portrait of Jeanne Hébuterne au Collier for $12.25m. The top price paid that evening was $25.5m for Henri MATISSE’s Bouquet de Fleurs pour le Quatorze Juillet and there were new artist personal records for Salvador DALI whose Spectre du Soir sur la Plage fetched $5m (within the estimated range) and Isamu NOGUCHI’s whose Undine (Nadja) fetched more than 4 times its upper estimate with a final hammer price of $3.7m.

Recovery of Contemporary art
The Post-war and Contemporary Art sales generated as much enthusiasm and as many records as the Modern masters, considered safer and less volatile investments. The recovery of competition in the contemporary art segment is indeed a strong signal of renewed confidence. On 11 May, Christie’s sold 74 contemporary works for $202.3m with only 8% of the works offered remaining unsold. The following day, the 50 lots sold by Sotheby’s generated total revenue of $166.2m with only 6% of the works offered remaining unsold.
The two best results of the week represented bids above $25m! The highlight of the Sotheby’s sale was a 1980s self-portrait by Andy WARHOL belonging to the American fashion designer Tom Ford. The piece fetched $29m, well above twice its estimated price. A Mark ROTHKO red painting fetched $28m against an estimated price range of $18m – $25m. A Jackson POLLOCK entitled Number 12A, 1948: Yellow, Gray, Black fetched $7.75m, and a work by Jean-Michel BASQUIAT (Untitled (Stardust)), estimated at $800,000 – $2.5m, went all the way to $6.4m.
At Christie’s, the star lot was Jasper JOHNSFlag from the Michael Crichton collection (the author of Jurassic Park). This early 1960s piece, never before seen at auction, demolished the American artist’s previous record. Estimated at between 10 and 15 million dollars, the US flag revisited by Johns fetched no less than $25.5m.
The other artists who set new auction records at these sales were Brice MARDEN (Cold Mountain 1 (Path)), Maurizio CATTELAN whose ‘self-portrait’ bursting through a hole in the floor fetched 7m$ demolishing its previous price of $1.8m (10/11/2004 at Christie’s), Richard SERRA whose steel sculpture Corner Prop set a new personal record of $1.7m at Sotheby’s, Juan MUÑOZ whose Conversation Piece III composed of six sculptures in bronze fetched $4.3m at Sotheby’s, Richard TUTTLE whose installation Silver Picture sold for $1.5m at Sotheby’s, Sam FRANCIS whose Middle Blue fetched $5.6m at Christie’s, Lee BONTECOU whose Untitled fetched $1.6m at Christie’s, and Christopher WOOL whose Blue Fool fetched $4.4m at Christie’s.

These positive results have had an impact on Artprice’s confidence index (the AMCI) which has stabilised at around 24 points.