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When Will The Madness Stop?

December 28, 2020

Over the past few months, we have talked about the ridiculous amount of material the auction rooms are throwing into the market.  They are even having sales that, to me, do not seem to make financial sense … here is a case in point. (w/p = with the buyer’s premium)

white, pink and red flowers

Carnations in a Jar

On December 7th, Sotheby’s presented The World Around Us: Still Lifes by Robert Kulicke, all of which were the property of A Distinguished Private Collector.  I never heard of the artist, but when I saw the listing, I figured he might be one of those high-priced contemporary artists.  So, I clicked through, and boy was I surprised.

The online sale contained 32 lots, almost all of which did not impress me.  Most of the works carried estimates in the $400 – $3,500 range.  Lot 211 had the highest estimate of $6-8,000. My initial thought was, why are they presenting a standalone sale of this ‘stuff’?  I can only assume that the ‘Distinguished Private Collector’ is important to them.  Of course, I had to watch the sale to see what would happen.  Would these works fly through the roof or fall to the floor?  I will let you be the judge.

two pears


The top work in the sale was Carnations in a Jar that brought $9,000 ($11,340 w/p – est. $6-8,000). In second was Pears at $4,000 ($5,040 w/p – est. $2-3,000); and in third was Table top Floral Still Life at $3,500 ($4,410 w/p – est. $4-6,000). Rounding out the top five were New Paltz, New York at $1,900 ($2,304 w/p – est. $1-1,500) and Flowers, which made $1,600 ($2,016 w/p – est. $2-3,000).

By the end of the small sale, of the 32 works offered, 24 sold (75% sell-through rate), and the total take was $37,800 ($47,628 w/p).  The low end of their presale estimate range was $49,600, so they really missed the mark, even when you add in the buyer’s premium – just so you know, when you add in their 26% buyer’s premium to the estimate range, it bumps that number up to $62,496.

pink, yellow, white, and red flowers in a vase

Table Top Still Life

Of the 24 sold works, 17 were below, 4 within, and 3 above their estimate range, leaving them with an accuracy rate of just 12.5%!  I guess the seller really wanted to get rid of these works since a majority of them sold well below their estimate range  — some, at less than half.

Putting 32 works, by a little-known artist, into one sale is not a recipe for success. Do not get me wrong, I see nothing wrong with offering inexpensive works of art; however, over a period of time, these works should have been filtered into their general American sales.  I bet you that the results for each work would have been a lot stronger.  When will this madness (or better yet, stupidity) stop?