The holiday season is upon us and both my father and I wish all of our friends a very happy and enjoyable celebration!
Is it Hot Potato Time?
I remember back to those ‘hot’ days in the late 1980s – everything was selling, regardless of quality, and prices were reaching the stars – or so I thought. As the 1990s began, the Contemporary & Impressionist art markets found themselves in the cellar -- no takers for those late, poor quality, over priced, works of art by many of the ‘blue chip’ names.
Well, watching the most recent offerings hitting the auction blocks in New York this month, one must seriously wonder if certain areas of the Contemporary market are poised for another serious correction! How much longer, and higher, can these works go? I guess only time will tell. Now as you all know, when it comes to Contemporary ‘Cutting Edge’ works of art, I am by no stretch of anyone’s imagination considered an ‘expert’ … I actually consider myself a pure novice, but I do know quality and I can admit, even if I do not like something, when a work of art is interesting and thought provoking. So, now that I have set this up for you, I guess you can all tell what is definitely HOT right now -- Contemporary Art! And some areas are so hot, that if you plan on getting into the action, I would wear a heavy pair of oven mitts!
The main auction rooms offered a slew of works by many of the ‘blue chip’ and ‘new chip’ names – and records were being made across the board. My favorite artist to talk about, Maurizio Catellan, was represented by a number of works and the results were mind-boggling. Now I am not saying that his works are not interesting and somewhat thought-provoking, but the prices paid for them makes me wonder. The artist’s The Ninth Hour (1999), was offered for sale for the second time in three years. This work features a life-size wax statue of Pope John Paul felled by a meteorite. When it was offered back in 2001 it sold for $886,000 … this time around it made just over $3 million (and that is the current auction record for the artist). Also offered was his Not Afraid of Love (2000), featuring a life-size statue of an elephant covered with a white sheet, which made $2.75 million. Now for those of you who just could not handle the seven figure price tag for these pieces, there were a couple of more affordable works by Cattellan that you could have considered, like his white neon sign of his signature – misspelled as CATTTELAN (note the extra ‘T’), that cost someone a mere $232,000, or if that was still a stretch, you could have tried to buy his Lullaby (1994) – featuring two wooded pallets piled with bags that contained rubble from a terrorist bombing in Milan. This one made a measly $187,200 – see, there is something for ‘almost’ everyone’s pocketJ!
Other interesting results from some of the newer names were: Tom Friedman’s Untitled (2001) – an assemblage of cocktail sticks into a vague shape of a man - $310,400; Marlene Dumas’ The Taboo (2000) – a work about which Richard Polsky, in his ArtNet article, made the following comment: “Whoever decides to bid on lot 55 … should think long and hard. With an estimate of $600,000 - $800,000, The Taboo represents a highly risky purchase. Not only is the canvas sloppily painted, which is unfortunately typical of the artist, but it raises an even greater question – who is Marlene Dumas and why do her pictures routinely carry (and bring) six-figure prices” – sold for a whopping $937,600; John Currin’s Homemade Pasta made an auction record $847,500; and Richard Phillips’ President George W. Bush (2001) made $142,400. Among the ‘blue chip’ names strong prices, and in some cases records, were achieved for: Dan Flavin’s Untitled (Monument for V. Tatlin) - $735,500; Andy Warhol’s Self-Portrait (1986) - $3.14 million and $15.13 million for Mustard Race Riots (1963); Francis Bacon’s Oedipus - $3.59 million; Robert Motherwell’s Elergy to the Spanish Republique No. 71 (1961) -$2.9 million; Mark Rothko’s No 6 (1954) made an auction record $17.36 million; and Jasper John’s charcoal drawing 0 through 9 brought $10.9 million (an auction record for a work on paper by the artist).
In all, over $245 million was spent on Contemporary art during that week … an amazing sum if you ask me. It will be interesting to see what happens during the May 2005 sales.
Moving on to the Impressionist offerings it was nice to see that for the most part, cooler heads prevailed and that if there is a ‘bubble’, it is far from reaching its ‘critical mass’ point! What appeared to be HOT, for the most part, were the quality works. Among the more interesting results were: Paul Gauguin’s Maternite (II), a Tahitian work, that sold for $39.2 million (below its unpublished estimate of $40 - $50 million) – word was that it had been shopped around before the sale and had some condition issues – but then again, how many Tahitian Gauguins will ever hit the market? Next in line was Modigliani’s Jeanne Hebuterne that sold for $31.3 million; Piet Mondrian’s New York/Boogie Woogie (1941-2) made $21 million; Claude Monet’s Londres, le Parlement … that sold for $20.1 million; Joan Miro’s La caresse des étoiles La caresse de etoiles made $11.76 million; a lackluster van Gogh – Le pont de Trinquetaille fetched $11.2 million; Cezanne’s Portrait de femme made $10.08 million; Brancusi’s The Kiss made $8.96 million; a large Henry Moore sculpture raked in another $8.4 million; Renoir’s Les rosiers à Wargemont brought $7.51 million; Chiam Soutine’s wonderful Le chasseur de Chez Maxim's sold for $6.72 million; and Monet’s somewhat unattractive L'Aiguille, à travers la Porte d'Aval managed $1.46 million (against a $2 - $3 million estimate).
There were a number of ‘not-so-interesting’ works that failed to find buyers; among them were Kandinsky’s Sketch for Deluge II (estimate $20 - $30 million); Picasso’s Baigneur et baigneuses (est. $8 - $12 million); Renoir’s Baigneuse assise (or as Stewart Waltzer titles it in his Artnet review: Woman who swallowed a Hummer) passed with an estimate of $5 - $7 million; a rather ugly Degas - Femme s'épongeant la poitrine (estimate $1.5 - $2 million); Raoul Dufy’s Fête nautique (estimate $1 - $1.5 million); Vlaminck’s Le cirque (estimate $4 - $6 million); Picasso’s Nus (estimate $6 – 8 million).
In the second tier artists – works by Lebasque, Martin, Moret and le Sidaner all showed strength with a number of good quality examples selling in the $80,000 - $500,000 range.
In the end, the Impressionist sales moved over $387 million in art and it appeared that buyers were looking for quality and not just ‘the name’.
Finally I will discuss the 19th century European art market … after all the dollars spent in the Contemporary and Impressionist arenas, at first glance, the fact that about $25 million was sold in total does not appear to be so great. But keep in mind that only a small number of paintings each year, in this arena, sell for 7 figure sums and almost none have reached that magical 8 figure plateau (I do remember a Constable selling for about $21million in 1990, but that’s about it). As has been true in the past, with some exceptions, sanity reigns – with quality and condition being of utmost importance.
Some of the HOT highlights from these sales include – Boldini’s Portrait of Giovinetta Errazuriz which sold for $1.35 million; Gérôme’s The Reception of the Grand Condé at Versailles – purchased by the Musee d’Orsay, Paris, for $1.29 million – after spending most of its life in the United States, William H. Vanderbilt bought the work from the artist’s dealer in 1878 for $23,000, it is now making its way back home; Ingres’ Virgin with the Host (which was offered last October for $800,000-$1.4 million and failed to sell) sold this time for $904,000; Jean Beraud’s La Brasserie fetched $735,000; William Bouguereau’s Petite fille au bol bleu (basically the companion piece to the Bouguereau we sold last month) brought $522,700; and one of the biggest surprise to me was Emile Munier’s The Broken Vase – a work that sold in Geneva on March 26, 2004 for approximately $160,000, which I might add was a very strong price – brought $388,800 from a private U.S. buyer. Now here, in my opinion, is one of those instances where two people got carried away by the auction fever and someone overpaid.
As has been typical of these sales during the past few years, there were many unattractive and condition issue works offered. Some sold L and some did notJ; but on the whole, quality prevailed – the signs of a healthy market.
Howard L. Rehs
© Rehs Galleries, Inc., New York – December 2004
Gallery Updates: With the growing interest in many if the contemporary artist’s we are exhibiting, the gallery has opened a new division -- Rehs Contemporary Galleries, Inc. We will begin advertising our new division in 2005. All paintings will still be on display in our 57th Street gallery.
New works by Henry Moret, Julien Dupré, Jean B.C. Corot, Daniel Ridgway Knight, Louis Aston Knight, Edouard Cortès, Eugene Galien Laloue, Antoine Blanchard, Gregory Frank Harris, and Sally Swatland have been added to our web site this month.
Virtual Exhibitions: Since my last sales update the gallery has sold a number of important and wonderful works – Many of them have been added to their respective Virtual Exhibitions. Among the sold works were: Jean B.C. Corot’s Trois paysannes dans un pre, souvenir de Bretagne (c.1865-70); Joseph Caraud’s The Pet Canaries (1875); Edouard Leon Cortes’ Tuilleries Garden and Pont-Neuf ; Eugene Galien Laloue’s La place de la Republique, sous la Neige; Antoine Blanchard’s Théâtre du Gymnase, Grands Boulevards; Louis Aston Knight’s Summer Flowers (c.1920); Sally Swatland’s Pansy Basket; A Quiet Corner; New England Summer; Catching the Breeze; Todd’s Point; Reflections in the Tidal Pool; Day at the Beach; and Beach Days
Next Month: A year end wrap up!