As many of you already know, May was a very busy month in New York with the Impressionist, Modern, Contemporary and American sales taking place; and I guess the phrase/question that best sums it all up is “what price glory?” I will be honest; today I have no answer to that question!
Like many of you who have been reading the reports, I am flabbergasted by the prices achieved for many of the works being offered. Now I will say that among all the offerings there were those rare iconic works that may only appear once every decade and many of those created a fireworks display that would rival Macy’s 4th of July show.
I am, once again, going to really stress this point … the market is very strong and today almost anything will sell. At some point, this feeding frenzy will subside that those people holding works that are really nothing more than a ‘signature’ will be very unhappy if they are forced to sell. When buying works of art for their beauty and potential capital appreciation you are going to be best served by acquiring works that are classic examples of the artist in question; those from their best period/periods that are in great condition and of the highest quality … because even in a softer market the best will still sell.
Now on to the SHOW:
First up …
The Impressionist and Moderns
I will say that my initial impression of the art being offered was that a majority were rather lackluster … a good deal of what I call ‘signature’ works --- those paintings whose value is based on the signature, rather than the quality. That is not to say there weren’t some interesting paintings … and those that were both of exceptional quality and rarity, brought impressive prices. Oh, and those that were just ho-hum … also brought strong prices! Stewart Waltzer, in his Art Market Watch, summed it up quiet well: “…the sale underlined the big box marketing efficiency of the auction houses, which have perfected the art of reaching new clients and extracting top prices for marginal works.” It is important to remember that just because something is up for sale, does not mean it is a good work … it just means someone wants to sell it.
There were no $100 million works on offer, and the best that could be mustered was a Paul Cézanne watercolor: Nature morte au melon vert (c.1902-06). This late period piece was acquired by the dealer John Eskenazi in 1989 for a then record $4.3 million … today this work still holds the Cézanne watercolor auction record at just over $25.5 million. To me this was an amazing price for a work that looked much better in the catalog photo (which held true for many of the works being offered). However, the return on the initial investment wasn’t too bad.
Another shocker was Lyonel Feininger’s rather boldly colored Jesuiten III which carried and estimate of $7 - $9 million and brought an impressive $23.28 million. Strong prices continued with Alberto Giacometti’s L’homme qui chavire which sold for an auction record $18.52 … the seller purchased the piece in 1992 for $1.485 million; a beautiful Juan Gris Cubist still life also brought $18.52 million (selling in 2002 for $8.4 million); and Picasso’s rather plump Tête main de femme (which sold in 2005 for $13.4 million) also brought $18.52 million … all three also showing healthy returns for their owners.
For our ‘price-per-square-inch’ fans, here are a few interesting results (among many): Picasso’s 12 x 9 inch Homme a la pipe assis dans un fauteuil (1916) made $4.2 million while his slightly larger, 13 x 10 inch, Tete d’arlequin (1905) made $13.5 million … what a difference a few years can make. On top of that, Picasso’s 11 ½ x 8 ½ inch gouache and ink Famille d’arlequin, also from 1905, brought an unbelievable $8.75 million. I will leave the math to you.
In the end, the totals were impressive … Of the 768 works offered for sale 613 found buyers which translated into $620 million worth of Impressionist and Modern art changing hands … that is an average of over $1 million per item offered! WOW! But the following week held even more surprises!
I am sure that to many, this report is going to be old news. Almost every paper and news channel had something to say about the events surrounding the Contemporary sales in New York. Most were shocked by the phenomenal prices many of the works brought and a total that eclipsed the Impressionist & Modern sales! To say that this market is on fire is an understatement … a more appropriate description is that it has almost reach supernova.
Top honors for the week went to David Rockefeller’s large (81 x 55 inch) Mark Rothko painting White Center (Yellow, Link and Lavender on Rose) from 1950. The work was originally purchased by Mr. Rockefeller from the dealer Sidney Janis in 1960 for $10,000 … 47 years later the new owner paid $72.84 million (now for our ‘price-per-square-inch’ fans, that was a screaming bargain compared to the small Picasso mentioned earlier). The second most expensive work was Andy Warhol’s Green Car Crash (1863) which carried an estimate of $25 - $35 million and brought an auction record $71.72 million. Coming in third was Francis Bacon’s 1962 Study from Innocent X which garnered $52.68 million. Other impressive results included: Warhol’s Lemon Marilyn, a small work (20 x 16 inches) purchased from the artist in 1962 featuring Marilyn Monroe, which brought $28 million; two later Rothko pieces, Untitled (1954) which made $26.92 million and Untitled (1961) which brought $22.44 million … these last two also illustrate what a difference a few years can make. William de Kooning’s Untitled I, from 1981, made just over $19 million; Jasper John’s Figure 4, another small work (20 x 15 ½ inches), sold for $17.4 million; and Jean-Michel Basquiat’s Untitled (1981) graffiti painting brought $14.68 million.
There were a few casualties, including works by de Kooning, Dubuffet, Judd, an unappealing nude by John Currin and three works by Jackson Pollack. However, when all totaled, the results were mind-blowing …over $850 million worth of Contemporary art changed hands in a few short days and buyers came from across the globe.
While on the Contemporary topic, I did get a laugh from Martha Schwendener’s article in the May 25th edition of The New York Times discussing the Clark brothers, major collectors from the early 20th century. At the end of the article she notes that the Clarks turned to collecting more recent art because the previous generation of collectors had/were buying up all the ‘Old Masters’. What I found funny was this comment she made: “It was not unlike the situation faced by today’s collectors as they move away from Impressionism to acquire the more affordable and available Contemporary art”. Did she say more ‘affordable’ Contemporary art? I don’t think Ms. Schwendener is reading her own paper’s art market reports.
In the same issue of The Times it was reported that Steven Cohen, through his art dealer, privately purchased Andy Warhol’s Turquoise Marilyn (1964) for a reported $80 million! Ms. Schwendener really needs a subscription to the paper.
I do have a few comments on these results. It is a little disturbing to see prices for many of these Contemporary works, some of which have little more than shock value, surpass the prices for many of the important Impressionist artists, not to mention all of the 19th century academic artists. At some point the stretcher bars will be pulled out from behind this Contemporary Art market and those that were in it just for the money, are not going to be very happy. I have compared this current Contemporary market to a supernova, and as well all know that once one appears it is only a matter of time before it disappears. With all the new money coming to the art market it is anyone’s guess when this will happen, but it will happen … so buy carefully and be sure that the works you are acquiring are not only prime examples of the artist’s work, but those you will enjoy living with for years to come.
In case you were wondering, the two week total for just the 4 sets of sales I discussed was just shy of $1.5 Billion! Guess the art market is going strong and this will be another record year.
Gallery Updates: Please note that for the month of June the gallery’s hours are Monday – Thursday 10 am – 5:30 pm and all other times by appointment.
Among the many works that have passed, or are in the process of passing, through the gallery this month are Eugene Boudin’s Vue du Bassin de Trouville; Emile Munier’s The Cherry Tree; George Armfield’s After the Hunt; Tom Mostyn’s Garden Terrace; Galien Laloue’s Place de la Madeleine; Cortes’ Quai du Louvre in Winter, Place St. Michel (Notre Dame), and Quai de Montebello (Notre Dame); Blanchard’s Place de la Republique, Porte St. Martin, Palais Royal, and Café de la Paix; Holly Banks’ New Dawn Roses, Dianthus & Roses, and Plums, Pluots & Dutch Tulips; Swatland’s Tidal Pool, Long Island; Roca’s Times Square; and five Giannini’s: Bathers, Still Life with Head, Ballerina, Hommage, and Man with Potted Flower.
Web Site Updates: New works by the following artists have been, or will be, added to the web site: Jean B.C. Corot, William Bouguereau, Julien Dupré, H.J. Boddington, Sally Swatland, Greg Harris, Holly Banks and Ugo Giannini.
Next Month: I will finish up my Art Market Updates and discuss a new project concerning Antoine Blanchard.
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