|David Benrimon Fine Art Newsletter - May, 2009|
Despite having been the smallest auctions by total sales in over five years, the spring art auctions have brought optimism to the art market. The major auction houses were able to entice buyers through reduced estimates, trimmed down catalogues, and generous payment terms. There were many bidders in the room, most of whom were dealers, but the bidding lacked conviction. The art market may have just laid down its new floor; collectors are searching for art bargains, but the truth is that prices just became realistic again.
Long live the art market!
All the best,
|Auction Wrap Up|
New York's two chief auction houses – Christie's and Sotheby's – brought in about $408.8 million combined from their semiannual sales of Impressionist, Modern and Contemporary art, a total that inched over its $382 million low estimate but represented a fraction of last spring's $1.4 billion total. Smaller house Phillips de Pury & Co. aimed to bring in over $17.5 million with its two-day auction but brought in just under $12.4M
Christie’s was blessed with the right to sell some 20 works from the esteemed collection of Betty Freeman, including what was destined to be the most expensive David Hockney at auction (“Beverly Hills Housewife” sold for $7.9M without premiums), and the largest. The Freeman collection sold for a total of $31.6M, compared to a pre-auction estimate of $24M-$37M. The evening sale totaled $93.7M which was more than double Sotheby’s total from the evening before. The sale was a total of 53 lots, of which 30 sold for over a million dollars with 91% of the lots sold. While these may seem like impressive numbers, the sum total for the auction was less than 1/3 of the $348M storied Christie’s totaled in Spring 2008.
Sotheby’s Contemporary Auction
Sotheby’s evening total of $47M could have been worse. It missed the modest pre-sale estimate of $51.8M but had a confidence building sell-through rate of 81 percent of the lots and 78 percent by value. The problem was that bidding was not terribly deep on the 48 works and in comparison to just one year ago they sold $362M with 88 percent sold by lot at the Contemporary Sale of spring 2008. Other disappointments included the passed untitled Robert Gober sculpture and the less than stellar performance of some Richard Prince works. In fairness to Sotheby’s, 2003 was a worse auction when the sale only realized $27M.
Christie’s Modern and Impressionist Art
The 48 lot sale, it was supposed to be 50 lots but 2 lots were pulled right before the auction began, was roughly 50% bigger than Sotheby’s evening sale the previous night. Christie’s took in $102.7M including commissions, which was well within the $87.6 to $125.2M pre-sale estimate. The sale, like Sotheby’s, benefited from modest estimates that enticed buyers to bid. A full 24 artworks were sold for under a million dollars; in years past much fewer evening sale works sold at such reticent amounts. Unlike at Sotheby’s the night before, Christie’s managed to sell its biggest ticket items.
There has not been much publicity or talk of selling as a result of Madoff’s scheme until Jerome Fisher, the co-founder of Nine West Group, decided to sell “Mousquetaire á la Pipe,” a 1968 Picasso painting that is almost 5 feet tall. The Picasso “Mousquetaire á la Pipe” sold for $13M before premiums and commissions. Additionally, Christie’s was able to sell the Picasso “Femme au Chapeau” for $6.85M, which was well below its estimate of $8M-$12M. They also sold Tamara de Lempicka’s “Madame M” for $6.1M, breaking the record for the artist that Sotheby’s had set just the night before.
Many of the works at Christie’s were rare gems and the bidding was vigorous. When the Giacometti sculpture of his brother Diego came up the crowd grew extremely anxious. It is a magnificent work but would it buy-in as the Giacometti “Le Chat” did the night before? Fortunately the piece’s conservative estimate enticed enough buyers to bring the hammer down at $6.8M.
The Christie’s auction was stronger than the Sotheby’s auction and unfortunately the gems in the offering were just beyond our reach. The Egon Schiele drawing, “Weiblicher Torso in Unterwäsche und schwarzen Strümpfen” went just above our bid and some aggressive bidders on the record-setting Lempicka “Portrait of Madame M” kept us from winning the magnificent work.
Sotheby’s Impressionist and Modern Sale
Sotheby’s anticipated an auction total of under $100M. The “scene” was not as loud or as large as auctions past but there were plenty of nervous collectors, buyers and Sotheby’s employees. The auction opened extremely strong with the first four lots selling above their respective high estimates. But there was a hushed crowd when the three most expensive lots of the evening came up for auction: Picasso’s “La Fille de L’Artiste Á Deux ans et Demi Avec un Bateau,” and “Nature Morte,” as well as Alberto Giacometti’s “Le Chat,” with bidding on these works coming no where near the low estimates. As a whole, the Impressionist works did extremely well; many were hammered down at above the high estimate and attracted numerous bidders.
The sale brought in a total of $61,370,500 with 80.6% sold by lot. However, the modest low estimate for the whole sale was $81.5M with a high estimate of almost $119M. The three lots with the highest estimates passed, which explains the discrepancy between the relatively high sell through rate. Overall it looks like the market is already in the early stages of a recovery. David Benrimon Fine Art was an aggressive bidder on two lots of the sale: the magnificent Monet, “Voilier Sur Le Petite Bras De La Seine, Argenteuil,” which had a conservative estimate of $1.2M-$1.8M attracted numerous bidders ultimately selling for almost $3.5M including commissions and the Lempicka entitled “Portrait de Mademoisellie Poum Rachou,” The iconic portrait ultimately sold for just under $3M including commissions.
|The International Fine Art Fair|
The International Fine Art Fair at the Park Avenue Armory, presented by Haughton International Fairs, had its opening preview on Thursday April 30, 2009 to benefit The Frick Collection. The fair had almost 40 exhibitors bringing together art created over the span of almost 700 years. The works ranged from some magnificent Old Masters, including works by Tintoretto and Juan Baptista Maino, to modern works by Calder, Schiele, and Renoir. There was a magnificent Thomas Eakins oil painting with an asking price of $1.2M. But overall there was a dearth of red dots and the traffic at the fair left something to be desired. There were some very special artworks at reasonable prices, but many buyers were waiting to see what would happen at the auctions this week and were reluctant to buy just days before the large Impressionist and Modern auction season.
Sotheby’s and Christie’s each held their Print sales in the last week of April. At Christie’s New York Prints and Multiples sale, 206 out of 228 lots were sold for a sell-through rate of 90% and a total of just under $3M of art was sold. The percentage sold by value was 94%. Sotheby’s had 3 sessions to sell their Prints and Multiples, which resulted in sales totaling $4,575,314.
Calder’s mobiles and stabiles proved to be irresistible this auction cycle. In total four Calder works came to sale in the evening auctions; each selling for above the high estimate, some of them as high as three times. At the Christie’s Post War and Contemporary Art Morning Sale a stabile sold for $482,500 despite a $250,000-$350,000 estimate, at Sotheby’s Contemporary Art Day Sale no fewer that 5 stabiles came to auction, only one of which passed: they sold for $326,500 despite a $150,000-$200,000 estimate; and one for $386,500 that had an estimate $250,000-$350,000; $435,000 despite an estimate of $250,000-$350,000; $278,500 with an estimate of $200,000-$300,000 and the smallest one that passed with an estimate of $120,000-$180,000. Please contact us if you are interested in purchasing one of our many Calder works.
Just when it seemed there was no more art for museums to sell off to fund their operating expenses or new purchases, the Hirschhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington DC announced that 3 paintings by Thomas Eakins, the important 19th century American artist will go to auction at Christie’s on May 20, 2009. There should be no legal battle on these works because in Joseph Hirschhorn’s will, as well as in the gift of these works, he allowed for the possibility of the museum selling his works to acquire new works. Let’s hope the Hirschhorn does the respectable thing and acquires artworks that will enter the art history canon much like the ones it is selling.