The headquarters of the Christie’s auction house, on Manhattan’s Golden Mile, is bustling with visitors these days. One of the key events in the art market is held, the fall season, and the first public bids since the pandemic, although still in a hybrid format, with online bidders from thirty countries. Hundreds of paintings that many museums in the world would dream of hoarding are displayed to the public, made up of a mix of onlookers, students, executives in immaculate suits and fine ladies with handbags that do not fall below four figures. It is difficult to focus your eyes on a single work: such is the artistic overstimulation – and the overwhelming display of wealth, with dizzying prices – that the place contains. The pandemic, far from weakening the market, seems to have increased the exclusive appetite for beauty.
Many of the visitors are aware that, were it not for these opportunities, it would be impossible to contemplate works whose existence runs parallel to that of the public life of museums: a feminine and violet portrait of Picasso, or the vaporous and mischievous figures of Chagall that seem to sway in the current. Works turned into stakes of speculation after bake in the fortunes of moguls like Ed Cox, whose collection was auctioned this Thursday at Christie’s for 290 million euros (332 million dollars), or for the misadventures of a couple, such as the Macklowe collection, for sale due to the divorce of real estate mogul Harry Macklowe in 2018 and that, with only 65 pieces, is valued at more than 600 million dollars. The collection, the jewel in the crown of Sotheby’s, is the most expensive ever auctioned and will be auctioned in individual bids, the first next Monday, the next in May. According to sources at the firm, it will be the most important sale since 2015.
Because in New York these days there is room for everyone: for the first division represented by the centuries-old firms Christie’s and Sotheby’s, but also for more modest houses such as Bonhams, which on Sunday will celebrate its open day to a select group of guests with a brunch enlivened with live jazz. The epitome of New York.
Christie’s and Sotheby’s are also the quintessence of an increasingly global art market, judging by the profile of their exclusive clients. Asian collectors have brought dynamism to a market until recently monopolized by long-standing fortunes. At the virtual presentation of the Macklowe collection, Patti Wong, head of Sotheby’s in Asia, underlined the size of this market: “Its importance has been evident this past year, after its arrival a decade ago. Asian collectors are entering the market at an unprecedented rate. Of the twenty most important pieces auctioned in 2020, nine were bought by Asians. They also acquired 50% of the works of more than five million dollars in the same period ”.
But in the face of Asian dynamism, the relaxed — and well-amortized — style of the Impressionists continues to be the safest value, the ring of glory for any collection worth its salt. The sale of the Cox was settled Thursday by 332 million dollars; half, in works by Van Gogh, including a drawing of the Dutch looted by the Nazis, plus eight picassos that raised 92 million, and a caillote which broke its own record ($ 53 million) and was acquired by the Getty Museum in Los Angeles. The rest of the buyers remain anonymous. Interestingly, the Impressionists have been less well received in the Asian market: only 13% of buyers are from that continent. The style continues to have more prominence in America (52%) and Europe (35%), according to sources from the firm.
Collectors are also getting younger, thanks to the incorporation of millennials into the art world, or its market. In the case of Christie’s, 30% of its buyers in 2021 have been “new customers” and among them, 31% were millennials. This factor perhaps explains the growing presence of digital works or NFTs and also the use of cryptocurrencies in the transaction. Sotheby’s will auction two physical works by Banksy for Ether (ETH), an “unprecedented event”, the signing announced this Thursday. At a Sotheby’s NFT online auction in June, which generated more than $ 17 million, nearly 70% of buyers were newcomers. The first NFTs sold by Christie’s in Europe last month were purchased for $ 1.3 million by the owner of a cryptocurrency lending platform. American Beeple, creator of the most expensive NFT ever auctioned, saw his first hybrid work (virtual and physical) fetch nearly $ 30 million at Christie’s Tuesday session. Faced with the depth of the Macklowe collection, forged over five decades and which therefore allows us to appreciate the evolution of most of the artists that compose it, the instantaneous or improvised virtuality is gaining more and more ground: the sediment gives way to the spark.
The art circuit sometimes seems to have a life of its own, arbitrary and capricious, regardless of the will of bidders and collectors. On Tuesday, at Christie’s first station auction, dedicated to the 21st century, a huge basquiat With an estimated price between 40 and 80 million dollars, it was settled at the starting price, just over 40 taxes and fees included, a discreet result for the existing expectation. Ten other lesser-known creators, such as the Scotsman Peter Doig, gave the surprise and broke listing records: Doig achieved his best mark by selling one of his works, from 1990, for the same sum as expected basquiat. In total, the bid exceeded $ 200 million. Along with Thursday’s Impressionist auction, the amount exceeded $ 971 million. Basquiat, curiously, had Better luck Thursday: a portrait of him by Andy Warhol fetched $ 40 million.
Regarding the circulation of works, their positioning in the market, the trend points to an increasingly direct relationship between artists and auction houses, without intermediaries. Until now the galleries were generally the obligatory interlocutors between the artist and the collector. “The biggest news is that artists increasingly want to work with auction houses directly,” explains Rebekah Bowling of Phillips, another firm in the industry with an international portfolio. “The traditional structure of the market has been reversed,” adds the expert. The ease of contact and exposure provided by social networks such as Twitter and Clubhouse today streamlines many steps in the business, awaiting the metaverse, that virtual universe in which many see the future ecosystem of art, or at least one of them. A faded reflection of the lifelong artisan auction, at the blow of a hammer, with gloved workers lovingly transferring the works to the stage. Also in post-pandemic life.
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