Money returns unevenly to NY art auctions

Money returns unevenly to NY art auctions

New York: Serious money has flowed back into the international art market at New York’s autumn sales, although still bypassing some of the big ticket items.

The November sales at Sotheby’s and rival Christie’s in New York marked something of a recovery from the low point during the financial crisis erupting last year.

While prices are not yet matching the go-go days of 2007, sales have often met expectations and large sums of money are once again being exchanged for top works.

At the same time, the market remains unstable, leaving major works as likely to sit unsold as to trigger bidding wars.

Wednesday’s contemporary and post-war sales at Sotheby’s were an unexpected success, pulling in $134.4 million and selling 96% — all but two — of the 54 lots. Presale estimates were for sales of $97.7 million.

Andy Warhol’s “200 One Dollar Bills," a grey and black work showing 200 life-sized images of dollar bills, sold for $43.8 million.

This was far over the pre-sale estimate of eight to $12 million, although never likely to approach the $71.7 million record for the artist.

And a Warhol self-portrait estimated at one to $1.5 million sold for $6.1 million dollars, a fairy tale ending for a work that was hidden away in a cupboard for 42 years by its owner, Cathy Naso — a one-time secretary at Warhol’s famous Factory.

Sotheby’s contemporary art director, Tobias Meyer, said the art market was rebounding.

“Bidding was very deep tonight. There is a great desire for great art. Consumer behavior has started to accelerate after May 2009."

But on Tuesday at Christie’s, the contemporary and post-war sales picture was decidedly mixed.

The evening’s big winner was Peter Doig’s Reflection (What Does Your Soul Look Like), from 1996, which sold for $10.2 million, double the pre-sale estimate.

Overall, the sale was respectable, with 85% of works being sold and total proceeds of $74.1 million falling within pre-sale estimates.

But there were also high-profile flops, including an unsold Warhol and Jean-Michel Basquiat’s unsold “Brother Sausage," valued at $9-12 million.

The same uneven pattern applied to the impressionist and modern art sales at the start of November.

Sotheby’s saw several records broken during an unexpectedly strong $181 million in sales.

These included $13.8 million paid for “Young Arab," by early 20th century Dutch artist Kees Van Dongen. His previous record was $11.1 million.

French painter Andre Derain’s “Barques au port de Collioure," from about 1905, went under the hammer for $14 million, smashing the $6.1 million record.

Simon Shaw, head of the impressionist department at Sotheby’s, described those performances as “a shot in the arm for the market."

However, the impressionist and modern art sales at Christie’s were subdued, with total sales of less than $66 million, below the presale estimate.

Notably there were no bids for a 1943 Picasso, “Tete de femme," estimated at $7 to 10 million.

Marc Porter, president of Christie’s Americas, said the emphasis was on art seen as a safe investment. “Classic impressionist paintings and sculptures across a range of prices continue to achieve strong results," he said.