Meltdown brings buyers to art auction, cuts prices

Meltdown brings buyers to art auction, cuts prices


Jerusalem: The world financial meltdown hung heavily Sunday over a Jerusalem art auction that brought a large crowd of buyers looking for, and finding, bargain buys from cash-strapped owners.

There was a record for the highest amount for a painting sold in Israel, but low prices were the rule.

Uri Rosenbach, director of Matsart, which organized the auction, said most of the pieces were priced 20 - 30% lower than last year. But even that wasn’t low enough, he said, as many of the works of art went for lower than their projected value.

Two sketches by Pablo Picasso went for the lowest projected values, one for $18,000 and the other for $20,000, both from phone bidders.

An oil painting by Israeli artist Reuven Rubin that Matsart expected to go for more than $80,000 sold for just over $70,000.

Many collectors recognized the potential for bargains, said sales director Rosette Antebi, noting the number of people registered to bid by phone or Internet doubled since Matsart’s last auction.

Hopeful buyers carried extra chairs to the room and lined the walls and aisles, spilling out into the lobby of Jerusalem’s old, ornate King David Hotel.

The painting that broke the record for highest price fetched in Israel was by French Impressionist painter Camille Pissarro. According to Antebi, the value of the piece during good economic times would have been more than a $1 million, but because the seller needed cash, the asking price was lowered to $700,000.

The painting, of a woman and a donkey, was auctioned more than two hours into the event and got only $580,000. The old record was held by a Rubin painting auctioned at $545,000, Antebi said.

Antebi said they encouraged sellers to lower their asking prices because of the hard times. For Vladimir Kaplunov, a professional art collector who came to Jerusalem from Russia for the Matsart auction, the financial crisis can only be good for art in the long run.

“The best investment is art," Kaplunov said, adding that unlike stocks or bonds, art is “a cultural commodity... it never loses value."