It was interesting to see and read all the recent news coverage of the phenomenal prices works of art are selling for. We all have to agree that, as it stands right now, a portion of your assets should be allocated to art, antiques and/or collectibles. But as you travel this enriching, and sometimes treacherous, path, please heed my cautionary words … do not buy a work just for its potential price appreciation and do not buy a work because it was painted by a specific artist. You still need to concentrate on quality works that are in great condition, from the right periods, by good artists and understand that no matter what happens with their value, you will gain great pleasure in looking at them while they are in your care. I say this because as you will see, the price you pay for something may not be what you will get when you decide to sell it.
The action in New York, which began early last month, continued at a stampede’s pace throughout May and some of us enjoyed sitting on the sidelines watching the money fly by; occasionally reaching in and grabbing a small piece of the action.
My coverage will start with the Impressionist and Modern works that were offered at the very beginning of the month and while there were some wonderful offerings, there were an equal number of mediocre and poor quality pieces. While I am sure that most of you read reports of the exceptional price Pablo Picasso’s Dora Maar au chat ($40 - $50 million estimate) brought … for those who did not, this 1941 painting brought the second highest price for a work at auction - $95,216,000! The number one slot also belongs to Picasso -- his Garcon a la pipe sold in 2004 for $104 million; right now, Picasso appears to be the flavor of the decade. Next up was Van Gogh’s L'Arlésienne, Madame Ginoux which carried a similar estimate of $40-$50 million. Now I must interject my personal opinion --- this was, and still is, one of the ugliest portraits of a woman I have seen and had it not been by Van Gogh, or some other big name artist, surely it would have been worth very little ... however, it was by Van Gogh and it appears that was all it took for someone pay just over $40 million ($36 million at the hammer) to own it. It would be interesting to see a really important and pretty work by Van Gogh come on the market today … my bet is that it would leave Picasso’s record prices in the dust (remember that 16 years ago (1990) Van Gogh’s stunning Portrait of Dr. Gachet sold for just over $82 million). Additional strong prices were seen for other Picasso’s including Le repos - $34.7 millions, Portrait de Germaine - $18.6 million, Arlequin au baton - $10 million, Femme assise dans un fauteuil - $6.7 million and Tête de femme (Dora Maar) - $5.6 million; Matisse’s Nu couché vu de dos – brought $18.6 million (a record auction price); Claude Monet’s Nymphéas, temps gris – made $11.2 million; Andre Derain’s Paysage à l'Estaque – fetched $6.1 million; and Gauguin’s Vase de fleurs et gourde (1890) – brought $4.49 million.
I stated earlier that you need to buy a work because you like it, not because you think it is a good investment. The price people can pay in the competitive auction atmosphere during a strong cycle may not be what they will bring when the market has gone through a correction. A good example of this is Renoir’s La laveuse (1891) which (so accurately described by Stewart Waltzer, in his recent Art Market Watch report, as rather “charmless and insipid”) sold for $1.47 million, well over its estimate of $700 - $900,000. This same painting sold in 1990 for $1.25 million and again in 2001 for $544,000. Now had the 1990 buyer held on until 2006 he would have just about broken even (remember, the prices shown include the auctioneer’s commissions) but it appears he needed to sell in 2001 and took a sizable loss ... his loss turned out to be somebody’s gain. Even Renoir’s Fleurs et fruits (1889) which sold in 1997 for $3.6 million only mustered a bid of $2.5 million this time around. Could the fact that this was one of the infamous paintings Dennis Kozlowski purchased at a show in New York City in 2001 and shipped to New Hampshire to avoid sales tax have played a role in the $1.1 million loss? One would like to think so, but the Monet, Près Monte-Carlo, he bought for $3.95 million at the same time sold for $5.05 million this time around. Mr. Kozlowski paid about $7.5 million for the two works in 2001 and in 2006 the two works sold once again for about $7.5 million – a wash.
Here are a few additional positive ‘investment’ results from these sales: In 1987 Andre Derain’s Musique sold for $165,000 … this time around it made $520,000; In 1989 Soutine’s Femme en rouge appuyée à un fauteuil sold for $407,000 … this time it brought $2.5 million; and in 1995 Picasso’s Sylvette sold for $800,000 … in 2006 it brought $4.1 million.
By the end of that week 652 works were offered; of those 531 found buyers (about 81%) and $457 million worth of Impressionist and Modern art changed hands. For comparison, in May of 2005 about $300 million worth of art was sold during the same week; but there were no $95 million paintings in those sales.
The following week found New York immersed in Blue Chip and New Chip Contemporary works ... and once again, the action was fast, hot, and furious. Headlines in the New York Times read: In the Race for the Millions, 2 Paintings Come in Tied, and Warhol and Judd Soar in $143 Million Art Sale; while one of the European trade papers front page read: If there is a bubble, it’s not set to burst yet (Hedge funds continue to stake claim on big-ticket names); the latter referring to the numerous hedge-fund managers who are currently active in the art market ... and for some of them, price is no object.
The fast paced world of Contemporary art is still traveling at break-neck speed and the two top works for the week were Willem de Kooning’s Untitled XVI (1975) and Roy Lichtenstein’s Sinking Sun (1964) ... each selling for $15.96 million to the same New York dealer (who has been know to bid for one of the super-rich hedge-fund managers). These top prices were followed by Andy Warhol’s 20 x 16 inch, 1962 Small Torn Campbell’s Soup Can (Pepper Pot) that made $11.77 million and Willem de Kooning’s 1961 Untitled fetching $10.09 million … both being bought by New York dealers. Other impressive results included another 20 x 16 inch Warhol titled S&H Green Stamps – the work was estimated at $1 - $1.5 million and sold for $5.16 million; Jeff Koons’ New Hoover convertibles, green, red, brown, new Hoover deluxe shampoo polishers yellow, brown double-decker (consisting of three vacuum cleaners, two shampoo polishers, plexiglas, and fluorescent lights) which blew by its $2.5 - $3.5 million estimate to sell at $5.28 million; Damien Hirst’s Away From the Flock, Divided (consisting of steel, glass, silicone sealants, formaldehyde solution, lamb and tanks … he cut the lamb in half and suspended it in two separate tanks) that sold for $3.37 million (it originally sold in 1996 for £40,000); as well as over 20 auction records that were established for artists such as David Hockney - $3.6 million; Lucia Fontana - $2.7 million; Andreas Gursky - $2.25 million; Morris Louis - $1.8 million; Richard Prince - $1.36 million and John Chamberlain - $1.02 million.
The week also included 26 works from the Donald Judd Foundation with the proceeds being earmarked for the foundation’s endowment. Most of the works were fairly late examples and included items such as Untitled (85-21A Bernstein), a 1985 ‘sculpture’ of galvanized iron and transparent light blue Plexiglas … so you can visualize it, this was a 5.9 x 27 x 24 inch metal box with a blue lid … estimate $300 - $400,000 ... sold for $531,200; and Untitled (6 units; 93-1 Ballantine) that consisted of 6 stacked boxes, that hang on the wall, made of Douglas fir plywood with gray, yellow, brown, blue, orange and green transparent Plexiglas that was estimated at $2 - $3 million and sold for $2.7 million. It was reported in ArtNet’s Art Market Watch that this same work “was exhibited in the Judd retrospective at the Tate in 2004 … [and] could have been purchased by a museum at the time for perhaps $500,000 … There were no takers.” Someone missed out on a great opportunity.
Of course, not everything that was offered found a new owner. Among the failures were Francis Bacon’s Man Carrying a Child – estimated at $8 - $12 million; Jean Dubuffet’s Henry Michaux acteur Japonais – estimated at $3 - $4 million; David Smith’s Canopic Head – estimate $4 – $6 million; Jean-Michel Basquiat’s Five Fish Species – estimate $2.5 - $3.5 million; Lucien Frued’s Head of a Man – estimate $900 - $1.2 million; and Andy Warhol’s Gold Jackie (in 2 parts) – estimate $1.8 - $2.5 million and his $ - estimate $3 - $4 million.
When all was said and done, over 1000 works were offered for sale and just over $390 million worth of Contemporary art was sold ... that was up from the $300 million sold in May of 2005.
So, what does all of this information tell us? If you want good quality, important works by Blue & New Chip artists in the Impressionist, Modern and Contemporary fields, you better be ready to spend some serious money because right now there is a great deal of wealth chasing fewer and fewer works. And you might keep in the back of your mind that when buyers from other countries, like China and India, begin to turn their attentions to these periods, we may just see a continuation of these escalating price levels.
Gallery Updates: For the month of June, the gallery will be open Monday – Thursday 10am – 5:30 pm, and all other times by appointment.
We are pleased to inform you that since our last sales update the following works are in various stages of being spoken for: Jean B.C. Corot’s La petite vachère au bord de l'eau (environs de Gisors); Daniel Ridgway Knight’s Girl Picking Poppies; Henry Moret’s La Côte Bretonne; Julien Dupré’s Femme au soleil, faneuse; Marie Dietele’s Vaches au pré; George Armfield’s Three Dogs by a Brook; Edouard Cortes’ Boulevard de la Madeleine and La barque; Sally Swatland’s August Delphiniums and John Kuhn’s Columbine.
Web Site Updates: New works by the following artists have been, or will be, added to the web site this month: Adrien Moreau, Emile Hublin, Edouard Cortes, Sally Swatland, Gregory Frank Harris, John Kuhn and Ugo O. Giannini.
We have also added a biography on the British landscape artist Benjamin Williams Leader.
Next Month: Still giving it some thought.
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