Results from Important Fall Auctions in New York & London (Spring 2011)

Record prices were the theme of 2010. Of the top ten Western works of art, two crossed the magical US $100 million threshold, two were in excess of US $60 million, three in excess of US $50 million. Eight of the ten were in the Impressionist & Modern Art sector, an astonishing result in any climate.
Overall, results in the Impressionist & Modern sector this past season showed signs that the market has stabilized and well-estimated, fresh property is extremely desirable. In total, 145 lots were offered in the Sotheby’s and Christie’s evening sales, achieving a total hammer price of US $402.6 million versus the presale estimate of US $389.1 to US $553.0 million, with 22.1% of the lots going unsold (18.8% by value).
All of the top ten highest estimated lots sold for a total hammer price of US $221.0 million against the pre-sale estimate of US $160.0 to US $222.0 million, accounting for more than half of the overall hammer. Amedeo Modigliani’s two lots, sold at Sotheby’s, smashed through their high estimates, with one setting a new world record for the artist at US $69.0 million.
Chinese collectors are now actively participating in the market for Western art, most specifically, Impressionist & Modern Art and Old Masters and, to as lesser extent, 19th Century Paintings. One of the biggest questions facing the art market today is: As Chinese art collectors gain further exposure to Western art, what will be the impact?
Sotheby’s, Christie’s and a number of leading dealers have now made China a top priority. According to David Norman, Sotheby’s Co-Chairman, Worldwide Impressionist & Modern Art, “Chinese in their 40s to 50s make money and aggressively buy Asian art, but a part of them become more international and want to be diversified…” (1) Similarly, as Kelly Crow reported last fall in the Wall Street Journal, Ken Yeh, Deputy Chairman of Christie’s Asia, said that he only knew of three bidders between Shanghai and Beijing who were willing to spend over $20 million on an Impressionist painting. As of mid-January, that roster had grown to 20. (2)
While only 6% of lots were reportedly sold to Asian clients in Christie’s November Impressionist & Modern Art evening sale, this figure does not tell the entire story, as there were numerous Asian collectors who were under-bidders and consequently not included in the final statistics.

(1) “Sotheby’s Kicks Off Big New York Auction Season,” AFP, 2/11/2010.
(2) Crow, Kelly, “Fall Auctions: Will Bigger Be Better?” Wall Street Journal, 10/30/2010.

S2011-Graph 11

S2011-Graph 12

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