Tags: Prices | Prices | Art | Picasso

Stratospheric Prices Rattle the Art World

By Friday, 15 May 2015 11:45 AM Current | Bio | Archive

During the 1980s, Japanese buyers feverishly purchased for world-record prices paintings by Picasso, Monet, and other masters. They thought their investments were sound financial holdings, until the market crashed and the art connoisseurs were left with assets they could not sell. It might happen again. History often repeats itself.

Money seems to be growing out of trees lately for a select few. Ten record-breaking art auction prices were achieved on Monday night at Christie's New York.

They included a 1955 Cubist canvas by Picasso, Giacometti's life-sized "L'Homme au Doigt" (Pointing Man), which set a new record price for a sculpture when it sold for $141.3 million; and a canoe painting by the British artist Peter Doig, which sold for a record $26 million.

Other artist records were achieved for Chaim Soutine, Diane Arbus, Robert Delaunay, Cady Noland, Jean Dubuffet, Jean-Michel Basquiat, and René Magritte.

Of course, Christie's pumped the promotional train prior to the Monday evening art sale, which took in an astounding $705.9 million.

Calling it Pablo Picasso's "most important painting after the war," Christie's curators were positive the artist's "Les Femmes d'Alger" (Version 0), one of 10 in a late 1955 series, would bring a world record. They were right. It sold for a whopping $179 million with buyer's commission, and although there were cheers throughout the New York salesroom after the painting hit an all-time high, many people in the art world think the painting does not merit such a grand price.

The previous record for a painting at auction was $142 million for a triptych by Francis Bacon.

"Les Femmes d'Alger" is the world's most expensive painting but it certainly is not as important as the Museum of Modern Art's "Les Demoiselles d'Avignon" (a 1907 Cubist painting that changed the direction of art), nor is it as relevant or as impressive as "Guernica," a Spanish civil war painting in the Reina Sofia Museum in Madrid.

"Les Femmes d'Alger" (1955) is an homage to Delacroix and Velazquez, with the artist's muse Jacqueline Roque and references to Matisse (who died in 1954 and who inspired this painting). It is a colorful Cubist piece.

Brett Gorvey, the international head of postwar and contemporary art at Christie's New York branch, represented the unknown Picasso buyer and speculation is running rampant about who the billionaire is who had the guts to spend so much for one painting.

Chinese and Russian buyers have flooded the market with money lately, and one of them may have sprung for the Picasso canvas. Or was it some rich cartel, company, or a hedge fund? No one outside of Christie's knows for sure.

The high-end art market is hot, hot, hot right now and mega-wealthy buyers are causing prices to skyrocket. Christie's curators call it a "new era of the art market" in which international buyers battle for the best of the best being offered, and if you don't have $100 million to spend on a piece of art, you're no longer considered a top player.

This, of course, is problematic because if the public feels that good art can be bought only by the wealthiest 1 percent, they will stop collecting what they can afford because they'll think it's inferior to top-drawer art and they'll stop collecting.

That trend has already started to occur. In the American and European middle-market, prices have dropped more than 30 percent across the board and many auctions have had 30-50 percent buy ins. That partially is because the middle class can no longer afford to purchase art.

If the only art that is selling successfully is in the eight figures and up, dealers will not be able to acquire stellar pieces because most consignors place masterworks in auctions in order to get the highest prices for them. Thus, dealers will struggle to stay in business while the big auction houses get wealthier because the richest buyers will flock to them.

The art market is driven by supply and demand. Masterworks are hard to come by these days. Those who own them usually do not want to sell, but museums that can't afford large overheads often are forced to sell important works of art. Thus, good pieces come to the market, but they are scarce. Furthermore, because the super-rich have so much spendable cash, competition for fine art has become their new game of choice — and there seems to be no cap on their spending!

Patricia Jobe Pierce is a freelance writer, art historian, art dealer-consultant, certified AAA appraiser, public speaker, photographer and American art authenticator for museums, auction houses and collectors. She graduated from Boston University with a BFA in 1965, is owner and director of Pierce Galleries, Inc. in Nantucket and Hingham, Mass., and is author of many works, including, "Art Collecting & Investing: The Inner Workings and the Underbelly of the Art World." For more of her submissions, Click Here Now.

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Money seems to be growing out of trees lately for a select few. Ten record-breaking art auction prices were achieved on Monday night at Christie's New York, including a 1955 Cubist canvas by Picasso.
Prices, Prices, Art, Picasso
Friday, 15 May 2015 11:45 AM
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