Thursday, November 13, 2008

The crunch begins to bite a the top end

Following the sometimes painful results of last week's Impressionist and Modern art sales in New York, there can now be little doubt that the worldwide financial distress is undermining demand for trophy paintings and sculpture. All sales missed their low estimates by some margin.

Just 64 per cent of the 70 lots found buyers at Sothebys evening sale of November 3 (the lowest for one of these sales at Sotheby's for seven years) for a $197m (120m) total that was well below the $338-475m overall estimate. Auctioneer Tobias Meyer cited a "changed financial environment" for what he referred to as a "new market" for art.

Attempts to downgrade reserves set in the summer starved off any 'meltdown', and it was clear that the auction houses were keener to sell and lose money on guaranteed works than hold onto them. Ten days prior to this sale, Sotheby's had reported a loss of $15m in guarantees from recent auctions in Hong Kong and London. Sotheby's have also announced a $0.15 dividend for the fourth quarter of 2008. The announcement comes as New York adjusts to falls in the Impressionist, modern and contemporary art markets.

Christie's held back-to-back evening sales. The Modern Age, a hardback catalogue combining art from the estates of New York society figures Rita K Hillman and Alice Lawrence, met a lukewarm response on November 5. "The estimates were from an earlier time, and the market has changed now," conceded Christopher Burge, the evening's auctioneer. The two collections of good but not stellar materials brought a total of $43m (26.3m) against it $104m low estimate. Of the 58 lots, 17 failed to sell. Americans represented 61 per cent of the buyers, with Europeans (including Russians) trailing at 26 per cent. Middle Eastern collections accounted for only two per cent of buyers.


Sotheby's

Christie's

Antique Trade Gazette

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