Malevich sale kick-starts nervous season of art auctions
Nov 4, 2008, 13:06 GMT
New York - A record sale of a work by Russian abstract painter Kazimir Malevich soothed frayed nerves at New York's autumn art auctions this week, but the world financial crisis is spreading gloom in the art market.
The auction houses Christie's and Sotheby's are hoping for record prices for some exemplary art works, but all in all, the mood is getting darker.
Prices for all investments - shares, gold, oil, real estate - have been falling, Mark Porter, head of Christie's America told the New York Times. It would be 'unrealistic' to think that art was immune against the pressures of the market, he said.
The art market has been dismal, as wealthy collectors have been hit by tumbling stock markets.
Auctioneers at Sotheby's breathed a little easier on Monday, after Sumprematist Composition, a key work by Russian avant-garde painter Kazimir Malevich, fetched a record of just over 60 million dollars in the first night of the annual autumn auctions.
It was the highest price ever paid for a Russian art work, but stayed just above its pre-auction estimate of 60 million dollars.
Edvard Munch's unusual love scene Vampire, went strong, fetching 38.12 million dollars, way above the pre-auction estimate of 30 million dollars.
Other big-ticket works, like Edgar Degas' 1879 Danseuse au repose, however, sold below expectations, fetching only 37 million dollars, while works by Picasso or Modigliani, usual big sellers at the auctions, were left unsold.
New York's auction houses were careful in setting their prices, after disappointing sales elsewhere. At a Sotheby's auction of contemporary art in London a few weeks ago, works failed to fetch even the lower limits of their estimates.
'After London we contacted our customers and talked about adjustments,' said Alex Rotter, head of Sotheby's New York. 'Buyers will have to pay 20 to 30 per cent less than a few months ago.'
According to the New York Times, the auction houses tried to minimize their risks as well, with Sotheby's giving only half as many price guarantees than last year, which however, still amount to 300 million dollars. The auctioneers guarantee the seller a previously agreed minimum revenue, no matter if the price is fetched at the auction.
Some experts see the sinking prices at the art market as a chance for buyers. 'Many collectors, who in the past came away empty-handed because of other, more aggressive bidders, now see a chance for themselves,' said Brett Gorvy, deputy head of Christie's America.
News that Harlequin, a cubist painting by Pablo Picasso from 1909, had been withdrawn at short notice, caused a stir, as the 30-million-dollar work was slated to be a big ticket at the Sotheby's auction.
While the company citied 'private reasons' for the withdrawal, media reports speculated that the owners feared it would fetch too little because of the current volatile situation in the art market.
The Malevich sold Monday is one of a series of five paintings returned to the painter's heirs by the Amsterdam Stedelijk Museum after years of legal wrangling.
The New York Times reported that the heirs initially attempted to sell all five paintings privately for 300 million dollars, but failed to do so.