June 2012: Spring Art Market Report

Art Market Report, Spring 2012

by Shireen Lohrasbe


THE 2ND EDITION OF AADLA’S Spring Show ran May 3–6. Organized by the Art and Antique Dealers League of America, the show featured over fifty exhibitors dealing in everything from decorative objects to folk art. A number of complimentary lectures were organized at the Park Avenue Armory such as a talk titled “Adoption, Absorption, Assimilation: Foreign Influences in Early Chinese Art.”

THE INAUGURAL EDITION OF FRIEZE New York ran May 4–7. With more than 180 participant galleries from 30 countries, the fair debuted to generally positive reviews, attracting some 45,000 visitors. Considered The Armory Show’s main rival (albeit staged two months part), Frieze NY took an entirely different approach to the tradeshow paradigm. Located on Randall’s Island, it was more spacious and much less frenetic than The Armory, though some critics argued that Frieze’s subdued environment carried over to its overall sales.
According to the final press release, “Significant sales were reported at every level: Galerie Gisela Capitain sold an untitled work by Martin Kippenberger to a US collector for over €1,000,000. David Zwirner’s significant sales included John McCracken Be (2004) for $750,000 and two works by Donald Judd, both priced in the region of $500,000; Xavier Hufkens reported selling all of his works by Sterling Ruby ranging from $50,000 to $200,000; Victoria Miro placed four ‘Infinity Net’ works by Yayoi Kusama priced at $535,000 each. Metro Pictures placed a Cindy Sherman photograph from 1977 for $950,000. David Kordansky sold all nine available paintings by Jon Pestoni for $14,000 to $22,000.” A Paul McCarthy sculpture sold for $950K at Hauser & Wirth, while Lisson gallery found a buyer for a stainless steel sculpture by Anish Kapoor for £500,000. Furthermore, Katya Kazakina at Bloomberg News reported that dealer James Fuentes sold 30 works priced between $2,300–$45,000 at his solo artist booth featuring the work of Joshua Abelow.

THE NEW ART DEALERS ALLIANCE launched its first NY edition to coincide with Frieze. It was located in the former DIA Art Foundation building (previously occupied by Independent Art Fair during Armory week). Highlights included: several pieces by Spanish artist Jeronimo Elespe selling for $1,500–12,000, and a wooden work by Michael DeLucia for $10,000 at Eleven Rivington; Franklin Parrasch Gallery sold a painting by Rita Ackermann for $17,000 and drawings by Agnes Martin for $135,000–200,000; and, Leo Koenig sold several works by Tony Matelli for between $12,500 and $25,000.
NADA teamed with Phaidon and APAA (Association of Professional Art Advisors) on two panels. One panel titled "Chasing the New", presented a dialogue "about collecting work by emerging artists, moderated by Sarah Douglas, culture editor of the New York Observer…with gallerist Nicelle Beauchene, art advisor Wendy Cromwell, collectors Zoe and Joel Dictrow and curator Bridget Finn."

VERGE, PULSE, AND RED DOT joined NADA as satellite fairs to Frieze. Pulse New York left its usual timeslot with Armory in March for the British import in May. Director Cornel Dewitt told The Art Newspaper, “We wish [the Armory] all the best in their future endeavours and also want to extend a warm welcome to Frieze.”

EDVARD MUNCH’S “THE SCREAM” was purchased for a staggering $120 Million by an anonymous bidder at the Sotheby’s Impressionist & Modern evening sale held in early May. The iconic 1895 work was the top earner for the evening auction that totaled $330.6 Million. Other highlights included: Picasso’s “Femme Assise dans un fauteuil”, which fetched $29.2 Million, followed by Dalí’s “Printemps Necrophilique” for $16.3M, Joan Miro’s “Tete Humaine” for $14.8M, and Constantin Brancusi’s “Promethe” for $12.68M. The Sotheby’s IM day sale totaled $41.7M led by Picasso’s “Tete de Jeune Garcon” for $2.7M (more than double its pre-sale high estimate of $1.2M).
Christie’s took in $23.5 Million during its IM day Sale and $117M during its evening sale. The top lot was Cezanne’s “Card Player”, which fetched for $19.1 M followed by works by Matisse, Picasso, and Monet.

THE HIGHLY ANTICIPATED CONTEMPORARY sales began May 8 with Christie’s New York. The auction house’s Post-war and Contemporary evening sale totaled $388.5 Million. According to Artinfo: “The sweet spot of the huge evening centered around the 13-lot trove from David Pincus, the late collector and philanthropist who passed away in November. It was expected to bring $89.8-125.9 million and wound up making $174.9 million instead. Leading that dazzling pack was lot 20, Mark Rothko’s magisterial oil on canvas, ‘Orange, Red, Yellow’ (1961), which unleashed a bidding frenzy, starting at $24 million and quickly escalating, at least, for the most part, at one million dollar increments.”

The Rothko eventually sold for $86.9 Million (with an estimate of $35–45M), followed by Yves Klein’s “FC1” for $36.5M, and Jackson Pollock’s “Number 28” for $23M. And Gerhard Richter earned six new records. In total, Christie’s PwC day and evening auctions brought in $465 Million.
Sotheby’s accumulated $266.6 Million during its equivocal sale, met with tremendous success the following night on May 9. Of the 57 lots, 46 sold (81%). The top lot was Francis Bacon’s “Figure Writing Reflected in a Mirror”, which sold for $44,882,500 and Roy Lichtenstein’s “Sleeping Girl”, for the exact same amount. Furthermore, famed Chinese artist Ai Wei Wei reaped a new record price for his popular sunflower seeds installation titled “Kui Hua Zi”. It sold for $782,500 to an anonymous telephone bidder.

On May 10th, Phillips de Pury held its contemporary evening auction. It also raked in substantial sales totaling $89.9 Million. According to Art Market Monitor, “The week ended at Phillips, where the most significant sale was a six-foot Jean-Michel Basquiat crucifixion figure which sold for a record $16.3 million – a price that now puts Basquiat on a par with late Picasso, which is just where his fans want him to be.” Other top lots included works by de Kooning, Warhol, Twombly, and Lichtenstein.

ARTTACTIC’S MOST RECENT REPORT on the contemporary market is positive: “The overall auction total for the three Post-war and Contemporary Evening sales at Christie’s, Sotheby’s and Phillips de Pury came to an impressive $634 Million (with a accumulative pre-sale estimate of $528.6–$740 M). This was the second highest Post-war and Contemporary Evening sales total ever—37% higher than May 2011 and 14% more than November 2011. The average price per lot of all three evening sales (at Sotheby’s, Christie’s, and Phillips) came to $4.5 Million – 24% higher than 2008.” Furthermore, the PwC market is only 5% below the peak in Spring 2008, before the recession hit.

IN TERMS OF AMERICAN PAINTINGS, Christie’s New York garnered $27.2 Million in sales and Sotheby’s $34.8 M. Deputy chair of the American paintings department at Christie's, Eric Widing, told Artinfo, “We’re seeing a pronounced uptick in the marketplace…We’ve been waiting for it for some years now, and it’s finally happened.”

THE 2ND EDITION OF artMRKT San Francisco ran May 17–20. With over 70 galleries specializing in contemporary and modern art, the fair attract 15,500 visitors. The exhibitors roster included: Sloan Fine Art (New York), Timothy Yarger Fine Art (Los Angeles), and Aperture Foundation (New York) with notable sponsorships and partnerships with Artspace and Art Cards.
artMRKT SF was also involved in a number of charitable initiatives. The Opening Night Benefit Preview welcomed 4,500 attendees and raised just over $20,000 for the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. Furthermore, the 2012 MRKTworks Auction, raised $7,500 for local beneficiaries such as ArtCare, diRosa, The Crucible, The Oxbow School, Verge Center for the Arts, and Visual Aid.

ACTIVE IDEAS PRODUCTIONS hosted “The Tools for the Art World”. Moderated by AIC’s Annika Connor, the panel presented the expertise of Tucker Neel, Vice President of GYST-Ink; Jonathan Munar, Director of Digital Media and Strategy at Art21; Dogan Perese, Founder and CEO of Gallerist; and, Caroline Green, Partner and Director of Business Development at Ivan Expert. The discussion “focus[ed] on the place of technology as an alternative vehicle for creating, promoting, showing, and selling art.”


CANADIAN AUCTION HOUSE HEFFEL held a highly successful auction on May 17th. The sale totaled $14.6 Million (with a $9–12M estimate). According to the Vancouver Sun, “10 paintings by Lawrence Harris, eight by Emily Carr, seven by Jean-Paul Lemieux, seven by E.J. Hughes, five by Edwin Holgate and four by Paul-Emile Borduas among the 185 lots.” The top lot was “La Plage Américaine” by Paul Lemieux, which sold for $1.8 Million followed by Emily Carr's 1930 oil Eagle Totem for $1.6M...It was the sixth biggest sale of Canadian art in history.”

SOTHEBY’S HONG KONG SPRING auctions accumulated $317 Million USD (HK $2.46 Billion). The total exceeded the pre-sale estimates of 2,780 objects at $244 Million, however this was 30% less than last year. Apparently there are less Chinese “mainland” buyers willing to take risks buying up newer artists and a higher percentage of speculators (who purchase art as prospective investment).
Christie’s too witnessed a 32% drop at their spring HK auctions. Although the auction house made $385M (HK $3.2B), there was similar buying behavior among its clients. On the other hand, Jonathan Stone, International Director of Asian art at Christie's told Reuters, "There is a degree of price awareness and some of the speculative element that may have existed in the market two years ago is reduced.”

THE 5TH EDITION OF ART HK 12 ran May 17–20. The fair attracted 67,205 visitors, up 6% from 2011 (and 40% from 2010). This is partly due to increased visibility on the international circuit and its new, highly publicized co-ownership with MCH Group, which runs the Art Basel fairs. The new ownership triggered fierce competition among the 700 applicants, whittled down to only 266 galleries—the resulting exhibitors roster came from 38 countries, 47% Western, 53% Asian.
Many critics deemed the showcased art “museum worthy” and sales ran rampant accordingly. De Sarthe Gallery (from Hong Kong) sold two oil paintings by Chu Teh Chun for $3 Million USD, while Tornabuoni Art sold several works by Alighiero Boetti including “Mappa” for EUR 1 Million. NY-based Bernard Jacobson Gallery sold a piece by Robert Motherwell for $1 Million. London’s White Cube sold six canvasses by Anselm Kiefer priced between $600,000 to $1 Million, and a work by George Baselitz for $500K. Other sales highlights included: David Hockney at Annely Juda Fine Art, Paul McCarthy at Hauser & Wirth, and Sterling Ruby and George Condo at Sprüth Magers. And lastly, Lin & Lin Gallery from Taipei sold all 15 of its Liu Wei paintings.

OVERALL THE CHINESE MARKET is difficult to measure. According to Art Market Monitor, “China’s place in the global art market—are not to be relied upon. The massive growth has been accompanied by massive acts of defalcation.” Defaults on payments are common practice in the Chinese auction circuit along with unidentified counterfeits.
The Financial Times reported, “There are some 300 auction houses across mainland China licensed to sell works of art… Because of the faking problem, items from abroad with a traceable provenance are more sought-after. Almost 40 per cent of the highest-priced items on the block in China last year were consigned from outside the country to Chinese houses – foreign auctioneers (to their great frustration) are still not allowed to operate on the Chinese mainland. This, coupled with China’s enormous taxes on art sales, and the fact that the renminbi is not a fully convertible currency, means that the foreign companies’ focus on Hong Kong as an art-trade nexus for the whole region is ever more intense.” These factors skew the relative worth of the country’s art market and must be more clearly publicized as such.

SOTHEBY’S LONDON HELD a sale dedicated to the prestigious collection of the late Gunter Sachs, May 22 and 23. The successful auction earned £41.7 million ($65.5 million), with 90% of offered lots selling, 75% of which sold for higher than their respective pre-sale estimates. Art Media Agency reported, “the principal attraction was a self portrait by Sachs’ old friend Andy Warhol entitled Self Portrait (Fright Wig), which sold for £5.3 million (€6.6 million) to an unknown buyer. The estimated price for the canvas had been £2-3 million (€2.5-3.7 million).”

LATE MAY’S SLEW OF LATIN AMERICAN auctions hosted by three main houses totaled $48.4 Million. Although the total was well below the pre-sale cumulative estimate of $51.6–72.6M, it was 51.5% higher than last year. ArtTactic reported, the “sales only came in 14% below the record season in May 2008...This season the market started to show increasing appetite for modern art outside Mexico, which has played a dominant role in recent years. Strong demand for art works from Brazil, Chile, Venezuela, Colombia and Cuba, signals that new collectors related to these regions are playing an increasingly important role in the growth of the Latin American art market.”

THE SUBJECT OF LATIN AMERICAN art was a hot topic during a recent art finance conference organized by Artvest. Shane Ferro at Artinfo wrote, “Despite steady growth, Latin American art is, it seems, one of the few categories that has remained isolated from the frenzy that motivates hedge fund managers and Russian oligarchs to bid eight and nine figures for trophies by blue-chip modern masters. As such, the speculators and ‘art investors’ are kept out, and great pieces of art from Latin American artists continue to be an attractive buy for collectors. According to Virgilio Garza, the head of the Latin American art department at Christie's New York, ‘the nature of our market is very non-speculative. People are really passionate about this field — they don't sell things that easily or that often, so we see steady but upwards growth.’”

MAY 18–23 MARKED THE 20TH edition of ArteBA in Buenos Aires. Though the fair welcomed 120,000 visitors, the market is down. Art Media Agency wrote, “In 2010, the total turnover of the Argentinian art market was 6 M$; this year the figure stands at 4 M$. This drastic drop is unexpected, as conditions were the same as last year, although the 2011 edition presented a wider selection of international art. 30% of the participating galleries were not Argentinian and it would seem that this was partly the reason for the disappointing results. Foreign galleries reported that they had a hard time selling their wares … Argentinian, Colombian and Brazilian galleries, however, are pleased with their results.”

GREECE’S ECONOMIC WOES have deeply affected its art market. Art-Athina, the largest art fair in Athens was cancelled this year. Founded in 1993 by the Hellenic Art Galleries Association, the fair served as an important barometer on the strength of Greece’s art market. Collector and owner of the Frissiras Museum Vlassis Frissiras told Artinfo, “‘The collapse of [the art market] is a corollary of our cultural collapse. Collecting art is a luxury business, and a financial meltdown has tempered collectors' willingness to buy. If you take a look at the art galleries, you will see how squeezed they are. Many are on the verge of closing.’” Furthermore, there is little exposure for Greek artists outside the country—a reality that may shift over the next few years.


Shireen Lohrasbe

Shireen holds a BBA in Design & Management from Parsons The New School for Design and an MA in Art Business from Sotheby's Institute of Art, New York. She has contributed to several online publications including Art Observed, Quintessentially Art, and Whitewall Magazine. Shireen is a regular art market contributor at Whitehot Magazine.

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