Whitehot Magazine

July 2014: May/June Art Market Report

New exhibition hall outside view at Art Basel in Basel, Switzerland. Image courtesy of Art Basel


By Shireen Lohrasbe


SPRING MASTERS NEW YORK (formerly The Spring Show NYC) ran May 1–May 4, presenting 51 galleries specializing in art and design, from antiquity through the 20th century. Under new producers Artvest Partners, the re-branded fair had Uruguayan architect Rafael Viñoly design the exhibition scheme—hexagonal, open booths and a unique floor plan lining Park Avenue Armory.

ARTMRKT SAN FRANCISCO ran May 15–May 18. The fourth SF edition featured over 70 galleries. “This year started off with the Benefit Preview Reception… [which] raised over $52,000 for the Museums’ New Acquisitions Fund. The evening’s capacity attendance of 5,000 + resulted in swift sales for many dealers, some reporting sales above the $100k mark.”

THE 3RD EDITION OF FRIEZE NEW YORK, sponsored by Deutsche Bank, transpired May 9–12. This year the fair presented 192 galleries from 28 different countries and drew 40,000 visitors. According to Frieze NY’s post-release: “The speed at which the fair has integrated into the cultural economy of the city was another point of discussion, with The New York Times describing it as ‘a dumbfounding display of human creative industry.”

ART BASEL HONG KONG ran for its second year re-branded under the MCH Swiss Exhibition/ Art Basel franchise, May 14–18. Sponsored by UBS, ABHK showcased 245 galleries from 39 countries with over half dedicated to Asia/ Asia-Pacific region and drew 65,000+ visitors.

CHRISTIE’S NEW YORK HELD ITS IMPRESSIONIST & MODERN Art evening auction May 6. The sale totaled $285,879,000, meeting mid-range of its $243.5–358.9 Million pre-estimate. “Of the 53 works offered, 9 lots sold for over $10 million, 18 for over $5 million, and 43 for over $1 million.” Cumulatively, the two-day series achieved $325.8 Million, reviving confidence in the IM market.
            Comparatively, Sotheby’s failed to match its rival with a 72-lot auction that grossed $219 Million. Usually its strong suit, the lukewarm IM sale may be due to the Sotheby’s high profile, nearly yearlong ordeal with activist investor Daniel Loeb.

THE DANIEL LOEB/ SOTHEBY’S DEBACLE dates back to October 2013. Loeb accused CEO William Ruprecht of mismanaging the auction house, a public company listed as Sotheby’s (NYSE:BID). According to Gene Marcial at Forbes explained: “And Loeb accused Sotheby’s of spending lavishly to please its board members. Management tried practically every defensive tactic to counter-attack: It announced in January a plan to return to shareholders $450 million through dividends and share buybacks, and the board offered Loeb a seat in Sotheby’s board. No dice, says Loeb. He wanted three board seats for his group, and sought to increase his stake to 15%... Even a positive decision by a judge on May 9, which ruled that Sotheby’s had every right to put up a poison pill to limit the shareholdings of activist investors, didn’t faze Loeb. But the court decision was too late for management, which by then had recognized the continuing damage that Loeb could do to Sotheby’s overall sales and profitability – and image in the art world.” In mid-May, Sotheby’s surprisingly granted Loeb three board seats and his company, Three Point, a hike to 15% in shareholding with Ruprecht staying on board (literally).

TUESDAY MAY 13TH MARKED ART AUCTION HISTORY! Christie’s New York Post-War And Contemporary Art Sale tallied an astronomical $745 Million, far surpassing November’s $691.6 Million hallmark moment. Of seventy-two lots offered, only four failed to find buyers with a 6% buy-in rate, 2% by value. Judd Tully at Blouin Artinfo wrote: “Forty of the lots were guaranteed, with the majority, 34, financed directly by Christie’s, six by anonymous third parties.” Several lots possessed $20 Million-plus starting bids, a few $30 Million-plus though pre-estimates were private, only available upon request.
            In terms of the actual art, Kelly Crow at The Wall Street Journal reported: “[the sale] reset records for artists like Alexander Calder and Barnett Newman, whose black-and-tan abstract, ‘Black Fire I,’ sold for $84.2 million. Christie's total easily exceeded its own $500 million expectations, with collectors, fashion designers and dealers in chunky eyeglasses chasing nearly everything on offer—and whistling and shaking their heads in amazement on occasion. In a surprise twist, abstract painter Joan Mitchell also became the most expensive female artist at auction when her untitled colorful bouquet from 1960 sold for $11.9 million.”

THE FOLLOWING EVENING SOTHEBY’S GROSSED HALF its rival’s tally. The 79-lot contemporary sale garnered $364.4 Million—no small feat—scoring mid-range of its $339-478 Million pre-estimate. Furthermore, the auction set eight new artist records for Julian Schnabel, Wade Guyton, Rosemarie Trockel, Dan Flavin, Adam McEwen, Matthew Barney, Sarah Lucas and Keith Haring.

IN EARLY JUNE, INVALUABLE (FORMERLY ARTFACT) raised $33.75 Million in “Series D funding round led by New York-based Insight Venture Partners, with participation from existing investors Ascent Venture Partners and Commonwealth Capital Ventures…. [This] comes on the heels of several large partnerships… including the launch of an exclusive partnership with eBay to make auction catalogs available for online bidding by eBay’s 145 million active users through their new live auction platform. In April, Invaluable also announced an exclusive agreement with EpaiLive, Asia’s leading online auction platform for antiques and art. Catalogs from Invaluable auction houses throughout North America are now listed on EpaiLive’s platform, with guaranteed payment from EpaiLive’s 100,000 registered users in China.”

THE 45TH EDITION OF ART BASEL, BASEL presented 285 galleries from 34 countries presenting 4000+ artworks. Sponsored by UBS, the event clocked “92,000 over the six show days–6,000 more than last year.” In terms of sales, Coline Milliard at Artnet reported: “Millions changed hands in the fair’s preview days. Unsurprisingly, it’s the brand names and safe investment pieces that attracted the top buyers. Secondary market gallery Skarstedt scored the biggest sale reported at time of writing, with a monumental Andy Warhol self-portrait from the iconic Fright Wig series, priced in the region of $35 million.”
            The well-documented frenetic energy of Art Basel is perfectly articulated in a recent article by Scott Reyburn at The New York Times: “’Jpeg bombing,’ as we might call it, has subtly changed the dynamic of Art Basel and other contemporary fairs. Back in the mid-2000s, during the last contemporary art boom, Armani-clad collectors would actually run into V.I.P. openings, desperate to have first dibs on the latest available works from the studios of Damien Hirst, Jeff Koons, Takashi Murakami and other fashionable artists… Art Basel has the reputation for being the fair for which dealers keep their best works. It’s also one of the most expensive, with some exhibitors paying more than $150,000 for their booths, transport, client entertaining and other costs. Many dealers try to defray the costs of this weeklong fair by finding buyers in advance for their most desirable pieces.” It’s a way to guarantee sales at the risk of peeving new potential clients.

LONDON’S IMPRESSIONIST & MODERN ART evening sales took place in late June. Christie’s held its IM auction June 24. The sale totaled £85,784,000/ $146,004,368, 67% sold by lot and 71% by value. “In total, 22 works of art sold for over £1 million / 32 for over $1 million.” Comparatively, Sotheby’s equivalent sale totaled £121.9 Million/$207 Million, with 91.3% lots sold.


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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