Frieze London and the auctions that have been scheduled to coincide with the truthful revealed two contradictory instructions for the artwork market final week. The truthful was, undeniably, filled with buzz and pleasure. Whereas it was busy, it didn’t have the manic over-crowded really feel that sure collectors complained of in 2022. It appears that evidently works have been bought – Gagosian had pre-sold their total stand of Damien Hirst’s flower photos; the Tate snapped up an Andrew Cranston portray from Ingleby gallery – and personal collectors appeared to be participating with the artworks severely.
For all the excitement in Regent’s Park, the auctions instructed a distinct story. Sotheby’s was the primary public sale home to carry its gross sales. As is turning into regular for the home, it separated its provide into extra modern works gathered below the banner of the Now sale and a extra conventional providing of their Modern sale. I suppose nomenclature turns into tough once you’re set on indicating your relevance however have already used up probably the most current time period obtainable when categorising artwork.
The Now sale was solely 21 heaps and had some successes. These included Lynette Yiadom-Boakye’s Six Birds within the Bush (2015), which bought for £2.95m towards an estimate of £1.2m–£1.8m (estimates don’t embody charges, outcomes do) and Cecily Brown’s Difficult (2001), which fetched £2.5m, additionally towards an estimate of £1.2m–£1.8m. (Is the £2m to £3m bracket turning into the candy spot for the London public sale market?). Regardless of these works promoting for properly over their estimates, it was inconceivable to see what adopted as something aside from a humid squib.
A spate of withdrawals noticed the already small sale considerably decreased – however the biggest blow to Sotheby’s was the failure to promote Gerhard Richter’s Abstraktes Bild (1986), which had been estimated at £16m–£24m. The Now and Modern gross sales made a mixed £45.6m: lower than half of the £97.1m they managed to usher in this time final yr.
Christie’s outcomes inform a distinct story – however solely barely. Not like its rival, the public sale home didn’t attempt to capitalise on London’s fame for cutting-edge artwork and, as an alternative, introduced a twentieth/twenty first century public sale, which included a Lucio Fontana amongst works by extra modern artists resembling Alvaro Barrington and Caroline Walker. The large successes of the night have been Paula Rego’s Dancing Ostriches from Walt Disney’s ‘Fantasia’ (1993) which realised a firmly mid-estimate £3.1m (that candy spot once more?) and Peter Doig’s Home of Photos (Haus der Bilder) (2000-02), which additionally got here in plumply mid-estimate at £6.1m. The sale totalled £47.9m with 52 heaps.
What buoyed the Christie’s outcomes was the primary a part of the Sam Josefowitz assortment (a reputation, maybe, acquainted to readers of Apollo, as his son was the journal’s writer). Josefowitz is famend as one of many main collectors of his era. He assembled one of many nice collections that ranged from Assyrian antiquities to exemplary Impressionist and Fashionable work. The primary in a collection of auctions devoted to the gathering made a complete of £51.8m, with Kees van Dongen’s La Quiétude (1918) fetching £10.8m – over double its estimate of £3–£5m. This was sufficient to make Christie’s whole seem a terrific deal extra spectacular than Sotheby’s, though single-owner collections usually are not dependable indicators of the public sale market, showing irregularly and including a lustre to plenty which may in any other case not carry out so properly (although this was completely not the case with the Josefowitz assortment).
On the similar time that Frieze was making a giant noise about all of the collectors coming to London, the posh conglomerate LVMH – whose presence at Frieze London by way of their champagne model Ruinart just isn’t precisely invisible, and who share many consumers with Frieze – introduced a slowing of their gross sales. Their shares dropped by seven per cent. The group which, just like the public sale homes, has relied on Chinese language consumers to plug the hole when the US and European markets slumped, can now not do that. The sale of the Lengthy Assortment at Sotheby’s Hong Kong suggests the identical is true for public sale homes. It was all the time assumed that whereas the air was skinny on the prime of the market, there have been sufficient gamers internationally to maintain it inflated. Towards a background of geo-political uncertainty and financial problem it’s turning into extra obvious that there are fewer wealthy folks anyplace on the planet who’re capable of, or need to, maintain the market. The correction that so many individuals have been anticipating is lastly right here. The query is whether or not the public sale homes can handle issues in order to not scare everybody off, or whether or not there’s going to be a panic that sees their provide dry up and perpetuate the unhealthy ambiance.