Source: Sotheby's

Why $361 Million for 11 Artworks Is a Disappointment

The top of the art auction market comes back to earth.

It’s been a roller coaster ride of an auction “gigaweek” in New York, as Christie’s and Sotheby’s scrambled to scale back expectations in a subdued market, with mixed results. As the dust and dollars settle, though, there’s cause to be reasonably optimistic: “Overall it’s obviously a very sobering week,” said Patrick Legant, a London-based art adviser who was in New York for the sales. “It’s also reassuring, though, because you still had bidders out there, and a lot of people who are still interested in buying art. It’s just that they’re a bit more selective.”

And that might be the key. As auction houses try to phase out costly guarantees (in which the house or a third party guarantees a consignor in advance that an artwork will sell for a minimum amount), anecdotal evidence implies that rather than risk an artwork selling for a subpar price, or—more disastrously—not at all, people are turning to dealers to sell their works.

“At the moment, auctions don’t seem to be the place where you can take your best picture and get a good price,” said Legant. “We’re going through a period where if someone wants to sell an important work, they go through the more private route.”

That, along with volatile global markets, slumping hedge funds, and election-year jitters, might go a long way in explaining why the top 11 lots at New York’s spring auctions totaled a ho-hum $361,650,000 this year, which is close to what just two works sold for last May, when a Picasso painting went for $179.4 million and a sculpture by Giacometti fetched $141.3 million. Overall, this week’s sales were a staggering $1.6 billion less than the total last year.

Still, the auction included some great pieces this year. Here are the top lots that sold:

$57,285,000 for Jean-Michel Basquiat’s Untitled, 1982

Jean-Michel Basquiat’s Untitled, 1982
Jean-Michel Basquiat’s Untitled, 1982
Source: CHRISTIE'S IMAGES LTD. 2016

Sold at Christie’s Post-War and Contemporary Art Evening Sale

 

$36,650,000 for Cy Twombly’s Untitled (New York City), 1968

Cy Twombly’s Untitled (New York City), 1968
Cy Twombly’s Untitled (New York City), 1968
Source: Sotheby’s

Sold at Sotheby’s Contemporary Art Evening Sale

 

$34,970,000 for Francis Bacon’s Two Studies for Self-Portrait, 1970

Francis Bacon’s Two Studies for Self-Portrait, 1970
Francis Bacon’s Two Studies for Self-Portrait, 1970
Source: Sotheby’s

Sold at Sotheby’s Contemporary Art Evening Sale

 

$32,645,000 for Mark Rothko’s No. 17, 1957

Mark Rothko’s No. 17, 1957
Mark Rothko’s No. 17, 1957
Source: Christie’s

Sold at Christie’s Post-War and Contemporary Art Evening Sale

 

$28,165,000 for Clyfford Still’s PH-234, 1948

Clyfford Still’s PH-234, 1948
Clyfford Still’s PH-234, 1948
Source: Christie’s

Sold at Christie’s Post-War and Contemporary Art Evening Sale

 

$27,045,000 for Claude Monet’s Le Bassin Aux Nymphéas, 1919

Claude Monet’s Le Bassin Aux Nymphéas, 1919
Claude Monet’s Le Bassin Aux Nymphéas, 1919
Source: Christie’s

Sold at Christie’s Impressionist and Modern Art Evening Sale

 

$20,410,000 for Auguste Rodin’s L’Éternel Printemps, 1903

Auguste Rodin’s L’Éternel Printemps, 1903
Auguste Rodin’s L’Éternel Printemps, 1903
Source: Sotheby’s

Sold at Sotheby’s Impressionist and Modern Art Evening Sale

 

$17,189,000 for Maurizio Cattelan’s Him, 2001

Maurizio Cattelan’s Him, 2001
Maurizio Cattelan’s Him, 2001
Source: Christie’s

Sold at Christie’s Bound to Fail Sale

 

$16,378,000 for Maurice de Vlaminck’s Sous-Bois, 1905

Maurice de Vlaminck’s Sous-Bois, 1905
Maurice de Vlaminck’s Sous-Bois, 1905
Source: Sotheby’s

Sold at Sotheby’s Impressionist and Modern Art Evening Sale

 

$15,370,000 for Cy Twombly’s Untitled [Bacchus 1st Version V], 2004

Cy Twombly’s Untitled [Bacchus 1st Version V], 2004
Cy Twombly’s Untitled [Bacchus 1st Version V], 2004
Source: Sotheby’s

Sold at Sotheby’s Contemporary Art Evening Auction

 

$15,285,000 for Jeff Koons’s One Ball Total Equilibrium Tank, 1985

One Ball Total Equilibrium Tank, 1985
One Ball Total Equilibrium Tank, 1985
Source: Christie’s

Sold at Christie’s Bound to Fail Sale

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