Sunday, November 15, 2009


Jean-Michel Basquiat Brother Sausage, 1983, estimated $9 mil-$12 mil, Unsold, Christie’s New York, Nov. 10, 2009


There has been some confusion about the art market. Is it up or is it down? The answer is it is up from a recent low point in the Fall of 2008 but it is still down from a high point in May of 2008. Overall, the market has been down since its highest point. However, the Fall of 2009 has brought some reason to celebrate.

September 15, 2008 was the day Lehman Brothers filed for bankruptcy and the day the western markets began to plummet in earnest. That date is also a good marker for the day the art market began to change course. Although Christie's had a record sale of $362 million just four months before, the Fall of 2008 could only be described as dismal. Potential sellers that were able to hold onto their works did so.

Andy Warhol200 One Dollar Bills 1962, Estimate $8,000,000—$12,000,000,sold $43,762,500, Sotheby’s New YorkNov. 11, 2009

But if Fall 2008 made art lovers think the market was doomed, then the Fall of 2009 should give them hope. On November 11, 2009 Sotheby's sold 52 of 54 lots which brought in $134,438,000 plus premium. The most exciting lot of the evening was Andy Warhol's 200 One Dollar Bills from 1962. That lot opened at $6 million and then jumped by $1 million bids until the hammer came down at $39 million ($43,762,500 with premium). Although pre-sale skeptics predicted the Warhol lot would 'make the sale' it was, in fact, not the only exciting lot. Alice Neel's work, Jackie Curtis and Rita Red helped set a new auction record high for the artist by selling for $1,650,500. Other new auction records set at that sale including Jean Dubuffet's Trinite-Champs-Elysees, 1961 ($6,130,500); Germaine Richier's , La Feuille bronze, 1948 ($842,500); and Juan Munoz's, Five Seated Figures, 1996 ($1,202,500).

This is not to say the the auction market has rebounded in full. While sales exceeding $134 million proves that the art market is moving up (Sotheby's May 2009 sale totaled just $125 million), it certainly does not come close to the high point in the market and estimates are still conservative. It is also important to note that there have been some disappointments in recent days as well. Just two days before the Sotheby's sale was Christie's Contemporary Art Sale on November 10. Connecticut horse farmer Peter Brant's painting entitled Brother Sausage (estimated $9,000,000-$12,000,000) by Jean-Michel Basquiat and his prized Andy Warhol painting entitled Tunafish Disaster (estimated $6,000,000-$8,000,000) both went unsold. Many in the artworld felt that Brant's desired price was too high while said "Cynics may view the buy-ins differently, however, as a gambit to establish lower values for works that may become subject to a property settlement in a future divorce."


Infinity Nets, 1991Acrylic on canvas. 36 x 23 3/4 in. (91.4 x 60.3 cm). Signed and dated "Yayoi Kusama [in English and Japanese] 1991" on the reverse. This work is accompanied by the Yayoi Kusama Studio artwork registration card.
ESTIMATE $35,000-45,000, SOLD at Philips De Pury on November 12, 2009 for $842,500

Phillips de Pury & Company Art Evening sale on November 12 was also successful selling 31 of the 40 lots offered for a total $7,099,250, within its pre-sale estimate of $5.7–8.1 million. With only five lots exceeding the $500,000 mark and not a single lot reaching $1 million, the overall result was a welcome figure. Just a year before Phillips de Pury had an unsold rate of 46 percent by lot and 51 percent by value.

An even smaller Auction house, Stevens Auction Co. in Aberdeen, Miss told Kovel's that their auction business is also doing well again.

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