Economic woes no barrier to record prices;
Early 2008 auctions reflect strong upward trend
Despite a gloomy backdrop of a sub-prime mortgage crisis and rising oil prices, auction houses reported record prices in 2007, led by a strong showing from contemporary art-with a noteworthy performance by Chinese artists.
The 2007 market started where it left off in 2006, as evidenced by stellar spring auctions. But in the second half of the year, economic turmoil had financiers and collectors alike speculating whether the fall auction season would signal a downturn.
The market stumbled briefly, in early November, when Van Gogh’s The Wheat Fields failed to sell at Sotheby’s in New York. Also going unsold were works by Picasso, Matisse, and Monet. The firm’s stock price fell as heavy guarantees for the sale resulted in $14 million in losses. Then in November, Christie’s and Sotheby’s sold more than $640 million in contemporary art. Sotheby’s reported that its November 14 total of $316 million was the firm’s highest ever for a single sale.
Chinese contemporary artists made news in 2007, especially in October auctions of Italian and Asian art at the three leading houses. Of the $355 million in total sales, $44 million came from Chinese artists.
In early February, auctions of modern and impressionist art at Sotheby’s and Christie’s in London yielded better than expected sales, as Sotheby’s made $230 million in sales and a Picasso painting sold at Christie’s for $11.3 million-about double the expected price.
“The market’s fine. The total was huge and there was a lot to sell,” said New York dealer Nick Mclean of Eykyn Mclean in a Bloomberg.com article following the Christie’s event.