Thursday, April 24, 2008

Americans Are Heaviest Bidders on Impressionist and Modern Art at Sotheby’s

ARTmostfierce had a busy week! Over the weekend there will be more personal blog posts and reviews. In the meantime enjoy this article by Carol Vogel of The New York Times.
Are Americans challenging the current economic crisis by simply enjoying the escapism of buying art or just being savvy investors ?
What do you think?

Published: May 8, 2008

Sotheby’s sale of Impressionist and modern art on Wednesday proved to be a solid if unexciting evening. Experts there, however, pronounced it “fantastic,” as if to again reassure buyers and sellers that the art market was alive and well despite setbacks in the financial and real estate markets.

Léger’s “Study for the Woman in Blue” (1912-13) sold Wednesday night for $39.2 million, an auction record for the artist.

Monet and Rodin Set Price Records at Christie's For Sale: Art and Optimism As was true at Christie’s auction of Impressionist and modern art on Tuesday night, the great wealth made all over the world is still being poured into art. But unlike at the Christie’s sale, which was dominated by European buyers, at Sotheby’s Americans took home 67 percent of the work, and Europeans bought 27 percent.

Perhaps the most closely watched work of the evening was a 1912-13 painting by Léger, “Study for the Woman in Blue.” Sotheby’s had advertised it around the world and took it to art-buying capitals for all the rich to see. The Cubist canvas, which was the evening’s priciest offering, was being sold by the heirs of Hermann Lange, a silk manufacturer from Krefeld, Germany. Sotheby’s had estimated it would sell for $35 million to $45 million. Bidding was thin: Only two people went for the work, which ended up selling to Doris Ammann, a Zurich dealer, for $35 million, or $39.2 million including Sotheby’s fees, a record price for the artist at auction. (The previous record was set at Christie’s in New York in 2003, when Léger’s “Woman in Red and Green,” from 1914, sold for $22.4 million.)

The auction house had given the sellers a guarantee — a secret amount promised regardless of the outcome of the sale — which experts familiar with the negotiations said was $38 million. If that is true, then the painting was not a big money-maker for Sotheby’s.

Still, it was the highest price in an evening that totaled $235.3 million, in the middle of an estimate of $203.9 million to $280.1 million. Of the 52 lots being offered, 11 did not sell.

The results were fairly similar to Christie’s sale on Tuesday night, which made $277.2 million, shy of its $286.8 million low estimate. At Christie’s, 14 of the 58 works did not sell.

More popular than the Léger was Munch’s “Girls on a Bridge,” from 1902: Five determined takers wanted it. Graham Kirkham, a London collector and the founder of the retail chain DFS Furniture, was selling the painting. It had been around the auction block several times. In 1980, Wendell Cherry, a founder of the Humana health care corporation, bought it at Christie’s for $2.8 million. In 1996, Mr. Cherry’s widow put it on the block at Sotheby’s, where Mr. Kirkham bought it for $7.2 million. On Wednesday night, the painting, depicting a group of young women huddled together, brought $30.8 million, above its high estimate of $28 million and another record price for the artist at auction.

(Final prices include the commission to Sotheby’s: 25 percent of the first $20,000, 20 percent of the next $20,000 to $500,000 and 12 percent of the rest. Estimates do not reflect commissions.)

As with the Munch, when a work was considered tops, there was a lot of bidding. Five bidders made a serious attempt to bring home Picasso’s “Crane,” a sculpture of an elegant bird fashioned from found objects like a shovel, twisted wicker, two forks, a gas spigot, screws and a spike. Conceived in 1951-52 and cast in 1952-54, it was estimated to sell for $10 million to $15 million. Ms. Ammann again was the winner, paying $19.1 million.

Perhaps the biggest bidding war of the evening was for Matisse’s “Geranium,” a rare 1910 still life in a rich palette of greens that was expected to fetch $2.5 million to $3.5 million. Six bidders kept going tenaciously, and the painting ended up selling to the Acquavella Gallery in Manhattan for $9.5 million.

Sculptures of all sizes were the winners at Christie’s. Sotheby’s had its share of sculptures on Wednesday, too. Top among them was a group of works collected by Raymond Nasher, the Dallas real estate developer who died last year at 85, and his wife, Patsy, who died in 1988. The Nashers owned several Giacomettis, including “Femme de Venise VIII,” conceived in 1956 and cast the following year. It was expected to sell for $8 million to $12 million, and it brought $10.1 million from an anonymous telephone bidder. (The price was far from the record $27.4 million paid on Tuesday night at Christie’s for “Standing Woman II,” from 1960.) A slightly later Giacometti “Standing Woman,” conceived in 1961 and cast in 1966, was also for sale at Sotheby’s, and it, too, brought a strong price. Three bidders went for the sculpture, which was estimated at $800,000 to $1.2 million; it sold to an anonymous telephone bidder for $2.3 million.

Another work by Giacometti also brought a strong price: “Portrait of Caroline,” a 1963 painting of the artist’s lover and frequent model that was expected to fetch $10 million to $15 million. Four bidders wanted the painting, which ended up selling to a telephone bidder for $14.6 million, a record price for a painting by the artist.

The Nashers also owned paintings, and on Wednesday night their estate was selling Picasso’s “Kiss.” Late Picassos have been all the rage recently, and this work, which the artist painted in 1969 while he was on the French Riviera with his wife Jacqueline, portrays an angry couple kissing and was expected to fetch $10 million to $15 million. Five bidders tried to buy the painting, and it sold to a telephone bidder for $17.4 million.

Not everything went as smoothly. One of the evening’s most expensive casualties was a 1952-53 Léger, “The Party in the Country,” which had no takers. The colorful canvas had been estimated to bring $12 million to $18 million, but there was not a bid in the room.

“Things that didn’t sell deserved to,” said David Nash, a Manhattan dealer. Over all, however, he said the sale showed that “there were no clouds over the horizon.”


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