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Why Have Yayoi Kusama’s Prices Lagged Her Fame?

Bloomberg ran a story on how the art market recovered from the financial crisis. The story is framed to show that the financial crisis was a buying opportunity for collectors like Mitchell Rales, whose private museum Glenstone opens to the public soon, as well as “Eli Broad, Leon Black and Paul Allen; French luxury-goods baron Bernard Arnault; Russian fertilizer king Dmitry Rybolovlev; and members of Qatar’s royal family.”

Curiously, Bloomberg points to the record price of $5.8m paid by Philippe Ségalot for Yayoi Kusama’s No. 2 during the November 2008 sales as coup. Even though it was record price then, Bloomberg says the same piece would be worth almost six times that now.

On the face of it, you could see why they might think that. Kusama’s fame has only increased and spread in throughout the ensuing decade. She has grown to be an extraordinarily popular artist since then regularly filling museums to overflowing for her exhibitions around the world.

Bloomberg adduces an impressive chart of the Japanese painter’s auction volume to support the point that Kusama’s prices ought to be six-to-seven times higher today. Yet auction volume isn’t price level; and Kusama’s top prices have not risen substantially over those same 10 years.

The white Infinity Net painting from 1959 that set the 2008 record remains the fourth highest price paid for the artist’s work at auction. The three works that exceeded the 2008 price are all similar. All three are Infinity Nets; two are white; and all were made in the same 1959-1960 period.

The similarities continue. All three sold between 2014-2015; and they are tightly grouped around the $5.8m and $7m price points. That’s a 20% rise over six-to-seven years.

The FT Gives Us a Likely Price for Bonhams

Kate Burgess writes up the sale of Bonhams to private equity firm Epiris in the Financial Times with this reported guess at the selling price:

  • The terms of the deal were not disclosed but industry folk reckon Epiris is paying two-thirds of the £300m price tag.

That’s the good news. Burgess warns that Bonhams business has been stagnant the last few years on the topline with an increase in costs cutting into the bottom line.

  • Bonhams’ revenues in 2017 were the same as they were in 2012 but operating profits at £5.6m have halved in five years, according to Companies House filings.

All of that taken into account, what Burgess sees as Bonhams weakness—the reliance on the low-growth middle market—might be the company’s strength and opportunity. Future growth in the market for tangible assets will more likely come in objects not traditionally seen as valuable. The collectibles market is on fire for firms not in the fine art auction mainstream. Bonhams problem is that apart from classic cars, it has yet to make a new collectibles market into its own growth engine.

One Artist’s Journey to Zwirner

Naomi Rea has a very good summary of Harold Ancart’s career as an artist spurred by the artist’s first show with Zwirner in London. The Zwirner show closes in a few days, so take this as a reminder to see it while you can. Ancart’s initial representation came from Olivier Babin, a friend whose CLEARING gallery was just getting going eleven years ago. Xavier Hufkins and David Kordansky joined the team representing him after he moved to New York. Then came a 2014 cross-country drawing adventure that ended in Los Angeles:

Mike Homer, a partner at David Kordansky, recalls a supercharged Ancart bursting into the gallery on the tail end of this trip and dragging everyone down to his car to take a look at the new work. Homer was impressed, but by the time he later visited Ancart in his New York studio and offered to buy one of the oil stick drawings, it was too late.

Ancart had already shown them to David Breslin, then-chief curator at the Menil Drawing Institute in Houston, who advised him to keep the series together, with the understanding that he might be able to find a place for them. In 2016, Breslin made good on his promise, and all 27 works ended up in the prestigious collection. Ancart has no doubt that the exhibition of these works that summer, “There Is No There There,” his first show at a major US institution, was a turning point in his career.

Ancart’s market also shot up that same year adding commercial recognition to the gallery and museum affirmation he had already received. Ancart’s debut with Zwirner in London also came through CLEARING as former partner, Harry Scrymgeour, moved to the global giant’s UK outpost.

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