What Do the Mid-Season Cont Sales Say?

Paul Kasmin Opens a New Space; Christie's Experiments with Blockchain; Bonhams Liquidates a Mid-East Private Equity Firm's Art

Mid-Season Cont Sales Down But Avg Prices Up

We’ve posted our analysis of the New York Contemporary Mid-Season auctions for AMMpro subscribers here with detailed data. (Please contact us if you’re having any trouble logging in there have been scattered issues.) In this subscription email, we will provide some of the summary of what the data tells us for AMMdaily subscribers.

In September 2018, the sales total for all three houses was $57.4m. That's a big drop from 2017's $74.6m. The sell-through rate this year was 76.5% which was only slightly below the previous year's 79.5%. So the drop in total volume was well-managed by the auction houses. In 2017, there were 1437 lots offered; last month, it was 841.

One clue as to what is going on here lies in the average price for the sales cycle. Average prices rose from 2017 to 2018 as the number of sold lots fell. The average price in 2017 was $51,900; the average price this Fall was $68,275. When we look at the list of top 40 most dynamic lots, the lots that were bid aggressively above their estimates, there is a striking contrast year over year.

In 2017, that list was dominated by lots estimated three- and four-figure levels. Aggressive bidding was looking for overlooked works. In 2018, the list is populated by five- and six-figure works. That may mean there is less interest in combing through the bargain bins. Or it could simply mean that having gotten the directional information from the market last year, the auction houses are delivering better and better-estimated works to buyers this season.

Christie’s Experiments with Blockchain + Ebsworth

After running a conference on Art and the Blockchain this Summer in London that seemed to cool some of the fever around the subject, Christie’s announced today it will dip toe into these waters with its most visible auction event the Fall:

  • “will pilot encrypted registration of art transactions on a blockchain this fall, as part of a unique collaboration with Artory, a leading independent digital registry for the art market. In an industry first, each artwork from An American Place: The Barney A. Ebsworth Collection sold at Christie’s this November will include a secure, encrypted certification of the sale for the successful bidder, providing a permanent digital record of relevant information about the artwork.”

Abraaj Liquidation at Bonhams, A Tale of Two Markets

The National did a little digging in the auction records to show that the artworks being sold at Bonhams from the ill-fated private equity firm Abraaj are meeting very different fates. The South Asian works are on the block with strong estimates. But the Middle Eastern artists acquired a decade ago in a vastly different market are being offloaded at fire sale prices:

  • “Bonhams is selling Mohammed Ehsai's calligraphic He Is Merciful (2007) with a low estimate of $66,000 (Dh242,385). It last sold at Christie's in Dubai in 2008 for $1 million (with the buyer paying $1.16 million after fees). Parviz Tanavoli’s bronze sculpture Poet and the Bird (2006) carries an estimate of $66,000 to $130,000; it sold at Bonhams Dubai in 2008 for $480,000. Paul Guiragossian’s Celebrations (1990), which was shown at the Barjeel Art Foundation’s exhibition of the late Armenian-Lebanese artist earlier this year, is on the block for $52,000 to $79,000 – again around a third of what Abraaj paid for it at Christie’s Dubai in 2008.”

Sotheby’s Home Offers Smart Brand Extension

The Wall Street Journal approves of Sotheby’s relaunch of its Viyet acquisition as Sotheby’s Home. Brand extensions are nothing new with auction houses and the activist investors who took over Sotheby’s a few years ago expressed hopes for leveraging Sotheby’s powerful brand name. One place where that brand leverage has been an unqualified success has been with the license of Sotheby’s name to Realogy, the real estate agents.

Sotheby’s Home helps close the gap between a home purchase and acquiring art or luxury items by offering an easy way to decorate a new home with consigned objects. The site launched with items from the estate of Washington doyenne Peggy Cooper Cafritz:

  • Sotheby’s Home is an important part of the auction house’s mid-market strategy in part because the site caters to such a large range of sensibilities: An antiques lover can purchase a 19th century bronze and marble mantel clock from France, whereas a rainbow resin chair by Cappellini appeals to a customer with more contemporary and colorful taste. “We have such a wide variety of categories and price points, anyone who loves design can find a piece for their home,” says [Sotheby’s Home CEO Elizabeth] Brown. “We can offer everything from a $200 decorative object to a $100,000 plum piece of art.”

Kasmin’s New, Two-for-One Chelsea Gallery

Paul Kasmin’s new Chelsea gallery in New York is just off the High Line. To take advantage of all of that foot traffic (6m visitors a year), Kasmin’s architects built a 5,000 sq ft sculpture garden on the roof facing the High Line with 28 skylights piercing the ceiling to the 3000 sq ft gallery space below. It opened this week with Walton Ford in the gallery and Joel Shapiro showing in the sculpture garden.

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