Comments on the Art Market for October 2016

Looks like we are about to start an interesting art season. During the month of September there were a few smaller Contemporary sales and the biggest news (which I have been predicting for some time now) was that a number of those high-flying artists have had a reality check. However, the overall results were still ok.

Giuseppe Penone
Lawrence Weiner
Yayoi Kusama

At the recent Phillips sale – New Now – there were some pretty strong prices achieved including $225,000 for Yayoi Kusama’s Infinity Nets (TWWP) – estimate $70-$100K; $175,000 for Lawrence Weiner’s Hard as a Rock or (Assuming he Position) … – estimate $70-$100K and $150K for Giuseppe Penone’s Fingernail and Marble – estimate $150-$250K. In addition, there were 8 auction records achieved … sorry, some of these are rather funny: $4,750 for a Laeh Glenn, $16,250 for an Emily Eveleth and $17,500 for a John Knuth. Ok, really? We are now claiming ‘auction records’ for works under $5,000!

What the press seems to have latched onto were that facts that a Lucien Smith (an artist I have written about before) brought just $16,250 on a $12-$18K estimate.

Lucien Smith

Now you might say, that is not bad, based on the estimate; but what you need to realize is that similar works have sold for more than $300K. This artist hit the market back in 2011 when they originally sold for about $10,000 (in case you are wondering, his abstractions were created using a fire extinguisher to spray paint on canvas … of which he made more than 200 … some reports stated that he actually had over 300). ‘Traders’ got into the market and elevated the works to unbelievable prices – in 2013 (just two years after it was originally sold) one of his works from the series brought almost $390K at auction – not a bad investment for the seller. All I can say is that now, three years later, I feel bad for the person who spent $390K … ok, no I do not.

Hugh Scott-Douglas
Hugh Scott-Douglas

Another high flyer was Hugh Scott-Douglas. According to Katya Kazakina’s article in The Wall Street Journal, Art dealer and collector Niels Kantor paid $100,000 two years ago for an abstract canvas by Hugh Scott-Douglas with the idea of quickly reselling it for a tidy profit. Instead, he is returning the 28-year-old artist’s work to the market this week at an 80 percent discount. She goes on to report that:Before consigning his piece to Phillips, Kantor tried selling it privately for a year — through Blum & Poe, the work’s former owner, even on EBay. At one point he was asking $50,000 but couldn’t get an offer.

As I stated earlier, the overall results weren’t too bad … of the 202 works offered, 149 found buyers (74%) and the total take was $2.85M … low end of the presale estimate was $2.42M … so they beat it with the buyer’s premium added in.

During the month of October, more works hit the auction market and we will begin to get an understanding of each market’s health. Then we will have the BIG sales in November which should give us more info. The question on everyone’s mind is: will owners be willing to sell? Word is, the auction rooms are still having a difficult time convincing people. Look, in uncertain times who wants to put a work up at auction without some sort of guarantee? Some sales are having large unsold rates and today sellers are opting to go with galleries when offering works for sale – it is a lot more private and there are no records if a work is not sold.

As you travel through the art world, please be careful. I have always stressed that you need to buy works that you will enjoy owning for years to come. If you end up buying a ‘hot’ item, there is nothing to say that it will not cool off rather quickly. Now if you got in and out early – great. But if not, you could get stuck holding a very expensive wall hanging. Nobody can guarantee where things will be in the future, so be wise and buy right.

Howard L. Rehs

Howard L. Rehs

3rd generation art dealer who graduated from New York University with a major in Art History and minor in Psychology; has been working in the gallery business, on a full time basis, since 1981. I became president of the firm in 2016. Was elected President of the Fine Art Dealers Association (a 2 year position) in 1997 and served until 2009. Due to my extensive knowledge on the general art market and my specialized knowledge of the 19th century Barbizon, Academic, Realist and Victorian markets, was asked (in 2008) to sit on the Internal Revenue’s Art Advisory Panel … a position I still maintain. The gallery has participated in hundreds of art and art/antique shows throughout my career and I have attended every one of them. In addition, I have been consulted by numerous artists, writers and publishers about the art market and have been featured in many articles.

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