Spring Art Auction Sales, When Picasso Is Not Enough
There's a tendency when it comes to the art market, to rely on the brand names. The auctions are full of many lots but its the marquee names, Warhol, Monet, Freud, Hirst, Picasso and others that get the bidders in the door or on the phone. Each year both Sotheby's and Christie's go to extreme lengths each season to shake loose the most desirable paintings from the collections of the wealthy. They wine, they dine, they cajole and they promise some pretty big returns, often following that up with a guarantee check (or at least they did before the bottom fell out of the market). But this year's spring auctions show that even the biggest names aren't always going to sell.
When it comes to Picasso there are a lot of works to chose from. Picasso was a wildly prolific artist and one who created a wide variety of pieces from drawings and print to sculpture that now sell for a comprehensive range of price points. But it's the big colorful portraits that make hearts quicken when they grace auction house covers.
This week's auctions saw several Picassos head to market with some differing results. The art market reeled on Tuesday because, although overall the results from the Sotheby's New York auction were strong, the lead lot, Picasso's "The Artist's Two-and-a-Half-Year-Old Daughter With a Boat" didn't sell. The piece was estimated at $16 to $24 million, a number that some say was optimistic at best. The NYT's Sourien Malikian called the piece one of those "one-day cartoon-style pictures dashed off by Picasso remembering Marcel Duchamp's celebration of the absurd and spewing contempt at the bourgeois capitalists he loathed." Not exactly a ringing endorsement. Truthfully it doesn't seem that bad to me, charming, playful, colorful, and as Judd Tully of ArtInfo.com points out, a piece painted during a very happy period of Picasso''s life (1938). While the Picasso didn''t reach its sales estimate, it did get a $12.25 million bid which is no small feat. And for Sotheby's which didn't guarantee the painting, the fact that it didn't sell was not as crushing as it could have been.
Why did Christie's Picasso painting sells while the Sotheby's offering didn't?Was the estimate too high? Christie's had a little help with Mousquetaire à la pipe in the form of a third-party guarantee which basically means that an interested buyer already agreed to buy the painting at a certain price and was given a piece of the profits if outbid. Judd Tully of ArtInfo also tells Luxist that the later Picassos sold by Christie's are "much more appealing to contemporary/Post-War collectors, widening the pool of people who might be interested."
Overall both houses didn't do overly badly but what we are seeing is that in a low market the clientele is a lot more picky. For the last couple of years, the art market has experienced a flood of new collectors many from areas where the economy was growing at stratospheric rates (Russia and the Middle East especially). For new money in a buoyant economy big names have special appeal and no small share of bragging rights. The competition for prize pieces increases and fewer questions are asked. But as the economy has shifted each purchase a person makes has gained gravity. All across the board people are doing more homework before they buy anything. In such an evaluative time a name, even a great name is no guarantee of a sale.