Art Auction: No Guarantees
Nobody can find a trace of the good vibes from the May contemporary art auction at Christie's. London art sales are off an estimated 70 percent this month from a year ago. The amount of top-shelf lots being offered has fallen precipitously. Auction house price guarantees are little more than a quaint novelty – this last bit spells continued heartache for the beleaguered art market.
The lack of price guarantees has been particularly problematic for the art market. Without that fallback position, collectors are withholding their pieces from auction, instead pursuing private sales ... or simply continuing to hold the pieces. It follows traditional investment strategy. Would you buy high and sell low? The same thinking applies to the art market.
Last year, six works were guaranteed and sold for more than $20 million. This year, nothing is expected to cross that threshold at auction. Both Sotheby's and Christie's have shrunk their catalogues by 10 percent and are even using these auction marketing tools to promote their private sale departments.
All of this sets the stage for the upcoming Impressionist auctions at Christie's (June 23, 2009) and Sotheby's (June 24, 2009). Estimates are low, with the former at $62 million and the latter at $44 million. Last year's estimates were well over twice this year's. On the June 25, 2009, Sotheby's will hold a contemporary auction and expects to pull in a mere $31 million, down more than two-thirds. The Christie's contemporary auction on June 30, 2009 is estimated at $29 million, down 78 percent from last year's estimate. There won't be as many works from the masters coming to market, thanks to the absence of guarantees.
Looking for a cool piece by Lucian Freud? Try MoMA.