Sotheby's, Christie's and Phillips de Pury have released their estimates for the October auctions, and late summer signs of confidence have disappeared. Contemporary art forecasts for next month's auctions are down 81 percent from October 2008 – which was the first series of auctions conducted following the financial crisis.
The three auction houses expect to rake in around $33 million during London's Frieze Art Fair, according to Bloomberg News. Last year's low-end estimate (not accounting for currency fluctuations) was five times greater than this year's low-ball number. And, last year, the houses were offering minimum price guarantees to sellers, a practice that has since been suspended.
Frustrating the situation for auction houses further is the fact that many collectors are turning to private sales rather than auctions, as they hope to retain a greater degree of control over the outcome of the transaction. If the buyer doesn't agree to a sufficiently high price, the seller at least walks away with his piece.
The coming of the Frieze Art Fair includes contemporary art auctions by Christie's and Sotheby's which will be held on the same day. The former will send 25 lots under the gavel on October 16, 2009, with a low estimate of ₤6.8 million. This is a profound drop from 2008's 47 lots (six guaranteed) and a low estimate of ₤57.8 million. The only promising sign earlier this year was an increase in sold rates, with Christie's moving 88 percent of its lots in June and Sotheby's selling 92.5 percent.