Sunday, November 11, 2012

Mixed signals from Christie's auction

A magnificent Monet water lilies work went for almost $43.8 million while a painting by Kandinsky got an artist's record (close to $23 million) as Christie's auction house launched the season with a new sale. It witnessed several mid-level works of art failing to attract buyers.

One of Monet's iconic and much celebrated water lilies from the year 1905, ‘Nympheas’, was done during his stay at Giverny. It had been estimated to fetch $30- to $50 million. It managed to hit the middle range with a price of $43,762,500 (inclusive of commission). ‘Studie fur Improvisation 8’ by Wassily Kandinsky hit the lower end of its $20- $30 million price estimate, and still set an auction record for the renowned Russian artist. The vibrant artwork was on offer courtesy the Volkart Foundation from Switzerland.

Almost 30 percent of the artworks failed to find buyers when bids did not manage to reach the reserve. In all, the even took in just under $205 million, thus missing the mark of $210 million (the low pre-sale estimate). The high estimate incidentally was $315 million. Nonetheless, Christie's claimed it was satisfied with the overall results. The head of its Impressionist & Modern Art division, Brooke Lampley, was quoted as saying: "It was very, very strong sale, with great results" for top lots including the Monet, and a Brancusi sculpture ‘Une muse’, which sold for $12.4 million. Classic Impressionism performed really well tonight."

Lampley added that unusually high percentage of some discretionary selling (collectors deciding to sell, versus estate sales because the actual owner is deceased) at the sale was a sign that art collectors are feeling quite confident in the market currently. They are opting to sell, a testament to the growing strength of art as a bankable asset class.

The atmosphere in the sales room though was rather muted and for artworks that sold, overall bidding was just about steady and far from hectic and unbridled. Officials attributed the high percentage of works failing to sell chiefly to one single collection; its owner was not willing to bring down the reserve prices. In all, total six lots went for over $10 million each.

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