Inspired by the excitement of record breaking Contemporary auction prices last week, I thought I’d take a look at a few results on a few auction houses websites. I decided well before I embarked on this web surfing expedition that I was not going to be providing any deep financial analysis, leaving this to the true calculator superusers MAO, From the Floor (one, two, and three – still to come), The New York Times, Felix Salmon, and Greg.org. (For reports without analysis check Artnet, ArtInfo (the best of the three), and ArtForum.)
I wasn’t sure whether I would be saying much more on the subject other than the obvious the contemporary art auctions have passed, a lot of art sold for well over its estimated prices, and painting is doing very well, but web surfing has inevitably given me more to say on the subject. While perusing the Christies site I watched the new quick time movie they have under the heading of “market report” and not surprisingly find the marketing devices of Christies more interesting than the results themselves. I don’t think I have ever seen such successful glamorization of an auction house. The commercial features footage of packed auction houses, good looking rich people, and a sound track that even sounds like wealth. In short, the scene looks fresh, exciting, fun and totally safe. Various specialists as they discuss the strength of the market, its transparency*, and the success of amateur collectors who “quite by accident” discovered the art they bought over the years was their largest asset. All questions left my mind as I thought about how lovely it would be to own my own Ellsworth Kelly, and then resell it for more later so I could have many Ellsworth Kellys. I could build my own Ellsworth Kelly legacy collection…
UPDATE: See MAN for his astute thoughts on Vogel’s coverage of the auctions.
* transparency – the idea that pricing and other factors determining the economic workings of the market is well understood by the buyers and sellers. A parallel example to this is the automotive industry. Markets well known for lacking transparency are the financial services industry and the oil industry.