Christie’s Wants to Wow Consignors With Imp-Mod Results

Marc Chagall, Les trois cierges (8-12m) $14.5m

This round-up of the coverage of last night’s Impressionist and Modern Evening sale at Christie’s is available to AMMpro subscribers. Monthly subscriptions come with a grace period of one month. Feel free to subscribe and cancel if you’re not satisfied with our coverage and analysis.

There’s a somewhat surprising narrative emerging around this season’s sales in New York that present them as some sort of a test of an uncertain market. The narrative is dependent upon showing a marked decline from the sale totals of 2014 and 2015. What we’re learning as the week of sales begins is that the issue of market confidence is a major one for the auction houses even though the supposed lack of confidence is a result of their having tried to manage their businesses in a more effective and profitable way.

Nonetheless, in the meantime, Christie’s has installed a new Chief Executive and he has re-raised the stakes in the art market. As a result, Christie’s Impressionist and Modern Evening sale doubled the level of last year’s sale making a solid $298.2m total that was well within the estimate range on hammer price terms.

The Financial Times captured the mood with these comments:

Guillaume Cerutti, the auctioneer’s chief executive, said it was a “fantastic start for the major collections that will be sold this week”. “This will give confidence to the market,” he told the Financial Times after the auction. “Last year the consignors . . . were more cautious. They were waiting because of the economic conditions, the political conditions. This year we found the sellers were more confident . . . That’s what we witnessed tonight and it is what we hope will happen on Wednesday with our Contemporary sale.”

The solid showing by privately held Christie’s, which is controlled by French billionaire François Pinault, will calm nerves of collectors worried about the art market’s health after several trying years. To weather the market fragility, brokers have cut the guarantees offered to encourage consignors to put works up for sale, and have reduced staff.

The New York Times seemed to want to make the sales a referendum on the reeling Trump administration:

The auctions are expected to test the resilience of the art market in the Trump economy, although the administration’s tax policies — which will affect collecting — remain an open question.

Why or how art buyers would be thinking of Trump as they bid on Picasso, Braque and Léger wasn’t made clear. But, as Sarah Hanson points out in The Art Newspaper, the strong results were heavily weighted toward a few very expensive lots, a trend that has been evident since 2009: