A busy fortnight of auctions, fairs, and exhibition openings in New York has become a key indicator of the state of the art market.
In recent years, the sheer volume of works coming to auction has resulted in an equally preposterous amount of sales, whether marketed as a 'once in a generation' single owner sale, themed sales targeting younger emerging artists, or more traditional day and evening sales for Contemporary and 20th Century or 19th Century Art. The list is endless.
Walking through the viewing rooms at Christie's and Sotheby's was akin to dragging yourself through the medieval rooms in the back of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in order to find the current Cecily Brown solo show, Death and the Maid (4 April–3 December 2023).
Whether pressure from the top brass on specialists to win business or a desire from owners to consign for New York sales, there is now too much work up for auction during these two weeks.
This, coupled with overly ambitious estimates in some cases, produced some mixed results. Interest rate hikes have also created more challenging market conditions and considering this, the huge amount of money spent on art this month must be viewed as a positive, especially when we consider some of the great results achieved for many living artists.
It feels as though change is inevitable and overly ambitious vendors will have to reset their expectations. This will probably need to start with auction houses having to convince clients to meet the market and lower estimates.
From what we hear, there was a much higher guarantee offered for Louise Bourgeois' Spider (1996) before the Contemporary Evening Auction at Sotheby's, which was rejected, and the same could be said for a Yoshitomo Nara work, which ended up being withdrawn. Still a U.S. $32.8 million price (including buyer's premium) for Spider is a significant figure and a new auction record for the artist.
Ed Ruscha's Burning Gas Station (1966–1969) fetched $22.3 million (including buyer's premium) at Christie's 20th Century Evening Sale, which was also towards the low end of the estimate for such an iconic work.
At the same sale, the Philip Guston painting Chair (1976) sold well below its low estimate for $9.6 million (including buyer's premium), reflecting an exceptionally optimistic estimate.
At the Modern Evening Auction, Sotheby's sold the gorgeous little Pablo Picasso painting Nu devant la glace (1932) for $11 million (including buyer's premium), which was a surprise and somewhat underwhelming given its estimate of $12-18 million.
Steven Shearer's much admired The Late Dioramist and Sons (2020) in the Sotheby's Now Evening Auction sold for $787,400 (including buyer's premium), just above the high estimate.
TEFAF was probably the pick of the three main fairs during the week with some exceptional historical works as you would expect. Frieze was pleasant but feels a little smaller in size at The Shed, and the Independent seems to have lost its USP as the edgier of the two contemporary fairs.
The general consensus when it comes to art fairs in New York still seems to be that the auctions, galleries, and museums in the city just seem to swallow up the fairs.
Standout gallery exhibitions in the city included Pierre Bonnard at Acquavella Galleries, Donald Judd, and Albert Oehlen and Paul Mcarthy at Gagosian, Bob Thompson at Michael Rosenfeld Gallery and David Zwirner, Luc Tuymans at David Zwirner, Peter Halley at Karma and Louise Giovanelli at GRIMM Gallery. Sarah Sze at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum was also a highlight.
New York continues to dwarf any other city in the art market and despite some underwhelming auction results, there were still enough auction records posted for contemporary artists to sustain the energetic buzz synonymous with a place that seems to always be awash with superb exhibitions.
Looking forward to Art Basel in Basel (15–18 June) and the next six months, we should see a shift towards a buyer's market, which can represent great opportunities for collectors and dealers alike.
Main image: Louise Bourgeois, Spider (1996). Bronze. 337.8 x 668 x 632.5 cm. Courtesy Sotheby's, New York.