Art market bounces back, but still not a pretty picture

Art market bounces back, but still not a pretty picture

9th November 2009, Comments 0 comments

Quick sales at decent prices at October’s contemporary art fairs in London and Paris indicate the market bouncing back.

Quick sales at decent prices at October’s contemporary art fairs in London and Paris indicate the market bouncing back from trauma but still not completely recovered, experts said.

"The market is down but not out. Volumes and values are down, but there is a renewed confidence and a renewed spirit," Georgina Adam of The Art Newspaper told AFP.

Held consecutively over four days each in the two art capitals, the Frieze and FIAC fairs gathered hundreds of the world's top specialist contemporary galleries, earning a few impressive sales that prove there are still bidders and cash available for cutting-edge art.

FIAC organisers said its many deals were a "sign there is market confidence" while Frieze too noted "renewed confidence in the contemporary art market."

After months of trauma that saw auctions shrivel, fairs cancelled and prices nosedive, Zurich- and London-based gallery Hauser & Wirth sold a Louise Bourgeois sculpture at Frieze for EUR 2.4 million (CHF 3.6 million, USD 3.5 million), while New York's David Zwirner earned EUR 680,000 for a Neo Rauch.

AFP PHOTO / Ben Stansall
London : Visitors pass by a piece of contemporary art entitled " Man With Camera" by Duane Hanson at the Frieze Art Fair in Regents Park on 14 October 2009

At the FIAC, New York's Skarstedt Gallery sold a Cindy Sherman photo for over EUR 1 million, and Paris-New York's Yvon Lambert sold a Jenny Holzer for over EUR 300,000.

"It's much better than last year, the market is healthier," Lambert told AFP.

The crisis was affecting collectors, said private French buyers Marc and Josee Gensollen. "We have to make sacrifices, but some of us choose not to sacrifice art."

"However, negotiating the price has become easier," he said.

In the mid-2000s, contemporary art -- works by artists born after 1945 -- saw a boom that sent prices soaring 85 percent from 2002 to 2008, with 620 percent more works sold at over EUR 1 million in the same period, according to

The party ended in 2008's economic turmoil, driving prices down 27 percent as billionaires and banks fell off the map, and finance from museums, funds and corporations melted away.

"The worst months were between last November and April. It was a terrible period," Adam said.

"Things have picked up since the Art Basel fair in June. There are buyers, but prices are down a lot," she said.

In October, a monumental work by the world's currently top-grossing artist Damien Hirst scooped a record at auction in Asia but fell short of its estimate.

Another of the globe's best-selling contemporary artists, Jean-Michel Basquiat, also recently slid 40 percent.

Betting on the appeal of novelty to counter the overriding gloom, London's avant-garde Frieze fair this year launched a new section titled Frame, where 29 galleries less than six years old showcased emerging talent from lesser-known territories.

FIAC on the other hand put the accent on blue-chip galleries and blue-chip talent.

AFP PHOTO/Emmanuel Dunand
"Brother's Sausage" by Jean-Michel Basquiat is on display at Christie's during a preview of Christie's Impressionist and Modern Art Sale in New York, 29 October 2009. Christie's is scheduled to hold its Impressionist and Modern Art Sale in November 2009

It featured a specially designed show of Modern Art bringing together 25 museum-quality 20th century works gathered by some of the world's leading dealers, including Gagosian, PaceWildenstein and Acquavella.

Among them was a Mondrian titled "Composition with Blue, Red and Yellow", estimated at USD 35 million and said to be the most valuable in private hands. It was on hold for a private collector in late October.

The Modern show, said Doris Ammann, who heads Zurich gallery Thomas Ammann Fine Art, underlined that "dealers, not just auction houses, had masterpieces for sale and could mount an international event."

Modern works by Le Corbusier, Nicolas de Stael and Dubuffet, including one at EUR 1.5 million, sold within hours of opening at FIAC.

Lesser-known avant-garde creations possibly took longer to sell, but many on display found buyers.

"I think there is a new generation of collectors and a new public for contemporary art," said Chantal Crousel of the eponymous Paris gallery, which sold half of its works on show at the FIAC, for prices ranging from EUR 550 to EUR 300,000.

"There are people out there who want to live in the times and who want art that reflects the times."

AFP / Claire Rosemberg / Expatica

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