With some $1.5 billion worth of Impressionist, modern and
contemporary art hitting the block at Sotheby's and Christie's
over the next two weeks, the stakes are high for the two arch
rivals as they strive to tap a market characterized by
insatiable demand and deep pockets.
"The auctions are getting bigger and prices are getting bigger.
But it makes sense, what they're growing to," said Alex Rotter,
Sotheby's co-head of worldwide contemporary art, adding "It's a
market driven by quality."
While few expect any individual work to top the $142 million
fetched by a Francis Bacon triptych in November, both houses are
featuring works by the British painter as consignors seek to
capitalize on soaring prices for blue chip artists' best work.
Other expected highlights include works by Andy Warhol and Jeff
Koons, who set a record for work by a living artist in last
autumn, as well as masterpieces by Pablo Picasso and Claude
Sales of contemporary art alone, which has seen prices soar in
the past decade, are expected to total nearly $1 billion.
In the most recent test of the market, the February sales in
London met or exceeded expectations and set records.
Officials have said a growing class of the super-rich in
emerging economies, especially China, Russia and the Middle
East, have helped drive the market in recent years. But they now
note that, at least at its top echelons, art has gone global.
"The interest is coming from everywhere," said Sara Friedlander,
head of contemporary evening sale at Christie's, where a $691
million night in New York in November became the biggest auction
"We can count on the entire world to show up," she said.
Rotter concurred, saying "The market is not really driven by one
segment anymore. We used to point to the Chinese or the
Russians, or the hedge fund or new-oil guys in the Middle East.
"But now we've come to the point where all of these groups or
professions have come together and are very, very active."
The official also said that prices commanded by masterpieces of
late had encouraged some collectors to sell. At the same time,
the growing pool of collectors is keeping demand strong.
"People are clearly comfortable with the fact that it's a strong
market and are taking advantage of that opportunity," said
Brooke Lampley, Christie's head of Impressionist and modern art.
"We had plenty of material to choose from, and were able to be
selective," she added.
Friedlander said the inherent nature of art, with its fixed
supply, was helping drive prices for top-tier works.
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"This is a major moment of masterpiece buying. There will be less
and less of an opportunity for top collectors to put their money
into masterworks, as they become less available."
The global art market totaled $65.9 billion last year, an increase
of 8 percent and the highest level since 2007, according to a report
by the European Fine Art Foundation.
Officials from both houses said they strove to offer top quality
works fresh to the market for their big evening sales.
"You don't have to have the greatest Bacon or the greatest Warhol,"
said Rotter, referring to top-tier artists. The idea rather is to
offer any artist's best work.
Rival Christie's landed the highest-priced work this season, another
Bacon triptych, “Three Studies for a Portrait of John Edwards”
estimated at about $75 million. An untitled Mark Rothko painting and
Warhol's "Race Riot" should each fetch about $50 million.
Christie's also scored several major collections this season, led by
that of Seagram founder Edgar Bronfman and of the so-called
"reluctant heiress" Huguette Clark, which includes one of Monet’s
seminal water lilies, described by Christie's Lampley as the
ultimate trophy piece and "the Holy Grail for collectors."
Another collection features Picasso's "Portrait de Femme (Dora Maar),"
depicting his mistress. Both works are estimated to sell for $25
million to $35 million.
Sotheby's top lots include Koons' "Popeye" sculpture that has never
been seen in public and is expected to fetch about $25 million. A
group of six Warhol self-portraits from 1986, among the last works
created by the pop artist which were bought 28 years ago for
$57,500, is estimated at $25 million to $35 million.
The New York-based auction house's Impressionist and modern sale
features Henri Matisse's "La Séance du matin" ($20 million-$30
million) and Picasso's "Tête de Marie-Thérèse," estimated at $15
The sales kick off on Tuesday at Christie's and on Wednesday at
(Reporting by Chris Michaud; Editing by Piya Sinha-Roy and
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