How Strong Is the Art Market?
With the fall auction season kicking into high gear, the global art market is facing a series of critical stress tests. Sotheby’s BID +0.50% Hong Kong kicks off a set of Asian art sales on Friday, and next week the rest of the art world will descend on London’s Frieze Art Fair for contemporary sales. Then in early November, New York’s major fall auctions arrive with roughly $1 billion worth of additional art in tow.
All of these sales should provide some welcome clarity for an art market that’s been sending radically mixed signals lately. A string of strong sales last year pointed to a market largely recovered from recession. But some collectors—particularly in China—have grown circumspect in recent months, throwing art values into flux once again. In May, Sotheby’s in New York got nearly $120 million for Edvard Munch’s “The Scream”—the most ever paid for a work of art at auction—but the following month, the auction house didn’t bring in that much from an entire sale of Impressionist and modern art in London, where nearly a third of the offerings went unsold.
Some of the world’s priciest artworks will hit the auction block this fall at sales spanning Hong Kong, London and New York. Here’s a look at few highlights.
The alchemy of what’s selling, or not, can swing wildly in any given season depending on what turns up in the marketplace, but dealers say the overriding dynamic now is one of polarization. Collectors remain eager to splurge on masterpieces, but they’re turning their noses up at anything that appears second-tier. That’s creating a top-heavy atmosphere that feels heady yet unstable—especially since the majority of artworks trade below the million-dollar mark, dealers say.
Major Miami collector Douglas Cramer thinks the time is ripe to offer up $25 million worth of his contemporary art at Christie’s in November, but he still has plenty of burning questions about the overall market’s trajectory. “You never know, from one banking crisis to another, what kind of impact it’ll have on art prices,” Mr. Cramer said. “I just took a deep breath.”