The 2010 Art Market Review – artmarkeblog.com

The 2010 Art Market Review – artmarkeblog.com

2010 has been one of the most confusing, unpredictable and unexplainable years for me as an art market analyst. So many of the trends, events and fads that emerged during 2010 did not appear to be caused by the sort of conditions, have the same effects, or follow the same path of logic that one would expect they would given the way things have panned out in past years. This leaves me with no doubt that the art market is evolving at such a rapid pace that there is little point trying to justify or explain the events of today using logic that is based on the progression and events of previous years. In fact, more of the art market events that took place during 2010 appeared to defy logic than ever before. I do, however, strongly believe that one of the reasons that it has become even more difficult to determine what is going on with the art market is that the art market (auction houses in particular) has become adept at making the situation appear much better than it really is. Whether it be by skewing figures or manipulating the way results are perceived – galleries, fairs and auction houses have become the plastic surgeons of the art world.

What has also made 2010 such a hard year to analyse was the contraction, and slow regeneration, of the market for the work of trendy emerging artists and recent works by top contemporary artists – both of which are usually the most global, visible and publicised sectors of the market. As the market moves towards the work of artists with a proven track record, collectors and investors have shifted their focus from the usually dominant and globally relevant contemporary art market to the work of artists from a wide of variety of styles, mediums and movements that cannot appear to have very little in common. This has resulted in a situation where there is not one dominant global trend that art market analysts such as myself can focus on, but a number of smaller and disjointed trends that make reading the market particularly difficult.

A few months ago I wrote a series of posts on what I believed was a move towards a more sentimental art market, which appears to be exactly the direction that the market has headed. General disillusionment with the contemporary art market has sent many collectors and investors take a more sentimental approach to fine art that is characterised by a focus on the safety of more established artists and the familiarity of artists that they can relate to. When art collectors or investors seek safety and familiarity they are most likely to gravitate towards works by artists from the era and culture that they have the greatest connection to. This would explain the large number of seemingly unrelated trends that emerged during 2010 many of which involved previously unfashionable styles and movements that are distinctly associated with a particular era or culture.

There is no doubt that the art market has recovered far quicker than many people thought possible. Again, the unexpectedly rapid recovery has thrown a spanner in the works when it comes to analysing the art market and trying to make sense of what is going on. Some journalists and analysts have gone as far as to admit that they cannot explain how a market that seemed to be at breaking point could make such a rapid recovery. To give you an idea of how quickly the art market has recovered, in March of this year (2010) Walter Robinson, editor of Artnet Magazine, said that “Art Market Watch has been on something of a hiatus during the last few months. What with the recession, reporting on auction results just isn’t as compelling as it was during the boom years”. Six weeks later a painting by Picasso become the most expensive work of art ever sold at auction when it fetched a staggering $106.5 million. A week after that an Andy Warhol self portrait sold at Sotheby’s for $32.6 million (more than twice the estimate) setting a new record for a Warhol self portrait at auction. Compelling enough?

When it comes to rationalising art market events there is much to be gained from knowing who has money to spend and how much they have to spend. The top end of the market is fuelled by super wealthy collectors whose level of wealth would not have been affected enough by the financial crisis to deter them from buying art. Therefore at the high end of the art market things have been pretty solid as is evident from the number of record auction prices set in 2010. The lower end of the market is fuelled by collectors who focus on edgy and trendy contemporary art by emerging and newly established artists, and who will usually have a high level of interest in the cultural and artistic side of fine art. Collectors at the lower end of the market are a very determined group who are always going to be around even if they appear a little less active at times. Things at the lower end have improved but have done so at a less than rapid pace which makes it difficult to judge where this sector of the market is heading. Without a doubt the sector of the art market that has suffered for the longest period of time due to the effects of the global financial crisis and the art market downturn is the middle market. The middle market includes lesser works by big name artists, and the more expensive (less justifiable) works by the trendy contemporary artists, which makes the middle market a sort of currently un-necessary compromise for the super rich, and a stretch too far for the modestly well off. Middle market works are, however, perfect for the financial advisor and hedge fund manager types who are more interested in art as a status symbol than the quality or art historical importance of the works they are buying. With the pay packets of hedge fund managers and financial advisors taking a massive hit due to the financial crisis, there is little interest in the middle market works. The super rich are still rich enough to not have to compromise and settle for middle market works and the modestly well off continue to fuel the lower end of the market.
My next post will be the top ten art market 2010 so stay tuned……..

**Nicholas Forrest is an art market analyst, art critic and journalist based in Sydney, Australia. He is the founder of http://www.artmarketblog.com, writes the art column for the magazine Antiques and Collectibles for Pleasure and Profit and contributes to many other publications

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The Most Revealing Art Auction Investigations – artmarketblog.com

The Most Revealing Art Auction Investigations – artmarketblog.com

Over the years many very interesting and revealing investigations into the inner workings of art auction houses have been conducted by journalists.  Having read most of the results of these investigations myself, I thought that it would be useful to provide a list of what I believe are the most informative and educational investigations to have been published in recent times.  If you are wondering at this point whether I hold some sort of grudge against art auction house then I can assure you that I don’t.  Most of the problems that have arisen with the art auction sector have originated from either one person or a small number of people who think that they are invincible and take things too far.

1. Halsey Minor, an internet tycoon and art collector, recently contacted me regarding a post I wrote on the sins committed by art auction houses.  Minor contacted me to inform me that he had recently launched an appeal against the summary judgement ruling in favor of Sotheby’s in their breach of contract action against him.  As well as informing me of the appeal, Halsey also provided me with a copy of the now publically available appellate brief for this case which you can view here:

https://docs.google.com/viewer?a=v&pid=explorer&chrome=true&srcid=0B8p8DAKg7zgqYjAyN2YwOGItNGY3My00YzNjLTkxMjEtZmI5NjdkMDQwYTBh&hl=en

You can also see the papers from the ruling in favour of Sotheby’s here:

http://www.scribd.com/doc/29409086/Sothebys-v-Minor-Judgment

Although I cannot comment on the appeal  as it is still being processed, I would urge everyone to read both sides of the case and make up their own mind.

2. In 2008 an Australian television program called Four Corners conducted an investigation into the actions of several major Australian auction houses.  Below is a link to a very interesting interview with Paul Sumner, the owner of Australian art auction house Mossgreen:

http://www.abc.net.au/4corners/content/2008/s2316296.htm

3. The biggest scandal to hit the art auction world was the commission fixing scandal involving Sotheby’s and Christie’s that surfaced in 2000.  See a particularly revealing investigation by the NY Times here:

http://www.nytimes.com/2000/10/08/us/secret-partners-unraveling-conspiracy-private-files-fuel-art-auction-inquiry.html?pagewanted=1

4. In 2004, Forbes magazine published an article titled ‘Dirty Secrets of the Auction Houses’ which is well worth taking a look at:

http://www.forbes.com/2004/07/09/cz_mr_0709soapbox.html

5. The Wall Street Journal published an interesting article in 2008 that looked into the way auction houses report their results:

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB122670620372529693.html

6. The Economist published a particularly insightful article in November that investigated several issues with the November 2010 Phillips De Pury ‘Carte Blanche’ sale:

http://www.economist.com/node/17551930

**Nicholas Forrest is an art market analyst, art critic and journalist based in Sydney, Australia. He is the founder of http://www.artmarketblog.com, writes the art column for the magazine Antiques and Collectibles for Pleasure and Profit and contributes to many other publications

How to Avoid Dirty Art Auction Tricks – artmarketblog.com

How to Avoid Dirty Art Auction Tricks – artmarketblog.com

Having focused my last few posts on the issues surrounding the questionable practices of some art auction houses, I thought it important to let people know how they can avoid becoming a victim of dirty art auction tricks and tactics. The only real way to avoid becoming a victim of the art auction houses is to ask questions and to know which questions to ask.  Below is a list of questions, and the reasoning behind each question, that will ensure that you know exactly where you stand.

Seven questions every buyer should ask before bidding on a work of art:

1.       Does the auction house or anyone associated with the auction house have an ownership interest in the work of art I am thinking of purchasing?

(The reason you should ask this question is that if an auction house has an ownership interest in a work of art you should question whether this would have an effect on the way the auction house markets and presents the work of art in question – as well as the final price.  Auction houses are required to indicate in auction catalogues when they have an ownership interest in a work of art.)

2.       Is the auction house employee who is advising me on my purchases also representing the seller of the works they are advising me on?

(The reason you should ask this question is that it is not unknown for a specialist assigned to a particular client as an advisor to be representing the seller of the works they are advising the buyer to purchase.  If you are assigned an expert advisor by an auction house make sure they are not representing the seller of the particular works you are interested in.)

3.       Is there any doubt regarding the authenticity or provenance of the works of art I am interested in purchasing?

(The reason you need to ask this question is that auction houses are not always forthcoming with information regarding authenticity.  It is worth while making sure that you are getting what you are paying for.)

4.       Who has authenticated the works of art I am interested in purchasing, what qualifications do they have and what evidence was the authentication based on?

(The reason you need to ask this question is that auction houses have been known to justify the attribution they make using less than reliable information.)

5.       When were the works of art I am interested in purchasing last consigned to an auction and what was the result?

(The reason that you should ask this question is that auction houses are not always forthcoming with information regarding the consignment history of a work of art.  Auction houses have been known to sell the same work of art a number of times within a short period of time and not disclose this information to buyers.  It is important to know this information as it is likely there is reason that this has occurred.  It is also important to know this information because a work of art being passed in at auction can gain a stigma that can reduce the value.)

6.       Does the auction house allow the auctioneer to bid in his own sale?

(It should be obvious why one needs to ask this question, and yes, some auction houses to allow the auctioneer to bid on their own sale.)

7.       What is the condition of the works of art I am interested in purchasing and has a condition report been completed on each work?

(Auction houses are not always forthcoming with information regarding the condition of a work of art. It is generally expected that buyers will inspect a work of art themselves and will be aware of the condition of the work of art.  If you are not able to assess the condition of a work of art then hire an expert.)

**Nicholas Forrest is an art market analyst, art critic and journalist based in Sydney, Australia. He is the founder of http://www.artmarketblog.com, writes the art column for the magazine Antiques and Collectibles for Pleasure and Profit and contributes to many other publications



Do Art Auction Houses Camouflage Results? – artmarketblog.com

Do Art Auction Houses Camouflage Results? – artmarketblog.com

I received an email on December 2nd from one of Australia’s leading art auction houses, Menzies Art Brands, with the subject ‘Defamation Alleged’. The email read:

DEFAMATION ALLEGED

Menzies would like to bring to your attention this story on Page 10 of The Age newspaper today:

LEADING art auctioneer Rod Menzies has described as ”scurrilous” allegations made by Robert Le Tet and Rick Anderson about his business practices, in The Age yesterday.

Mr Menzies, an entrepreneur, cleaning business tycoon and owner of Menzies Art Brands, said he ”always honoured every deal” and was ”well known for carrying out every commitment and for his integrity”.

He said he observed the ”highest ethical standards” and denied suggestions to the contrary. He said in a statement that he had instructed his lawyers to start proceedings for defamation and damages claiming $38 million.

Enquiries
sydney@menziesartbrands.com

Before we continue, this is not the first time that allegations have been made regarding Menzies’ business practices. In 2008 complaints were made by other auction houses in Australia regarding Menzies’ alleged failure to adequately disclose details regarding guarantees provided by Menzies, as well as details regarding works being sold by Menzies that Menzies either owned or had a share in. Menzies denied the charges which were dropped in March of this year by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission.

This time around, Menzies is being accused of misleading reporting of art sales through his auction house. The accusations were aired in the Melbourne, Australia based newspaper ‘The Age’ where details of a transaction involving a painting by Brett Whiteley, one of Australia’s most famous and valuable artists, were questioned. According to The Age, the painting in question was reported by Menzies Art Brands as having been sold in Sydney on the 25th of March for A$1.44 million. Apparently, however, only two months later Mr. Menzies was offering the painting in question for sale privately through his company for A$1.25 million, which suggests that it wasn’t sold at all. It is then alleged that Mr. Menzies struck a deal with a collector, named as a Mr. Anderson, to swap the Whiteley painting, and another painting, for two paintings owned by the collector. The swap apparently took place in June of this year.

If this allegation wasn’t enough, ‘The Age’ alleges further issues regarding ownership of the Whiteley painting. Apparently a Melbourne financier launched a court case to retrieve the Whiteley painting, which he claims he owns because his company, Questco Pty Ltd. , loaned money to an art dealer to purchase the Whiteley painting – a dealer who is now having financial difficulties. The Melbourne financier apparently then asked Menzies to sell the painting through private treaty for A$1.25 million, but Menzies reneged on the deal a short time later. Menzies is being accused of then returning the painting to the dealer, not the financier, and purchasing it off the dealer for A$850,000. Mr. Menzies then put the painting up for sale in March of this year, which is where this story began. Menzies sought to retrieve the painting from Mr. Anderson whom he sold the painting to by private treaty and apparently even offered several other paintings in exchange which had also been reported as having been sold at auction. Mr. Anderson has so far declined to return the painting.

According to the article in ‘The Age’:

Mr Anderson claimed Mr Menzies has been ”ramping” up the art auction market, and he said it was in the public interest to know how the prominent auctioneer operated: ”He reported the Whiteley painting as sold and then he offered it to me for $200,000 less than what it was supposedly sold for at auction,”.

No charges have been laid against Mr. Menzies or his company and, as you can see from the email I was sent, Mr. Menzies strongly denies the allegations made against him and his company. The question of who is telling the truth will presumably come to light if the defamation case goes ahead.

The reason that I have alerted you to this case is that I have been on a bit of an art auction house crusade of late in an attempt to inform the public about what goes on behind the scenes and hopefully encourage the art auction houses to be more transparent and ethical with their dealings. With transparency being one of the biggest issues, I thought it was important to highlight this case even though none of the allegations have been confirmed as being true.  I will be doing a series on this issue as there are lots of allegations to cover.

**Nicholas Forrest is an art market analyst, art critic and journalist based in Sydney, Australia. He is the founder of http://www.artmarketblog.com, writes the art column for the magazine Antiques and Collectibles for Pleasure and Profit and contributes to many other publications

Fixing the Contemporary Art Auction Crisis Pt. 1 – artmarketblog.com

Fixing the Contemporary Art Auction Crisis Pt. 1 – artmarketblog.com

So, my last post on the issues surrounding the definition of contemporary art and the classification of works of art by auction houses created quite a storm – and rightly so. If you are still wondering why I have such an issue with the way some auctions houses categorise the works they are selling, then perhaps what I am about to show you will provide some enlightenment. The definition of contemporary art, in the context of the art market, has seemingly become redundant due to years of misuse and abuse. Although I acknowledge that the definition of contemporary art has remained open to interpretation to some extent, some auction houses appear to be taking liberties when it comes to categorising works for auction. Since the art market appears to function according to a corrupted definition of contemporary art, I decided to turn to cultural sector to see what the museum world had to say on the subject.

When it comes to making decisions regarding the classification and categorisation of works of art it is the cultural sector that generally has the final word, so I was hoping the cultural sector would provide something insightful. What I found was insightful indeed. To begin my search I went to the website of the Museum of Contemporary Art, which is located in my home town of Sydney, Australia, and is a favourite haunt of mine. The Sydney MCA website says: “Contemporary art can be defined in several ways: art which is of this time; art which is recent, new or existing now; or art which follows modern ideas or fashions in style and design. It can also refer to museum collections from 1970s onwards”. So, the Sydney MCA defines Contemporary art as both recent and as an era that began in the 1970’s. The next museum definition I found was provided by the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art whose website said: “Contemporary art had its beginnings in the early 1970s, resulting in part from a general challenge to the authority of state and cultural institutions dominated by men and exclusivist policies. Contemporary art, also identified with the term postmodernist art, has been in many ways a continuation of the ideals of modern art—its themes, styles, and, most importantly, the concept of the work of art as private expression”. Again, the MMOCA defines contemporary art as a sort of era that began in the 1970’s.

Now, before I continue on I want to make it clear that I am not agreeing with the above definitions of Contemporary art provided by the museums. I do, however, acknowledge that a museum devoted to contemporary art requires a relatively broad definition of contemporary art due to the fact that a museum’s collection needs to have a relatively long shelf life. If a contemporary art museum were to focus purely on current art, they would have to constantly update the collection, which would be an extremely expensive and time consuming task. At the present time I can understand the reasoning behind the decision by Contemporary art museums to begin what could be termed the “Contemporary era” in the 1970’s, as both Conceptual art and Digital art – both of which continue to have a strong influence on current artistic practice – came to prominence in the early 1970’s.

To be continued………….

image: ‘4 the Love of Go(l)d’ sculpture by Eugenio Merino

**Nicholas Forrest is an art market analyst, art critic and journalist based in Sydney, Australia. He is the founder of http://www.artmarketblog.com, writes the art column for the magazine Antiques and Collectibles for Pleasure and Profit and contributes to many other publications

The Great Contemporary Art Market Cock-Up – artmarketblog.com

The Great Contemporary Art Market Cock-Up – artmarketblog.com

All last week I was bombarded with headlines that announced the returning strength of the contemporary art market thanks to the phenomenal prices achieved for works by artists such as Warhol, Lichtenstein and Klein whose work was described by one major newspaper as the fons et origo (latin for source and origin) of contemporary art. Now I am not trying to be rude or degrade the journalists who make this mistake, but Warhol, Klein (Yves) and Lichtenstein are NOT CONTEMPORARY ARTISTS, and their work is NOT CONTEMPORARY ART !!. To be honest, I am sick of hearing and seeing artists of another era being referred to as ‘contemporary’, because they are not. The fact that Warhol, Klein and Lichtenstein are all dead – and were all born in the 1920’s – should be enough of an indication that their work should not be classified as contemporary any more. As for myself, when I refer to the work of contemporary artists I am referring to artists who are currently alive, active and producing work that is in line with the prevailing contemporary ethos. At this point I would like to say that there are many journalists and market representatives who do make the correct distinctions between post-war and contemporary art to whom I would like to give a round of applause.

The reason this trend of referring to the likes of Warhol, Lichtenstein and Klein as contemporary artists annoys me so much is because many representatives from the media and the market have been announcing the return of the contemporary art market based on records achieved by artists who are NOT contemporary artists. Thankfully, some market representatives and some journalists have rightly referred to the work of Warhol, Lichtenstein, Klein etc. as postmodern or post-war, which is a much more accurate description. I do, however, also have a problem with the use of the term post-war because of the broadness of the category which I think is another marketing ploy – but would still prefer they use the term ‘post-war’ instead of ‘contemporary’. Although this may seem like a small problem not worthy of being discussed, I think there are too many little issues that are not discussed – issues that together can cause major confusion and misunderstanding.

This whole ploy of including anything produced post world war II in contemporary art auctions and referring to them as works of contemporary art is just not right. In fact, it is deceptive and misleading. So why do some auction houses continue promoting the likes of Warhol, Klein and Lichtenstein as contemporary artists and alongside true contemporary artists? – I believe it is for three very simple yet potentially very lucrative reasons. Firstly, the association of emerging artist with the likes of Warhol, Klein and Lichtenstein lends more credibility and validity to the work of emerging artists. Secondly, the inclusion of a few big names in a contemporary art auction pretty much guarantees that a poor performance by the work of the true contemporary artists will be overshadowed by the success of the work of their predecessors. Thirdly, artists such as Klein, Warhol and Lichtenstein attract large and wealthy crowds who are more likely to throw down some money on the work of an emerging artist if the room is already buzzing from the record sale of a Warhol. Essentially, the inclusion of work by Modern masters such as Warhol, Klein and Lichtenstein appears to be nothing more than a clever marketing ploy.

If you disagree with my opinion then consider for a moment these definitions of the term ‘contemporary’ :

-marked by characteristics of the present period
-happening, existing, living, or coming into being during the same period of time
-belonging to the present time
-characteristic of the present; “contemporary trends in design”

As far as I am concerned, each of these definitions are blatant indications that the work of Warhol, Klein and Lichtenstein cannot be referred to as being contemporary.

The current definition of contemporary art that is used by a large portion of the art market – auction houses in particular – is basically a creation of the market it’s self that serves the pursuits of the auction houses very well. Although the journalists appear to be the main protagonists when it comes to promoting the work of non-contemporary artists as contemporary, the auction houses certainly don’t seem to do anything to discourage this practice. Although some auction houses do hold auctions that are promoted as including post-war and contemporary art, many fail to make much of an effort to distinguish between the contemporary and the post-war, which leaves the journalists free to make the incorrect assumptions and associations regarding the classification of the works – perhaps a cunning ploy by the auction houses to avoid being accused of incorrectly classifying the works. Regardless of who it is that is ultimately responsible for the errors being made, I think it is important that something be done to stop this misleading practice. In the interest of fairness I would like to encourage anyone who has a view on this issue – whether in agreement with my opinion or not – to make a comment below.

 

**Nicholas Forrest is an art market analyst, art critic and journalist based in Sydney, Australia. He is the founder of http://www.artmarketblog.com, writes the art column for the magazine Antiques and Collectibles for Pleasure and Profit and contributes to many other publications

A New Sentimental Art Market Era Pt. 4 -artmarketblog.com

A New Sentimental Art Market Era Pt. 4 -artmarketblog.com

It has been said before that nostalgia prospers during recessionary times so, considering that the western world has just begun to recover from a major recessionary period, it would make sense that the art market is trending towards a focus on the nostalgic and sentimental.  The length of time that this era of sentimentality and nostalgia will last is anyone’s guess, but given that the boom lasted longer than most expected, the recovery time for the contemporary sector of the market could be just as long – except that it probably won’t be.  It would be nice to be able to report that the saying ‘Once Bitten, Twice Shy’ applies to the contemporary art market but, unfortunately, there are signs that the next puppets are already being groomed in preparation for the next inevitable contemporary cozenage.  The only question is how long it will take for the art market to once again become hypnotised by the glitz and glamour of the consumerist contemporary art regime.  In the mean time, it is great to see a level of intimacy, passion and involvement being brought back into the market that was conspicuously absent during the contemporary driven boom.

According to an article titled ‘Investors renew passion for modern masters’ ,which appeared in the Guardian newspaper, “When an alluring seated nude, La Belle Romaine, broke all records for a painting by the Italian artist Modigliani on Tuesday – selling for $69m (£42.7m) at auction in New York – the extraordinary price tag marked a historic moment in the art market. It shows that investors are turning back to the relative certainties of the modern masters and away from more risky contemporary art”.  This statement confirms that buyers are taking a much more cautious approach to the art market by buying works that they are more familiar with and have some sort of affinity with – a key characteristic of a sentimental art market era.  The care and thought that buyers are exhibiting when making purchases shows that they are seeking a much more intimate and passionate connection with the works of art that they are purchasing which is a trend that one would expect to see during a sentimental art market era.  Another key characteristic of this sentimental art market era is a sort of nationalistic sentimentalism that is likely to emerge as disillusioned collectors and investors who experienced the contemporary art market correction seek more genuine and justifiable reasons for purchasing works of art – reasons that provide a more fulfilling, intimate and involved art collecting experience as opposed to the cold and calculated commercialism that characterised the contemporary art market boom. Nationalistic sentimentalism can be defined as the purchase of works of art from one’s own country out of a sense of pride and sentimentality.

Both these characteristics allude to a market that is seeking a more intimate and involved connection with the works of art they are collecting or investing in.  I would expect that this trend will continue to develop throughout 2011 as the global art market attempts to heal the wounds that the emerging contemporary art market bubble inflicted.  This will be the last post on this topic for the time being unless any further corroborating indicators come to light.

**Nicholas Forrest is an art market analyst, art critic and journalist based in Sydney, Australia. He is the founder of http://www.artmarketblog.com, writes the art column for the magazine Antiques and Collectibles for Pleasure and Profit and contributes to many other publications