'Art market slump worsens'

February 10 2017

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Picture: via wikiart

So reports Kelly Crow in the Wall Street Journal:

The art market sank into a deeper slump last year, with London-based auction house Christie’s International PLC saying Wednesday it sold £4 billion, or $5.4 billion, of art last year, a 27% decline from a year earlier—and a 36% drop from the market’s peak two years ago.

Christie’s total included $4.4 billion in auction sales, down 32% from the year before. The drop was partly offset by a boost in privately brokered art sales, as more collectors sought to sell their art discreetly rather than risk putting pieces up for public bid. Christie’s sold $935.5 million privately, up 10% from a year earlier.

Rival Sotheby’s, based in New York, auctioned $4.1 billion last year, down 30% from the year before. Sotheby’s will release its consolidated sale totals later this month. Boutique house Phillips said it auctioned $500 million in art last year, down 1.5% from 2015, and privately sold an additional $67.8 million of art.

I love the way 'boutique' has replaced the word 'small' in commercial terms. Can I call myself a 'boutique dealer'? Certainly, some days I feel like a boutique blogger.

Anyway, there's no denying some of the heat has been taken out of the higher end of the art market. This is surely a Good Thing, and lessens the possibility of the bubble bursting. A slow and controlled deflation, if not stability, is in most people's interests. With all the news of Chinese buyers making strong bids for top works (e.g. the sale reported yesterday of Oprah's Kilmt for $150m) many will be hoping they're not the ones left standing when the music stops, as the Japanese were in the 1980s. Still, there are enough threats to the world economy at the moment to mean we can't be sure of anything anymore (Brexit, Trump, Le Pen, protectionism).

But before we end on too gloomy a note, look at this! Also from the WSJ article:

Sales perked up in other areas, though. Christie’s sales of Old Master paintings, along with 19th-century art and Russian art, grew 31% to $312 million. 

These three areas are the ones that have been most eagerly written off by commentators over the last few years. The pendulum swings...

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