Sotheby's $150m Modigliani

April 26 2018

Video: Sotheby's

Here's the launch video for Nu Couché by Modigliani, which will be offered by Sotheby's in their May 14th New York Impressionist and Modern Art sale. At $150m, it's the highest estimated artwork at auction in history. The picture has been guaranteed, so will certainly sell on the night. But the real question is, will it take off, and make another mega price, like that seen for Leonardo's Salvator Mundi? I suspect so. 

The video above is fascinating for what it says about the art market these days; the picture was launched in Hong Kong, and introduced by bothEnglish and Chinese speaking specialists. The money for art these days comes as much - if not mostly - from Asia. But what's so fascinating, and in many ways unexpected, is that Asian collectors are focused as much on Western art as on Asian art. And while much of the focus has been on modern and contemporary work, there's also no doubt (though it is less reported) that Asian collectors are interested in 'old' Western art too. In its scale and potential it's similar to the US buying rush for European 18th Century art in the early 20th Century. 

All of this is great from dealers' and auctioneers' point of view. But it should also be good news for educators and museums. I don't see, unfortunately, many signs yet that museums in Europe have recognised the potential growth in their audience, both online and in person, from Asian visitors. British museums, in particular, are hopeless at offering more than one language option for online visitors. If we're to build on Asian interest for Western art, and embrace the possibilities in turn that can come from increasing our understanding of Eastern art, we need to follow the likes of Sotheby's in making our art more accessible to Asian audiences. Will museums follow where the market leads? 

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