Art market "miracle" masks a more mixed picture

Fri Jul 6, 2012 1:08pm EDT
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By Mike Collett-White

LONDON (Reuters) - One art publication has likened the record-breaking summer sales just ended in London to walking on water, yet auction houses say there is no miracle behind the headline soaring prices that have defied broader economic gloom.

Three weeks of sales at Christie's, Sotheby's and smaller rivals wound up on Thursday, and while the rarest treasures from the 14th century to the present day were snapped up, plenty of less desirable lots went unsold.

Christie's, the world's biggest auctioneer, sold art worth around 385 million pounds ($600 million) in total and registered artist records for John Constable, Yves Klein and Jean-Michel Basquiat.

Sotheby's, its closest rival, raised $346 million, or $411 million if the Gunter Sachs collection sale held in London in May is included.

It also set a record, for Spanish artist Joan Miro, whose 1927 "Peinture (Etoile Bleue)" fetched $36.9 million.

Elsewhere in that same auction, however, prices failed to live up to expectations, underlining what some experts see as a "disconnect" between the very best and everything else.

"To read the headlines, it seems all is well in the art market. Not so," said The Art Newspaper editor-at-large Georgina Adam in a column for the Financial Times.

"The very top end is doing well, fuelled by the mega-wealthy whose fortunes have not been dented by the financial crisis. But further down the scale, the picture is very different. Smaller galleries are being squeezed - quietly, a number have closed."   Continued...