Bidders respond to lower prices for contemporary art

Tue May 12, 2009 10:54pm EDT
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By Christopher Michaud

NEW YORK (Reuters) - The first spring sale of contemporary and postwar art saw a fairly solid result on Tuesday as Sotheby's and its clients adjusted to a scaled-down art market struggling with smaller auctions and sharply lower prices.

The sale's $47 million total including commission fell just shy of its low pre-sale estimate of $52 million, with 81 percent of the 48 lots on offer finding buyers.

Sotheby's officials said they were pleased by the result, despite the sale's having come in at less than half the take just six months ago.

"The contemporary art market is alive and well" and "has responded to the recalibration," said Tobias Meyer, Sotheby's worldwide head of contemporary art, and the auctioneer.

Officials pointed out that the sale moved some 80 percent of its offerings, by both number of works and their cumulative dollar value, versus the autumn sale when the figure was closer to two-thirds.

"We've seen a pullback in prices of course," Meyer said, but not in activity. New buyers have joined an increasingly international bidding pool, while 25 percent of Tuesday's prices came in above the high estimates, he said.

In contrast, bidders at the November sales "got to the low estimate and just stopped," said senior international specialist Anthony Grant. "The ground feels a little bit more solid now."

Both Sotheby's and rival Christie's tried to keep estimates conservative and secure works that have never or rarely been offered at auction.   Continued...

<p>A woman walks out of a room containing Jeff Koons' "Baroque Egg With Bow" sculpture at Sotheby's in New York May 1, 2009. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson</p>