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NEW YORK (Reuters) - With financial markets remaining stubbornly shaky, auction houses in New York are gearing up for critical fall auctions which feature several works each poised to fetch $30 million or more.
"The financial markets have been volatile all year, yet the art market has continued to perform well," said Marc Porter, chairman of Christie's Americas. "It's incredibly strong."
Christie's and Sotheby's are both offering many works that are valued over $10 million, and each has offerings expected to fetch $25 million or even $40 million.
Roy Lichtenstein's "I Can See the Whole Room! ... and There's Nobody in It!" is estimated to sell for up to $45 million at Christie's, and could even set a record.
Degas' bronze sculpture, "Petite danseuse de quatorze ans," cast after his death and one of only 10 remaining in private hands, will lead its Impressionist and modern sale on November 1 when it could fetch up to $35 million.
The sale of 84 lots, about 30 percent more than recent seasons, should take in between $215 million to $310 million.
A bronze sculpture by Matisse, "Nu de dos (1er etat)," is generating intense interest at Sotheby's, where 71 works are expected to take sell for more than $185 million. Its contemporary sale a week later is even larger.
It is the first of a series of four iconic, monumental bronzes of a human back and carries a pre-sale estimate of $20 million to $30 million.
A rare Clyfford Still abstract painting, "1949-A-No. 1," carries an even higher price of as much as $35 million. It is one of four Stills headlining the sale.
Sotheby's also has a Francis Bacon self-portrait triptych priced at $15 million to $20 million. Some of Bacon's works have fetched prices exceeding $50 million in recent years.
Auction officials, encouraged by recent results in London where prices held despite Europe's economic turmoil, expect well-heeled clients to view art a worthy asset.
"There's a definite confidence despite the volatility in the financial markets," said Porter.
The confidence has helped auction officials persuade owners of rare, top-quality works to put them on the market, which has results in significantly larger sales this season.
"What we have seen over the last couple of years when there has been so much global economic volatility has been the gravitation toward art as an asset class -- when you have great things to sell," said Sotheby's CEO Bill Ruprecht.
Dealers said art is also being driven by an expanding pool of collectors, whether from China and Hong Kong, Russia, the Mideast or South America.
"The major collectors are still seeking social prestige," said New York-based private dealer Baird Ryan. "But the performance of art in the last 10 years has been compelling, so you have all these new guys looking at art as an alternative store of wealth."
He compared high-end works to hedge funds and asked how many funds can "show 25 percent annual returns," noting that the auction houses can document how a work can increase in value within a couple of years.
He added that determined new collectors loaded with cash are desperate to snag trophy works like Warhol's "Silver Liz," which are estimated to fetch $16 million to $19 million at Christie's.
"These major Picassos and Warhols are the ones that are the drivers. They've got to have it."
Reporting by Chris Michaud; editing by Patricia Reaney; For the latest Reuters lifestyle news see: www.reuters.com/news/lifestyle