November 13, 2008 / 6:05 AM / 10 years ago

No buyer for a Bacon as New York art sale ends

NEW YORK (Reuters) - The fall New York art sales limped to a close on Wednesday, leaving a market bruised and bloodied but still standing.

A woman stands between Francis Bacon's "Three Studies for a Self Portrait" (L) and Lucian Freud's "Naked Portrait with Reflection" at Christie's auction house in London May 19, 2008. REUTERS/Luke MacGregor

Christie’s post-war and contemporary auction took in $113.6 million, half a low pre-sale estimate of $227 million, with 68 percent of the lots on offer finding buyers.

The spotty sale was consistent with Impressionist, modern and contemporary art auctions at Christie’s and rival Sotheby’s over the past two weeks.

The result was “about as expected going in,” said Amy Cappellazzo, international co-head of contemporary and post-war art at Christie’s, given the turmoil gripping world financial markets for the past two months.

Despite high points including a nearly $15 million Richter, a $13.5 million Basquiat and new records for Joseph Cornell and Yayoi Kusama, the evening’s star lot failed to sell.

Francis Bacon’s “Study for Self-Portrait” had been estimated to go for $40 million or more, but no bid approached even $30 million. Bacons have seen huge price spikes in recent seasons, including a record $86 million.

“The market is continuing, but clearly at a different price level,” Christie’s president Marc Porter said.

“There’s no panic in the market, but there is an adjustment,” he told Reuters, contrasting that to the volatility gripping other markets such as oil or real estate.

“While it had declined, you’ve seen it find a stable level, with a lot of support.”

Baird Ryan, managing director of the art-related financial services firm Art Capital Group, agreed with auction officials’ contention that the two weeks of sales, while falling about one-third shy of estimates set before the financial crisis, showed there continues to be demand for fine art.


But Ryan noted that other markets had seen a fall-off of about 20 to 40 percent, “and that’s what you’re seeing here. There is a correction going on.” He said auction houses will have to edit sales to offer “a selected group of works with cautious estimates.”

Still it was impressive that “in such a period of remarkable financial stress you can sell over $100 million worth of art in an evening,” Ryan added. “People are focused, and active.”

On Wednesday, there was protracted bidding for Kusama’s “No. 2,” which soared to $5.7 million or more than twice its low estimate, smashing the artist’s record. Richter’s “Abstraktes Bild (710),” the sale’s top lot, also beat its estimate as did Basquiat’s “Untitled (Boxer).” Records for Paul McCarthy and Robert Irwin were also broken.

But five straight lots including three Warhols and a Richter with values as high as $15 million went unsold.

Art expert and author Sarah Thornton, who chronicled several years spent infiltrating the art world for the book “Seven Days in the Art World,” said the sales “could have gone much worse.”

“Given the state of the financial world, it’s remarkable to see a group of people spending money the way they are,” she said. “There are obviously some people who still have a lot of money to spend.”

Editing by Mohammad Zargham

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