Baroque or simply broke? Money woes hit art market

LONDON (AP) – The mood was frosty at London’s Frieze Art Fair. Bidders were sparse at Christie’s and Sotheby’s. Even Andy Warhol’s multicolored skulls failed to lift the art world’s gloom.

A week of slowing sales and sagging prices suggests the global financial meltdown has finally ended the art-market boom that saw paintings and sculptures become must-have commodities for the world’s elite.

At Sotheby’s and Christie’s – where price records have tumbled regularly in recent years – the major autumn auctions of contemporary art generated at least a third less money than predicted, with many works going unsold.

“A lot of the froth and hype has gone from the contemporary market,” Melanie Gerlis, art market editor of The Art Newspaper in London, said Monday.

Art world observers have been predicting a crash since the U.S. subprime mortgage crisis began rippling around the world. Many of the buyers driving the art world sales frenzy were hedge fund and private equity millionaires – among the first to suffer as the credit crunch took hold.

But prices stayed high, thanks in part to Russian and Middle Eastern buyers who were insulated from the worst of the economic woes.

In May, Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich bought two paintings by Francis Bacon and Lucian Freud for a total of $120 million. Last month, a Sotheby’s auction of works by Britart star Damien Hirst defied market jitters by generating almost $200 million.

Now, however, the economic crisis has spread around the world, bringing stock market turmoil, failing banks – and plunging art prices – in its wake.

Christie’s postwar and contemporary sale Sunday raised just under $55.5 million, against a presale estimate of $100 million to $132 million. Twenty-one of the 47 lots failed to sell.

Sotheby’s contemporary sale last Friday raised a total of $38 million, below the presale estimate of $54 million to $75 million. The star lot, Warhol’s pop-art paintings of human skulls, sold for $7.5 million, below the estimate of $8.7 million to $12.2 million.

Both auction houses said they were pleased with the results, which some observers had predicted might be even worse.

Cheyenne Westphal, head of contemporary art at Sotheby’s Europe, said bidding had been “rational.” She said that while presale estimates had proved overoptimistic, “the sale was assembled in a very different economic environment from that which prevailed today.”

William Ruprecht, Sotheby’s chief executive officer, said “there’s no question that there’s a reduction in price that some people are willing to pay for objects.”

“But there’s also no question that there’s an awful lot of interest in important works of art,” he told The Associated Press in a telephone interview in New York.

“I do not look at the marketplace … as in any sense frozen or not moving forward, be it with some price adjustments, because that’s what’s happening. There’s a price adjustment going on in a number of categories where there’s been big price appreciation,” Ruprecht said.

He added that the demand and interest from the United States was “a surprise to us” and that some longtime collectors, particularly in the U.S., see the falling prices as an opportunity to find a bargain.

Christie’s said the last few weeks had shown that prices for artworks were “finding a new level,” but added it remained “cautiously optimistic” about upcoming sales.

“We are seeing more selective bidding which represents a slowdown in the growth seen in recent years, as opposed to any decline,” the auction house said in a statement from New York. “We have encouraged sellers to agree to reasonable and attractive estimates in forthcoming sales, as is standard in our aim of matching demand with supply in the auction marketplace.”

At auctioneer Phillips de Pury, Saturday’s contemporary art sale generated only $8.6 million, less than a third of the presale estimate. The auction house blamed the extreme financial market volatility, which it said was leading buyers to take a “wait- and-see” attitude.

Nothing symbolized the modern art boom like Frieze, four days of champagne, chitchat, celebrity – and, of course, art – that has become one of the world’s most glamorous art fairs since it was founded six years ago.

The glitter quotient remained high this year, as everyone from Gwyneth Paltrow and Sofia Coppola to Abramovich and his gallery-owning girlfriend Daria Zhukova came to inspect the work of 1,000 international artists in a tented mini-city erected in London’s Regent’s Park.

The fair did not release sales totals, but said the figures had “exceeded expectations.”

But attendees said the mood was less frenzied than in recent years, when many pieces were snapped up in the first few hours.

“It’s like art fairs used to be,” said Tom Heman of New York gallery Metro Pictures. “We’re able to have much more of a dialogue about the work.”

Some galleries even said they were glad to see the end of the feeding-frenzy atmosphere.

“It is nice that it’s going back to normal and that it’s time to talk about art again, instead of investment,” said Claus Andersen of Andersen’s Contemporary in Copenhagen.

The market’s next test will come in a month, when Christie’s and Sotheby’s hold sales of impressionist and modern art in New York. Sotheby’s auction includes Pablo Picasso’s Harlequin, which is expected to fetch more than $30 million.

The last such sales, in May, generated more than $500 million between them.

Some dealers remain optimistic amid the gloom. Hauser & Wirth, a leading contemporary art gallery with showrooms in London and Zurich, said it had had its best Frieze week ever, with several million dollars in sales of works by Subodh Gupta, Louise Bourgeois, Paul McCarthy and other artists.

“Quality (art) to committed collectors will always sell,” said spokesman Roger Tatley. “If it’s a moment to separate the wheat from the chaff, the high quality pieces from the overinflated works, then that’s a good thing.”

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Associated Press writer Ula Ilnytzky in New York contributed to this report.

Copyright 2008 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

AP-CS-10-20-08 2012EDT  

Scott Miles, VP Sales for LiveAuctioneers.com, has devoted the past year to training for the ING New York City Marathon. His sponsorship money will go to the New York Road Runners' Team For Kids running and fitness programs.

LiveAuctioneers Sr. VP Scott Miles in NYC Marathon charity run

Scott Miles, VP Sales for LiveAuctioneers.com, has devoted the past year to training for the ING New York City Marathon. His sponsorship money will go to the New York Road Runners' Team For Kids running and fitness programs.

Scott Miles, VP Sales for LiveAuctioneers.com, has devoted the past year to training for the ING New York City Marathon. His sponsorship money will go to the New York Road Runners’ Team For Kids running and fitness programs.

NEW YORK – Throughout the past year – whether in stifling heat or frigid winter temperatures – Scott Miles has been a familiar if not fleet-footed figure on the paths of Manhattan’s Central Park. Suited up in his running gear, Miles, who is Sr. VP Sales for LiveAuctioneers.com and a member of New York’s Road Runners, has been training for a goal he hopes to achieve on Nov. 2nd: finishing up front and in the money – or more realistically, making a respectable showing – in the ING New York City Marathon.

As a member of NYRR’s Team For Kids, Miles will be raising funds through sponsorships so that running-based fitness programs can be implemented for 30,000 at-risk schoolchildren in New York City and several other locations.

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Image courtesy Atlantique City.

NEWSFLASH: Atlantique City discontinues Fall show, returns to annual format

Image courtesy Atlantique City.

Image courtesy Atlantique City.

ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. (ACNI) – Atlantique City is giving up its Fall edition and reverting to an annual spring show. Dealers and shoppers at the Oct. 18-19 Atlantique City, held at the Atlantic City Convention Center, were advised of the change via printed handouts from the show’s management.

Dan Morphy, chief operating officer of Morphy Auctions, is one of approximately 300 dealers who were set up at the October 18-19 event. He told Auction Central News that the notice received “a very positive response” from dealers. “Maybe this will restore some of the excitement and energy that the show had in its earlier days when it was only held once a year, in the spring. We’re very optimistic, especially after seeing the surprisingly good turnout of buyers this weekend,” Morphy said.

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Macy’s heir sues Jay Leno over auctioned car

NEW YORK (AP) – The estate of a Macy’s heir has sued Jay Leno and others, saying the Tonight Show host was illegally sold a valuable automobile at a sham auction.

The lawsuit, filed in Manhattan on Oct. 14, said Leno coveted the late John W. Straus’ 1931 Duesenberg for years and tried to buy it, but Straus wasn’t willing to sell.

Leno spokesman Dick Guttman declined to comment.

Quoting a 2007 book about car collecting called The Hemi in the Barn, the lawsuit said Leno wanted the Duesenberg so badly that he tried to discourage other buyers by spreading around an erroneous rumor that the car couldn’t be moved from the garage where it had been parked for more than 50 years.

Court papers said Straus paid everything he owed to store the Duesenberg and a 1930 Rolls Royce, but the garage owners claimed they were due money and auctioned the cars off in May 2005. The lawsuit depicted the auction as a sham designed to wrest the cars away from Straus while he was ill.

Leno “knew that the purported auction was conducted in violation” of state law but bought the Duesenberg for $180,000, the court papers said. They claimed the car was worth $1.2 million.

Straus, a grandson of a Macy’s founder, died May 18. He was 88.

Copyright 2008 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

AP-CS-10-15-08 2358EDT

Harvard museum gets gift of $45M, 3 Picassos, other valuable art

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. (AP) – The Harvard Art Museum has received a gift of $45 million and 31 major works of art, including three paintings by Picasso.

Harvard University on Friday announced the gift from Class of 1936 alumna Emily Rauh Pulitzer, a former curator at the museum and wife of the late newspaper magnate Joseph Pulitzer Jr.

The financial gift is the largest in the history of the museum.

The donated artwork includes Picasso’s paintings, Harlequin, Landscape and Portrait of Dora Maar; the Joan Miró painting Woman in the Night; and a Roy Lichtenstein sculpture, Sleeping Muse.

The gifts coincide with the start of a museum initiative that includes an extensive renovation and efforts to better integrate the collections and programs into university life.

Copyright 2008 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

AP-CS-10-17-08 1143EDT

A large assortment of Steiff bears will be ready for their close-ups at Bertoia’s Nov. 7-9 auction, including a coveted and very rare “rod” bear (front and center) that was X-rayed to confirm that it contained the early Steiff rod mechanism. Image courtesy Bertoia Auctions.

Bertoia’s adds folk art, antique advertising to its Nov. 7-9 Toys For All Seasons Sale

A large assortment of Steiff bears will be ready for their close-ups at Bertoia’s Nov. 7-9 auction, including a coveted and very rare “rod” bear (front and center) that was X-rayed to confirm that it contained the early Steiff rod mechanism. Image courtesy Bertoia Auctions.

A large assortment of Steiff bears will be ready for their close-ups at Bertoia’s Nov. 7-9 auction, including a coveted and very rare “rod” bear (front and center) that was X-rayed to confirm that it contained the early Steiff rod mechanism. Image courtesy Bertoia Auctions.

VINELAND, N.J. – Nearly 2,500 lots of American, European and Japanese toys, and a special selection of folk art and antique advertising, will take the spotlight Nov. 7-9 at Bertoia Auctions’ gallery. Several prestigious collections anchor the sale. Automotive collectors will be treated to more of the late Bob Smith’s friction and pressed-steel toys, while holiday enthusiasts will be invited to take a third helping from the mind-boggling Fred Cannon collection and choose favorites from the revered Mary Lou Holt collection. In addition, Bertoia’s will present still banks from the collection of the late Dick Sheppard, European toys from the late Steve Olin and his wife Diane, and a remarkable Midwest private collection of horse-drawn cast-iron toys of every imaginable discipline.

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Just Andersen, Pair of fine and large Just Andersen candlesticks ($15,600). Image courtesy Treadway Toomey.

Andersen candlesticks illuminate Treadway-Toomey’s Design sale

Just Andersen, Pair of fine and large Just Andersen candlesticks ($15,600). Image courtesy Treadway Toomey.

Just Andersen, Pair of fine and large Just Andersen candlesticks ($15,600). Image courtesy Treadway Toomey.

OAK PARK, Ill. – A pair of fine and large Just Andersen candlesticks lit up the room for $15,600 at Treadway-Toomey’s 20th-Century Art & Design Auction held Sept. 14 at the John Toomey Gallery in Oak Park. The candlesticks were among the top lots in an auction that was 90 percent sold, by lot.

“Basically, this was a very good auction with strong prices realized for the better merchandise,” said Don Treadway of Treadway-Toomey Auctions. “Most of the items were consigned to us by prominent estates. It was an eclectic mix of merchandise, and bidders were enthusiastic.” Online bidding was facilitated by eBay Live Auctions and LiveAuctioneers.com.

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Lot 171. Fernando Botero (Colombian, b. 1932) Hand With Cigarette, 1981, bronze with brown patina, 33¾ inches by 19 3/8 inches, edition 2/6, signed, numbered and stamped with circular foundry mark along the lower edge Botero 2/6 Fonderia / M / Italy. Est. $80,000-$120,000.

Fernando Botero bronze leads a full lineup of fine art in Fuller’s Oct. 25 sale

Lot 171. Fernando Botero (Colombian, b. 1932) Hand With Cigarette, 1981, bronze with brown patina, 33¾ inches by 19 3/8 inches, edition 2/6, signed, numbered and stamped with circular foundry mark along the lower edge Botero 2/6 Fonderia / M / Italy. Est. $80,000-$120,000.

Lot 171. Fernando Botero (Colombian, b. 1932) Hand With Cigarette, 1981, bronze with brown patina, 33¾ inches by 19 3/8 inches, edition 2/6, signed, numbered and stamped with circular foundry mark along the lower edge Botero 2/6 Fonderia / M / Italy. Est. $80,000-$120,000.

PHILADELPHIA – On Oct. 25, Fuller’s Fine Art Auctions will present an auction of 19th- and 20th-century fine art, including paintings, sculptures, drawings, photographs and prints from various private estates, collectors and institutions. The sale will begin at noon Eastern Time.

Auction highlights include paintings from the 1950s by Kenneth Noland (lots 138, 143), a 1968 oil painting by the innovative Alan Davie (lot 161), a Harry Bertoia bronze (lot 183) and a maquette from the “Wave Series” by Lee Lozano (lot 153). The Lozano maquette is a rare instance in which the artist applied glazes to the painting’s surface, possibly in her quest to produce an invisible painting. Fuller’s set a world auction record for Lee Lozano and many other artists in its sale in December 2007.

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A Queen Anne figured maple fan carved flat-top highboy circa 1776 from Massachusetts. Image courtesy Gray's Auctioneers.

Gray’s Auctioneers offering extensive Americana collection on Oct. 25

A Queen Anne figured maple fan carved flat-top highboy circa 1776 from Massachusetts. Image courtesy Gray's Auctioneers.

A Queen Anne figured maple fan carved flat-top highboy circa 1776 from Massachusetts. Image courtesy Gray’s Auctioneers.

CLEVELAND – Gray’s Auctioneers will conduct an Oct. 25 Americana, Fine Arts and Antiques auction at its Cleveland gallery. Notable items include an 1885 cast-bronze bell by Meneely and Co., estimated at $3,000-5,000, a circa-1776 Queen Anne figured maple fan-carved flat-top highboy estimated at $5,000-7,000, and a very large selection of stick spatter hand-decorated tableware.

The Meneely Bell Foundry was established in 1826 in West Troy, N.Y., and produced more than 65,000 bells before closing in 1952. Some locations that house a Meneely Bell are the Washington Memorial Chapel at Valley Forge National Park in Pennsylvania, and Wofford College in South Carolina.

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Image courtesy Library of Congress.

Last Titanic survivor selling mementos

Image courtesy Library of Congress.

Image courtesy Library of Congress.

LONDON (AP) – As a 2-month-old baby, Millvina Dean was wrapped in a sack and lowered into a lifeboat from the deck of the sinking RMS Titanic.

Rescued from the bitterly cold Atlantic night by the steamship Carpathia, Dean, her brother and her mother were taken to New York with nothing but the clothes on their backs. Before returning to their homeland of England, they were given a small wicker suitcase of clothing, a gift from New Yorkers, to help them rebuild their lives.

Now, more than 95 years later, Dean – the last living survivor of the disaster – is selling the suitcase and other mementos to help pay her private nursing home fees, which are not covered by Britain’s National Health Service.

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