Ellsworth and Asia Week

2015’s Asia Week has proved itself to be one of the most lucrative and exciting art events of the year. A barrage of gallery and museum shows, lectures, and auctions litter the art scene in celebration of artwork from multiple nations. High predictions of sales were reported to be around the $250 million dollar range, in large part owing to the excitement over the Robert Hatfield Ellsworth sale at Christies.

Auction catalogs from four of the Ellsworth auctions via Christie's

Auction catalogs from four of the Ellsworth auctions via Christie's

Ellsworth’s prestigious collection contained Indian, Himalayan, Southeast Asian, Chinese, and Japanese art and is one of the largest of estates Asian art ever to come to auction. Considering that all 57 lots sold in Part I, it appears that this estimate may have been correct - including buyer’s premium this part of the collection totaled $61,107,500.

Gilt Bronze figure of a Seated Bear from China created in the Western Han Dynasty (200 BC – 8 AD)   courtesy of Christie's

Gilt Bronze figure of a Seated Bear from China created in the Western Han Dynasty (200 BC – 8 AD)  courtesy of Christie's

Part I – Masterworks Including Indian, Himalayan & Southeast Asian Works of Art, Chinese & Japanese Works of Art, had the highest selling works of the entire collection. The most expensive of which was the set of four 17th Century Huanghulai Horseshoe-back arm chairs that sold for over $9 million (estimate of $800,000 – $1.2 million). Another work which defied its estimate was the Gilt Bronze figure of a Seated Bear from China created in the Western Han Dynasty (200 BC – 8 AD) which was estimated to sell for between $200,000 to $300,000 and sold for $2.8 million. According to our Asian art specialist collectors were enamored by this small totem - its rare pose and subtle characterization.

However, it was not just Chinese art that did well in the sale. The second highest price was for a large gilt bronze sculpture of Avalokiteshvara from 13th Century Nepal which sold for $8.2 million (estimate of $2-3 million). A “rare and important” bronze figure of a seated Yogi, possibly Padampa Sangye sold for $4.8 million, a little more than $3 million over the high estimate.

Part II, which included Chinese furniture, scholar’s objects, and Chinese paintings, still reached high prices and totaled $39,137,625. Part III – Chinese Works of Art: Qing Ceramics, Glass & Jade totaled $8,189,875, Part IV – Chinese Works of Art: Metal, Sculpture & Early Ceramics $15,840,625, Part V – European Decorative Arts, Carpets, Old Master Paintings & Asian Works of Art $6,207,688 and Part VI – The Library $1,176,875. The extraordinary results of these sales pay tribute to Ellsworth’s genius in the field of Asian art - something for which OTE can attest, as over the years he advised our firms president on the Asian market and, in particular, the estate of C.C. Wang.

The Ellsworth sale has amounted $132 million at auction, no doubt in large part because of the incredible provenance of his collection. As the Asian art market is becoming more overheated and frenzied, provenance is becoming increasingly more important in legitimizing extraordinarily high prices for classical Chinese art.

Although they were arguable overshadowed by the Ellsworth sale at Christie’s, Sotheby’s Asia week sales also did well. Their most successful sale appears to be Fine Classical Chinese Paintings & Calligraphy which netted them $41,441,375.

However Asia week is not just about big sales, it is also an amazing time to learn more about the art history and development of countries throughout Asia. A lecture I attended at the Korean Society, ‘Adoption, Assimilation, Transformation,’ with Robert D. Mowry discussed some of the most important developments in Korea’s art history and its relationship with China.

Geumgang Jeondo (금강전도 金剛全圖) by Jeong Seon

Geumgang Jeondo (금강전도 金剛全圖) by Jeong Seon

During the lecture Mr. Mowry spoke about the distinctly Korean style of landscape paintings typified by the painter Jeong Seon 정선 / 鄭敾 (1676–1759), whose pen name Gyeomjae meant humble study. He lived during the Joseon Dynasty and is one of the few known Korean painters to move away from traditional Chinese styles. Another, Shin Yun-bok (1758-early 19th C), paintings of people reveal a humor that is also uniquely Korean. Their paintings present a contextual history for some of Korea’s modern painters such as An Jung-sik (안중식, 1861-1919).

Scenery on Dano day (단오풍정 端午風情) by Shin Yun-bok , in the Gansong Art Museum in Seoul, South Korea

Scenery on Dano day (단오풍정 端午風情) by Shin Yun-bok , in the Gansong Art Museum in Seoul, South Korea

Overall it was a great week to experience some of the world’s most beautiful art and culture.



Best in Show: Auction House Previews

Vintage Diamond Ring tried on at a Christie's jewelry preview

Vintage Diamond Ring tried on at a Christie's jewelry preview

Auction previews happen all the time in New York City, but who goes? Well intrepid collectors, obviously, looking for their next big purchase and art world insiders. At any time the top auction houses: Sotheby’s, Christie’s, Phillip’s and Bonham’s, have a rotation of artwork, furniture or jewelry (just to name a few) on view. What is not widely known is that these previews are open free to the public. What is so exciting about this is that much of what is on view will go from private collections back into private collections. For some of these artworks and objects this is the only time they will be viewed by the public.

Not to mention, if you are a jewelry lover like me and want to try on $100,000+ rings, necklaces and earrings this is your chance! All one has to do is walk in and ask what floor the preview is and then you are good to go. But this is not the only reason you should go to a preview. Much like a museum or gallery these exhibitions are often curated and will offer a different perspective on the work at hand. An upcoming auction at Sotheby’s, The New York Sale, looks like a good prospect. According to Sotheby’s this is a curated auction of “items from, inspired by and celebrating New York City.”  This inaugural New York Sale includes Print, Photographs, Paintings, Sculpture, Silver, Books, Jewelry and iconic New York Memorabilia.

Auctions are often themed and scheduled to coincide with other events in New York. Right now Bonhams has an exhibition called Dogs in Show and Field for an auction featuring only canine focused fine art, a perfect match for the annual Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show, also in New York. The auction is happening tomorrow February 18th in New York beginning at 10am, so don’t worry dog lovers you still have time to hit both events.

Seeing auction previews and the auctions themselves is a great way to get a feel for what’s in the market at the moment, the prices and conditions of what is available. Plus, it can be a great way to spend an afternoon.

Here are some interesting auction previews and exhibitions that are coming up:

·         Rockefeller Center and the Rise of Modernism in the Metropolis, Christie’s Private Selling Exhibition, New York

    • On view: 17 January – 25 February 2015

·         Dogs in Show and Field, Bonham’s New York

    • On view: Today, February 17th 10AM-6PM
    • Auction: February 18th 10AM

·         Under the Influence, Phillips New York

    • 23 February – 3 March, 10am-6pm (Sundays 12pm-6pm)
    • Auction: March 4th 11am

·         The New York Sale, Sotheby’s New York

    • On view: 26 March - 31 March, 10AM - 01PM
    • Auction: April 1st, 7PM 

 

 

Growth in the Art Market

Something strange is happening all over the art world and I’m trying to figure it out. Maybe I hadn’t been noticing all that much, but I started thinking about it a couple of weeks ago when I attended an American Art auction at Sotheby’s and a small Norman Rockwell nostalgic painting sold for $2.2 million, of course a record and a wake up call to start looking at a few other sales that weren’t Contemporary Art.

What I’ve discovered is a consistently rising market for many kinds of art that normally don’t attract the mass market, causing me to think that money is being invested in work that is not exactly affordable for the ordinary Joe, but could be a bargain for serious collectors if they are comparing it to what is going on at the evening sales at the auction houses.

 

Just this morning I was looking at the results of the Antiquities sale at Sotheby’s:

Marble torso of a young satyr estimated at $50,000-80,000, sold for $329,000

Egyptian bronze figure of Harpocrates-Somtous estimated at $30,000-50,000, sold for $137,000

Hellenistic marble head of a woman estimated at $20,000-30,000, sold for $112,500

Two small Egyptian polychrome figures estimated at $7,000-10,000, sold for $53,125

 

At the Sotheby’s Old Master sale:

Antwerp Mannerist School painting estimated at $100,000-150,000, sold for $257,000

Gillis Mostraert painting estimated at $4,000-6,000, sold for $43,750

Circle of Jan Wellens de Cock painting estimated at $30,000-50,000, sold for $106,250

Pieter Brueghel the Younger’s small painting estimated at $700,000-900,000, sold for $2,285,000

 

These were not aberrational sales, but a reflection of the overall sales, and I am finding this repeated in the sales of other categories of art, i.e., paintings, sculpture, objects of art. I’ll be checking out the other areas now that I’m alerted to the rush towards obtaining physical proof of where someone’s money has gone rather than investing in the more ephemeral ink on paper representing stocks, bonds, gold and whatever.

The other day when someone told me her son was so interested in art I remarked that so was everyone else. It probably  wasn’t until the 1970s and Scull auction sales that the general public was alerted to the fact that paintings could fetch a good deal of money. Then the world seemed to sit up to look a little more closely at the art market. Interest gradually rose, but the wild prices of the late 1980s and the 1990s really caught their attention.  And as I told the lady, everyone today is interested in art. But it is because of a growing appreciation of it or the prices it brings?

May 2013 Summary of NYC Art Events

‘tis the season of semi-hysterical hyperbole regarding the art market. Christie’s with its all-time all-star contemporary sale, the plethora of exhibitions, the panting over-the-moon prices for rectangles of canvas and sticks of synthetics. It’s exhausting and not altogether fun. The promoters say it’s fun, the publications say it’s an other worldly experience. The eye says it’s tired.

Frieze was noisy and crowded with expensive foods and nothing extraordinary in the booths. Maybe the artists are tired too. They’ve been at it day and night to produce enough saleable stuff for all these fairs, 200 thus far and counting. We played “what four works do you remember from the show?” during dinner that evening with collectors and professionals. They were hard-pressed. Maybe they were tired too.

For some reason, instead of recalling marvelous contemporary work I still see the Rauschenberg cardboard construction soaring on the wall at Gagosian’s. And the two Dennis Oppenheim drawings in a London booth. Why can’t I remember the more recent items? Great art holds up. Doesn’t mean the emerging artists don’t have some chance at immortality, or at least a mention in the art history books, and perhaps walking through the show with others isn’t the way to take the work seriously. And maybe that’s the problem with these big shows that are proliferating like dandelions in May. Perhaps the sheer size doesn’t allow us the opportunity to engage with the art in these 100 plus exhibitions where we tend to rush through, looking for that “wow” piece or the one we can chuckle over with our companions. And then there are always those satellite shows, some of them interesting but too many boring or bad.

Now there are design shows as well as art shows. One recently at the  pier on 15th Street (never been there before) was filled with chairs and tables and desks that required discussion, but there was relatively few people with whom to discuss anything- at least on opening day. The displays begged for signage, explanations, some sign that the sellers were interested in the pieces they were showing.

But on the weekend, at the conference on Initiatives in Art & Culture I remembered why I had enjoyed the art world so much once. Put together by Lisa Koenigsberg, the two-day conference on American Art was filled with intelligent talks on a part of the art world that has been shamefully neglected for the past several years – art made in America from the 1700s into the mid 20th century. Perhaps if we called it “international art made in America” it might have a better chance. Much of the great art from our older American artists is in museums or important private collections, but there is a wealth of overlooked artists from the past. We may see a resurgence of interest in the discovery of these now obscure painters and sculptors of the past. But will collectors whose eyes seem blind to all but the one-stop shopping artist’s in your face creations find any excitement in the moderately priced homespun heroes of yesterday? And will their hearts beat faster at the prospect of not competing with the $50 million trophy? And does the $7.2 billion spent on art in 2012 have much to do with art?

An Art Investment Council Panel Review: Is the Art Market in a Bubble?

 Last week the Art Investment Council (AIC) presented a private panel: Is the Art Market in a Bubble?

Moderated by Stephen Brodie, partner at Herrick, Feinstein LLP, the panelists consisted of Benjamin Mandel, Economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, Michael Moses, Co-Founder of Beautiful Asset Advisors, Michael Plummer, Co Founder & Principal at Artvest Partners LLC and Barrett White, Senior Vice President, Christie’s, Post War & Contemporary Art.

Michael Moses described a market bubble in terms of return:  a bubble means annual growth of at least 25% per year, for at least five years in a row.  A few obvious examples include Japan during the 1980’s and the U.S. from 1995 to 2000.   

During discussion, all panelists confirmed what experienced professionals working in the field know well, and that which makes it such a unique beast –more than any other, the art market is driven by emotion, collector psychology and confidence (or lack there of) in the market.  Following the 2008 economic collapse, the market experienced the shortest contraction in history (3 years) due largely to consumer confidence in art as an asset class.  Those who stayed away from the sales in 2009 began to feel they were missing out on some favorable prices, and those who had refrained from selling saw sales jump.

Other topics of discussion throughout the evening included art funds (15-20 years in the future), online price databases (collectors love them while dealers feel they can betray their own purchase prices to clients) and regulations and commission transparency along the lines of the real estate market (it will happen when the scale of the art market demands it).

The final verdict?  The general consensus among all was that the art market is not in a bubble – yet.  What leads to a bubble?  Panelists cited troubles in China, which constitutes 40% of the auction market, and the struggling Euro.  Perhaps the most insightful explanation (or warning) of a bubble is the ignoring of connoisseurship in one’s field.  This in turns leads to inflated prices being paid for inferior works, a phenomenon seen in the early to mid 2000’s.

Auction World Catchup

Exactly where are last year’s auction house superstars since the U.S. Justice Department’s relentless pursuit of antitrust violators revealed collusion among the top movers and shakers? And how has the auction market been affected? The first admission of guilt by a senior executive of the world’s two leading auction houses came when Christie’s Christopher Davidge admitted to participation in price-fixing, thereby allowing that auction house a grant of immunity by offering evidence first. It was said that Diana D. Brooks, then chief executive of Sotheby’s, had attempted to offer evidence at that time but that her admission came too late for the same leniency. She has pleaded guilty to a violation of the an­titrust laws, admitting to working with Christie’s to fix com­mission prices charged to sellers between 1993 and 1999.

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The above is an excerpt from an article by Elin Lake-Ewald, Ph.D, ASA, RICS, published in the ASA Personal Property Journal, Summer 2001.

To read the complete article please click here:

PPJ Vol. 13 (2) 2001 Summer Auction World Catchup

At Issue – Price Fixing by Art Dealers and Auction Houses

1. Dealers, Auction Houses and the Sherman Anti-Trust Act While the Ganz and Sharp sales at Christie’s and Sotheby’s began what is considered the most successful sales season in seven years, the two auction houses and a group of America’s most distinguished art dealers were served with subpoenas by the United States Justice Department.

Although relatively little is known about it yet, the investigation centers on collusion among art dealers buying at auction and, at the same time, on a possible collusion between the two major auction houses who set both seller’s commissions and buyer’s premiums.

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The above is an excerpt from an article by Elin Lake-Ewald, Ph.D, ASA, RICS, published in the ASA Personal Property Journal, Winter 1998.

To read the complete article please click here:

PPJ Vol 10 (1) 1998 Winter At Issue - Price Fixing by Art Dealers and Auction Houses

Viewpoint

Why, Oh Why, Is He Doing This To Me? I used to mutter this to myself when dragged to baseball games by my dad, who figured I must be as much of a fan as he was. Glori­ously engaged in the sport I was not, but at least I paid sufficient attention then to find that now it’s fun to go to baseball card and memo­rabilia shows. Sports nostalgia items have be­come so hot that it behooves all appraisers to know a little something about players, famous and obscure, who hit/kicked/threw/caught/tossed and generally handled the ball or puck at some point in American sports history. Even if you’re not enough of a specialist to appraise them, it’s helpful to be able to alert your clients to their potential value.

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The above is an excerpt from an article by Dr. Elin Lake-Ewald published in the ASA Personal Property Journal, Spring 1994.

To read the complete article please click here:

PPJ Vol. 6 (2) 1994 Spring Auction Market Analysis