Sotheby's Imp & Modern Sale Results Called "Tepid"

On Monday evening Sotheby's held its impressionist and modern fine art evening sale, with mixed results. The Wall Street Journal called the results "tepid" and buyers "bargain hunters".  Certainly not a good sign.

According to Sotheby's, the evening sale totaled$157.7 million including buyer's premiums. The sale offered 42 lots with 34 selling for a respectable 81% buy through ratio, and sold 92% by value. The pre-sale estimate for the sale ranged from $145.8 million to $186.5 million. As you can see, the total including buyers premiums was far below the pre sale low estimate. The top selling lot was an Evard Munch, with a pre sale estimate of about $50 million, and it sold for $54.5 million including buyers premium. That one painting accounted for over 1/3 of the sales total.

The Wall Street Journal reports on the sale
Sotheby’s New York kicked off a major week of fall auctions Monday with a tepid, $157.7 million sale of impressionist and modern art dominated by bargain hunters who lobbed lone bids to win pieces by Edvard Munch and Pablo Picasso.

Thin bidding sapped the energy from Sotheby’s York Avenue salesroom, which met its $142.8 million expectations but only managed to find buyers for 81% of its offerings—a passable performance but a long way from the runaway exuberance of a couple of years ago.

The sale’s star, Munch’s 1902 “Girls on the Bridge,” sold for $54.5 million to an anonymous telephone bidder that Sotheby’s had locked in before the sale using a financial mechanism called an irrevocable bid, whereby the bidder pledges to bid and buy a work if no one else steps up in the sale. (In exchange for taking such a risk, Munch’s winner received a $2 million discount.) The Munch was sold by Swiss-based collector Larissa Chertok and was estimated to sell for about $50 million.

At one point during the sale, Sotheby’s auctioneer Helena Newman—the first woman to wield the gavel in a New York evening sale—tried to buy time and coax additional bidders for the Munch by sipping water and making small talk with a colleague who typically bids on behalf of Chinese collectors, to no avail.

It took only one bid to win Picasso’s 1963 “Painter and His Model” for $12.9 million. Maurice de Vlaminck’s Fauve scene from 1906, “The Orchard,” sold following two bids to another telephone bidder for $7.5 million, above its $7 million low estimate.

Dealers, sensing potential steals, largely held sway. London dealer Alan Hobart of Pyms Gallery won Picasso’s 1951 bronze bust, “Head of a Woman,” for $8.4 million, above its $8 million high estimate but far less than the $29 million record price paid for another Picasso bust nine years ago.

Zurich dealer Mathias Rastorfer paid $6 million for “EM 1 Telephone Picture,” a spare, geometric abstract by Hungarian artist László Moholy-Nagy, well over its $4 million high estimate. Moholy-Nagy was a professor in the Bauhaus school whose retrospective, “Moholy-Nagy: Future Present,” is on view at the Art Institute of Chicago—garnering praise and cries that his prices are low compared with his peers, such as Kazimir Malevich, whose pieces have sold for as much as $60 million. Before Sotheby’s sale, Moholy-Nagy’s record stood at $1.6 million.

The night’s biggest casualty was Henri Matisse’s 1923 “Woman in Blue at a Table, Red Background,” which was estimated to sell for at least $5 million but stalled at $4.2 million and failed to sell. Christie’s and Phillips will counter with their sales later this week.
Source: The Wall Street Journal 

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