Another Day, Another Auction

October 19, 2008

Just a heads up that tomorrow morning at Sothebys in London is another Contemporary Art auction, with some interesting pieces.  It will be a useful check against today’s prices at Christies.  I’ll update this post with some results as they happen.

Update:  Nothing out of the ordinary so far as I could tell.  Reasonable prices on the whole.  I did notice that Yoko Ono’s picture of her mother’s breast was either withdrawn or found no buyer (the upper estimate was only $8,000).  It is annoying, however, that Sotheby’s web site seems to remove most of the lots’ images when giving the results.

What’s Happening In Aisle Three?

October 19, 2008

As a timely complement to my What’s Happening post, the New York Times has an interesting piece about research into what consumption habits change during economic downturns.  These are extensions of what I remember as a boy was called the “hemline index”:  hemlines went up and down in lockstep with economic prosperity.

According to those who study these things, in a recession or depression people tend to prefer songs that are longer, slower, with more meaningful themes. It’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water” rather than “At the Hop.” Playboy’s Playmates of the Year tend to have a more mature appearance — “older, heavier, taller and less curvy”, and American actresses with mature features — small eyes, large chins, and thin faces — are more popular.

In rough times people also buy more laxatives (because they are stressed) and less deodorant (because they are not dancing around with glee).  In addition, they

buy more of the things that have less water in them, things that are not so perishable. Instead of lettuce and steak and fruit, it’s rice and beans and grain and pasta.

A recent survey by Nielsen reported that tobacco, carbonated drinks and eggs were vulnerable to an economic downturn, while candy, beer and pasta sauce are “recession-proof”.  The recession will also, inevitably, bring with it an increase in property crime and mental depression.  Employee-assistance programs have already seen a strong increase in the number of those seeking help.

However, against all this, some experts suggest that a new recession could actually improve the nation’s physical and mental health in some ways.

“People are physically healthier in times of recession,” said Christopher Ruhm, an economist at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. “Death rates fall, people smoke less, drink less and exercise more. Traffic fatalities go way down, which is not a surprise when people drive less. Heart attacks go down. Back problems go down. People have more time to prepare healthier meals at home. When the economy weakens, pollution falls” …

In a study of coffee growers in Colombia, Grant Miller, who teaches health policy at Stanford’s medical school, found that infant and child mortality rates fell as coffee prices slumped, and concluded that it was because parents had more time to take care of their children.

These positives are not measured in the official figures.  As one the experts said:

“[N]othing in the G.D.P. captures what you gain if you cook and eat in a leisurely way with your kids.”

Fascinating stuff.  Especially fascinating to both live and study the phenomenon at the same time as we are doing today.

Auction Update

October 19, 2008

Christie’s Post-War and Contemporary Sale is going on as I blog.

Lucian Freud’s small painting of “Girl Reading” just about reached its estimates, selling for $3.8million.  And his iconic portrait of “Francis Bacon” barely crept over the lower estimates to fetch $9.4 million.  A third work, “Susie” didn’t sell.  Francis Bacon’s own “Portrait of Henrietta Moraes“, with pre-sales estimates between $9.5 million and $13 million, also appears not to have sold.

A number of Warhols are  being left on the shelf; presumably they didn’t meet their required minimums, and two Gerhard Richter’s also failed to sell.

The three new Chinese artists who were on display had mixed fortunes.  Yang Pei Ming failed to sell his “Autoportrait“, and a work by Yue Minjun sold for a few points less than the anticipated minimum.  However, Zeng Fanzhi almost doubled his estimate, selling an untitled work for $500,000.

To set my teeth on edge, it seems that Lucio Fontana is going to be the star of this show.   One of his la fine de Dio series just sold for an astonishing $15.6 million!   I really must be missing something.  The Inflated Phrases for this one include:

“Lucio Fontana’s Fine di Dio are a series of thirty-eight oval-shaped oil paintings made between March 1963 and February 1964 for three different exhibitions of his work held in Zurich, Milan and Paris. The supreme encapsulation of the ‘Spatialist’ art that he pioneered in the 1950s and ’60s, these works now stand as mystical icons that since their creation have proved themselves to be strangely prophetic of much about the way that modern physicists now view the cosmos.  Strange, mysterious and imposing, these punctured monochrome canvases in the shape of an egg are more than mere paintings. They are ‘Spatial concepts’ that invoke the fundamental mystery of the cosmos…”

On the other hand, I love Richard Prince’s “Dude Ranch Nurse #2” and I’m glad to see it reach $5.5 million.  I wonder if that is a record for him?

Almost at the end, a Damien Hirst medicine chest called “Untitled AAAAAAA” was left unsold after pre-sale estimates of around $400,000.

In all, the show had a value of around $50million.  But 19 of the 45 lots were left unsold, and I am sure that must be a disappointment.  Was it just the quality of the auction? Or is this a sign that money is tighter than it has been?  Hard to say yet.