The Art Market Thrives

November 14, 2019

We are currently going through the late fall sales of Modern and Impressionists, and the market seems to be as brisk as ever.  Last night’s Christie’s sale of Post-war paintings, for example, raised more than $325 million.


The star of the show was this piece — Hurting The Word Radio #2 — by an artist that would be obscure to most people on the street, I suspect.  Ed Ruscha‘s 1964 work sold for a remarkable $52.5 million, almost double the best price a work by this artist has seen before.

The Art Market Thrives — and Changes

March 12, 2019

Art Basel and UBS have now published their third annual review of the global art market. Highlights include:

  • Total art sales in 2018 amounted to $67.4 billion, up 6% from the previous year;
  • The United States, the United Kingdom, and China account for 84% of the entire market;
  • Online sales now amount of $6 billion, or about 9% of the total.

“Market: a workforce to be reckoned with
In 2018, 2.7 million people were employed worldwide in the gallery and dealer sector. Furthermore, it is estimated that, in 2018, the global art trade spent USD 20.2 billion on a range of external support services directly linked to their businesses, supporting 375,030 further jobs. The gender balance in the dealer sector was predominantly female: Women made up almost two-thirds of the workforce.”

Dealers: long-term relationships with collectors are more important than ever
In 2018, businesses in the dealer sector sold on average to 73 clients each, an increase of a third year-on-year. For dealers with a turnover of less than USD 1 million, new buyers accounted for 32% of their sales versus 25% and below for dealers with a turnover in excess of USD 1 million. The value of sales to longer-term buyers (collectors who have been clients for five years and more) rose considerably in the segments between USD 500,000 and USD 1 million and between USD 1 million and USD 10 million, increasing by 10% and 7% respectively on their share in 2017.”

“Auctions: new records for living artists
While deceased artists still generate higher sales than living ones at post-war and contemporary auction sales, works by living artists have set new records in 2018 – notably David Hockney’s Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures) from 1972, which fetched USD 90.3 million. The share of revenue generated through works by living artists at post-war and contemporary auctions in 2018 has grown mostly in the US: It reached 42% percent, up 10% from 2017. China remains the market with the highest share of sales by living artists, at 55% (down 2% on 2017).”

William Hogarth: Charity and the Art Market

November 10, 2018

At HeniTalks, there is a fascinating 8-minute video lecture discussing the artist William Hogarth and his role in establishing the first public charity in England, and the first public art gallery.  Click on the image below; it is well worth the time.


I spent my early pre-teen years in Chiswick, Hogarth’s hometown, and we were taught that Hogarth was a big deal. So he has fascinated me for a long time.

Chinese Art Market Booming

April 5, 2010

Record prices for Asian artworks are being made at Sotheby’s Hong Kong this week.  The auction is “marked by signs of return to pre-credit-crisis prices” reports Bloomberg.

This work is called “Bali Life” and is by Chinese (via Singapore and Indonesia) artist Lee Man Fong. It was sold for $3.3million, a big jump on the previous record for a Southeast Asian artwork.   Other major Chinese artists were selling at multiples of their expected price.  The new capitalist elite in China are behind this latest boom.

“The Chinese are bidding,” said Huang. “That’s driving prices up.”  Wang Wei, wife of millionaire stock-investor Liu Yiqian, was among the fiercest bidders for the top lots. She won a Zao Wou-ki painting for HK$15.2 million.   Asked if prices were rising too much, Wang said, “Not even if the sellers added another zero to the tag.”

With attitudes like that, combined with the recovery of the Russian oligarchs’ fortunes, we could soon see even more ridiculous valuations at all the major auctions.

Did The Art Market Go Crazy Again?

November 11, 2009

After a year of bad results followed by a rebound this Fall, it seems the high art market may have recovered its old nerve. I haven’t got the details yet but I hear via Twitter that Andy Warhol’s painting of dollar bills made a phenomenal $43.7m against an estimate of $8-$12m at Sotheby’s New York tonight! That’s bizarre and shows that common sense has failed in the art market once again. Plus ca change, plus le meme chose.

Update: Here is the NYT story on the sale.

The Art Market: The Next Act

February 1, 2009

Next week we will have the first chance since the November Sales to see what further effect the the deepening economic crisis is having on the high-end fine art market.  Both Sotheby’s and Christies have important Impressionist and Modern Art auctions in London.

vandongenSotheby’s goes first on Tuesday 3rd, but to my mind their show is less attractive than the Christie’s show the next day.  The minimum estimates at Sotheby’s are £41m and the high estimates total £60m, with a Degas sculpture and a Modigliani painting at the top end.

At Christies, the show’s minimum estimate is £46m, maximum £66m, not including the top-rated Monet for which the estimate is private.  Another Monet is also in the top five, along with a Toulouse-Lautrec, a Modigliani, and a Vuillard.

I believe my favourite piece in the two shows is this “La cuirasse d’or” by Kees Van Dongen.  Estimate range is $2.1 million to $3.5 million.

Damn The Markets, Art Still Sells!

June 24, 2008

This week sees a rash of auctions in Europe; and early indications are for a continuing strong interest from the big money.

Earlier today, “Le Basin aux Nympheas“, a Monet water lilies that hasn’t been seen in public since 1971, was sold for $80,451,178 (including premium).  This is the highest price ever obtained for a painting at auction by Christies in Europe.

Other items of interest:  a Degas went for $26.5million; a reclining woman by Henry Moore fetched $8.4m; and even Russian cubist Vera Rockline’s “The Card Players” (see right) was sold for $4m.  A couple of Miros failed to meet their minimums, though.

There is a second day at Christies tomorrow and on Monday, the auction house holds the sequel to its successful Post-War show, with yet another huge Lucian Freud piece (“Naked Portrait With Reflection”) at its heart.

The estimate is $30 million.  We’ll see

The Smartphone Trap

November 3, 2021

As regular readers will be aware, neither the Everloving nor I have ever had a mobile phone.  We are a disappearing breed, it seems, but we seem to manage our daily lives quite efficiently without being tracked by corporations and governments all day.

The fact that we are a vanishing demographic is shown by recent figures from Visual Capitalist indicating that smart phone ownership has reached saturation point:


Moreover, the latest numbers show clearly that the point of mobile phones is not (if ever it was) to enhance people-to-people communication but is rather to encourage you to buy more things:


I am sure that having a smart phone could add a degree of convenience to our lives, but the cost, for me, is just too high.

The Art Business Evolves

May 16, 2020

When last I wrote about the art market, in November, it was buoyant and looking forward. Since then, of course, the world crashed to a halt; museums, galleries, artists, and auction houses have been shuttered like the rest of us.  Some old fortunes were lost, and some new ones found. How that has affected the upper end of the world art market is about to  be revealed, as Christie’s leads the way to a possible new future.

On 10th July,

“[u]sing streaming technology, ONE will be the first auction of its kind, taking place in consecutive sessions in Hong Kong, Paris, London and New York. Alex Rotter, chairman of Post-War and Contemporary Art at Christie’s, says of ONE that, ‘with our virtual and physical worlds rapidly merging, we felt it was vital we meet this new reality with an innovative platform.’

Offering a range of exceptional 20th-century works, it will be staged by a leading auctioneer in each location (starting in Hong Kong) for a live and an online audience simultaneously. The new format aims to create a cutting-edge, adaptable, highly engaging platform for bidders around the globe, while also capturing the drama and excitement of a gala sale.

We’ll see if that is possible with the technology.  What is for certain is that they have laid on a masterpiece as their main lot: Version F of Picasso’s Les femmes d’Anger series.  Version O sold at auction for $179 million in 2017.

“Each of Picasso’s 15 canvases is a marvel of invention. What makes Version ‘F’ stand out is the way it marks a bridge between the first phase of the series (of regular-sized canvases) and the second, final phase (featuring much larger works).  Version ‘F’ is the culminating picture of the first phase, both brilliantly coloured and spatially ingenious, a composition so fully resolved that Picasso now felt ready to tackle bigger canvases. His palette is scorching, comprised principally of saturated red and gold tones. The airy white passages found in his previous versions of Les femmes d’Alger  are gone, replaced by a dense, expressive weave of Matissean pattern and colour. More than any other painting in the series, it conveys the hothouse atmosphere of a harem.”

This isn’t one of my favourite Picasso’s, but then again I was never going to be laying down $200 million to own it even if I loved it. But it is certain to attract a lot of interest and indirectly assist the rest of the Impressionist, Modern, Post-War and Contemporary, as well as Design, lots.

Most of the really rich buyers phone it in anyway, through their agents, so going online should not be too much of a novelty.  It will be an interesting experiment.

What Market Are You Exactly?

April 16, 2020

Marketing is an art that requires a solid foundation of science for ultimate success.  If you are a marketer and don’t know your market, you have failed at the very core of your business and success will depend on ephemeral luck.  None of that is new, of course; Edward Bernays codified it in the 1920s, but it had been well understood for a very long time.

The micro-collection of marketing data — from grocery till receipts to phone use, google searches and online buying, twitter comments, FaceBook likes, and employment patterns, surveys and polls — has become a part of all our lives.  To service a mass market efficiently, this enormous breadth of data has to be analyzed, compared, and condensed into marketing packages or groups.  That’s part of the art.

The industry in the following image, taken from Visual Capitalist, is of less interest than the breakdown of the market into what the industry considers manageable groups from a marketing perspective.  Select the image to get a closer view.


You can already see some of the key words and phrases that marketers will use to aim at a particular segment.

The real point to make here is that every large company in every industry is conducting this kind of detailed research into you and your habits every hour of every day.  I recognise the value that some of that brings to some, perhaps all.  But I also recognize and have concerns about the dangers that arise when someone else has so much information about you that you can be manipulated to do things you would really rather not do — like vote for Trump, or sacrifice your rights for some petty convenience.

The Smartphone Trap

January 11, 2020

As regular readers will be aware, neither the Everloving nor I have ever had a mobile phone.  We are a disappearing breed, it seems, but we seem to manage our daily lives quite efficiently without being tracked by corporations and governments all day.

The fact that we are a vanishing demographic is shown by recent figures from Visual Capitalist indicating that smart phone ownership has reached saturation point:


Moreover, the latest numbers show clearly that the point of mobile phones is not (if ever it was) to enhance people-to-people communication but is rather to encourage you to buy more things:


I am sure that having a smart phone could add a degree of convenience to our lives, but the cost, for me, is just too high.

Art Auctions 2019

December 20, 2019

The figures are in for the top auction sales of the year.  There were some remarkable individual results, topped by this Monet:


  1.  $ 110.7m — Claude Monet:  Meules
  2.  $ 91m — Jeff Koons:  Rabbit
  3.  $ 88.8m — Robert Rauschenberg:  Buffalo II
  4.  $ 59.2m — Cezanne:  Bouilloire et fruits
  5.  $ 54.9m — Pablo Picasso:  Femme au chien
  6.  $ 53m — Andy Warhol: Double Elvis
  7.  $ 52.5m — Ed Ruscha:  Hurting The Word Radio
  8.  $ 50.3 — Francis Bacon: Study For A Head
  9.  $ 50.1m — Rothko:  untitled (1960)
  10.  $ 37.6m — David Hockney: Portait of Henry Gledzahler and Christopher Scott


Some readers may recall that when the ridiculous shiny toy called Rabbit made $91m, I stopped reporting on art because I was so distraught at the weakening of values that Koon’s kitsch revealed.

More importantly, the figures show that New York continues to top London as the number one place to sell art. Highest prices 1 through 9 were sold in NY while only the Hockney was from a London sale.

Also noticeable is the continued dominance of male artists.  The highest price for a female artist was the $32m for Louise Bourgeois’s Spider, which clocked in at 15th place.

The GW Community Plan Starts To Bite

September 26, 2019

It is now about three years since the Grandview Community Plan was bludgeoned through City Council by the pro-development Vision majority. For some while thereafter, it seemed to result in only minor effects on the ground.  However, below the surface, seismic events were building up a head of steam.

Almost immediately, realtors and developers had started to plan for their new future.  As I noted back in 2017, large numbers of Grandview properties were being offered — at hugely inflated prices –“for assembly” by developers. This had an undoubted effect on the house price inflation that has plagued Grandview until the market correction earlier this year.

Then the proposals started piling up. First, the outrageously incongruous Boffo Tower at Commercial & Adanac was approved, against broad community opposition, for 12 storeys. We have only been saved from that disaster by the developer’s refusal to proceed without even greater heights of absurdity, and the current softness of the luxury condo market.

This has been followed by projects on Grant Street, at First & Clark, at Nanaimo & Charles, on E. 11th Avenue, on East Hastings, at Lakeview Church, and at the Safeway site at Commercial & Broadway.

top left: Lakewood; top right Charles & Nanaimo; bottom left E. 11th; bottom right E. Hastings

Top left First & Clark; top right Boffo Tower; bottom left Grant Street; bottom right Safeway site

Do any of these look anything like the neighbourhood we know and love?

My concern is that the avalanche has barely begun.

February Art Sales — Follow Up

March 2, 2019

A couple of weeks ago, I highlighted (here and here) a short series of auctions in London and New York that would probably indicate the health of the upper end art market.  Well, the sales took place and the news — for collectors and speculators alike — was mostly positive.

At the Sotheby’s Impressionist-Modern sale, followed immediately by a Surrealist catalog, more than 80% of the lots were sold for a total of $116.3 million. The Surrealist market appeared softer than the Impressionists, with 5 lots unsold. As expected, Monet’s Le Palais Ducal and Magritte’s L’Etoile du Matin were the highpoints of each sale, selling for $36.4 million and $7.05 million respectively.

The following day, Christie’s triple-header — Hidden Treasures, Impressionist & Modern, and The Art of the Surreal — brought in $219.5 million with 82% of the lots selling.  In the first section, a Matisse failed to sell at its lower estimate of $6 million, but Cezanne’s Nature morte et peches et poires went for $28.2 million.

In the Impressionists’ sale, the first lot, a Degas, sold for $5.6 million, nearly four times the pre-sale estimate. But, as expected, the high price of the section was Paul Sigac’s glorious Le Port au soliel couchant which was sold for $25.9 million.

The Art of the Surreal section featured Magritte’s Le lieu commun, which sold for $21.2 million, right in the middle of the pre-sales estimate range.

The last day of this three-day sales binge belonged to Christies but there sales were aimed at a different market. Their Contemporary Edition sale realised $1.75 million with $87,500 being the highest priced lot, a lithograph by Julie Mehretu. The Impressionist and Modern Art Sale saw sales total 16.7 million pounds.  The feature sale was a rather old-fashioned Renoir called Vase d’anemones for more than double its estimate.


All in all, I suspect these sales met most expectations and didn’t disappoint.  Now we look forward to the $50 million Rothko and the $50 million Rauschenberg we are promised for this summer.



Yet More Modern Art

February 19, 2019

In my survey of this month’s modern art auctions, I omitted what will probably be the richest of these. On the 27th, Christies in London will host Hidden Treasures: Impressionist & Modern Masterpieces From An Important Collection.

This is a major show, indeed, and the lots include a Cezanne and a Monet (“estimate on request”), a Van Gogh portrait estimated at US$15 million, a Renoir at US$13 million, and a Matisse at US$9 million.  There are plenty more, too.

Cezanne, Nature mort de peches et poire; Monet, Saule pleureur et bassin…

They say the works have “remained unseen in public for many decades,” so it will be interesting to see how the market views them today.

Need Some Modern Art?

February 17, 2019

The next couple of weeks feature major auctions of Impressionist, Post-Impressionist, Surrealist, and Contemporary Art at both Sothebys and Christies in both London and New York. These sales will set the market for many highly collected artists.

Sotheby’s kick it off on the evening of the 26th in London with their Impressionist & Modern Art Evening Sale, followed immediately by a series of lots collected as a Surrealist Art Evening Sale.  The former is led by Monet’s Le Palais Ducal with a pre-sale estimate of US$25 million to US$38 million, but also includes some fine works by Schiele, Kandinsky, Giacometti, Picasso, an others.  The latter includes Magritte’s L’Etoile u Matin, estimated at US4.4 million to US$5.7 million, along with other works from Magritte, Francis Picaba, Jean Arp, Man Ray, Joan Miro and others.

Magritte L’Etoile du Matin ; Monet Le Palais Ducal

Sothebys London continues the following day with an Impressionist & Modern Art Day Sale which “promises a number of important examples of Impressionist and post-Impressionist art by Edgar Degas, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Gustave Loiseau, Pierre Bonnard and Paul Elie Ranson among others.”

That same day, the evening of the 27th February, Christies London have their Art of the Surreal Evening Show.  Seven of the top eight pre-sale estimates for this show are works by Rene Magritte, including Le Lieu Commun, the estimate for which is not given in the catalog but will be in the multiple millions.

In New York that same day, Christies have an interesting “Contemporary Edition‘ sale, with works by Warhol, Rauschenberg, Kapoor, Bansky, Roy Lichtenstein and many others.  The high estimates are around $50,000 to $60,000.

Finally, on the 28th Christies London have their own Impressionist & Modern Art Day Sale.  High estimates of about $700,000 are expected for pieces by Botero, Giacometti, Chagall, Leger, Picasso etc.

Marc Chagall, Etude pour la Nuit de Venice

It will be an interesting few days!

The “Art” of Kitsch

November 23, 2018

Over the years, I believe I have made clear my dislike of Jeff Koons, Damien Hirst, Takashi Turakami and their ilk. They are the highest earning “artists” alive today, coining tens of millions per piece with work that I happen to think have the same value as those paintings on velvet you can still find in junk stores around the world. Everyone’s taste is different, and I don’t expect others to buy into my opinion.

I think of most of these pieces as bad or failed art, but an excellent article by Roger Scruton has allowed me to understand them better as part of the history of kitsch.

Nobody quite knows where the word “kitsch” came from, though it was current in Germany and Austria at the end of the 19th Century. Nobody knows quite how to define the word either. But we all recognize kitsch when we come across it. The Barbie doll, Walt Disney’s Bambi, Santa Claus in the supermarket, Bing Crosby singing White Christmas, pictures of poodles with ribbons in their hair. At Christmas we are surrounded by kitsch – worn out cliches, which have lost their innocence without achieving wisdom …

The kitsch object encourages you to think, “Look at me feeling this – how nice I am and how lovable.” That is why Oscar Wilde, referring to one of Dickens’s most sickly death-scenes, said that “a man must have a heart of stone not to laugh at the death of Little Nell”.

Scruton describes the work of Koons and others as “pre-emptive kitsch”:

The worst thing is to be unwittingly guilty of producing kitsch. Far better to produce kitsch deliberately, for then it is not kitsch at all but a kind of sophisticated parody. Pre-emptive kitsch sets quotation marks around actual kitsch, and hopes thereby to save its artistic credentials.

koons jackson

Take a porcelain statue of Michael Jackson cuddling his pet chimpanzee Bubbles, add cheesy colours and a layer of varnish. Set the figures up in the posture of a Madonna and child, endow them with soppy expressions as though challenging the spectator to vomit, and the result is such kitsch that it cannot possibly be kitsch. Jeff Koons must mean something else, we think, something deep and serious that we have missed.

There are three copies of Michael Jackson and Bubbles.  One was sold more than a decade ago for $5.6 million.

Pre-emptive kitsch is the first link in a chain. The artist pretends to take himself seriously, the critics pretend to judge his product and the modernist establishment pretends to promote it. At the end of all this pretence, someone who cannot perceive the difference between the real thing and the fake decides that he should buy it. Only at this point does the chain of pretence come to an end, and the real value of this kind of art reveals itself – namely its money value.

The intersection between “art” and “commerce” is always a tricky one.  Good thoughtful article, well worth the read.

The Unreality of Art

November 14, 2018

In the latest instance proving that the art market has nothing whatsoever to do with the real world, Edward Hopper’s iconic “Chop Sueyjust sold for $91,875,000.

At the same auction, a record was set for a work by William de Kooning.  His “Woman as Landscape” was sold for $69 million.

Housing Crisis In A Nutshell Part 2

February 14, 2018

A week or so ago, I published the first post in  this series which showed that a typical townhouse in Grandview was completely out of reach for the median income family in Vancouver.

Some people may have thought that a high-end townhouse was a bad example to use, even though they are being pushed on us as “affordable” alternatives in the Grandview Community Plan. Therefore, today, I present to you a 706 sq ft one-bedroom apartment currently on sale for $738,000.

Assuming our purchasing couple making the median Vancouver family income of $75,000 has somehow managed to secure the $73,800 down payment, their combined income is still barely half the $139,107 needed to qualify for a mortgage.

Even if the bank or other lender looked the other way on their income qualification (highly unlikely), the annual mortgage payments of $36,612 would be 49% of their gross income, and probably closer to 80% of their net after taxes and deductions.  This is, of course, way above the 30% of gross considered as the definition of affordable.

None of this is new news, but it cannot be repeated enough that the housing market in Vancouver is in a crisis of affordability. Most of our population cannot even consider buying anything whether it be a house, a townhouse, or even a tiny apartment.  And when the  other alternative —  purpose built rentals — are being offered at rates well above affordability, then we know the market is truly broken  and Vancouver has become a ghetto for the privileged only.

The government in Victoria presented us yesterday with some high-flown rhetoric concerning affordability: the proof of the pudding will be in the budget next week and whatever specific proposals are made thereafter.  We cannot wait any longer.


Art — Again

February 28, 2017

Over the years, I have presented a number of posts on the fall and rise of the super-rich art market: the  market continues during the crash;  after the economic crash in 2008;  a new peak in 2009; the Chinese were leading the recovery in 2010. There have been others but I have been busy elsewhere for the last few years and haven’t been writing too much about art and sales. But I have been keeping an eye open.

I watched the market fall flat through most of last year. The oligarchs seemed to have put their money more in additional real estate than art or football clubs for the last year or two, distorting property markets across the globe, and flattening the top end of the art market. This spring’s auctions are supposed to give us a clue as to whether that disappointment will continue this year or whether the current stock exchange record highs will help propel a new burst.


In what might have been a special case or may indeed be a harbinger of the year to come, Russian billionaire Dmitry Rybolovlev sold a Gauguin last night for US$33.5 million. It was a picture he had purchased in 2008 for US$85 million, leaving him with a 74% loss.

But it is early days yet. This series of 20th century auctions at Christies is hoped to fetch a total of about US$450 million by the time it is complete in the middle of March. What they actually achieve will give us a better idea of where the market is heading.