February 8th, 2011
03:06 PM GMT
What recession? There wasn't one at the top end of the art market.
"The price levels of these works of art have not only held, they've risen," Jussi Pylkkanen, President of Christie's Europe told me a week before the auction house put works by some of the famed impressionists under the hammer in London.
Works by Degas, Gaugin and Chagall lined the walls at Christie's as Pylkkanen explained to me that 80% of the works up for auction are being sold these days, showing great confidence that the big Impressionist and modern art sale this week in London by his house (and presumably also for the one at rival Sotheby's Tuesday featuring a painting by Picasso) will show huge demand. "This is one of the strongest sales I have seen here in the 25 years," he said.
That's what the sellers are counting on of course.
"One has to bear in mind that many of the works or art on view here we've been working on (getting owners to sell) for the past 30-40 years," Pylkkanen said. So selling now is a key economic indicator. "As an owner of a major work of art, you tend to wait for the right moment to sell, the appropriate time to sell. Every indicator tells you now is a good time to sell major works of art, as it is a good time to buy," he added.
Now, of course, you would need anything from $1 million to $15 million to be able to put one of these masters on your wall. At Sotheby's, a Picasso being sold Tuesday night could top out over $25 million.
After these Impressionist and modern art sales, both houses will be auctioning off contemporary works; from Warhol to Hirst to Francis Bacon. These will likely appeal to a different buyer than the Impressionists, but will show the art world if it is indeed firing on all cylinders.
For last year, Christie's reported a record $5 billion-worth of sales, with more than $550 million of that coming from private sales. In fact, private sales jumped 39% in 2010. Pylkkanen says they spend a great deal of time matching buyer and seller, away from the prying eyes of the auction rooms. Its a growing part of the art business.
Will 2011 surpass an incredible 2010?
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