New York’s spring art auction season saw the market slow somewhat but not collapse, held up by buying from savvier collectors.
Since the fireworks of the $2.6 billion spring 2015 season, the market has played it by ear, destabilized by China’s economic slowdown. Total sales this season were in excess of $1 billion – in line with expectations.
“There has been a change. There’s a smarter population of people buying,” said Christopher D’Amelio, a partner at the David Zwirner gallery, which has two art spaces in New York and one in London.
“There’s not this kind of trendy euphoria that might have been before,” he said of the auction season.
Christie’s and Sotheby’s had approached the crucial week, which ended Thursday night, with caution.
“Bidding was measured, probably as measured as I’ve seen over the last three or four years,” said Jussi Pylkkanen, global president of Christie’s International.
“Curating remains very important,” he said, adding that it was important to “choose exactly the right type of works that appeals to the broad market.” The two auction houses managed to move a large proportion of their offerings, with the exception of Monday’s sale in which only two-third of the works were sold.
This season, it was contemporary art that attracted the buzz. On Tuesday, a giant painting by Jean-Michel Basquiat set a new record for the artist at $57.3 million.
Other record-setting sales for artists included a sculpture of Adolf Hitler on his knees, titled “Him” by 55-year-old Italian Maurizio Cattelan, which fetched $17.2 million.
A 1939 painting by Frida Kahlo depicting two nude women sold Thursday for $8 million, the highest price yet for any work by the iconic Mexican artist.
“There’s still a great deal of wealth in the world and … no lack of buyers. It’s just that you have to be fair with your buyers, you have to be correct with your pricing and you have to have good works,” D’Amelio said.
Asian buyers, who everyone feared would stay away, turned up.
“They have been active in the past few years but now they’re starting to understand other genres of art. Abstraction, minimalism, things that were not natural when we started showing there,” said D’Amelio.
“There’s a real growth and a willingness to understand and an appetite and I think I’ve seen the effects of it” at the auctions on Tuesday and Wednesday, he said.
The Basquiat painting was purchased by Japanese online shopping entrepreneur Yusaku Maezawa, who spent nearly $100 million in two days on purchases including lesser-known works like a painting by Romanian artist Adrian Ghenie.
Asian buyers are interested in works by abstract painters Willem de Kooning and Joan Mitchell, and the minimalist Donald Judd, said Saara Pritchard, head of contemporary art at Christie’s.
“We’re really focusing on engaging a whole new client base,” Pylkkanen said. “They particularly see 21st and 20th century abstraction through fresh eyes.”
D’Amelio said the Asian buyers’ interest is sincere, and that the trend was “just beginning, actually.”