September auctions expected to open the door for latecomers and forerunners

Stefano Pirovano

Apparently the recent turmoil in financial markets due to China’s weakness is only partially affecting the huge amount of liquidity pushed into the system by the central banks in recent years. On the contrary, analysts think that this might force some Oriental collectors to sell, thus creating some good opportunities, at least for those who have not been too involved with the Chinese insidious stock market. Moreover, Europe Central Bank is not expected to rise interests rates any time soon, and that should give a bit more confidence to investors from Germany, France, Belgium, Spain and Italy. The general sentiment is that economy in the Eurozone has not recovered yet, and that inflation is slowly soaring. But after the agreement between EU and Greece the main problem in the next months is going to be employment, if nothing happens in the meantime. Tax reductions are also expected, particularly in Italy, and many people have started complaining about London: living in the UK capital is becoming more and more expensive. Someone – not only those who are flying money out of China or Russia – may decide that would be wiser to buy a good work of art than going on inflating the next possible real estate’s bubble. After all, isn’t art one of the most important stores of wealth internationally?


Meanwhile, on the other side of the Ocean, business is looking at the new opportunities offered by Iran and that is going to partly balance the mounting fear about Donald Trump’s anger – in this regards also see this brilliant interview that Nobel laureate Joseph Stieglitz recently gave.


As Eric Hobsbawn once said, “that main thing I’ve learned in my studies is that it is impossible to predict the future”. Nevertheless we would risk asserting that prices of high quality artworks will keep on moderately growing until the end of the year, and even if the $100 million dollars nude by Amedeo Modigliani that Christie’s is going to offer on 9th November in New York will not set a record, this extremely powerful image is already influencing the artscape – just as Picasso’s “Women of Algiers” sold for $179 million last May and Paul Gauguin’s “Nafea Faa Ipoipo” sold for $300 milion last February (both at Christie’s) effectively did in first half of the year. Good figurative painting is again on the threshold, while abstraction will probably take a break.


In any case the core of the matter will be, once again, the artwork’s quality, very easy to be spotted in certain cases, but that may also turn to be totally incomprehensible, particularly in regards with emerging artists. The “New Now” auction that will take place next 17th September at Phillips in New York is going to mark the first relevant step in the business partnership between Phillips and on-line auctions’ giant eBay. And probably it will be remembered as the logical evolution of the art market’s phenomenon which started back on 15th May 2013, when the first painting by Oscar Murillo went under the hammer selling for €23.000 at Sotheby’s in New York. Many of the pieces that Phillips and eBay will auction are from the same group of artists that have been flipped all over the world in the last two years and that generally go under the slippery label of emerging art: Dan Rees, Joe Reihsen, Artie Wierkant, Chris Succo, Korakrit Arunanondchai, Petra Cortright, Christian Rosa, Alex Hubbard, Hugh Scott-Duglas, just to name a few. But it would be more appropriate to call it art intentionally made for the auction room, as the recent lawsuit embroiling artist Ibrahim Mahama has proved. With or without the artist permission – the Court shall state – two renown art dealers have cut and stretched a huge number of his jute bags in order to sell them on the market, the same kind of jute bags for transporting coal that are composing the artist’s great installation currently at the Venice Biennale: respected curators and art institutions are not immune from this new aggressive internet marketing based trend. Moreover, both Sotheby’s and Christie’s keep on including young artists in their auctions. Two Murillo’s – both bought by the seller at Isabella Bortolozzi gallery – will go under the hammer next 30th September at Christie’s “First Open, along with pieces by Ayan Farah, Chris Succo, Sam Falls, Parker Ito, Ryan Estep, Michael Manning. And Petra Cortright, Zachary Armstrong, Chris Succo, Michael Staniak, Michael Manning, Dan Rees, Ethan Cook, Lucien Smith, Gabriele De Santis, Nick Darmstaedter, will pair with a big Murillo at Sotheby’s the day before (“Contemporary Curated”, 29 September, New York).


No record prices are expected here, and the estimates by the auctioneers say that values in this sector of the art market are getting more reasonable if compared to what they were just one year ago. Two years and a half later the artist very first sale, the two Murillo’s at Christie’s are estimated between $20,000 and $30,000, thus quite far from the auction record for paintings of similar dimensions: $96,078, Christie’s, Oct 2015. But even if at the moment it’s not easy to predict how many of these artworks won’t actually find a buyer, it would be a pity to lose on the way the interest created around this generation of artists – some of them are definitely talented – and to betray all the new generation of collectors who have been supporting them. Perhaps the auction room is smaller than the museum’s one, and here the artist is not as free as he should be. But if you take the market as an opportunity, also museums will definitely have more resources at their disposal to make the talented one finally prove what they can, or can’t do. Now that the door is open, who will get in?


Stefano Pirovano


September 23, 2015