NYC Fall Season: Art Auctions are in Full Swing.

As I previewed the fall art auction scene this past weekend - which kicked-off at the major NYC auction houses Christie’s and Sotheby’s,  I am always curious about the NYC pre-auction energy, since it is a good indicator of how well the sales could go and whether the art market is as robust as the media makes it out to be.
The first events of the fall season were held in Europe last month. Reports from the Frieze fairs held in Regent's Park in London came back with a split-decision. The 11th season of the Frieze fair with more contemporary and modern art delivered lackluster results, while the two-year-old "Frieze Masters" did quite well. Over 75,000 people were reported to have visited Frieze.Seems as if Frieze has successfully transplanted to NYC, already attracting 45,000 people in their second season held May 2013 on Randall's Island.On the other side of the English Channel it was "game on" with 73,500 attending the FIAC Art Fair (40th edition of Foire Internationale d'Art Contemporain) in Paris. Sources reported significant growth and expansion, balancing time honored quality and expertise. My verdict on the state of the art market bubble is still out, as we are entering the art auction season

Sales of $ 92.5 million at Christie's Monday night auction is one indicator of a healthy art market. However the NY Times reported that Christie's Tuesday night sales produced "lackluster bidding as a result of high prices and middling quality" - 11 of the 46 works failed to sell. Watching the event live looked like Christie's threw some big numbers down field which resulted in incomplete passes. This disappointing game happened despite the record breaking sale of Giacometti's "Diego en chemise ecossaise" for $32.6 million including fees.

Across town is where the action moved to Sotheby's Impressionist & Modern Art auction, with as predicted halftime adjustments being made to their game plan. NY gallery owner and private dealer, Ezra Chowaiki  mentioned to me that there would "likely be significant downward movement in their pricing guarantees." A smart yet defensive move after what I observed as a less-than-enthusiastic reaction from the murmuring crowd at Christie's.


My question is "who is ultimately responsible for the success of an auction house?" While Sotheby's Chairman William Ruprecht is widely admired and respected by the art world he has come under withering attacks over the past year from dissident Sotheby's shareholder and hedge fund manager Dan Loeb.

By most accounts Ruprecht appears to be on top of his game having working his way up in the organization ultimately being appointed President / CEO in 2000, then Chairman in 2012. Their stock has risen three-fold since he became CEO.Loeb on the other hand is a street fighter, with limited managerial experience and a long track record of taking stakes in companies in order to force changes in their leadership. After taking a 9.3% stake in the storied auction house this fall, Loeb is now Sotheby's largest single shareholder.

Loeb swooped down like a vulture attacking Ruprecht in a letter last month focusing on the firm's “deteriorating competitive position relative to Christie's." Additionally, he cited the firm’s lack of attention to the growth of the contemporary art market and the Chairman's excessive pay package.

The most telling rebuff of Loeb's attack is the stellar results of the Sotheby's auction last night. Sales totaled $290.2 million, not too far from the high end estimate of $308 million. It was reported that the collectors and dealer talking after the auction were much more positive than just 24 hours before.

You can judge for yourself how this feud is unfolding, with a somewhat obvious goal of Loeb - to enhance his own position as a contemporary art collector.

At the Sotheby's auction preview I was speaking to the next generation contemporary art gallery owner Joe Nahmad who was inviting  Peter Marino to his Richard Prince opening this coming Sunday 11/10/13 at Nahmad Contemporary Gallery. Dad, David Nahmad is now the proud new owner of the Picasso "Mousquetaire a la pipe" (1969) for $30.9 million with fees.

These auctions are meant exclusively for those collectors of significant economic means. When I called to reserve my tickets with Christie’s and get a paddle for the evening sale earlier this week – they wanted to update my financial profile in order to allow me to bid at the auction.

The Service Representative kindly reminded me of the auction registration parameters, including the need to have a minimum of $500,000 in one's bank account in order to bid. Auction season is in full swing for the serious buyers... not meant to be a spectator event, nor for the faint at heart or wallet size! Real

Art Muse looks forward to your comments.

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