No, you can't always get what you want
You can't always get what you want
You can't always get what you want
But if you try sometime you'll find
You get what you need
-Mick Jagger/Keith Richards 1969
Little could the Jagger/Richards Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame tandem fathom that their lyrical prowess could pale in comparison to their soothsaying skills for the present state of the art market. What, you may ask? Let me explain.
Before I even attempt to broach predictions for 2022, there is much to be gleaned from the rear-view perspectival mirror of 2021, particularly as it relates to auctions. The fall auctions, including the inimitable Josh Baer, have produced impressive color commentary of the unbridled success of the fall auctions. From Macklowe-mageddon, to the quintuple-the-high-is-the-new-buy Cox-auction, whose euphoric crowd only glumly dispersed when the gavel went down on the evening’s last lot, Gustave Caillebotte’s Jeune homme à sa fenêtre (Young Man at His Window), 1876.
The celebrated painting – whose image adorns the artist’s catalog raisonné – had been in Cox’s collection for five decades and found its forever home at the Getty before the euphoric crowd found their Ubers. Not to go unmentioned was Phillips’ electric auction with the gavel throwing, errrrr I mean wielding, Henry Highley stewarding a hugely successful sale that shattered various records and a 94% sell-through rate.
Back to the art. Where to begin? Opportunities. Where were they? Cowering in a rarely traversed section of an auction exhibition preview compromised by limited space and lack of “curatorial” vision? (IYKYK) No. They were simply overshadowed by the jaw-dropping figures driven by the “wet paint” speculators. I wanted to quickly note that amidst those head-scratching prices are some really wonderful artists. However, rather than raise a paddle at these speculated levels, or offer whatever viable organ it will take in order to get access to a primary work, the artists include, but are not limited to, Maria Berrio, Shara Hughes, and Flora Yukhnovich (these may appear gender specific–I promise that’s not intentional).
Maybe tap into some patience and wait for a few more comparables and some due in theaters fatigue. While only time will tell if these artists continue their dazzling output and establish their place in the art historical and market pantheon. And yet, while the frothy speculators got carried away in a tsunami of market waters, some lucky and savvy buyers scooped up incredible works at incredible prices by blue-chip artists like Christopher Wool, Cindy Sherman, Donald Judd, Ellsworth Kelly, and Jasper Johns, whom all sold well below their superb quality weight class.
Further to this, as a 16-year auction veteran, I have a deep love and respect for the Day sale. Two works that I am most proud of advising this sale season happened to be works on paper. After seeing the extraordinary Hammons show at Nahmad Contemporary this summer (get the catalogue if you missed the show, and then kick yourself for missing it), we snapped up the stunning basketball work on paper that turned out to be a sleeper in the Christie’s Day sale, hammering at the median of the pre-sale estimate. A few lots (yet a few hours) later, we secured the exquisite Fontana on paper that sold well below estimate (it had previously sold for nearly double in a Sotheby’s Milan sale in 2007). A perfect end to exhausting auction weeks.
Forward-thinking thoughts? Pay attention to those midseason sales coming up. London will undoubtedly present some great opportunities. Do some digging, and if possible, do some viewing. Skip the obvious and dare to consider works that are presently out of favor.
Markets are cyclical and if the quality is there, then you may kick yourself for not taking a “the low is the new high, the reserve is the new buy” approach.
My thesis in this market is a fairly simple three-point approach.
- Be present: Don’t be put off if an auction house tells you there are several phones. As a seller, I’ve been told that and it’s been a race to low estimate; as a buyer, I’ve been told this and we happily bought the painting under retail comparables.
- Be restrained: there is always another opportunity yet;
- Be bold if your research or advisor tells you otherwise.
Market chatter bemoaning the lack of opportunities simply needs noise-canceling headphones. I find that if you just take time to look, the opportunities are there. And no, you may not always get what you want, but if you are in this market for the long term, you may not get what you initially think you want, but you’ll find, you’ll get what your collection needs.
Oh. And stay tuned for the Macklowe sequel. Part Deux will be here before you know it and it's another beautiful doozy.