The past decade has seen Christie's rocket from their old Avis slot (“We are number two, but we are nicer and try harder”) into the number one auction sales venue in the world at Rockefeller Center in New York City. As they ride a Post-War and Contemporary sales wave, many from the back-seat have stated there is a contemporary art bubble happening as their favourite older fields such as Antiques, American Paintings of the 19th century or Old Masters get relegated into statistical insignificance when compared to the scale of the Post-War and Contemporary sales behemoth. It is this writer’s opinion that this is no bubble, what we see is a generational change over in tastes even as Post-War American, has become the new world market. A conversation with a top flight Dutch restorer Stefanie deWinter a few months ago revealed that even the Europeans have skin in this game because New York City was where their best artists came to shelter the storm of World War Two; that list included Josef Albers (1888-1976), Marc Chagall (1887-1985), Willem deKooning (1904-1997), Piet Mondrian (1872-1944), Max Beckmann (1884-1950), Max Mopp (1885-1953), Mark Rothko ?(1903-1970), almost too many to name here. Most stayed. The question was asked where was the mid twentieth century version of Holland’s van Gogh? An answer could be Willem deKooning come to New York City in the twenties and eventually settled into the Hamptons out on Springs Fireplace Road.
To examine markets going forward one has to understand that post bubble burst of 2008, look at art as a cash driven commodity, similar to the energy model. America formerly an importer, is now an exporter. The entire world follows this product, why? Stylistically all of it is related to what everybody sees, on a television and other forms of media. Andy Warhol (1928-1987) in particular triumphs in flatscreen format. Most who read this article will do so using an iPhone or a similar device, these devices frame our visual experience and subtly influence our tastes in the art market. This in turn causes the older art - so called brown art - to remain depressed, because it does not handle that new i-Phone medium, so “Brown remains down.”
“Follow the money, it rarely lies”
Christies and their Month to remember
These graphs chart the performance from 2004, 2006, 2008, 2010, 2012 and 2014 for Christies major sales at their Rockefeller Center location, the sales occurred each week in the prime time of May. The spring was chosen because autumn results have had historically an element of manic depression to them, thus skewer long term trends. Overtly European indexes such as Old Masters and 19th century European paintings have alternative venues in London and Europe that make them harder to quantify, but leave it at this, neither Christies nor Sothebys puts Old Masters and 19th century European (academic) Paintings in their line up of the major spring sales anymore. If these numbers are an indication, the formerly “Important American” may be next, as “Brown remains down.” This chart was completed anticipating a sale of $60 million for 19th C. American next week and $20 million for Latin American. It is not a wild guess to state that the leading lots of those sale were painted in the 20th century, Thomas Moran (1837-1926), Norman Rockwell (1894-1978) and Diego Rivera (1886-1957) come to mind.
The Post-War market for American Art is like the US Navy, bigger than all others combined.
After the Wall Street bailout of 2008 we saw a brief period of time where the art market imploded as well, since conspicuous consumption was viewed in a negative light. While government bureaucrats and commissars like to tell people what they can or can not do with their money, telling investors with well documented financial acumen what they can’t do remains an anathema to a free market. The rise of the Post-War and Contemporary Market is not a bubble, it reflects a Paradigm of tastes and the rise of America as an exporter of art. Viewed in the post war, America, more specifically New York City, had no rival in the art world of 1940-1970, this is a world market, and a billion dollar session of auction sales is on the horizon. A billion does not a bubble make, we are in the era of trillion dollar markets. This is tip money by comparison and it is here to stay.
The reason Christie's succeeded, is that they were nice, in America when the big artist estates of the Post-War era looked for new homes after their 57th street contracts expired, for all of the Sotheby’s efforts at going retail with Aquavella Galleries and Andre Emmerich, a little more 'being nice' would have gone farther. It is now official, Sotheby's squandered the head start it inherited from NYC ancestors (Anderson and Parke Bernet) that it enjoyed over rival Christie's, who really only came to NYC in 1978 when they set up shop at 502 Park Avenue.
Rockefeller Centre is in the drivers seat, of that, there is no doubt.
Ten year cycle in the Art Market based upon Christies Rockefeller Center Sales Results
May 4, Impressionist and Modern Art Evening $ 56,609,600,
May 5, Impressionist and Modern Art, Day $ 19,906,830
Total Impressionists $76,515,000
May 11, Post-War and Contemporary Art Evening $ 102,111,650
May 12, Post-War and Contemporary Art Day $ 14,609,335
Total for Post-War $ 116,720,000
May 18, Important American Paintings $26,122,000
May 2 Impressionist and Modern Art, Evening $ 180,280,000
May 3, Impressionist and Modern Day $ 19,528,000
May 3, Impressionist and Modern Paper $ 8,900,000
Total for Impressionists $208,708,000
May 9, Post-War and contemporary Evening $ 143,187,200
May 10, Post War and Contemporary (morning) $ 40,746,000
May 10, Post War and Contemporary (afternoon) $ 21,851,000
Total for Post-War $205,784,000
May 23, Latin American Paintings Sale $ 16,327,520
May 25, Important American Paintings (19thC) $ 35,894,000
May 6, Impressionist and Modern Evening $ 277,276,000.
May 7, Impressionist and Modern Day $ 31,513,700.
May 7, Impressionist and Modern Paper $ 16,695,550.
Total for Impressionists $325,485,250
May 13, Post-War and Contemporary Art Evening $ 331,422,600.
May 14, Post-War and Contemporary (morning) $ 47,981,700.
May 14, Post-War and Contemporary (afternoon) $ 34,607,650.
Total for Post-War $414,011,950
May 21, Important American Paintings (19thc) $ 72,598,750
May 28, Latin American $ 33,861,350
May 4, Impressionist and ModernArt Brody Collection $ 224,177,500
May 4, Impressionist and Modern Evening $ 111,370,500
May 5, Impressionist and Modern Day $ 13,928,325
May 5, Impressionist and Modern Paper $ 10,553,400
Total for Impressionists $ 360,029,725
May 11, Post-War and Contemporary, Evening $ 138,583,500
May 12, Post-War and Contemporary, Morning $ 41,382,225
May 12, Post-War and Contemporary, Afternoon $ 18,774,450
Total for Post-War $198,740,175
May 20, Important American Paintings $35,127,500
May 26, Latin American $20,514,600
May 1, Impressionist and Modern, Evening $ 117,086,000
May 2, Impressionist and Modern, Day $ 23,508,250
May 2, Impressionist and Modern, Paper $ 10,145,875
Total for Impressionists $ 150,740,125
May 8, Post-War and Contemporary, Evening $ 388,488,000
May 9, Post-War and Contemporary, Morning $ 47,162,025
May 9, Post-War and Contemporary, Afternoon $ 29,665,275
Total for Post-War $ 465,315,300
May 16, Important American Paintings $ 27,198,600
May 22, Latin American Sale $ 27,731,875
May 6, Impressionist and Modern, Evening $ 285,879,000
May 7, Impressionist and Modern, Day $ 32,720,500
May 7, Impressionist and Modern, Paper $ 7,246,125
Total for Impressionists $ 325,845,625
May 12, Post-War, If I live to see Tuesday $134,630,000
May 13, Post-War and Contemporary, Evening $ 744,944,000
May 14, Post-War and Contemporary, Morning $ 57,719,250
May 14, Post-War and Contemporary, Afternoon $ 26,610,750
Total for Post-War $ 963,904,000.
May 22, American Art anticipated $60,000,000
May 28, Latin American Art anticipated $20,000,000