Survey of Arts Management

Course blog for American University PERF-570, Fall 2014

The Auctions Made $1.5 Billion This Week and Why That’s Important

We don’t talk much about for-profit art world in class, however, I think it really sets major trends we see in the non-profit (museum) art world. This article from Artnet touches on all that went down this past week as the Post War and Contemporary auctions took home $1.5 billion in sales. Every November and May, Christies, Sotheby’s, (and smaller auction houses like Phillips formerly known as Phillips de Pury), hold their Post-War and Contemporary art sales where less than a thousand people trade billions of dollars and art, and determine the market of major blue chip artists. This year marked new records for Jasper John’s who’s Flag sold for $84 million and for Cy Tymbowly, while we finally witnessed the halt of Andy Warhol’s market and the young artists who have been flipped like Oscar Murillo and Lucien Smith.

Yet, on the business end of these transactions, we see where the collectors put their trust. Christies by far outperformed Sothebys, as Sotheby’s announced last week that its private sales are plummeting and their sales at auction only stand at a fraction of what Christies made. In order for auctions to even sell their work, they must first make the best offer to collectors, positioning and branding themselves as the best place to do the transaction, having worked on established relationships, creating a great financial package, and actually deliver on their promises. When artists stop selling, like in the case of Andy Warhol, it marks an end in the rising fame of that artists and the sign of their descent from the forefront. When the Warhol market was booming, art museums started doing major retrospectives and exhibitions about the artists from the National Gallery, MoMa, and Queens Museums. His video art and films were even shown at independent movie theaters and more art galleries started selling the artist’s work. The art fairs were dominated by Warhol and his collectors rose in the forefront and the Mugrabis were profiled in the Wall Street Journal. Now, as two of his lots being passed, which is failing to sell at auction, galleries won’t present the artist at art fairs because they will shy away from selling the artist in their galleries. Collectors that have Warhols will have to keep them which may prompt them to loan them to museums, but museums, already having their major exhibitions of Andy will probably not accept these loans and look for new artists to present. Since Cy Twombly will appear in print more, curators and art historians make look into the artist more, which may lead to abstract expressionist exhibitions and maybe even a retrospective of the artist.

I think it would be interesting if more people looked into the connection between the non-profit and for-profit side of the art worlds and how they influence each other and how the practices used in one could benefit the other.


One comment on “The Auctions Made $1.5 Billion This Week and Why That’s Important

  1. gaochang619
    November 19, 2014

    Thank you for posting this, Zenia! It’s an awesome idea to look into the for-profit art world. The increasing competition between Christie’s and Sotheby’s in their asian market has reached a new situation about competing in channels, such as focusing on the Christie’s Watch Shop and other online auction. I have no idea whether the asian patrons would buy into this marketing strategy, but it will somewhat provide the non-profits with tendencies and tactics dealing with art affairs. Sometimes famous for-profit arts organizations do provide reliable navigation, resources and references for non-profits.

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