The three major auction houses are set to auction off more than $1 billion worth of fine art this week, marking a test of whether collectors can shrug off turmoil in Washington and sagging stock markets.
Sotheby’s, Christie’s and Phillips have an estimated $1.3 billion worth of works on the block this week. That would mark an increase from last May’s sales total of $1.1 billion, but about half the sales totals from the market’s recent peak in 2015.
This week is arguably the most important of the year for the big auction houses and comes at a critical moment in the art market. While prices, confidence and supply rebounded after the presidential election, with solid buying last November and early in the year at art fairs, it remains to be seen whether the uncertainty in Washington and recent softness in stocks could slow the growth.
For their part, the auction companies are optimistic.
“I think the mood is very good,” said Loic Gouzer, co-chairman of Christie’s Americas post-war and contemporary art. “Clients are calling on a constant basis wanting to know what’s going on, what’s for sale, they want to see the works.” He added that “for us the driving force is the works. If we have the works, the quality is there and people follow.”
The big demand and the biggest prices are in post-war and contemporary art, which are more popular with today’s younger, new rich.
The star of the week will likely be Jean-Michel Basquiat, the 1980s artist who’s primitive, bold canvases have become favorites of collectors who came of age in the 1980s. Sotheby’s is selling a 6-foot untitled Basquiat from 1982 that’s expected to sell for $60 million, which could be the most expensive piece sold for the week.
“You have what we call a perfect storm,” said Gregoire Billault, head of contemporary art at Sotheby’s. “We have a painting that is completely fresh, never seen, kind of a new discovery because the only image we’ve had was this thumbnail and it’s also the very best. So this combination of these elements explain the price we are asking for that painting, and the story will tell.”