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Sotheby’s and Phillips’ Experts Preview Blockbuster November Auctions

By   /   November 2, 2016  /   No Comments

The biannual modern and contemporary art auctions each November and May in New York serve as critical gauges for the state of the global art market. Over one billion dollars’ worth of art changed hands at spring sales in New York, and while those gures reflect a downturn from 2015, records were set and demand recalibrated. In these more cautious buying times, what are collectors wanting and investing in? We ask the pros at Sotheby’s and Phillips to give us a preview for these bellwether evening sales (Phillips 20th-Century and Contemporary Art Evening Sale is set for November 16, with a day sale on November 17; Sotheby’s Contemporary Art Evening Auction, for November 17).


Jean-Paul Engelen, Phillips’s worldwide head of contemporary art, assesses the market.

What trends emerged from the May 2016 20th-century and contemporary sales that you feel will continue through the fall?

Quality has always been the name of the game, and I doubt this will change anytime soon. Our spring sales in London and New York were far more tightly curated than in recent years, offering a smaller selection of works of art with far greater quality. We’re now seeing conservatively priced works outperforming those with blockbuster estimates. Clients are more risk-averse in their collecting, and it looks as though this trend will continue into the fall season.

What names are seeing the greatest appreciation at auction within the sector?

Gerhard Richter, Jean Dubuffet, Agnes Martin, and David Hockney are doing extremely well at auction and will likely continue to do so. High-quality works by these time-tested artists resonate with people, and because collectors are being more conservative lately, we’re seeing increased interest in established artists. One artist whose work has skyrocketed at auction is Kazuo Shiraga, a wonderful Japanese modernist. Phillips first sold one of his paintings in 2008 for £34,100 and has since seen prices reach nearly $4 million, so he’s definitely someone to keep an eye on. Appreciation aside, we always advise clients to buy what they like to live with.

Phillips achieved strong results for Brice Marden, Mark Bradford, Jean Dubuffet, and Leon Kosso . Why do you feel these artists did so well at last May’s sales?

Works by these artists are in great demand. Spanning more than 50 years, Marden’s career is among the most revered of any contemporary artist. His portraits are extremely rare, and his image of Patti Smith definitely resonated with people, evoking such an important time in pop culture. We were also fortunate enough to have three impressive works by Mark Bradford in our sale last May, which coincided with the announcement that he will represent the U.S. in the 2017 Venice Biennale. He’s having an extraordinary moment right now as the demand for his work reaches new heights. Moving back into the early 20th century, Jean Dubuffet’s paintings performed extremely well at auction, as people are once again realizing what a remarkable artist he was. Paintings by Leon Kosso are very fresh to our sale roster (we’ve only sold three works—all of them in 2016), and so far we’ve seen a strong response for these Expressionist pieces.

New world records were set for Takeo Yamaguchi and Günther Förg. Why do you think that happened?

There’s been a tremendous surge of interest in postwar Japanese painting, with Takeo Yamaguchi being recognized as a true pioneer of Japanese avant-garde art. He dedicated his career to pursuing methods of painting. Yamaguchi has a tremendous appeal to collectors internationally, and his painting, Work, which broke the record in May (selling for $509,000), is an early piece from his career that wonderfully exemplifies his signature style. In the last ten years, multi-panel works by Günther Förg, like his Untitled, 1994, at our May sale, have drawn significant attention in both our New York and London salesrooms. His reputation has also been underscored with his inclusion in the permanent collections of several renowned museums in Europe.

What specific artists and periods are seeing the greatest demand at auction?

Because of the change in the distribution of wealth, collectors today are much younger and more international than when I started. They like to collect works of their own time—something that is relevant to their daily life and culture. So, we’ve seen contemporary art having taken over the art world, with no other category of art approaching the heights it’s reached. Its rise is illuminated by that of our visual culture and by current tastes—it’s what people want to live with in their homes.

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