The Three Graces

05/18/2011 06:33 pm ET | Updated Jul 18, 2011

Another two-week marathon has passed. What did we see? What can we conclude as to the market for art?

In extraordinary fine fettle as to the quality, value, presentation and sell-through of both Impressionist/Modern and Contemporary works, probably the best all-in auctions by either of the two large houses in years. The execution in the evening sales was flawless -- even exciting at times. Not many mistakes. Christie's, in the last two years, has engineered a clear lead in the business of auction. If we were to measure by Christie's alone, one would believe in a continuation of a very hot art market, at least night sale material.

As in the past, when owned by Arnault, Phillips is making a bid for highly electric and popular night sale material. By way of guarantees to the sellers of these works, Phillips assembled a night sale (somewhat unbalanced) of icons and lesser (quite lesser) works. About $40 - $45 million of the guaranteed works sold at about or under their low estimates. One can only assume the guarantors now own many of the guaranteed works. Can Phillips keep its foot on the guarantee pedal to gain position in the race for market share? If so, they will certainly become a contender. The Contemporary night sale results lead one to consider the possibility of a top having been reached in November of last year.

Sotheby's -- A Paucity of Product
Three nights of difficulty. In the recent past Sotheby's has lost market share in both the Impressionist/Modern and Contemporary night sales. Unable to access much interesting merchandise, the house has lost the general buying interest of clients -- not the popularity of the show. Theatrics are important to viewers; buyers are more attached to the product. As the quality of the sales declines it becomes more and more difficult to restore market share. Rabbits have jumped from hats before. Let's watch to see if the rabbit can jump again! With the exceptions of John Chamberlain (now a Gagosian artist) and Wayne Thiebaud, the Sotheby's sale looks like the top of the market was reached last November or even May of 2010.

As the auctions are the highest price point for "recognizable" art it is worth looking hard at both the results and the routes to those results when thinking Art Market.

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