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Kobel's Art Weekly

Kristína Uhráková, HOPE for Ukraine; free via
Kristína Uhráková, HOPE for Ukraine; free via
Stefan Kobel

Stefan Kobel

Kobel's Art Weekly 1 2023

For the big auction houses, on the other hand, the first half of the year was surprisingly successful, as Christian Herchenröder analyses in the second of three parts of our season review at the beginning of August in the Handelsblatt: "A main indication of the market bull market are the global auction results of Christie's, Sotheby's and Phillips. They rose by 25 percent to 7.4 billion dollars in the first months of the year. Leading this round of success is contemporary and postwar art at $2.5 billion, followed closely by impressionist and modern at $2.4 billion." On the other hand, he said, the decline in online auctions by just over a third is less surprising in light of the resurgence of face-to-face events.

France's art auctioneers continue to be on the upswing, according to Bettina Wohlfarth in the FAZ: "The French Auction Council's annual report was published in early July, looking back at 2021 with data from 427 auction houses: Four billion euros were brought in, with an increase of forty percent. Compared to 2019, the year before the pandemic, the increase is 21 percent. The first half of 2022 confirms that the fourth largest auction market in the world continues to flourish. In addition to growing sales, three top works were knocked down at prices of 20 million euros or more."

Sabine Spindler and Susanne Schreiber investigate the entrepreneurial activities of the Munich auctioneer Robert Ketterer in their detailed portrait in the Handelsblatt: "Ketterer does not want to give away the names of his other companies. But they can be found in the commercial register. Experts Art Service GmbH, for example, offers 'transport, restoration, framing, inventory documentation, research, appraisal and sale of art objects'. Another slimly staffed company combs the bidding pages of competitors to 'expand the value chain' beyond service. If an underestimated relevant work of art by Fritz Winter or Ernst Wilhelm Nay is discovered, a 'sleeper', the boss personally decides on the purchase and price limit". This is where things can get a little borderline: "It is not forbidden to sell so-called own goods in one's own auction house, but it is strictly regulated, Christina Berking explained to Handelsblatt when asked. The lawyer for the Federal Association of German Art Auctioneers points out that labeling is mandatory above a certain limit and that the auctioneer, his relatives and employees are not allowed to bid at in-house auctions. However, the Munich auctioneer does use one loophole. In the catalog, neither the source of sale nor Ketterer's consigning side company appear in the list of provenances, but only an indication of provenance before entering the market."

At least for Christie's it should be a good year. The auction house has been entrusted with the record-breaking auction of the art collection of Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen. Susanne Schreiber gives details in late August in the Handelsblatt : "More than 150 works of art spanning 500 years are to be auctioned in New York in November 2022. The auction house estimates the value of the consignment from the estate at over one billion dollars. That would put Allen's art collection above the $922 million Sotheby's could raise in 2021 and 2022 for the collection of real estate developer Harry Macklowe and his ex-wife Linda. And also above the $835 million hammered in by Christie's in 2018 from the estate auctions of banker David Rockefeller."

The suitable turbo for artist careers offers Sotheby's lately with the format Artist's Choice, with which artists can submit works of art directly themselves, explains Jo Lawson Tancred with Artnet.

Christiane Fricke from the Handelsblatt likes the cooperation between the auction houses Karl & Faber in Munich and Van Ham: "The marketing initiative under the label "Auction Alliance" seems sensible and certainly overdue in view of the increasing concentration processes under strong international competitive pressure. The concentration process in Europe fed by "Bonhams" takeovers and the increasingly fierce competition for consignors, especially by the German market leader Ketterer Kunst and Sotheby's branch in Cologne, are worth mentioning."

Phillips has been working with Poly in Hong Kong for the past two years, but the auction house has now teamed up with industry newcomer Yongle to serve the mainland Chinese market, reports Vivienne Chow at Artnet. The move makes sense, she says, as the company already made 40 per cent of its sales in Asia in the last half of the year.

While in the Western world the collector population is threatened with ageing and hardly any young people are coming along, in Hong Kong millenials are on the rise, Krystal Chia of Bloomberg observed in October: "At Christie's Hong Kong spring auctions, 56 world records were set across art and luxury categories, with the number of millennial buyers jumping by more than a third. At Sotheby's, one third of buyers in Asia are 40 and under, compared with a quarter globally. In Hong Kong, for contemporary sales [...] a third of bidders are under the age of 30. [...] A big attraction for art investors in Hong Kong is the tax arrangement, which means there is no customs duty, value-added taxes or estate duty on artworks, unlike mainland China. It's extraordinary. We're seeing younger and younger people participate,' Alex Branczik, Sotheby's head of contemporary art in Asia, said. 'Logic should dictate that closed borders should be a challenge for the art market, but in actual fact a lot of people found themselves at home with time on their hands to research online, look at things they can buy - people are prioritizing their home.'"

The auction houses reacted to the market shift towards Paris, observes Bettina Wohlfarth in the FAZ of 15 October: "The fact that now works by artists like Francis Bacon, Andy Warhol or Joan Mitchell are now being auctioned in Paris and not in London or New York. They may not be major works with the highest prices, but the city on the Seine is clearly moving up in the art market rankings. For the first edition of the Paris+ par Art Basel fair, the international auction houses have put together an ambitious programme."

According to Anne Reimers in the FAZ of 22 October, bidders from the Far East dominated the London auctions: "The London auctions of contemporary art went well because collectors from Asia continue to hunt for up-and-coming stars - whose works are experiencing rapid ups and downs in price. A year ago, Issy Wood, Jadé Fadojutimi and Flora Yukhnovich were particularly in demand. Now, prices for Scottish painter Caroline Walker have been driven up sharply." Stephanie Dieckvoss sets the focus somewhat differently in the Handelsblatt: "But good prices were also achieved in the high-priced segment of top works if the works brought excellent provenance and market freshness. Then not only trophies went well, like David Hockney or Francis Bacon, but also more difficult but art-historically significant works, like an early photographic work by Cindy Sherman or a bulky sculpture by Isa Genzken - both at Sotheby's. This market was mainly supported by bidders from Europe and the United States. Asians were bidding, but were less active. Christie's reports that 62 per cent of the works sold to Europe, the Middle East and Africa (EMEA). 15 per cent went to the Americas and 23 per cent to Asia Pacific."

In November, Hauser & Wirth is launching its own auction platform with an auction in aid of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNHCR), according to a press release. Eileen Kinsella reports on this for Artnet. Artsy also started with charity auctions.

With more than 1.5 billion US dollars in proceeds for the collection of Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, Christie's has once again made art market history. Barbara Kutscher summarises the auction for the Handelsblatt: "In just two auctions, the house in New York took in 1.62 billion dollars for 155 masterpieces spanning five centuries. An all-round spectacular success for Christie's! Both with the New York public, who came just to look. And also with collectors from 32 countries, who fought over the bids in the very well-managed auction on the evening of 9 November and the following morning. He was surprised by the depth of bidding interest, said Alex Rotter, Chairman 20/21 Art Departments, after a superlative auction on Wednesday evening, 'and in these times'. Before the hammer came down for the first time, at least 76 lots were pre-sold by so-called 'irrevocable bids', but very rarely did works fall to their guarantors. The collection sold at 100 per cent and consistently very strong prices for a previously unheard of $1.62 billion."

After the fabulous Paul Allen auction, the subsequent events were less glamorous, Ursula Scheer sums up the New York results in the FAZ: "There is still no talk of crisis or crash in the art buying of the crème de la crème, but it is obvious that people are now acting cautiously rather than in a party mood, both in investing and in selling. Guarantees and irrevocable bids in advance secured substantial shares of the lots in the current evening events. The amount of bidding may also have played its part in the reluctance of bidders. It's the biggest auction season in history," Brooke Lampley, chairwoman at Sotheby's and responsible for the worldwide sale of art, tells the online portal Artnet. They are happy if only a few lots remain unsold. After auction series in London, Paris and Hong Kong, after fairs in Europe, above all the Paris+ par Art Basel, in the Middle East and in America, it had to be seen in New York how much the market was still willing to take in - and at what prices."

The interesting information in daoinsights report on plans to build a new China headquarters in Shanghai is between the lines: "The move shows Sotheby's confidence in the art and luxury markets on the mainland despite business uncertainties posed by its harsh zero-COVID policy. [...] The country's luxury sector is also believed to have a strong foothold. Having recorded double-digital growth again in 2021, the mainland is 'on track to becoming the world's largest luxury goods market by 2025 - regardless of future international travel patterns'." Quite naturally, the art market is seen as part of the luxury goods segment.

Meanwhile, Lisa Movius and Shana Wu wonder in The Art Newspaper about the reasons for the significant decline in auction sales in Hong Kong : "The results in part reflect the economic downturn in mainland China, which is still navigating harsh zero-covid policies and a cratering property sector. But it also represents a subtler shift in what has been coming to the market."

World class at last! What German football has not been able to achieve for some time now, the local auction business has. A self-portrait by Max Beckmann fetched 23.2 million euros including buyer's premium at Villa Grisebach in Berlin. "The purchase price is a sensation that will go down in art market annals," says Susanne Schreiber of the Handelsblatt. "The estimated price had been between 20 and 30 million euros. The prudent auctioneer Markus Krause had to encourage three bidders on the phone to make higher and higher bids. Those who wanted to keep up with the millions had previously deposited a bank statement. The bidders came from London, the USA and Switzerland. The latter won the bid. [...] A bid in the double-digit millions has never been listed in Germany before. Sellers used to deliver rare works of the highest quality in New York or London."

Meanwhile, Ketterer from Munich reports record figures. A press release says: "With proceeds of € 59 million in the second half of 2022, the company achieves the industry's best seasonal result in Germany for the ninth time in a row. At the same time, the auction house confidently surpasses the € 100 million mark for the first time with its annual proceeds and, with the sum of € 103 million, not only confirms first place in the German art auctioneer ranking once again, but also consolidates its top position among international houses. A total of 13 proceeds above the million euro mark as well as an additional 163 results in the six-figure range round off the sensational overall picture." The total sum was made up of room and online-only auctions as well as private sales.

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