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Big bucks London art market starts to feel economic chill

Big bucks London art market starts to feel economic chill

Just a month after a record-shattering auction of works by Damien Hirst, the economic crisis has suddenly hit the art market with two big London sales in recent days falling short of previous highs.
London has hosted scores of eye-poppingly expensive sales in recent years, crowned by last month's "Beautiful Inside My Head Forever" sale at Sotheby's which saw collectors pay a record 111 million pounds (US$198 million) for Hirst's trademark animal corpses and butterfly paintings.
Francis Bacon and Lucian Freud were among the other modern artists whose works prompted bidding frenzies - Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich paid around 60 million pounds for one painting by each in May.
But now even interest in their works seems to have slowed.
Last Sunday, a Bacon portrait of Henrietta Moraes failed to reach its reserve price at Christie's post-war and contemporary sale which saw only 26 out of 47 lots sold.
Christie's did sell a portrait of Bacon by Freud for 5.4 million pounds, although even this was well short of its upper end estimate of seven million pounds.
It was a similar story at Sotheby's over the weekend, where its contemporary art sales made less than 44 million pounds, compared to an estimate of at least 55 million.
A series of Andy Warhol's skull paintings fetched only 4.3 million pounds, compared to an estimate of more than 12 million.
Rational bidding
Despite these figures, bosses at the auction houses refuse to be downbeat about the market's prospects.
Cheyenne Westphal, Sotheby's Europe chair of contemporary art, said its sale was "assembled in a very different economic environment from that which prevailed today" and described bidding as "rational and considered."
Christie's chief executive Ed Dolman told the Guardian newspaper that there was "a surprising amount of activity when a lot of people thought there would be no activity at all."
"The sale wasn't as successful as last season's and we are perhaps seeing a correction from the past few seasons," he said.
But he added there was a "surprising amount of cash" in the market linked to China and the Middle East.
Talk of a slowdown was also in the air at the Frieze Art Fair, a giant showcase of contemporary art held in London's Regent's Park which ended Sunday.
"Sales fall significantly - but it could have been a whole lot worse," was the headline on the Art Newspaper's coverage of the fair, which said that "a noticeable chill" had descended.
Organizers insisted that sales had been better than expected, while some galleries reported that the economic conditions had focused buyers' attention on the work of big names.
"Interest and buying has remained strong for artists of quality and historical importance," said Nicholas Logsdail, owner of London's Lisson Gallery.


Updated : 2021-07-31 22:52 GMT+08:00