The change of location in July 2018 was nevertheless a market-promoting coup. All pictures were successfully added to a short time later Sotheby’s auctioned. The portrait of a somber-looking Venetian nobleman by Peter Paul Rubens fetched the excellent price of £ 5.4 million for a newcomer to the market. The number of visitors during the preview in the auction house was also higher than usual; the entire £ 42m auction was impressive.
A new bull market in the old masters market was not initiated with the “Beckham effect”. But the change of scenery was refreshing. And necessary: Because today’s generation of heirs does not fall back on the status symbols of the parents. With the change in taste, the marketing of these collection areas also changes. We are now moving towards lifestyle and luxury, but also towards online auctions, which are becoming increasingly important, particularly in the times of Corona.
The changes correspond to a collector structure that is changing. “Crossover collecting” is becoming increasingly important, collecting across genres. Dealers and the British press have been concerned with the trend for a good five years. With us he has not yet prevailed so strongly.
Also at international trade fairs – with the exception of the Londoners in charge here “Frieze Masters” – the brilliant idea of mixing art in a high quality across time and genres is still missing. But the advantages are obvious. In this way, the eyes can be opened for aesthetic adventures, for exciting dialogues and contrasts.
Antique dealers report that they were able to inspire modern art collectors for Roman sculptures. This overarching interest was already evident in a Sotheby’s auction in 2014, in which Pilar Ordovas, London gallery owner of contemporary art, auctioned off a life-size Roman “Aphrodite” from the Duke of Northumberland’s collection for £ 9.4 million for one of her customers. Traders of East Asian art also live partly from collectors who place classic tang figures in their modern ambience.
So far, an expansion of the tunnel vision has been attempted primarily in London, New York and Paris auctions. Under the title “Treasures” at Sotheby’s and “The Exceptional Sale” at Christie’s offers a top-class mix of individual objects from different collecting areas, cultures and materials. These are pieces that, lifted from the corresponding generic auctions, gain a new singular status.
Bernardino Luini’s “Portrait of a Reading”
The picture was auctioned in November 2018 in the Parisian “Exceptional Sale” by Christie’s for 1.2 million euros.
Portraits from the 16th to the early 19th centuries have been market favorites since the beginning of the last decade. Old masters of painters of the first set such as Rembrandt, Rubens, Cranach or Titian were never undervalued. This market fate tends to overtake furniture from the Renaissance to the Biedermeier period, silver and porcelain. Good sales prices are only realized with historical items of the best condition.
Since silver auctions with their endless rows of silverware are no longer fascinating, exceptional pieces are sold in the context of the extraordinary. The main example is a mannerist silver can from the goldsmith Adam van Vianen, dated 1619, that was auctioned at Christie’s in New York in April 2018 for $ 5.3 million. Their environment ranged from Roman sculpture to a tang figure and a Steinway piano from 1924 to Aston Martin by James Bond actor Daniel Craig, who grossed $ 468,500.
Leonardo and Luini
Old master paintings can also be found in these auctions. In November 2018, Christie’s in Paris offered the portrait of a reader of the Leonardo student Bernardino Luini in an “exceptional sale”. At 1.2 million euros, it achieved twice the already high estimate. To date, his pictures had at most generated a quarter of this sum.
The new interest was stimulated by the Leonardo painting “Salvator mundi”, which had been raised the previous year and raised 450 million dollars in a contemporary art auction – the most radical crossover in auction history to date. Background: To some Leonardo experts, Luini is still the actual creator or co-author of the Salvator picture.
Mix of genres in noble auctions
The noble auctions of mixed genres also offer furniture and handicraft objects of the highest quality. This elitist strategy was necessary because after the deep fall in furniture prices and the picky behavior of the global collectors of sculptures, art chamber pieces and silver objects, there are hardly any individual auctions in this genre. This also applies to old master graphics, which are increasingly being outsourced to the Internet. In Germany, however, Bassenge and Karl & Faber still have a lively auction so far.
The trade recognized its uniqueness and bought the splendor shrine cheaply in an auction. The precious piece was created by a southern German master of the 17th century.
An art chamber piece that shows the valuation range of exceptional pieces is the so-called “Lothian Casket”. This ceremonial shrine, which was built in Nuremberg in the early 17th century, was auctioned in 2017 in a “Treasures” auction by Sotheby’s for £ 118,750. A year later, it was offered by Munich dealer Georg Laue and London’s Trinity Fine Art gallery for £ 750,000. An independent appraiser from the UK export committee considered this price reasonable. It applies to a German Renaissance property for which there is simply no market comparison.
Porcelain is now mostly auctioned off in Internet auctions in London. The same applies to furniture, furnishings and decorative goods of the lower and medium quality categories, such as those offered by Sotheby’s under the labels “Interior” and “Fine Dining” as lifestyle elements.
From art object to luxury goods
A shift in taste borne by the auction market has been evident for some time: from an art object to a luxury item. Since Christie’s registered 29 percent of new customers in the luxury goods segment in 2017, the house in London and New York has organized “luxury weeks” in which wristwatches, jewelry, designer handbags and wine are auctioned. The last melange of this kind raised $ 83 million in New York in December 2019.
Of course, this cannot be measured against the proceeds for contemporary art. But the effect of winning new customers and then introducing them to the more expensive art in the long term is a principle of this strategy.
To the extent that auctioneers select old arts and crafts, they promote interest in modern design with live and online auctions. For example, bidders from 31 countries took part in the latest Sotheby’s online auction on April 2. They raised the estimates for a “Tiffany” ceiling lamp in the Moorish style to $ 300,000 twenty times, and for a pair of armchairs by Jean Prouvé to $ 175,000 six times.
Sought after: perfume bottle with coat of arms
But not only elite objects, but also varia of all kinds come under the hammer. Since 2013, Christie’s has been holding auctions under the title “Out of the Ordinary”, in which heterogeneous collectibles come under the hammer, from perfume bottles with a royal coat of arms to the fiberglass model of the Tyrannosaurus Rex. One of the most recent areas activated by Sotheby’s is erotic and homoerotic art, which has been offered with increasing success in auctions under the motto “Erotic: passion & desire” since 2017.
The market continues to fan out while reducing historical collection areas. Whether this is a promising model also depends on the taste development of those who are still in the luxury sector and in the heterogeneous entry-level area of the market. In view of the global fixation on the frontrunners of contemporary art, it is comforting that the lower market segment is also being successfully promoted.
More: Less growth: what moved the art market in 2019