Market of modern and contemporary art in a small form

Inflation, rising interest rates, the war in Ukraine, the escalation of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the specter of financial collapse in the United States… There is no shortage of reasons for concern for those in the art market. Not forgetting the cyber that hit Christie’s in May, claimed by the RansomHub group, which threatens to expose the personal data of the world’s richest collectors. It’s an understatement to say that everyone is holding their breath on the eve of the opening, June 13, of Art Basel, the great gathering of the art world that sets the pulse of the market. “We sell every day, but what has changed is that above €150,000 it takes longer, people think more,” nuance gallery owner Nathalie Obadia, estimate “that we are not experiencing a crisis, but a slowdown”.

The most optimistic are based on the reassuring results of the May sales in New York, where hundreds of millions of dollars are routinely earned. But missing this season are those trophies that attract media attention, like the collection of Harry and Linda Macklowe, whose divorce was the honey of the American tabloids and the butter of Sotheby’s in 2021. Or the amazing collection of Paul Allen , the co-founder of Microsoft, whose holdings at Christie’s surpassed in 2022 symbolic milestone of a billion dollars.

Whether we regret it or not, it is this tip of the iceberg that determines prices, determines taste and sets trends. In the first half, the latter decreases. The sales volume thus decreased by 22% in May compared to the same period last year. A year that, without being disastrous, was no longer very prosperous: according to the Art Basel-UBS annual report published in March, the market will shrink by 4% in 2023. “No painting sold for more than $50 million, a sign of caution in the face of a hesitating market”sums up modern art broker Thomas Seydoux, an astute observer of the medium.

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However, auction houses have managed to keep up appearances by reducing risks. For the roughly one hundred pieces auctioned in May, they made full use of the third-party guarantee system, which ensures the seller a minimum price, no matter how the sale turns out. Christie’s has noted the lack of interest in a painting by American abstractionist Brice Marden, who died in 2023, with a generous estimate of $30 million to $50 million, preferring to withdraw it before it goes on sale to avoid “affecting his assessment’. .

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