Cindy Sherman, Untitled No. 92, 1981
Christie’s New York, May 16, 2007

Christie's $384.6 Million Contemporary Sale

The evening sale of post-war and contemporary art at Christie’s New York on May 16, 2007, was certainly dramatic, if higher and higher bids coming one after the other almost without end is your idea of drama. The sale totaled $384,654,400, a new record for a contemporary auction, with 74 of the 78 lots finding buyers, or 95 percent. Gee, looks like the bulls still rule the art market...



Featured Comment
by Ken Tanaka: "I spent part of my Thursday dinner discussing the soaring prices of photography with museum curators and collectors. The prices are keeping quite a few photographers and works out of public collections, and this is a real problem for museums. Photography departments even at major art museums don't have the deep pockets that other departments sometimes have. So they must often rely on bequests and cultvating directed donations to get such works.

"To break the monotonous tone of envy let me present a slightly different perspective on the situation. Productively diversifying large investable sums is, and always has been, a challenge that's hard for most people to understand unless they're faced with the predicament. Investments in conventional and traditional instruments (stocks, bonds, mutual funds) is fine and relatively safe. But these instruments, over time, produce relatively modest returns and present varying degrees of risk. Art and antiques have, for quite a long time, been considered 'alternative investments.' Private bankers track these asset classes for their clients in much the same way that they track other assets, and they quite often represent their clients at auctions and private sales.

"Spending $2+ million for a photograph might seem outlandish and arrogant to many people, regardless of the photographer. But in fact it's simply someone's investment transaction, and one that's almost guaranteed to reap a much more robust return than stocks or mutual funds. Photography actually represents a real ground-floor bargain today when compared to other flat works. In fact, today it's considered a nice beginner's investment in the art world.

"So before you automatically denigrate those who participate in such sales you should realize that these are simply investments, and generally damn good ones. You should also realize that the general caricature of the type of people who buy such works is often far off the mark. In fact, increasingly the buyers are coming from Europe and China."

Featured Comment by Ctein: "Wow; I gotta disagree with almost every comment posted so far (very unusual; I'm usually in accord with you guys).

"First off, as an artist who doesn't sell for anywhere near the prices he would like to (or needs to, to make a living at it) I am thrilled when I see photographs go for high prices. I don't care who gets the money. Art has no, I repeat NO, intrinsic economic value. It's only worth what people pay for it. People won't pay much for my work. If someone collector decided to sell some early photo of mine at an auction and manage to get a million dollars for it , I would be jumping for joy.

"It's not about me getting a cut of the sale. That's not the way the art world works. And if Ms. Sherman doesn't understand that, she hasn't been paying attention. Frankly, I can't believe she doesn't; I think, Mike, you must have misremembered or misread something somewhere. Because every artist knows collectors buy work not only for enjoyment but also for investment, with the hope that the price for the work will go up and they will make money on the purchase. The way we benefit from work that gets resold for high prices is that we can then raise our own prices. I am sure that Ms. Sherman's agent is going to be kicking up the prices for her photos substantially as a result of this sale, and she WILL benefit directly from that. The best thing in the world is for an artist to become collectible.

"As for social inequity, there are lots and lots of ways that I hate what the rich are doing with their money. I hate the way they use it to bribe politicians to create even more ways to evade taxes on their stock options and dividends and tax shelters. I hate the way they drive up prices for all the rest of us; I live in one of the most expensive housing markets in the country, and if I could wave a magic wand, I would cut all the house and housing prices by a factor of four. (The fact that I lucky enough to be home owner doesn't change that.) There are schoolteachers here, for God's sakes, who can't live within an hour of the school districts they teach in, because they can't even afford an apartment. Those are ways the rich hurt us with their wealth!

"But spending their money on inflated art prices? How does this harm me? How does it make the cost of housing, or groceries, or health care higher? I'd much, much rather they inflated a harmless market like art speculation than use their wealth to make the world an even more unlivable place for me.

"OK, rant off."


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