In recent art world news, Sotheby’s reported a $57.3 million net income in the second quarter of this year in a recent earnings call earlier this week.  This figure represents a decrease of $19.6 million or about 26% in comparison to the same period last year when the auction house reported that it had $76.9 million in net income.

Sotheby’s attributed the decline in part to a change in its auction calendar as some sales in Hong Kong occurred in the first quarter instead of the second quarter.  The auction house also attributed the decline to a decrease in its auction commission margin.

While consolidated sales increased 22 percent to $3.5 billion, which represents some of the highest amounts in Sotheby’s history, there was a decline in its auction commission margin.  This was due to a competitive environment for high-value lots that resulted in “a higher level of auction commissions shared with consignors” under such circumstances.

Notwithstanding the above, sales in Asia remained strong as aggregate auction sales for the first half of the year totaled $488 million, representing a 15 percent increase in 2018.

Although the tone of the earnings call was downcast and the financial results were lower than expected, the auction house’s management and board are “excited as ever about the company’s prospects going forward.”

It is certainly nice to see the earnings call end on an optimistic note in view of the disappointing second quarter financial results.

 

 

In recent art world news, a Norman Rockwell painting titled “Blacksmith’s Boy—Heel and Toe” (1940) from the Berkshire Museum’s collection sold for $7 million (with buyer’s premium added, the figure is about 8.13 million) to a telephone bidder last week at Sotheby’s in New York.  This was the highest price fetched by the museum as part of a sell off of 13 works over the past few weeks at Sotheby’s.  Additional works sold include a Francis Picabia watercolor painting and an Alexander Calder mobile that came in at a below estimate of $1 million last week.

Following the recent offering of 13 artworks at auction (notably, two of which failed to sell, including a Frederic Edwin Church with an estimate of $5 million to $7 million) and a private deal involving the purchase of Rockwell’s “Shuffleton’s Barbershop (1950) for an undisclosed amount by the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art, the Berkshire Museum has brought in $42 million just $13 million short of the $55 million goal “it has hoped to raise in an effort to build an endowment and close a budget deficit that its leadership has said risks shuttering the museum in coming years.”

The total fetched for the 11 lots that recently sold at auction was about $12.7 million (without buyer’s premium).  It can be determined from the $42 million total sales to date that the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art likely paid around $29.3 million for Shuffleton’s Barbershop, which was previously tagged by Sotheby’s with a $30 million high estimate.  It is unknown as to whether the museum is receiving a portion of the buyer’s premium paid on auctioned lots—such practice is known as “enhanced hammer”.  If it is, the price paid for Shuffleton’s Barbershop by the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art was likely less.  Sotheby’s has reportedly waived the seller’s fees for the Berkshire Museum.

Pursuant to the terms of the agreement between the museum and the Massachusetts Attorney General and approved by Massachusetts’s highest court in April, the Berkshire Museum has the option of selling up to 40 works in three separate portions to reach $55 million.  With last week’s sale of 11 lots, this means that 26 additional works could still be sold and the two works that passed could be up for auction again.

It will be interesting to see if the museum is able to reach its $55 million goal with the sale of a portion of the remaining works.  For our recent coverage of the Berkshire Museum on the Art Law blog, click here.

In recent art world news, a coveted David Hockney oil painting titled Pacific Coast Highway and Santa Monica (1990), featuring a colorful California landscape along the Pacific Ocean, has been added to Sotheby’s upcoming contemporary art evening sale on May 16 in New York.  The work carries a $20 million to $30 million estimate, which if sold in the estimate range the sale would set a record for the artist at auction.

Sotheby’s has stated that Hockney’s Pacific Coast Highway and Santa Monica painting represents “a true triumph of his singular vision:  a panoramic and kaleidoscopic paean to his adopted hometown.”

The artist’s prior auction record involved his six-part paneled painting titled Woldgate Woods, 24, 25, and 26 October 2006, which sold at Sotheby’s for $11.7 million in the fall of 2016.  The work features an autumnal scene of East Yorkshire.

Notably, even if the vibrant Pacific Coast Highway and Santa Monica painting sells at the lower end of the estimate, Hockney’s auction record will effectively double within a short period of just under two years.  The painting is said to be offered from an unnamed private collection.

For further information on Sotheby’s upcoming contemporary art evening sale of the Hockney painting in mid-May, please click here.

In recent art world news, and as a follow up to last week’s post on the Art Law blog, with legal hurdles now overcome, over a dozen artworks from the Berkshire Museum’s art collection are set to be offered for sale at auction next month at Sotheby’s New York in connection with the institution’s efforts to raise a total of $55 million. The lots include works by Norman Rockwell (high estimate of $10 million), Frederic Edwin Church ($7 million), Alexander Calder ($3 million), and Francis Picabia ($1.2 million).

Sotheby’s estimates that the lots could generate between $20.2 million and $28.9 million in sales after being sold at auction in mid-May. The sum from those works will be combined with an unknown sum that the museum received from the earlier announced private sale of its treasured work by Norman Rockwell, “Shuffleton’s Barbershop” (1950), to an institution (recently reported as the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art) that will keep the work on public view.

The Pittsfield, Massachusetts based museum hopes to reach its goal of $55 million through the sale of the lots at auction next month and the private sale of Shuffleton’s Barbershop. Whether the museum will be able to reach its goal depends on how much the museum received for the Rockwell masterpiece, Shuffleton’s Barbershop, which depicts a group of men playing music at the rear of a storefront late in the evening. Sotheby’s, the broker of the private deal, has said that the sales figure is confidential.

When Shuffleton’s Barbershop was set to be offered for sale at auction last November at Sotheby’s, the work was estimated at $20 million to $30 million. The auction was halted due to legal challenges that led the Massachusetts Appeals Court to hold off the sell-off of works while the state’s attorney general’s office conducted an investigation of the museum’s plans.

With the legal hurdles now cleared, the first sales of the lots from the museum’s collection are set to take place at Sotheby’s Impressionist and Modern auction the evening of May 14, when works by Francis Picabia and Henry Moore will be offered at auction. The museum’s highest estimated lot, Norman Rockwell’s Blacksmith’s Boy—Heel and Toe (1940), will round out the auction sales at Sotheby’s American Art sale on May 23.

It will be interesting to see if the Berkshire Museum is able to achieve its goal of $55 million after next month’s auction sales. If the museum hits the figure, additional works from its collection will not need to be sold.

In recent art world news, last week the Berkshire Museum has secured court approval to sell as many as 40 artworks from its collection, including works by Alexander Calder, Albert Bierstadt, Francis Picabia, and Norman Rockwell, as part of a “deaccessioning plan” that has been widely criticized by “museum groups and arts advocates who say it could encourage other museums to sell off works they hold in public trust.”

In a ruling by Justice David Lowy of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court issued last Thursday, it was decided that “the museum had sufficiently established a need to sell the works, which could raise upwards of $55 million, in order to continue operations.”  In reaching its decision, the court deferred to the state’s attorney general, who has oversight of charitable organizations in the state, and who had conducted an investigation and reached a conclusion in the museum’s favor.  The court’s decision paves the way for at least some of the works to be auctioned for sale at Sotheby’s in New York, and for the private sale of the treasured Rockwell painting to an unnamed institution in a deal that was earlier approved by the state’s attorney general.

The museum’s leadership has said that it is running a structural deficit and without a cash infusion the museum will be forced to eventually close.  In particular, the museum’s leaders have said that the ability to sell the artworks is necessary due to a decrease in fundraising opportunities in the region.  Under professional guidelines, art sales are usually only allowed when funds are used to acquire other artworks or, in some instances, maintain a collection.

The museum has said that it intends to use the sale proceeds to build an endowment, renovate its building, and embark on a “New Vision” with particular emphasis on science and technology.

The Association of Art Museum Directors (“AAMD”) has said in a statement that the court’s decision “to approve the Berkshire Museum’s planned art sales addresses outstanding legal questions.  [However,] [i]t does not resolve the violations of ethical and professional standards that will occur when the museum’s plans are implemented.”  The AAMD is considering “censure and/or sanctions” against the museum in connection with any sales that result in funds being directed toward operations or endowments.

The earlier agreement reached between the attorney general’s office and the museum requires that the works be sold in three portions such that if the target figure ($55 million) is reached before one of the later portions is offered for sale, the later portions will not be sold.  Those opposed to the sale argued that because the museum is able to structure the portions, a substantive restriction is not represented in the parties’ agreement.

For detailed coverage on the legal battle of the Berkshire Museum, please see “Berkshire Museum Sell-Off Approved by Top Massachusetts Court, Ending Lengthy Legal Battle,” published online by ArtNews on April 5, 2018.

In recent art world news, popular social media site Instagram has been having a significant effect on the art world since its launch in 2010.  The photo and video sharing app has evolved into the cornerstone of the art world becoming a home to many in the industry, including artists, art collectors, auction houses, curators, galleries, and museums.  Many artists are using Instagram to promote, discover and sell art.

Many emerging artists see the photo and video sharing app as a democratizer, helping artists who might not have representation from the most prestigious galleries or degrees from the most exclusive art schools get their work in front of big audiences.”

Before the arrival of social media, emerging artists had a more difficult time getting their work out there and being noticed.  In the past, under the traditional route, artists would contact local galleries and hope for a favorable outcome.  To promote a bigger following, artists faced numerous hurdles, such as securing representation at prestigious galleries, exhibiting around the world, and participating in premier art festivals.

With the arrival of social media, artists started using various services such as Facebook, Flickr, Tumblr, and Twitter to highlight their work, attract audiences around the world, and advocate on their own behalf.  Instagram, however, is said to have the biggest impact on the art industry.  Remarkably, Instagram is on track to achieve a billion monthly active users in 2018.

The coalescence of tech, demographics and changing buying habits also plays a role in making Instagram the tool of choice for art professionals.  In the Venn diagram of people who use Instagram and people who are discovering and willing to buy art online, the overlap is increasing.”

According to research from Pew, about a third of online adults in the United States use Instagram and among those aged 18-29, the app’s usage increases up to 59%.  Online art marketplace Invaluable, in its 2017 survey, found that nearly 56% of consumers in the United States aged 18-24 said they would purchase art online and 45% said social media is the primary way they find art.

Although art sales from the big auction houses from the likes of Christie’s and Sotheby’s are well documented, there isn’t much data on private art sales, and it’s difficult to say whether direct sales via Instagram are taking away gallery sales.  Though it has been reported that auction houses and galleries are seeing their own sales gain traction as their work is discovered on Instagram.

Major galleries and museums have even benefited from use of the app by cultivating tremendous followings on Instagram.  Museums use Instagram to promote upcoming exhibitions, provide followers an inside look at their operations, and make art more accessible.  The Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) views its Instagram page “as something of a virtual gallery that allows followers to feel like they’re seeing an exhibition, even if they’re not in Los Angeles.”  Smaller galleries, on the other hand, use Instagram to discover new artists.

Some artists have said that Instagram can be distracting, particularly when artists get wrapped up in seeing how many “likes” or comments their work receives as compared to others.  Some are concerned that “an overreliance on Instagram could discourage people from attending art shows and shift the enjoyment of art from an in-person experience to something that happens over a phone.”

As with any technology, there are going to be pros and cons, but it certainly appears that Instagram has had a mostly positive effect on the art world.

 

 

Richard Polsky writes:

The ramifications from last May’s sale at Sotheby’s of a Jean-Michel Basquiat painting, for $110 million, continue to reverberate. It made the buyer, Yusaku Maezawa, an art world household name. It led to the current “One Basquiat” exhibition, of the now-iconic canvas, at the Brooklyn Museum. It also provoked a multitude of Basquiat owners into believing their paintings were worth far more than they actually were. And, finally, the sale unleashed a slew of fake Basquiats onto the market.

It reminds me of what occurred back in 1990, when the famous Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton, known as “Sue,” was discovered. Those who remember the story will recall how the most complete and best-preserved specimen of its type was found on the South Dakota ranch of Maurice Williams. After the dinosaur was unearthed, Williams unwittingly sold it for $5,000. But because he was a Native American, whose land was held in a government trust, he was able to take the buyer to court and have the deal rescinded. Once Williams got his mega-fossil back, he ultimately consigned it to Sotheby’s, who sold it to the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago for $8.3 million.

After the sale went down, I spoke to Henry Galiano, a well-regarded paleontologist and fossil dealer. As he put it, “You wouldn’t believe all the calls I’m getting from ranchers claiming they have dinosaur bones on their property. Usually, they turn out to be cow bones. People think all you have to do is find a skeleton, hitch a chain to it and yank it out of the ground, and you have a million dollars! They’re all a bunch of ‘dinosaur dreamers.”

The equivalent is currently happening in the art market; a plethora of “Basquiat dreamers” have emerged. Since last May’s sale of one of the artist’s two greatest “Skull” pictures (the other is at The Broad), facsimiles of Basquiats continue to show up in our email. They’re sent by owners seeking guidance on whether they’re genuine. Sometimes, these digital images are outright laughable. More often than not, they bear a passing resemblance to a real Basquiat, but fail to capture the distinct personality of the painter. What all of these works have in common is they always include a depiction of a gold crown. It’s as if the creator seized upon the painter’s well-known icon and assumed by placing it somewhere within the composition, an alchemical process would occur and — voila! — you’d have a genuine Basquiat.

Just as a forger includes a crown, a seller often includes a story about how the work was acquired directly from Basquiat. Hoping to bring street cred to his pitch, he often refers to it as a cash-and-carry deal, so Basquiat could buy drugs — hence there was no paperwork. The potential buyer often nods his head, wanting to believe what he’s just heard, because he too knows Basquiat had a heroin problem. It makes him feel like an insider. After all, this is the art market, where one has to be an insider to get the good deals.

Regardless of all the scams out there, it’s important to point out that genuine Basquiats do emerge from time to time. Last year, through the organization POBA, we were asked to authenticate a large drawing which belonged to someone from Basquiat’s inner circle. Everything checked out and another important drawing took its place within Basquiat’s canon. It’s also worth mentioning that there are numerous authentic Basquiats which were never officially authenticated by the Basquiat estate. Many of these are documented in books and gallery exhibition catalogs. But a surprising number are not illustrated anywhere — yet are right as rain.

Inevitably, all of the hype surrounding the $110 Million Basquiat will dissipate. Assuming the art market continues on its upward trajectory, eventually another major Basquiat painting will break the record held by Mr. Maezawa. But until that happens, we will remain in a period where a steady flow of fake Basquiats keep popping up like varmints in a game of Whack-a-Mole. And just like the plastic moles, which aren’t real, most of these paintings won’t be real either.


Richard Polsky has accumulated forty years of expertise in the contemporary art world as a gallery owner, author of multiple books on the art market, lecturer, and provider of litigation support. Richard Polsky Art Authentication can be viewed at www.RichardPolskyart.com.

In recent art world news, following strong sales in 2017, the international auction houses are said to be “feeling bullish” once again.  Last Friday, Christie’s announced that it had sold about £5.1 billion or $7.3 billion of art and collectibles worldwide (up 26 percent from 2016) in 2017.  Phillips saw a similar improvement over 2016 sales with auction and private sales of $708.8 million (up 25 percent from 2016) in 2017.  As both auction houses are privately held, neither one disclosed a profit or loss.  Publicly traded Sotheby’s will disclose its financial results for 2017 at month’s end.

The $450.3 million fetched in November for Leonardo da Vinci’s “Salvator Mundi” helped propel Christie’s auction sales by 38 percent along with 65 lots that sold for more than £10 million.  Many of the auction house’s lots were supported by financial guarantees.  The strong sales signify that the art market is surging.

Auction houses among the likes of Christie’s, Sotheby’s and Phillips have high overheads with business models that haven’t changed much since the 18th-century.  A primary challenge is that they keep up with the upward trajectory growth of global wealth and earn money from it.  Each auction house has its own unique strategy in doing so.

In particular, Phillips’ key selling category is 20th-century and contemporary art that raised $421.8 million at auction last year (or 60 percent of the annual total).  Phillips complements its art auctions with sales of 20th– and 21st-century design, photography and prints, and generates further revenue by sales of watches and jewelry.  Phillips has held just two online-only auctions in collaboration with Artsy last year.

In contrast, Christie’s attracts new buyers through its own well-established program of online-only auctions.  Last year, Christie’s held 85 digital sales of luxury goods and lower-value collectibles fetching £55.9 million or about $80 million.  Although this accounted for only one percent of annual total sales, it represented 37 percent of the auction house’s new buyers.

Last December, Sotheby’s announced that it had sold $4.7 billion of art and collectibles at auction in 2017 (up 13.1 percent from 2016).  While this was below Christie’s auction sales of $6.6 billion, Sotheby’s has diversified into other areas, including financial services, art advice and managing artist estates, and image recognition technology.  Sotheby’s upcoming financial results for 2017 will disclose the amount of its revenue derived from such 21st-century business models.

But for the moment, the 18th-century model of live auctions continues to do nicely [for the auction houses], tracking global economic growth.”

It remains to be seen as to how technology is going to change things, but it would seem that it could streamline and add efficiency to the art buying process and attract a greater reach of new buyers, particularly the future generation of art buyers and collectors.

 

In recent art world news, one may think that the digital revolution has provided some “much-needed transparency” to the art market with the sale of artwork now being bought online as regularly as books and music.  However, according to last year’s Hiscox Online Art Trade Report (publication of the 2018 edition is forthcoming in April), it is estimated that online platforms accounted for about $3.75 billion of sales in 2016 (up 15% from 2015), which represents just an 8.4 percent share (up from 7.4% in 2015) of the overall art market.

Despite the low overall art market share for online platforms, the art world’s digital sector has seen new developments.  In particular, just last week it was announced that online auction house Paddle8 had merged with Swiss tech company The Native, and would develop an auction that accepts virtual currency (i.e., bitcoin).  Also, last week Sotheby’s announced that it had acquired Thread Genius, an artificial intelligence (AI) startup company specializing in developing identification software by using algorithms to identify objects and suggest images of similar objects.

While the music and publishing industries have been transformed by retailing via an online platform, this has not been the case for the art market, which has been slower to move in such direction.  Some in the art world have made the well taken point that artwork is unique and much more expensive than mass-produced books and music.  A high price tag of six figures and up has the effect of deterring digital impulse purchases.  Indeed, online art sales tend to be dominated by artwork priced below $5,000.

Prices remain a major hurdle for the expansion of the digital art trade, not just because they are often so high, but because of their lack of availability.  Consumers looking to buy, say, a shirt online can browse numerous fashion websites where thousands of items are clearly labeled and priced.  But all too often, prices on art dealers’ websites—and in their galleries and booths at fairs—are ‘on application,’ a process that can be both laborious and forbidding.”

Unsurprisingly, from the perspective of the consumer, dedicated online-only art auctions having transparent price structures benefit from a definite edge over dealer transactions in the digital space.  Since last May, in an effort to aid transparency, Christie’s website has included results from its online-only art auctions, which had an average lot price of $7,305 (up from $6,047 in 2016).  This information is not provided by competitors such as Sotheby’s and Paddle8.

Although results achieved for resold artworks can be accessed via subscription websites such as Artnet and Artprice, the “primary market” prices charged by galleries for new artworks by contemporary artists remain private with “many dealers regarding them as trade secrets available only to insiders.”

A new app started in 2016 named Magnus seeks to disrupt the art market and make it more transparent.  In use, the smartphone user simply aims their device at a particular artwork in a gallery or fair and visual recognition technology rapidly provides auction and dealer prices for the specific artist.  In such way, it is said that Magnus works for art as Shazam, the mainstream song-identifying app, works for music.  The new app’s database stores about 10 million prices, which are compiled through crowdsourcing, and 10 percent of which are from the primary market.  The app is said to be especially strong at art fairs with estimates that it identified around 80 percent of the prices at events such as Art Basel.

It will be interesting to see how the art market engages the next generation of art collectors and buyers.  The recent developments in the digital space described above seem like a solid start.

 

 

In recent art world news, Sotheby’s posted a $23.5 million net loss during the traditionally slow third quarter, up 57 percent from last year, announced by the auction house in its quarterly earnings call last Friday.  The “net loss of $0.45 per share beat expectations that foresaw a $0.67 per share drop, and the revenue total of $171 million was ahead of the anticipated figure of $110.9 million.”

The increase was attributed in part to the inclusion of Hong Kong fall sales in the financial period along with an atypical $7.4 million tax benefit.  Sotheby’s had built a reserve to defend against a potential tax liability and has since reversed the reserve with the one-time liability now past the statute of limitations to challenge.  In effect, this action gave the auction house a one-time cash infusion during this traditionally slow period in the summer months.

Sotheby’s executives were cautiously optimistic in addressing the quarter noting that “both sales in Asia and sales of contemporary art are up from a year ago—at this point last year, both sectors were trending down from the year prior.”  The auction house acknowledged that the while it benefited from the change in timing of the Hong Kong sales in the third quarter, the fourth quarter will be “negatively affected” with the exclusion of the Hong Kong sales.

The third quarter is typically the slowest period of the year as it accounted for less than five percent of the auction house’s total sales last year.  Sotheby’s total consolidated sales, which include auctions, private sales and inventory sales, are up 13 percent nine months into this year.