Buying Robust at Start of New York Art Auctions

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The strength of activity at the major spring art auctions reflects several factors: the falling dollar, the search for a store of value of inflation, and if you are of the bearish persuasion, the fact that art is a lagging indicator.

From the Financial Times:

Art records fell on Tuesday for works by Claude Monet, Auguste Rodin and Alberto Giacometti in New York City at a Christie’s auction dominated by foreign buyers taking advantage of the weak US dollar.

The auction house reaped more than $277.2m at the Impressionist and Modern Art sale where 44 of the 58 lots were sold — 32 per cent to US buyers, 52 per cent to European buyers, and the rest to other parts of the world.

Christie’s fell short of its low pre-sale estimate of $286m, but Christie’s auctioneer Christopher Burge said that was based on the sale of all 58 lots and that the auction house had still achieved its third-strongest New York sale.

“Generally speaking for the very best things the market was still red hot and top prices were more than we expected,” Burge told a news conference following the packed evening sale that saw fewer works offered than last year. “Obviously the (US) dollar plays some part.”

Monet’s 1873 “Le Pont du chemin de fer a Argenteuil,” described by Christie’s as “one of the greatest Impressionist pictures left in private hands,” sold for $41.48m, beating the previous record for the artist’s work of $36.56m…

Another sale highlight was Henri Matisse’s 1935 “Portrait au manteau bleu,” which was sold for the first time at auction for $22.4m. “I don’t think there’s a tremendous amount to read from (the auction) apart from what we all know — that the dollar is on the weak side at the moment and the euro and the pound are strong, which encourages overseas bidders to come to the sales here and compete again US buyers,” Burge said.

Sotheby’s Impressionist and modern art sale fell short in November, sending its share price tumbling. It bounced back with a spectacular contemporary sale the following week as well as strong results in London in February. Fourth-quarter profit last year rose nearly 50 per cent.

Tuesday’s auction kicked off a fortnight of sales by Christie’s and Sotheby’s — the archrivals of the high-stakes auction — during which further records could be set and the likely total is expected to be more than $1bn.

Note that the high prices on premier pieces, combined with the failure to meet the total low estimate in aggregate indicated little interest in lesser works, a toned-downed version of a flight to quality.

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