Bowie/Collector, the record breaking sale of David Bowie's collection, takes place at Sotheby's.
One of the recent triumphs of the art world has been the sale of David Bowie’s collection at Sotheby’s. It’s no real surprise that things went for higher than their estimates. The combination of celebrity and auctions seems always to bring out some big numbers. Even taking that in to account, however, the total of £32.9 million far exceeded anyone’s expectations. What, however, was really significant about this sale?
This was a collection put together with personal taste and genuine character. It also had the benefit of being assembled entirely from 1993-95 which lent it a sense of concentration that emphasised the seriousness of intent behind the collection. What is really fascinating about it, however, is how much was Modern British work. This period of work was exposed to over 40,000 people who visited the exhibition. The draw was certainly David Bowie and seeing what he was interested in. There was a general awareness of certain big ticket items such as the Basquiat (which sold for £7.1 million). For a category that can appear to be overlooked by the auction machine, Modern British art was able to borrow some of that lustre.
The success of this sale, however, was down to the fact that it was the collection of someone who bought artworks that they loved. Each piece had character as well as quality. The cost at the time was incidental but interest and pleasure came together to create something special.
The combination of reach and prices, however, suggests that this could be a coming of age for 20th-century British art. As well as reaching record prices on the night itself, the auction seemed to lend a sheen to the category as a whole. Sotheby’s dedicated sales on 22-23 November reached their highest total ever of £9.5 million, while Christie’s evening sale on 23 November achieved £14.7 million. The high sell-through rate for both houses suggests the resurgence of a category. The question is, will it last?
Riding out the Tumult
After the tumult in politics with Brexit and Trump it has been interesting to see how art prices have reacted. The Impressionist and Modern Art auction at Sotheby’s in New York suggested that both buyers and sellers had responded with caution. Sotheby’s raised $157.7 million with their evening sale against an estimate of $142.8 million but managed to sell only 81% of the works on offer. So how did the market sustain a fairly successful week of sales after the American election?
Christie’s Impressionist sale told a similar tale with only 81% their lots sold as well. However, their sale total was vastly inflated by the success of Monet’s Meule that sold for $81 million. A result like this is enough to give the auction weeks the impetus and confidence to carry them successfully over the finish line in fairly grand style. The result was that 2016 won’t go down as a record-breaking year but there are still enough big collectors out there to keep the wheels of the auction houses in motion leaving us to see what the New Year holds.
More and more gallerists and artists are turning to Instagram and we have not been shy to join in. If you want to see what we are up to then visit our wonderful account @seymours_art. We are planning on showing an artist every week who is young and accessibly priced. Hopefully you might feel a connection with one of these works because that is what matters. Looking at art and forming a collection should never be about just chasing big pictures or trends; the best collectors get pleasure from their art because they love it whether it is a £10,000 or a £1 million painting. It’s the painting that brings the joy not the price tag.
Tate Modern has yet again garnered thrilled reviews for its latest show, ‘Robert Rauschenberg’ (until 2 April). It is, in that over-used term, a must-see show. Rauschenberg is an extraordinary figure in 20th-century art. He exhibited his bed long before Tracy Emin thought about lying down. He is a giant of post-war art and yet his market doesn’t seem to reflect that. His work has certainly been sold for large amounts: in 2015, Christie’s sold Johanson’s Painting for $18.6 million. Yet he has never reached the dizzy auction heights of Pollock, Rothko or de Kooning. It is not that much of a stretch to find a collage by him for a few thousand pounds. As ever with the great exhibits at Tate Modern, now might be the time to take another look at Robert Rauschenberg.
A New Art Hub?
The other big opening in London this year has been the much awaited Design Museum. The Commonwealth Institute on Kensington High Street has finally been into an extraordinary John Pawson building. An area that has previously been described as the ‘armpit of London’ is having new life breathed into it. At the same time, John Martin’s Cromwell Place, an art hub, is getting nearer to realisation day by day. It will be a new centre for art in London where galleries can come together and have their own office space as well as the use of public gallery space. It seems like a natural extension of the cultural enterprise of Exhibition road but it is also, like the Design Museum, a sign of the changing neighbourhoods of London and as the economy and the city rearrange themselves through 2017 it will likely be something we see more of.