Friday, May 15, 2009


There is a German word schadenfreude which means, loosely translated, to delight in the misfortune of others. Anyone connected with the visual arts recognises schadenfreude as one of the standard media postures. When Damien Hirst glutted his market by selling 200 new works in one day for a record-breaking £111 million, this is not factored in as one of the reasons for Hirst not selling well in a recessionary market.

“In March, Hirst consigned three big new works direct from his studio to Sotheby's first auction in Doha. None of them sold.” Reports the NYT. And why would they? No one but a lunatic optimist would expect them to when every Sheik and nearly every Russian Oligarch already owned one – or possibly half-a-dozen.

Here’s how the international media headlined the Sotheby’s evening contemporary art session on Tuesday. They came at it from all directions.

Sotheby's Sale Fails to Meet Low Expectations – WSJ
Bidders Respond to Lower Prices for Contemporary Art - Reuters
Sotheby's Contemporary Art Sale Slumps 87% From Year-Ago Record – Bloomberg
How the Contemporary Art Bubble Burst - Times
In ‘a Recalibrated Market,’ Auction Buyers Take Over - NYT

The biggest art's-in-the-rubbish-bin story was Jeff Koons’s Baroque Egg With Bow (Turquoise/Magenta) selling under its $6 million low estimate for a ‘mere’ $5.4 million to dealer Larry Gagosian. Sounds like bad news until you hear its owner, a hedge fund guy, purchased it five years ago for $3 million and had made at least $2 million profit.

They say the international art market is now back to 2004 levels. Still that's somewhat better than the US stock market which is slumped down to 1997 levels and the Japanese market at 1983 levels. Watch this space.
Image: Sotheby's Tobias Meyer in front of Christopher Wool's painting Comedian