We followed the Art + Object's final art auction of the year online and from here the night felt like a struggle. For all the talk of auctions being completely transparent you never really know what's going on but the market does feel like it's shrinking.
Who'd have thought that a Ralph Hotere window frame painting - Black Window: Mungo at Aramoana - would struggle to find bids and be passed in at $80,000? This is a good $90,000 below a high estimate that in itself would have been a bargain basement price back in the day. Will there be negotiations over the Hotere this morning? “Let’s split the difference at $100,000....” Negotiation is the name of this game. Auctioneer Ben Plumley ended the bidding on Bill Hammond's Boulder Bay II when it stalled at $105,000 ($30,000 shy of its low estimate) by telling the room, “It’s going to be negotiated tomorrow” and then by announcing that the top bid of $24,000 on Colin McCahon's Landscape - Northland was “closer than you might think” when the low estimate was $35,000 Maybe even the low estimates are now too rich for bidders.
One bright spot was a Parekowhai sparrow photograph Portrait of Elmer Keith no. 2 estimated at $10-15,000 that sold for $15,500, although a flower photograph Le Quesnoy from The Consolation of Philosophy bottomed out at $7,000, under half the top estimate. The night’s star turn Gordon Walters's Apu was knocked down ‘subject’ also at under half the top estimate of $260,000. There are plenty of people who will tell you the NZ art market has been overheated for a long time so maybe this is just a necessary correction to a time when you could hardly hear yourself think at an auction for the oohs and aaahs and wild applause.