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  • Writer's pictureVan Weyenbergh Fine Art

2019 saw an up and down art market.

Questioned in November 2018 by the Artnet Tad Smith, then CEO of Sotheby's, had warned: "I expect the market to be more contained in 2019." If he was fired at the end of October shortly after the takeover of the auction house by Patrick Drahi, the figures proved him right.

According to market research firm ArtTactic, the volume of auctions of impressionist, modern and contemporary art in New York fell by more than 30% in November 2019, compared to 2018. The vagueness over Brexit, the unrest in Hong Kong, and the process of removing the President from the United States have dampened the heat.

As a result, auctions now operate on a case-by-case basis. A sought-after signature or a prestigious provenance is no longer enough. "There are two markets, one of the masterpieces for which there are no limits, and the rest," decrypts Aurélie Vandevoorde, director of Impressionist art and modern department at Sotheby's in Paris. However, masterpieces were rare, if not a Meule by Claude Monet sold for $ 110.7 million (99 million euros) in May in New York. "Cases where buyers have raised bids to record amounts remain isolated",observes broker Thomas Seydoux. He regrets that the use of guarantees - this financial device which promises the seller a fixed sum whatever the outcome of the sale - artificially keeps prices high.

However, the number of guarantees also fell by 33% in November, according to ArtTactic. In times of uncertainty, potential sellers are cautious and buyers are cautious. In fact, still according to ArtTactic, 35% to 40% of the lots offered during the New York sales in November were auctioned below estimates. At the highest level, transactions take place using forceps. The Parc des Princes by Nicolas de Staël, which was auctioned for a single bid at 20 million euros in October at Christie's in Paris. "The prices remain important, but the way to reach them is less spectacular", according to Paul Nyzam, specialist at Sotheby's.

"Rabbit", by Jeff Koons, $ 91.1 million at Christie's. Jeff Koon / Christies

Other records are to be analyzed with hindsight. Take the Jeff Koons case. The $ 91.1 million reached in May at Christie's for Rabbit, a steel cast of an inflatable rabbit, gave him back his place as the most expensive living artist , a place that David Hockney had robbed him of in 2018. However, this price remains an isolated case. According to the Artprice database, none of the 167 works by Koons scattered since May has come close or far from this peak, with 29% of the lots having failed to find a buyer. The day after the sale, another steel animal, Elephant (purple), from the David Teiger collection, was sold for $ 3.4 million at Sotheby's. Le Monde

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