Flipping Bacon

Christie's Contemporary Art Sale

Felix Salmon sees trouble in the art world:

If you look at this month’s big contemporary art auctions, you’ll see quite a lot of art being flipped, including art being flipped by one of the biggest collectors of them all, Stevie Cohen. According to Carol Vogel and Peter Lattman in the NYT, Cohen is selling a Gerhard Richter which he bought from the Pace Gallery last year, along with “about a dozen other pieces, mostly at Sotheby’s, that he acquired in recent years at art fairs and auctions.”

On top of Cohen’s works, Vogel has found other pieces being flipped this month, including Three Studies of Lucian Freud, by Francis Bacon, which “was purchased by a consortium from a private collector in Italy within the past 12 months”; and Apocalypse Now, by Christopher Wool, which was sold by David Ganek very recently. Between them, the Richter, the Bacon, and the Wool are going to account for a substantial percentage of the total amount of money spent at auction this season, which means that auction totals are increasingly comprised of short-term trades, as opposed to sales from individuals and families who have owned the objects for many years.

Kathryn Tully counters that the bubble has already burst:

Take the big contemporary auctions held in London last month while the Frieze art fair was in town. As ArtTactic reports, combined sales at the main post-war and contemporary evening auctions at Sotheby’s, Christie’s and Phillips in London in October were £52.1 million ($82.9 million), excluding buyers’ premiums. The auction houses estimated these sales would bring in a combined £56.5 million to £80.7 million, so £52.1 million was 8 percent below the bottom of that range and 24 percent lower than the total raised during the same sales last year. … There’s no way of knowing how this month’s New York auctions will go, but if recent London sales are anything to go by, the sellers lining up to flip their pricey art works for a profit may have already left it too late.

But Art Market Monitor editor Marion Maneker isn’t wholly convinced:

Felix Salmon has been calling the buyers at the very top end of the art market chumps for many years. So it hardly makes sense for him to claim this is a sign of a qualitative change in the composition of buyers.

(Photo: A member of Christie’s staff walks towards Francis Bacon’s Three Studies of Lucien Freud on October 14. Photo by Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images)