"The phones haven’t rung all week," exclaimed one dealer on West 24th Street in Chelsea. "Everybody’s hurting, and if they’re telling you different, they’re lying!" The dealer added, "This is off the record."
The view was rosier at another West 24th Street space, the Mike Weiss Gallery, which had sold all but one of the sophisticated, expressionist paintings of "Hobo Clowns" and "Girls with Animals" by 29-year-old artist Allison Schulnik, at prices in the $4,000-$22,000 range. "With the stock market sinking, people have no place to put their money -- so they buy art," he said.
"I prefer to be optimistic," said SoHo dealer Jeffrey Deitch at an art-and-money panel at Yale University Art Gallery last weekend, noting, in so many words, that "pessimism is catching." Deitch went on to say something about $1 million in sales being canceled in one week.
Sadly, the evidence is building that we do indeed face an art-market slump. Christie’s and Sotheby’s each held fall print auctions in London last week, and the results are illuminating. Christie’s sold lot total was 55 percent, and Sotheby’s was 60.5 percent -- both fairly low numbers.
The last time the art market experienced a marked slump was in 1989, about 18 months after the "Black Monday" of Oct. 19, 1987, when stock markets crashed worldwide, dropping more than 20 percent in the U.S. An art-market lag of 12-18 months behind the overall economy has since become an article of faith.
According to the Artnet Market Trends Research Group, the art market peaked in 1989 and bottomed out four years later in 1993, with prices falling, on average, a total of 56 percent.
"I think the art market is going to continue to grow," Radell said, "though like any other asset category, it’s going to have a correction. Estimates are going to come down, and plenty of material is going to come to market. And despite the tight money, collectors are not going to want to miss the boat," Radell said. "So that bodes well for the fall sales."
Oct. 9, 2008