Magazine Home  |  News  |  Features  |  Reviews  |  Books  |  People  |  Horoscope  
Art Market Watch

Now that Sotheby's owner A. Alfred Taubman has been convicted of price-fixing after a month-long trial in a Manhattan court -- he faces up to three years in prison, with sentencing set for Apr. 2 -- what does that mean for the auction house's business? For one thing, the company's stock has been moving upward since late September, when it traded for about $10.50 a share, to an opening price of $16 on Dec. 6, 2001. Rumors that the auctioneer is for sale could be fueling the run-up. In any case, the current price is rather less than that paid over the past year for shares by auction-house insiders like Conrad Black and Sharon Rockefeller, who both sit on the Sotheby's board.

As for Sotheby's current management, it is urging caution, noting in its recent SEC filing the "difficult" business environment in the art market and competition from Christie's and Phillips, de Pury and Luxembourg. The numbers tell the story: for the first nine months of the year, Sotheby's worldwide auction sales totaled $1.1 billion, down 10 percent from the same period last year. The number of lots sold fell 4.6 percent, and the average selling price per lot sold fell 1.9 percent.

Part of Sotheby's financial woes no doubt stem from its commitment to internet art sales, which have proved a hard nut to crack. Online auctions at cost $18.7 million in the first nine months of 2001, considerably more than corresponding revenues. And Sotheby's lists a payment of $11.6 million as part of a settlement with the online retailer Amazon, with whom Sotheby's had a short-lived online auction collaboration. (Sotheby's did send out a celebratory press release a week ago, however, noting the sale on of an 1888 portrait by Frederic Lord Leighton, The Misses Stewart Hodgson, for $550,750, a new online record for fine art.)

Additionally, the court-approved settlement of civil suits against both Christie's and Sotheby's should eventually funnel some $537 million into the hands of art dealers and collectors. Perhaps those sums will provide a bit of a boost to the $3-billion annual auction business.

Is that a new sense of patriotism stirring in the market for paintings by William Harnett and Frederic Remington, by N.C. Wyeth and Childe Hassam, by Grandma Moses and Milton Avery?

Well, let's see. In the New York sales of American art held last week, Sotheby's led the way with a two-session auction on Nov. 28, 2001, with 190 of 223 lots, or 85 percent, selling for a total of $22.5 million. Top lot was a simple, gray-toned Georgia O'Keeffe oil, The Barns, Lake George (1926), that sold for $1.1 million, over its presale high estimate of $900,000. Other top prices included $830,750 for a charming folk art portrait of an Illinois couple by the mysterious Sheldon Peck (1797-1868); $748,250 for a dramatic, four-foot-wide view of the Maine coast by William Stanley Haseltine; and $665,750 for a van Gogh-ish, asymmetrical composition of a Dock Scene, Gloucester (1894) by Childe Hassam.

William Robinson Leigh's 1941 picture of an Indian contemplating the horizon, The Mystic, sold for $423,750, well above its high estimate of $300,000, while Norman Rockwell's notably corny Fixing a Flat (1946) -- a hillbilly watches from his porch while two college girls struggle with their tire -- more or less hit its high estimate of $350,000, selling for $357,750. The pencil and charcoal study for Rockwell's famous Going and Coming (1947) sold for $225,750.

Christie's sale on Nov. 29, 2001, was also in two parts. The morning session sold 70 of 88 lots, or 80 percent, for a total of $14.8 million. Top lot was a portrait of six-year-old Caspar Goodrich in a sailor suit, looking confidently out at the viewer, by John Singer Sargent, which went for $1,545,000, just above its high presale estimate. Other top prices were $1,326,000 for a tiny, exotic scene of an Orchid and Hummingbird, After a Storm by Martin Johnson Heade and $996,000 for an 11 x 20 watercolor of Sponge Fishermen, Bahamas, by Winslow Homer.

The afternoon session, "American Paintings, Drawings and Sculptures from the Forbes Collection," sold 48 of 62 lots, or 77 percent, for a total of just over $4.5 million. Top lots here include an atypical if bland watercolor of Mount Moran by Edward Hopper ($501,000), a 1897 grisaille illustration of a cowboy at his campfire by Frederick Remington ($468,000), a much-exhibited painting of a rollicking New Year's party by Paul Cadmus ($314,000) and a beautiful, mystical painting of Piñons with Cedar by Georgia O'Keeffe ($314,000).

In its post-sale press release, Christie's boasted of its 55 percent market share for 2001 in American paintings, claiming four of the five top prices for this category this year (including the Sargent and Heade).

Supermodel Heidi Klumm, mega-builder Donald Trump and TV talk show host Star Jones were among the celebrities in the audience for the special Swatch fund-raising auction at Sotheby's New York on Dec. 3, 2001. The sale -- dubbed "Wristory," and conducted by auctioneer Hugh Hildesley -- featured 25 special Swatch lots (including as well actual artworks by Sam Francis, Keith Haring and Mimmo Rotella) and totaled $400,000 for God's Love We Deliver, which provides meals to the housebound ill. After the auction, Swatch board member Nicholas Hayek Jr. announced that Swatch would match the auction amount, raising the total for God's Love to $800,000.

The high price came for the Swatch "Puff" collection, a group of six watches adorned with colored fur around their faces, which must be blown aside to read the time. Issued in 1983, this lot sold to a Swatch aficionado on the phone from Tokyo for $105,000. Philanthropist Henry Buhl paid $40,000 for a "My Swatch," a special, first-time promotion that allows the buyer to design his limited-edition Swatch. An original set of prototypes for the first James Bond Swatch collection sold for $23,000, while InStyle magazine publisher Ann Jackson paid $11,000 for a set of three food-themed Swatches. The lot also includes a dinner for 12, hosted by Joan Rivers and prepared by Chanterelle chef David Waltuck. Complete results can be found at

Last month, in order to promote the event, Swatch installed a series of 30 by 12 foot banners at the corner of Houston Street and LaGuardia Place, each with a group of four images New York artists, ranging from Ross Bleckner and Cecily Brown to Rob Pruitt and Sue Williams.

The New York armories may be otherwise occupied, but the Puck Building on the edge of SoHo is still able to host two fairs organized by Sanford Smith and Associates for January. A new show, called the Decorative Arts Fair, is slotted in the sprawling, Romanesque Revival structure for the weekend of Jan. 18-20, 2002. Some 40 dealers, with works ranging from the antique to the contemporary, are taking part, including Kathryn Berenson (Washington, D.C.), Glass Past (New York), Eve Stone (Woodbridge, Conn.) and Lyons Ltd. (Menlo Park, Ca.). Admission is $15.

But first, the Outsider Art Fair opens Jan. 24, 2002, with a gala preview that benefits the American Folk Art Museum. The fair itself is on view Jan. 25-27, 2002, with 30 exhibitors, ranging from American Primitive Gallery (New York) and the Ames Gallery (Berkeley, Ca.) to Wasserwerk Galerie Lange (Sieburg, Germany) and Worthington Gallery (Chicago). Admission is $15; for more info, go to

Tribeca dealer Leo Koenig is moving his operation from its home in the former studio of Civil War photographer Matthew Brady on lower Broadway to smaller but more upscale quarters at 249 Centre Street, across the street from the landmark Police Building at the edge of Chinatown and Little Italy. "The logistical and emotional reverberations of being eight blocks away from the World Trade Center attack proved too overwhelming," Koenig writes. "In addition, the building that housed our gallery for over a year has slipped into a deepening cycle of disrepair."

First up in the new space is "Sexual Sunrise," a show of new works by Tony Matelli, Dec. 6, 2001-Jan. 13, 2002. The gallery also announced a series of projects with publishers to produce monographs on selected artists: Matelli with Verlag Buchandlung Walter Koenig, Michael Phelan with Gabrius Editions, Lisa Ruyter with Oktagon and Erik Parker with Oktagon.

The hot new bohemian area downtown is the Lower East Side below Delancey Street, where veteran gallery director Michele Maccarone (formerly of Luhring Augustine) opened her own gallery, maccarone inc., at 45 Canal Street between Ludlow and Orchard Streets -- "just steps away," she writes, "from the world-renowned Doughnut Plant, Gus's Pickle's and Kossar's Hot Bialys." First up is an installation by Swiss artist Christoph Büchelm, who made some architectural adjustments to the two-story space, i.e., cut holes in the floors. Maccarone is working with an international group of younger artists, including Christian Jankowski from Berlin, Olav Westphalen, the Swiss sisters Claudia & Julia Mueller, and Sebastian Clough and Anthony Burdin from Los Angeles. For more info phone (212) 431-4977, email or visit the website

Web developer Steve Sacks has opened Bitforms, a new gallery devoted to digital and digitally influenced art, in the 11-story gallery building at 529 West 20th Street. Bitforms premiered Nov. 15, 2001, with a show of work by Ian Gwilt, Dorothy Krause, Golan Levin, Christine Licata, Barbara Nessim, Casey Reas and Jeff Tyson. The space is designed by the New York architecture firm Archi-Tectonics, and includes an Interactive Digital Catalogue touch screen archive of the artists' works. For more info, go to

The next time you're on the Upper West Side -- visiting the Beacon Theater, perhaps -- drop in at Suite 106, the new gallery opened off the lobby of the Milburn Hotel, 242 West 76th Street, by Irena Popiashvili and Marisa Newman. The premiere exhibition, "Presenting Suite 106," features work by Romeo Doron Alaeff, Michelle Elzay, Lynne Gelfman, Nicholas & Thomas de Monchaux, Jeff Preiss, Cordy Ryman, Arsen Savadov, Susa Templin and Mark Woods. Popiashvili, who formerly worked with Spencer Brownstone in SoHo and before that was commissioner of the Georgian pavilion at the Venice Biennale in 1999, said that the gallery would show video, photography and "technologically inflected practices." For more info, call (212) 362-1006 or go to

Haim Chanin Fine Arts opens its new gallery space at 210 11th Avenue in Chelsea with an exhibition of works on paper by Spanish artist Soledad Sevilla, Feb. 9-Mar. 30, 2002. The gallery will specialize in modern masters and contemporary artists from Europe and Latin America; future shows will present works by the Cuban sculptor Augustin Cardenas, the Catalan artist Joaquim Chancho and the Basque sculptor Jorge Oteiza. The gallery is operated by Dominique Haim Chanin, the daughter of European art dealer Paul Haim. For more info call (646) 230-7200 or email

San Francisco art collector Ken Paige, whose family has run the Paige Glass company for 100 years, has opened the Paige Gallery in San Francisco at 1040 Minna Street with a show of works by abstract painter Theodore Waddell, Nov. 20-Jan. 29, 2002. For more info, call (415) 621-1400.
-- Walter Robinson