Two months ago, I remarked to veteran dealer Jay Gorney of Mitchell, Innes & Nash that the art sales boom would commence in April. He looked at me like I was nuts. Chelsea dealers have all told me off-the-record that sales ceased completely last September, and the expectation has been that galleries would quietly close for the summer and fold, and just not reopen in September.
Now comes news that work by dead Asian masters at Sotheby's Hong Kong sales is commanding record prices from Asian collectors desperately seeking to transfer deflated dollars into tangible assets such as art. What are the implications for the American scene?
New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo points the way with his $2.4-million civil suit, announced this morning, against Rothko collector J. Ezra Merkin, whose hedge fund is alleged to have knowingly funneled money into the Bernie Madoff Ponzi scheme. Gallerists have been sniffing around Merkin's Rothkos for awhile now, though the collector has publicly denied any interest in selling [see "Artnet News," Jan. 8, 2009].
Art dealers should rejoice at the perfect storm on the horizon: cash-rich collectors desperate to invest devalued currency into artworks by the dead and aged, coming face-to-face with a slew of soon-to-be indicted moneybaggers, forced by either the law or necessity to sell their art collections. Like bookies in Vegas, these dealers need only match up both sides of the client equation and collect the vigorish.
What this means for the art market is simple: a steep drop in prices for the work of younger blue chip artists awash in inventory both present and future, and an expanding universe of price appreciation for the limited set of artworks created by those gone by. Savvy shows such as the late Picasso "Mosqueteros" at Gagosian Gallery and the recent Louise Nevelson retrospective at PaceWildenstein in Chelsea have already anticipated this trend, but there are many more possibilities, especially second tier AbExers like Cavallon, Kadish, Pavia, Joop Sanders and Mark Tobey; forgotten Color Field painters like Jack Bush, Larry Poons and Jules Olitski; and ‘60s Popsters such as George Sugarman and Larry Zox. Even Jay Gorney has opened an Allan D'Acangelo show.
If the supply is limited and the art tied to a historical movement, dealers’ pockets should soon fill with devalued bucks which they in turn will reinvest in inventory. Let the boom begin!
CHARLIE FINCH is co-author of Most Art Sucks: Five Years of Coagula (Smart Art Press).