Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The Thing About All that Fun at the Auction...

First time I saw this episode of the Dick Van Dyke show as a kid (and no, not during its original broadcast), it made a big impression on me. Hinging on issues of class, insider-ness, and knowing (or not) when you're out of your element, I saw it more as a horrifying cautionary tale than a comedy bit. Start watching about the 6:50 mark, if you're pressed for time:

Even as a kid, I realized that the thing about all that fun bidding at the auction (and why the bit works) was that they do expect you to pay in the end. Of course, growing up in a capitalist society, that was always highly evident. People here take someone committing to paying them money seriously. But what if you hadn't grown up in a capitalist society? What if how seriously people take the auction process wasn't really all that clear? I mean, you see all kinds of silly antics during the bidding process, but you never see anyone actually paying for what they bid on in a movie or TV show.

From artinfo.com:
Sotheby's recent eight-day Hong Kong auction earned a staggering $447 million for a vast array of Asian and Chinese art, as well as fine wines, watches, and jewels, but the rise of voracious Chinese buyers has not been free of setbacks. For one, there is the issue of payment: after bidding up works, particularly in the hypercharged sector of imperial antiques, Chinese buyers have been incredibly slow to make payments on purchases, a habit that is leading auction houses around the globe to demand deposits from high bidders.

The most prominent example of this delinquent behavior concerns the shocking $83.2 million sale of an 18th-century vase at the suburban British auction house Bainbridges in November — a sale that has become symbolic of the skyrocketing market for Chinese antiques, and of Chinese buyers' infinitely deep pockets when it comes to snatching up Chinese art objects. In the months since the vase was hammered, making international headlines, the buyer has failed to deliver the money. As a result, the Bainbridges vase has still not been claimed.
And as a result, that symbolic "purchase" now needs to be reframed. Indeed, why it happened at all is now cause for speculation (even if only in the form of denying such speculation exists):
Thus far, there has been no suggestion that the buyer deliberately sabotaged the sale on behalf of Chinese nationalist interests, as was the case with the Beijing businessman who won two contested Chinese imperial bronzes at the 2008 Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé sale, and then refused to pay the $45.5 million he owed.
Longtime readers here will hardly expect me to cry rivers for the auction houses, but I do respect the contract one enters into when raising a paddle at one. Moreover, I had assumed it was, in part at least, the strength of recent (so-called) sales at that had led Artprice to declare China the number one art market.

But Skate's, who doesn't like Artprice's lack of transparency, has recently offered some harsh criticism of both Artpice's murky skyrocketing stock prices and their calculations on the Chinese art market (pdf file):
Going forward it seems that China has become the main center for speculation on the art market and perhaps the riskiest segment of the global art market. When it comes to the premium (investment) segment of the global art market monitored by Skate’s Art Market Research, China is far from dominance by every indicator.
Now, there's no doubt that players in the US will not just lie down and acknowledge China's reported dominance without a fight, and such reactionary responses to the changing landscape must be seen as such. But when you combine Skate's suspicions with the very slow payment at auctions, it does suggest that declarations of dominance be reviewed a bit more closely before being considered definitive.

Labels: art market, auction houses, china


Anonymous Leona Craig Art said...

It began even earlier with the YSL Zodiac fountain sale when a Chinese bidder didn't make payment but scoffed at the sale. When it comes to shenanigans in auctions, there is even more going on inside China. As I said in a recent discussion on Beijing International Radio, China doesn't have all of the little flea markets, trash/treasure shops, antique shops, and art galleries that are all around even the Pennsylvania Dutch area where I am originally from, so, if you really look at the total markets for art, China will not come in even close to first. there is so much more to say.

4/19/2011 09:17:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have been to 4 auctions (cars, tools, machinery). Everyone one of them was a scam. I doubt the art world is any different.

4/19/2011 01:51:00 PM  
Anonymous Bernard Klevickas said...

The "Thing" was better than the painting and shoulda cost more.

4/19/2011 02:41:00 PM  

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