How art world is putting changed times in picture

Surveying the global market, Des O’Sullivan says when the going gets tough, the tough get going
How art world is putting changed times in picture
Francis Bacon's Triptych Inspired by the Oresteia of Aeschylus at Sotheby's on June 29.
Francis Bacon's Triptych Inspired by the Oresteia of Aeschylus at Sotheby's on June 29.
Francis Bacon's Triptych Inspired by the Oresteia of Aeschylus at Sotheby's on June 29.

Change is gathering pace in the global art market. The restrictions wrought by pandemic has forced the market to adapt in all sorts of inventive ways. Many are embracing change in ways best exemplified by the old truism that when the going gets tough the tough get going.

One: A Global Sale of the 20th Century is a new auction event at Christie’s on July 10. Using streaming technology Christie’s will hold a relay-style auction of Impressionist and modern, post-war and contemporary art and design across four time zones.

The aim is to create an engaging platform for selling major works of art to a global audience. With $20m-$30m works like Picasso’s Les Femmes d’Alger (Version F), Lichtenstein’s monumental Nude with Joyous Painting and Ed Ruscha’s Annie all available, this amounts to a further blurring of the line between digital and live sales.

The action at this first-of-its-kind sale will take place at four of the major hubs of the art world, Hong Kong, Paris, London and New York. There will be four consecutive sessions in each region, starting in Hong Kong. It will replace New York’s 20th Century evening sale originally scheduled for June 22.

In this brave new topsy-turvey world Oliver Barker, an auctioneer at Sotheby’s, will take to the rostrum in London on June 29 to conduct an auction in New York.

This digital auction, live-streamed in high definition around the world, will allow bidders participate by phone or online, in a sale of contemporary art immediately followed by the Impressionist and modern art evening sale.

These big-ticket sales at Sotheby’s were originally scheduled for New York in May.

Works can be viewed online from next Monday or by appointment at Sotheby’s Manhattan galleries.

The top lot of the sale will be Francis Bacon’s 1981 Triptych Inspired by the Oresteia of Aeschylus estimated to make at least $60 million.

Bacon’s theme of divine punishment is taken from Aeschylus’s most famous trilogy The Oresteia in which Clytemnestra murders her husband Agamemnon in revenge for the sacrifice of their daughter Iphigenia.

When Orestes finds out he kills his mother to avenge his father’s death, provoking the avenging Furies who drive Orestes insane as a punishment.

Roy Lichtenstein's Nude with Joyous Painting at Christie's.
Roy Lichtenstein's Nude with Joyous Painting at Christie's.

The triptych, one of 28 large formats created by Bacon between 1962 and 1991, has been in the care of the Astrup Fearnley Museet in Oslo since 1993.

The work has been guaranteed by Sotheby’s, meaning a bid has already been secured, and they are hoping for more bids.

These sales are taking place at a time of uncertainty and innovation. At times like these the highest levels of the art market are best insulated against price drops.

This is largely because sellers at these stratified levels can afford to hold back when it comes to sending goods to art market.

There was a 5% drop in the global art market last year, representing a $3.3bn drop in sales over the stellar year of 2018. In the second half of last year there was a decline in the number of major art lots for auction.

The good news is that digital sales by major auction houses so far this year have been highly successful with many lots going over estimate, so expectations for these major sales are high.

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