The romance between Wall Street high rollers and contemporary artists was always going to be a Faustian pact, even though the Chelsea denizens who rode the wave of stratospheric prices haven't wanted to contemplate that fact. But they no longer have a choice as it becomes increasingly obvious that the collapse of the financial markets has pulled the art market right down with it.
In lieu of next week's (we're guessing) inevitable headline "Everybody Everywhere Laid Off," we'll continue to bring the grim news piecemeal, as it terribly unfolds. Today it's art! The market for fancy paintings and stuff has been crap lately, as, really, the arts are always the first thing to go when everyone's broke. Sotheby's and Christie's, our premierest and poshest auction houses, both announced today that layoffs and salary cuts are imminent.
You would think that after the dismal performances of the contemporary art sales at Christie's and Sotheby's earlier this week, sellers might recognize the need to reduce reserve prices if they were to have any hope of selling anything. At Phillips de Pury & Co.'s auction last night, estimates set before the markers unraveled remained in place, despite the fact that the auction house had tried to persuade people that the figures were now too optimistic. Sellers "had a luxury of eight years of the climbing prices,'' said Phillips senior partner Michael McGinnis. "They were not receptive.''
It will be a big night for disgraced Lehman CEO Dick Fuld and his wife Kathy: The couple's collection of postwar drawings goes up for auction at Christie's this evening. The Fulds reportedly made arrangements to sell the pieces over the summer—and the auction house gave them a $20 million guarantee, a decision it probably now regrets—although news of the sale emerged four days after the investment bank went bust. Works by Willem de Kooning, Barnett Newman, Arshile Gorky, and Agnes Martin will be available to those who still have a few million to spare (and who aren't too deterred by the Fulds' bad mojo). Meanwhile, some of the art that Dick once enjoyed seeing on the walls of Lehman Brothers will also be coming to market in the near future: The bankrupt bank is selling $8 million worth of pictures currently languishing in warehouses in New York and Paris.
Skittish art collectors with shrunken fortunes continue to balk at the prospect of picking up expensive artwork: At last night's sale of impressionist and modern art at Christie's, works by Matisse, Monet and Renoir had no takers, and the auction house's owner, French billionaire François Pinault, looked on as sluggish bidding led to lots going for bargain prices or not at all.
Honestly, art buyers, why even show up to auctions if you're going to cowardly balk at multi-million dollar estimates? At last night's Christie's sale combining the 19th and 20th century art collections of Park Avenue widow Rita Hillman and property heiress Alice Lawrence, works by Manet, Cézanne, Renoir, Rothko, and de Kooning were left on the block, making an overall tally of $47 million, not even close to the presale estimate of $103 to $150 million.
Unfortunately for dealers and artists who have become accustomed to wealthy collectors competing with each other to drop millions on contemporary art, now that everyone is tightening the purse strings, the power balance has shifted: "Before, collectors had to take whatever art they could get from dealers and auction houses," says one dealer, "but now those collectors are saying, 'Kneel down and ask nicely.'"
If you're stressed out about losing your job or not being able to pay your mortgage, you may want to take a lesson from Kathy Fuld, the wife of Lehman CEO Dick Fuld and the man who will forever be known as man who led the firm into bankruptcy. According to art dealers, Kathy has put a set of Abstract Expressionist drawings worth some $20 million up for auction. She didn't waste any time either: Christie's announced the November 12th sale of the drawings just four days after Lehman went bankrupt. The Fulds aren't exactly in the poorhouse—Dick took home $35 million last year—but Kathy's a sensible gal and replenishing the coffers isn't the worst idea in the world when you have a large estate in Greenwich and mortgages on a $20 million Park Avenue co-op and $13 million Florida beach house.
The newsmaking Christie's auction featuring the nude photo of French first lady Carla Bruni is coming up tomorrow. But she's not the only draw! The extensive photo collection has lots of other iconic pop culture shots, including the original photo of that famous Janet Jackson Rolling Stone cover (pictured). It also includes artistic nudes of stars like Kate Moss, Lauren Hutton, and Naomi Campbell, spanning four decades. You can see the whole collection here [via UD]. After the jump, one sample: a 1999 Irving Penn portrait of supermodel and Tom Brady girlfriend Gisele Bundchen [NSFW], which can be yours for as little as $30,000:
Jason Cuvelier, a six-year veteran of Christie's auction house in New York who began as an art handler and preparator and became a union shop steward in recent years, has resigned. On his way out the door, he wrote a moderately pissy (also slightly over-victimized) email: "A moment should be taken to note the optimism that once existed after we unionized only to see it squashed by a culture of harassment that has since permeated and fostered." The most sad/hilarious part: "It would be shameless of me not to let the powers that be know my deep gratitude for eliminating most of the older Art Handlers internet access. God knows what treacherous and deviant websites you have kept us from visiting - thanks!"