Monday, January 17, 2011

Art valuations

The art auction world is one that I must admit to following only peripherally. But there is of course an overlap with the art gallery world, not least with the movement of staff between the two (note the new head of Sotheby's Australia, with the resignation of Tim Goodman, is Geoffrey Smith, formerly curator of Australian Art at the NGV).

However I do find the statistics coming out of the international art auction market fascinating. Try a few of these for holiday reading:

• Last year 1,269 works by Picasso sold worldwide at auction (i.e. this excludes private sales) for an incredible $405,708,629. Just think what the total body of work of Picasso must therefore now be worth!
• The next six artists (by total value of works sold) after Picasso were Andy Warhol ($355m), Giacometti ($238m), Matisse ($196m), Modigliani ($156m) and Roy Lichtenstein ($124m).
• The most expensive painting to sell at auction was Picasso's "Nude, Green Leaves and Bust" for $106m, followed by Giacometti's "L'homme Qui Marche" for $103m and Modigliani's "Nu Assis sur un divan" for $69m.
• The two most surprising lots were "Rubbing" by an unknown artist, which sold for $136,701 against an estimate of $1,500 (7,566% above estimate), and "The North Transept and Choir Chapel of the Saint Janskere, Utrecht" by Pieter Jansz Saenredam, which sold for $2.3m against an estimate of $40,000 (4,820% above estimate). Not a bad result for the vendors!

With the total Australian art sales last year a mere $105.8m, you realise what small fry we are in the world art market.

But in true holiday mode, when the zany can be discussed, check this out.

This details the story of one of the weirdest artworks requiring valuation, namely a Koran written in Saddam Hussein’s blood. Held under lock and key in a Baghdad mosque, it was written using 7 gallons of Hussein’s own blood as a homage to his religion. "What is in here is priceless, worth absolutely millions of dollars," said the Koran's caretaker, Sheikh Ahmed al-Samarrai, who heads Iraq's Sunni Endowment fund.

As an auctioneer once said to me, the value of an artwork is as simple as what someone is prepared to pay for it. Maybe the caretaker is right!

Julian Bickersteth
Managing Director

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