The indestructible world of art

A month on from the highest total sales tally ever realised in the history of art auctions and the world is still coming to terms with everything. Christie’s, which hosted the $495 million (approximately £325 million) bonanza in New York, described it as a watershed moment and “a new era in the art market”.
Jackson Pollock’s Number 19, 1948, went under the hammer for $58 million (£38.5 million), Roy Lichtenstein’s Woman with a Flower Hat was snapped up for $56 million (£37 million) and Jean-Michel Basquiat’s Dustheads took in a very nice $48.8 million (£32 million). All were records for the artists at auction and there were more; 16 to be exact.
While the evident vibrancy of the art market is welcome, it still doesn’t quite feel real. The liveliness of the industry is dreamlike, as if you accidentally fell through one of the canvases of a Ralph Goings painting and found yourself in the photorealist world he had constructed.
It’s all about context, the spirit of the time, and certainly, the world is in an odd state of limbo, all thanks to a certain financial revelation in 2008. Call it a major depression akin to that experienced in the thirties or refer to it as the inevitable post-recession lull that follows economic crises, what is certain is that “Kansas has gone bye-bye” (to lend a nice phrase from The Matrix).
Yet in spite of the fact that the eurozone is seemingly one step away from some meltdown or another, the US is still unable to remedy its now embedded high unemployment and China is apparently powerless to prevent its economy slowing down, the global art world is stubbornly buoyant.
The question that everyone has been asking after Christie’s landmark event is whether or not this is a trend that has real staying power? It’s not an aberration, as works of art have been selling rather splendidly over the last few years. Things have simply got better and better and a new level was reached last month.
Can half a billion be matched? Although it’d be foolish to hedge your bets on that answer – for what do any of us really know about the mechanics of “the latest thing” – there are a few enviable individuals with a fever for art that is matched by their abstract bank accounts.
They can alone ensure sales figures remain respectable, while the migration of traditional investors from the exhausted world of stocks and shares and the growing buying power of China’s nouveau-riche to the industry can up the ante and help deliver unparallelled results.
Cadogan Tate has extensive experience in shipping fine art all over the world.