It's incredible – auction houses are the beneficiaries of the new global wealth yet have the brazenness to insult them.
It's quite incredible – auction houses are the beneficiaries of the new breed of global wealthy (as revealed in the new World Wealth Report) yet they have the brazenness to insult them. If it weren't for the Russians, Chinese and Arabs, Sotheby's and Christie's would be getting last rites.
I'm speaking after last night's sale at Sotheby's, where a Manet estimated at £20-30m went for £22.4m (including the ever-tricky premium), still a record for the artist. This is a disappointing result for two reasons: first, the top end of the market has been entering the stratosphere of late, meaning expectations were high; and secondly, Christie's has a mega-sale on tonight, where its Picasso and Monet will easily make at least £40m each.
The reaction of Philip Hook, senior director in Impressionist and Modern, was less than happy. He was heard on the Today programme this morning calling the buyers 'less sophisticated' (listen for yourself here). Here are his full words:
'It was a pretty sophisticated picture which did not meet the full requirements of the new buyers in our market. There's a tremendous number of new, perhaps less sophisticated buyers, who perhaps weren't quite ready for this picture.'
Why didn't he just spit at their feet? What he is implying is that newer buyers are only interested in the most immediately arresting and easily digestible works of art, rather than subtler Old Masters; they want bang for their buck. This may be true, but to say it out loud is hardly wise.
He shouldn't forget that the phrase 'art market' contains 'market' as well as 'art', and paintings are only worth what people will pay for them. Undermining your clients will hardly endear yourself to them.