Art investment made easy, or, parking your loot in Picasso

6 05 2010

Picasso’s 1932 painting “Nu au Plateau de Sculpteur (Nude, Green Leaves and Bust).Picasso made some pretty extraordinary works of art. Nu au Plateau de Sculpteur, 1932, pictured at left, is not one of them. But, proving the old maxim that money and taste aren’t always found hand in hand, the aforementioned painting set a new record price for an artwork sold at auction when the hammer fell at Christie’s in New York on Tuesday night. The going price? US$106.5 million. The sale just narrowly pipped the previous record holder, Giacometti’s Walking Man I, which sold for US$104.3 million at Sotheby’s in London earlier this year (both these prices include buyers’ fees). While I’m at it – as wonderful as Giacometti’s work is, I’d really love to know why his work in particular has been going through the roof of late. Who has the greatest vested interest in seeing his prices go up? That’s not a rhetorical question. I’m genuinely interested in finding out. My inherent suspicion is always peaked when an artist’s market rallies in such a dramatic fashion, particularly when compared with the prices being paid at auction for equally well-regarded peers’ works of art.

But, back to Picasso. A price precedent has been set for large Picasso canvases for quite some time. Way back in the economic golden days of 2004, someone paid US$104.1 million for Boy with a Pipe, 1905 – in my opinion a far more powerful work than the latest record-breaker. For those fortunate people who managed to hold onto the odd pile of cash in the wake of the GFC, this means that a high-profile Picasso painting is a good place to park said cash while the stock market continues to buck and turn. With the economic and political situation in Europe looking ominous, it’s no surprise at all to find that secure material assets are finding favour amongst investors. Word is that much of this investment is coming from China.

The idea of art as material asset really took off in the post-war decades – in 1955, Fortune magazine declared art to be one of the most desirable international currencies. The art market as we know it today, particularly the auction trade, came into its own after then. Whereas previously auctions tended to be the purview of sombre and serious dealers and dedicated collectors, in the 1960s and beyond, they became social affairs as high society and the monied classes tussled over artworks that would bring them cachet and, if they were lucky, a secure way to invest a portion of their fortunes. No matter how unimpressed you are by Picasso’s market-topping painting, for whomever divested themselves of the equivalent of Greece’s national debt (ok – yes, an exaggeration) to acquire it can be pretty certain that their money is safe, as long as the art market status quo remains steady. And there are too many wealthy individuals and organisations heavily invested in said market for it to be undermined anytime soon.

And, as an aside, for anyone who questions why Christie’s closed its Australian branch and how Tim Goodman managed to secure what amounts to a Sotheby’s franchise Downunder, consider this – the price for the Picasso painting in Australian kangaroubles amounts to about $118 million. During the boom years 1999-2008, only once did the total… TOTAL … amount of art sold at auction in Australia exceed that amount. The approximate average for that ten year period was about A$90 million. In short? To say the Australian market is small change for the international auction leviathans is something of an understatement.

(image via


ACCC Reviews Goodman’s Sotheby’s Proposal

5 10 2009

But is it still ‘My Sotheby’s’? Hmm. And news just in – the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) has launched an informal review through its mergers register seeking ‘comments’ from ‘interested parties’ concerning the proposed acquisition of Sotheby’s Australia by First East Auction Holdings P/L.

I won’t be saying anything. But I wonder whether Goodman’s competitors will be able to resist the opportunity to shoot one across his bow. Better hurry, chaps. You’ve only got a week!

Aussie Sotheby’s iSnack 2.0

4 10 2009

Tim Goodman

Auctioneer Tim Goodman (picture: Anthony Geernaert via

Well, if anything was going to waken me from my interweb slumber, this would be it.

Down here downunder, we pride ourselves on our audacious and irreverent approach to most things. And so… now we have locally-born Monsignor Tim Goodman – formerly of Goodman’s Auctions, more recently of Bonhams and Goodman, giving Robert Brooks, chairman of British powerhouse Bonhams, the ol’ heave ho. It seems that Tim got a better offer. Bonhams who?

He may just be scraping up the slops, but Tim Goodman (pictured) has successfully wooed the floundering British auction house Sotheby’s and orchestrated a deal by which he will use the Sotheby’s name here in Australia. This in itself is rather surprising. Many in the industry suspected that  Sotheby’s might follow its arch-rival Christie’s, which closed its Australian branch in 2006, and withdraw from the local market. But Sotheby’s has been disinclined to dilute the brand thus far, and has chosen to close under-performing branches rather than pass franchises onto enthusiastic locals. Seems that Tim was very convincing.

My immediate concern? Upwards of 50% of Sotheby’s Aboriginal art sales by value went to international collectors. Whereto from here in the absence of Sotheby’s self-appointed  Aboriginal maestro Tim Klingender? There’s a glittering but fragile network of collectors throughout the world who have looked to Sotheby’s for an indication of what is the best/only Aboriginal art to buy.

Will Goodmans/Sotheby’s be able to stoke the same fires?