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The After-Party

Nov 13, 2009
By Susan M. Lee

Andy Warhol
Andy Warhol’s 200 One Dollar Bills on display during a preview of Sotheby’s impressionist and modern art sale in New York, Oct. 30, 2009. Photo by AFP PHOTO/Emmanuel Dunand/Newscom

Art may be eternal, but the business of art has its ups and downs like any other industry. Thankfully, the art bubble that didn’t just burst, but rather exploded when the American economy slowed to a standstill over the past year and a half is showing signs of recovery. Two auctions last week brought in millions for masterpieces, prompting auctioneers to remark in the New York Times that the prices were “reminiscent of 18 months ago.”


In a March feature, “The Party’s Over,” FLYP reported on the impact of the financial downturn on sales for the masters and the lesser known living artists alike. This week’s success at the Sotheby’s and Christie’s auction houses signals an improving art market—though it’s too early to tell if it will stabilize, trickle down to other parts of the art market, and get to where it was before the financial meltdown.

Andy Warhol’s 200 One Dollar Bills was the star at Sotheby’s, selling for $42.8 million, over three times their highest expected pre-sale estimate. A 1957 Jasper Johns sold for almost $9 million and a David Hockney for $5 million, both exceeding the auction house’s expectations. At the end of the night sales totaled $134.4 million, double the $67.9 million the auction house thought the auction would bring in.

Christie’s, which made $74.1 million the day before, failed to sell major works by Jean-Michel Basquiat and Warhol, perhaps an indication that the art recovery is still a work in progress.

But Sotheby’s head of contemporary art Tobias Meyer seemed hopeful after the successful night: “After a year of not buying, collectors have started buying.” He told the BBC, "Bidding was very deep tonight. There is a great desire for great art – consumer behavior has started to accelerate."

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While I think it’s great that art sales are back up (after all, it is an industry that must employ a bunch of people), paying 42 million dollars for a painting from Andy Warhol is kind of ridiculous especially in this market. If people have that much money to spend on a work of art, they could help a lot more people by collecting art from the up-and-coming pieces that you find at galleries everywhere. I would have hoped that would be one of the positive effects of the recession – that the huge price tags on work like this would push collectors to support lesser-known artists. Unfortunately that does not quite seem to be the case…

Albert Harris
Nov 16, 2009

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