Going, Going, Gone: 2009 Was a ‘Recession Battered’ Year

BY Arts Desk  January 5, 2010 at 1:09 PM EDT

Art, like real estate, was seen as a wise investment during the boom years. Living artists like Jeff Koons and Damien Hirst were selling works for tens of millions of dollars, and it showed in their aesthetic (take Hirst’s diamond and platnium encrusted skull, for instance). But, like the real estate market, years of investors revelling in rampant speculation eventually came to an end. As early as mid-2007, there were reports that the bubble had begun to deflate, and by late 2008 it had burst outright, laying the groundwork for a rough 2009.

“The recession battered the art market for much of 2009, as prices for some of the world’s top artists fell by a third and auction houses struggled to win over wary collectors,” Kelly Crow wrote in her year-end review in the Wall Street Journal. Sales at Sotheby’s and Christie’s each declined around 50 percent from 2008, and collectors’ interest in contemporary art (including works by up-and-coming artists) waned.

Crow says the art market still has the blues. But a few strokes of auction house vigor may offer hope of recovery in the next year. “Head of a Muse”, a drawing by Raphael, beat expectations (and a record) when it sold for $48 million last month. Andy Warhol’s “200 One Dollar Bills” went for a lot more than the value of its title, fetching $43.8 million in November.

I spoke with Crow about art sales in 2009 and what to expect in 2010:

Editor’s Note: You can find more Art Beat reports on the health of the art market from last year. Most recently, we talked to Jason Kaufman at The Art Newspaper about sales at Art Basel Miami. You can also watch a slide show of images from an underwhelming Christie’s auction from November.