Christie’s Art Sale Underwhelms Buyers

BY Arts Desk  November 4, 2009 at 3:10 PM EST

In the first autumn auction held Tuesday evening at Christie’s in New York, total sales fell short of pre-sale estimates — only $65.6 million instead of $68.6 to $97.1 million — making for a slow start to the U.S. art market season.

With only 40 pieces of art on sale, the cautious audience neglected to bid on more “mediocre” pieces, according to the New York Times, and gravitated more toward Impressionist works than to the modern pieces on sale. Most of the bids came over the phones from overseas bidders, who could afford to spend more on the weak dollar.

A painting by French Impressionist Camille Pissarro received only one bid and failed to meet its minimum, going unsold. The most expensive work, Pablo Picasso’s “Tete de Femme,” expected to sell for at least $7 million. The bids stalled at $6.4 million, and the painting went unsold, as well.

“You’d think the good stuff would start coming out again since the recession is ending,” New York dealer Jack Tilton told Reuters after the sale, “but the smart people are probably holding onto their art as a hedge against inflation.”

'Taille de la Porte' by Rodin; photo by Emmanuel Dunand, Getty Images/AFPThere was one star of the evening: “Danseuses,” a pastel drawing of a young dancer by Edgar Degas, sold for $10.72 million, which exceeded its high estimate by half-a-million dollars. Other pieces sold last night included paintings by Monet and Kandinsky and a bronze sculpture by Rodin, which sold for $6.35 million, much higher than its $2 million estimate.

[Click here to watch a slide show of the some of the pieces at Christie’s Impressionist & Modern Art Sale.]