The emergence of Chinese participation has been the single most transformative development in the Impressionist and Modern art category since the surge of Japanese buying in the 1980s, says Max Carter, Head of Impressionist Art, New York, Christie’s. In this conversation, he shares the highlights of upcoming sales in New York on November 14 & 15 and also his outlook for the genre for the year ahead.
What makes the November, New York sales of Impressionist and Modern Art different from the sales in the same genre in other months and in other locations? Is there a different set of works that generally tend to be offered in New York than in London? Could you please explain?
The November auctions are typically our largest and most varied, partly owing to the longer build up, with nearly five months to gather following the June sales. While our New York and London auctions offer broadly similar material, there are several exceptions, most notably the dedicated Surrealist sales we hold annually in London.
Along with Contemporary art, Impressionist and Modern art sales are where records are set and some of the most desirable works of art ever created are offered. Given the enormous amount of interest generated by these genres, what would you advise collectors to take care of while aspiring to buy at one of these sales? How can they make informed choices?
Narrow your focus. The more you know, the more informed and rewarding your choices will be. Start with works on paper. The price points are more attainable and the opportunities to buy quality, often greater. Always ask questions. And, if you can, always buy the best example of whatever you’re interested in. You’ll never regret it.
As we wind down to the penultimate leg of the sales for this calendar year, how would you sum up the showing of your auction house in 2017 in the category of Impressionist and Modern art? Could you share some highlights and some results that took even you by surprise?
It’s been an extraordinary, marketleading year in Impressionist and Modern art at Christie’s. Two results stand out — the world auction records established for Constantin Brancusi’s “La muse endormie” in May and for Max Beckmann’s “Holle der Vogel” in June. “La muse endormie” is an icon of modern sculpture and its appearance at auction, where it achieved $57.4 million, was oncein-a-lifetime (other casts are in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Art Institute of Chicago and the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris). “Holle der Vogel” is an outand-out masterpiece —Beckmann’s “Guernica” — and it was only fitting that it more than doubled the artist’s previous auction record, realizing $46.1 million in the event.
As the New Year is just around the corner, how do you see this genre performing in 2018? Will the sales and results of 2017 have a bearing on what we will see in the New Year? Can you name some artists on whom you would pin your hopes to lead the market?
Christie’s will have the unique privilege of offering the Collection of Peggy and David Rockefeller in spring 2018. Comprising masterworks by the 19th and early 20th centuries’ most celebrated artists, it’s the greatest and most complete collection of Impressionist and Modern art ever to come to auction. The year 2018 promises to be one of the category’s banner years for buyers.
As for artists, I don’t know about “lead” but I hope and expect Barbara Hepworth will gain recognition in 2018 and beyond. She was one of the 20th century’s most talented and original sculptors and yet remains reflectively unsung and undervalued.
Could you share some details about the changing profiles of collectors of Impressionist and Modern art over the past few years? I believe there is a growing interest among collectors from Asia for this genre of art. What could be the driving force for this development and how it is going to change the market in the years to come?
The emergence of Chinese participation has been the single most transformative development in the Impressionist and Modern art category since the surge of Japanese buying in the 1980s. Over the last five years, we have gone from having little to no Chinese bidding in our evening sales to fully one-third of bidding and buying from Chinese collectors this past May. Whatever the reasons — the appeal of blue-chip, stable appreciation; strong and transparent standards of authenticity; and the comparative availability of masterpieces — the result for Impressionist and Modern art is unprecedented liquidity. For the first time since the auction category was “invented” in the 1960s, the audience is truly global.
— This interview appears in the November edition of Art+Auction.