Home Arts & Leisure Two weeks of bidding at New York auctions bring in $2.5 Billion

Two weeks of bidding at New York auctions bring in $2.5 Billion

ON the same day that a selloff wiped $1.5 trillion of value from the stock market, Asher Edelman was in the audience at Phillips auction house in New York. Million-dollar lots sold in quick succession — $8.4 million for a Rothko, $15.6 million for a Calder, $85 million for a Basquiat — with many selling well above their high estimates.

“It doesn’t surprise me at all that we had a great day,” says Mr. Edelman, an ex-financier and the current chairman of the board of ArtBnk. “I think most people had pre-decided on a lot of things, and they weren’t going to un-decide because the market was down. There’s plenty of cash rolling around.”

Six months from now will be a different story, Mr. Edelman cautions. “It’s pretty simple,” he says. “In 1989 and in 2008, you had very similar activities. In 1989 the economy began to collapse, and by 1990 no art traded at all. But in 1989 I sold 30% of my art collection by value in the November sales.”

In 2008 everyone witnessed the same thing: “In May, 2008, we still had a very hot art market, even though people were already starting to get very hurt by subprime mortgages,” he says. “And then six months later the art market collapsed, and it wasn’t until 2010 or 2011 that you saw it spark again.”

This year’s marquee May auctions in New York, Mr. Edelman predicts, will be remembered the same way: “Here we are again, going into what will be the most serious recession, probably, since the 1970s.” If that’s true, the art market has gone out with a bang. In just two weeks, Christie’s, Sotheby’s, and Phillips sold about $2.5 billion worth of art. The biggest winners in last week’s sales, seen below, brought in $759 million, with works by Monet and Rothko dominating the list. — Bloomberg