At least the online headline is accurate, but even Carol Vogel, who in her NY Times post mortem emphasized the positive aspects of last night’s so-so results at Christie’s Impressionist/modern sale, could not possibly have agreed with the editors’ headline (above) on Page B2 of today’s newspaper:
Sale Results of Impressionist and Modern Art Exceed Expectations at Christie’s
As you know from my late night post, the auction made a hammer-price total of $246 million, compared to a presale estimate of $287-405 million. By no measure did it exceed the auction house’s professed expectations, other than for only eight of 58 lots that did exceed presale estimates.
Why Vogel and many other art-market scribes persist in comparing the $287-405 million presale estimate (which predicts total hammer price and DOES NOT include the buyers premium) with the $277.28-million final total (which DOES include the commission paid by buyers) defies reason. As CultureGrrl has already observed too many times, this statistical sophistry plays into the auctioneers’ desire to make results look better than they really are, but it’s comparing apples to oranges. Presale estimates must be compared with hammer prices to be meaningful, not misleading.
Even the higher total, inflated with the buyers premium, fell short of the auctioneers’ hammer-price estimate. And the record-setting Monet did not exceed its presale estimate, as Vogel suggested in reporting the $41.4-million price with premium. She reported that Christie’s presale estimate for the Monet was $35 million. It’s possible that’s what they told her after the sale, but last Friday, Christie’s had e-mailed to me the various unpublished estimates, and the Monet was pegged at $35-40 million. Its $37-million hammer price last night fell squarely within the estimate, not above it.
I’m cautiously pessimistic about Sotheby’s sale tonight. But given last night’s iffy indications, there will be a lot of people, some with paddles, with an interest in having this sale to turn out well. Perhaps Sotheby’s experts are doing whatever last-minute maneuvering they can to secure a low percentage of unsold works. We’ll soon find out.