So as a collector or dealer what should your strategy be? Should you pull back your best pieces for better days. As a collector should you be entering the marketplace as a seller? Should you be buying? Clearly one man's problem is another man's opportunity. As I have said in this forum for more than six months your success or failure is going to be part strategy and part luck. I see the auctions right now as a crap shoot. You may do well but you could also be burned. Check out the reserves for Sothebys May 14th sale in Paris. The reserves certainly appear lower to me .. which would be smart to try to entice me into bidding.
The past few auctions have also been indicative of a slowing market for middle level material in particular. Bonhams held a tribal art auction on February 12 to coincide with the two tribal shows held at the same time. Out of 280 lots 130 failed to sell. Nothing sold over $50,000. Certainly objects in the $50,000 and below will feel any economic impact before the great works that tend to hold their value longer. The Milton Rosenthal collection of Oceanic art (March 24, 2010) auctioned in Paris illustrates that point with only 7 of 37 lots failing to sell. The Maori tiki illustrated above as lot 11 sold for 372,750 euros ($503,749) and was documented by the curator of the Auckland Museum in a 1974 letter to be pre-contact. The provenance quoted the well known dealer Charles Ratton. " 'It truly is a magnificent piece' enthused Charles Ratton in a letter of 26 May 1956 to the collector, archaeologist, and historian Bernard Bottet, who had just acquired this pendant from the collection of the Countess Martine de Béhague (1869 – 1939)." To my recollection this is the highest price ever paid for a Maori tiki. Please correct me if I am in error. But the point is that great things normally hold their value in bad times.
Certainly many interested parties will hold their collective breaths over the the auction sales scheduled for May and June. Among them are the following:
June 7, 2010, San Francisco, California Bonhams'
Native American andPre-Columbian Art Auction
June 19, 2010 Würzburg, Germany
61st tribal art auction: African Zemanek-Munster
Fri, 14 May 10, 10:00 AM, Lots 1 - 158, New York, New York
AFRICAN & OCEANIC ART
Sothebys, New York
Fri, 14 May 10, 2:00 PM, New York, New York
IMPORTANT AMERICAN INDIAN, AFRICAN, OCEANIC AND OTHER WORKS OF ART FROM THE STUDIO OF ENRICO DONATI
Sothebys, New York
8 Jun 10, 10:00 AM, New York, New York
THE COLLECTION OF PATRICIA KLUGE
ALBEMARLE HOUSE, CHARLOTTESVILLE, VIRGINIA
15 Jun 2010, 3 PM Paris
Art Africain et Océanien Art
7 Jul 2010, 3 PM Paris
Collection de Madame Darthéa Speyer, Paris
16 Dec 2010, Paris
Art Africain et Océanien
It is significant to note that there is no summer sale scheduled in Paris by Sothebys. Clearly the prestige for any sale at this point in time is Paris. Pragmatism and the very lopsided exchange rate dictates New York as the only reasonable site for a sale. The Europeans with their euros get a 30% discount while the US collectors avoid paying a premium for buying in Paris. So for the moment the market comes back to New York. Christies has adopted precisely the opposite strategy for reasons that don't make a great deal of financial sense. If I were an owner in that sale, I would be even more nervous about where this is going. Maybe the material is good enough for a buyer to look beyond the purchase price. I remain skeptical but we will let you know what happens.