“Cutting Edge,” the new auction category?

From a recent Christies PR Release. Underline is mine.

”It has been an incredible week for Christies and the London Contemporary Art market,” said Jussi Pylkkänen, President of Christies Europe. “Every major collector in the world travelled to London to attend our sales and the great events at Frieze, the museums and the galleries. Over 25 world auction records were broken at Christies where we have established an incredibly strong position of leadership in the Italian, Post War and Cutting-Edge markets. We look forward to our major London sales in February with great confidence.”

I guess when you’re selling work made in the same calendar year as the auction, then calling it “contemporary” is not enough. The new category may also be a setup for the house’s next strategic moves: Its contemporary art capa, Amy Cappellazzo, told Art Review that she expects to someday be auctioning brand-new works, saying, “We’re the big box retailer putting the mom-and-pops out of business.”

I’m doubting she means that last part. Why? Because auction houses sell whatever they have on hand to sell, whereas galleries build a reputation for discriminating taste. That means that in the long run, auction houses need galleries around, since the highest prices reaped on auction blocks are for pieces first stamped with the imprimatur of prestigious galleries.

3 thoughts on ““Cutting Edge,” the new auction category?”

  1. It’s a great quote, actually, even if politically incorrect. Where it breaks down is that big box stores keep prices down, whereas auctions help buoy them up.

    It’s time, clearly, for some new departments.
    – Cutting-Edge Department: Works 0-12 months old
    – Conceptual Department: unrealized works in the development phase
    – Not Even Thinking About It Department: Works offered for sale by Blue Chip artists who haven’t the faintest clue what it will be, except that it will sell

  2. Ian asked: “Why is there no backlash against Sothebys and Christies for hawking goods for which there is no reasonable value benchmark; other than their own last sale?”

    Actually, that’s precisely the perceived role of the auction house: setting prices for the previously unvalued. But also for everything else. As LA collector Dean Valetine once noted to me (and I quote roughly, from memory): “Auctions are how the players in the artworld communicate to each other about who’s rising and falling.”

    As for auction houses “putting at risk their carefully cultivated reputations”: Maybe that’s true, but then maybe if it all goes flat, people in the artmarket will be self-reflective enough to say, “It was a madness, and it affected us all.” And business will continue apace. Just as investors keep dealing with all the investment banks that sold them ludicrously optimistic analysis of new-economy companies that went ‘poof!’ in 2000.

  3. A question: why is there no backlash against Sothebys and Christies for hawking goods for which there is no reasonable value benchmark; other than their own last sale?

    Of course the auction houses have always been purveyors of items of often questionable value that someone doesn’t want (by definition). But they have, for many years, done a wonderful job of marketing these wares with beautifully produced catalogues and appropriately accented impoverished gentry to show you around otherwise bare showrooms. Some of these employees even had some qualifications that they could use to lend an air of authority to their prognostications on the value of this or that ‘objet’. But surely they are putting at risk their carefully cultivated reputations with these sales of patently unhistoried ‘art’?

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