By Scott Reyburn
Damien Hirst and Jeff Koons, the stars of the art boom, were deposed as auction bestsellers in 2009 as prices for some of their works fell 50 percent. It may take much of the next decade before their works return to record prices, dealers say.
Billionaire collectors shunned “noughties” favorites in the current decade’s closing year, preferring 20th-century modernist classics, Art Deco furniture, Old Masters and Chinese artworks. Contemporary-art auction sales dropped 75 percent this year as sellers were no longer guaranteed minimum prices.
“Right now, people are nursing significant losses on Hirst,” Philip Hoffman, chief executive of the London-based Fine Art Fund, said in an interview. “They’re reluctant to sell until prices start to rise again.”
Worldwide auction sales of contemporary art grew more than 10-fold between 2003 and 2008, according to the France-based research company Artprice. Its price index, based on total annual auction sales for Hirst, was up 996 percent over the 10- year period that culminated in his “Beautiful Inside My Head Forever” event in September 2008. The two-day auction, which coincided with the collapse of Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc., is seen by dealers as the end of the boom.
“That auction was such a freak,” Robert Sandelson, a London dealer, said in an interview. “It skewed the statistics. Damien is down, like most other artists are down. The market now feels like 2000 or 2001. It’s not going to be anything like it was for many, many years.” Sandelson held a Hirst show in his Mayfair gallery during the Sotheby’s sale.
Koons, 54, known for his super-sized kitsch sculptures, was the top-selling artist at auction with 81.3 million euros ($117.2 million) of sales in the year to June 2008, said Artprice. Hirst, 44, famed for his pickled animals and diamond skull, overtook Koons with his 111.5 million-pound ($178.5 million) Sotheby’s sale.
Auction sales of high-value works by Koons dropped 50 percent in 2009, when nine pieces fetched more than $1 million, according to the U.S.-based database ArtNet.
Koons’s chromium steel “Baroque Egg With Bow (Turquoise/ Magenta)” from his “Celebration” series, owned by hedge fund manager Daniel Loeb, sold for $5.5 million, less than its estimate at Sotheby’s New York in March 2009. The $47 million total at that auction was 87 percent down on that achieved the previous year.
In June 2008, a Koons sculpture from the same series, “Balloon Flower (Magenta),” sold at Christie’s International, London, for a record 12.9 million pounds. It was one of 18 works by the artist to fetch more than $1 million that year, according to ArtNet.
“We were in an extravagant period then,” Dallas-based collector Howard Rachofsky, who was the seller of that guaranteed piece, said in an interview. “It was a unique bubble market, a fantasy market. There were mega-billionaires from the Middle East and Russia interested in about eight names they were told to be interested in.”
Thirty-two works by Hirst sold for more than 1 million pounds at auctions in 2008, said ArtNet. Twenty-four of these were achieved, it said, at the Sotheby’s sale, the biggest of works sourced directly from an artist.
Only one piece by Hirst sold at auction for more than 1 million pounds in 2009, said ArtNet. The 2006 butterfly painting, “The Importance of Elsewhere -- The Kingdom of Heaven,” achieved HK$15.5 million ($2 million) at Seoul Auction’s Hong Kong autumn sale on Oct. 7.
At Sotheby’s “Frieze Week” auction in London in October this year, a 2006 circular butterfly painting by Hirst titled “Retribution” sold to the New York collector Jose Mugrabi for 541,250 pounds. A similarly sized and colored 2008 butterfly work, “Reincarnated,” sold for 1.6 million pounds at the company’s “Beautiful” auction a year before. The works carried low estimates of 450,000 pounds and 500,000 respectively.
The ArtTactic Average Price Index for Hirst butterfly paintings has dropped 41 percent since September 2008, said the London-based research company’s founder Anders Petterson in October 2009.
“Hirst will come back,” Sandelson said of the U.K.’s richest artist. “In the short term, overproduction has been a problem. That didn’t harm the Andy Warhol market in the end. In the future Hirst’s works, like Warhol’s, will be bought as classics.”
“Hirst made his mark on art history,” said Hoffman. “But in 30 years’ time collectors are going to focus on the earlier works rather than the pieces he made when he had a lot of assistants. At the moment the prices of Hirst’s earlier works are probably unchanged. I’m not sure I’d invest in a new work that was sold in 2008.”