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The art market in 2018: the year of Banksy and blockchain auctions

If 2017 was the year of a mind-blowing Leonardo, then 2018 will fall as the year of the astonishing Banksy. Both works held a mirror on the market that sold them.

The Leonardo, purchased for $ 450.3 million unprecedented in November 2017, has encapsulated the extremes of the market in that year and – in retrospect – has peaked. That this work is mysteriously off the scene since, despite being promised for the Louvre exhibition in Abu Dhabi this year, it also summarizes the opaque operation of the billionaire art world.

Banksy, perhaps trying to flip it all over, managed to design the live shredding of his painting sold at Sotheby's auction in October, adding to the value of the semi-torn work, which he had already sold for a steep £ 1m with taxes. Whether it's a revolutionary or clever gimmick, the act turned out to be a great example of this year of distracting performance. Surely the market was no less noisy in 2018 and initiatives that tend to heavily marketed tricks stole the show.

These included a painting generated by an algorithm sold for $ 350,000 ($ 432,500 with taxes, $ 7,000- $ 10,000) to Christie & # 39; s in October and a raffle for 100 works by the graffiti artist Kaws, at the price of $ 65,000 each, all of which were sold within 10 minutes at Pace Prints at Art Basel Miami Beach, according to The Art Newspaper.

In the meantime, the fintech jargon was inexorable: the galleries offered art for cryptocurrencies, the artists created collectible objects based on blockchain and, in the summer, a painting by Andy Warhol was divided for sale in cryptographic tokens, the last well-publicized (but disappointing) stab at "democratizing access to the fine arts".

Some of the technological initiatives have real potential. In November, Christie & # 39; s became the first major auction house to apply blockchain technology to its shipments when it sold a collection of 20th century works with documents of provenance encrypted through the Artistic Register. Even machine learning, which tracks online preferences, is proving to be profitable. This year Invaluable, which hosts thousands of online auction houses, claims to have made personalized recommendations for more than 2.5 million users and that its data show a lottery value of 27% more for the works purchased this way. For smaller players, the hybrid model – which combines online sales with a pop-up exhibit program – seems the most viable at the moment.

But nobody broke the mold. The small and medium-sized tunnels are still struggling to keep up while the blue-chips are increasingly in a super-league. Meanwhile, the owners of the main art fairs seem fragile. The majority investor of Frieze, the Hollywood agency Endeavor, says that, from the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, he was about to drop a $ 400 million investment from the sovereign wealth fund. # 39; Saudi Arabia. The owner of Art Basel, MCH Group, has announced a cost reduction exercise that includes an exit from its smaller regional fairs.

"Portrait of an artist (Pool with Two Figures)" by David Hockney (1972) © Christie & # 39; s

At auction, sales for the full year increased slightly in 2017 (the 11% from Sotheby's, 6% from Christie's, but it's been a year in which the highest notes were not reached. There was talk of the three-day Rockefeller auction and online that became the first $ 1 billion art sale at Christie & # 39; s in May, while these only slightly exceeded expectations when they earned $ 832, 6 million (with commissions). Also at Christie's, a painting by David Hockney, "Portrait of an artist (Pool with Two Figures)" (1972), was offered without reserve or guarantee, to encourage excitement beyond its price of $ 80m, and in October it was sold for exactly $ 80 m ($ 90.3 million with taxes).

At the beginning of the year, the "Nu couché" of Modigliani (sur le côté gauche) of 1917 arrived on the market at Sotheby & # 39; s with the highest public estimate for a job at 150 million dollars, but he could not do it, selling $ 139 million ($ 157.2 million in taxes) to an offer, from his anonymous guarantor.

"Nu Couché (sur le côté gauche)" by Amedeo Modigliani (1917) © Sotheby & # 39; s

These are still milestones – the Rockefeller estate is the highest selling of individual collections, Hockney is a record for a living artist, and Modigliani has made the highest public price of the year – but prices have begun to get off their high elevations year. Greedy estimates in the high end, exacerbated by guarantees that push the idea of ​​value to its limits, have proved too much. Sotheby & # 39; s had two high-profile guaranteed works that leave a hole in its finances because they have not made their already high estimates: the Buste de Femme de Profil (Femme écrivant) of Modigliani and Picasso of 1932, sold in London to June for £ 24 million (£ 27.3 million with commissions, estimated at around £ 33 million).

Emerging from all this was an encouraging accent on the art of women, non-Westerners and ethnic minority people in 2018. An auction record was made for an African-American artist when "Past Times" by Kerry James Marshall (1997) was sold for $ 18.5m ($ 21.1 million with taxes) from Sotheby's May. The artist also had a well-received exhibition at the David Zwirner gallery, which closed in London in November. Jenny Saville became the most expensive female artist when her monumental "Propped" (1992) sold ahead of expectations, for £ 8.3 million (£ 9.5 million with commissions) at Sotheby & # 39; s in October. It's not a patch on the price of a Hockney, but these are small steps in the right direction.

"Past Times" by Kerry James Marshall (1997)
"Propped" by Jenny Saville (1992) © Sotheby & # 39; s

Looking to the future, revisionism, introspection and a delicate social awareness seem to characterize the mentality in a quieter year, certainly on the public art market. Buyers will be inspired by the dramas of Brexit and by political risk and uncertainty elsewhere while they play. The guarantees are not going away, but I would expect that these will be attached to more conservative jobs in 2019 – testify to their judicious application to the Old Master who works in the last season of London. "There is great caution among our customers." Art is still attractive, but it's all about currency and liquidity, security and security and peace of mind, "says Heather Maizels, senior consultant of private equity lawyers international Charles Russell Speechlys. "At this moment, no one can afford to lose money."

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