ARTnewsletter Archive

Auction House Expansions Underscore Art Market Rebound

Regional and smaller international auction houses have recently expanded in a number of major U.S. cities, another sign of renewed confidence in the global art market.

NEW YORK—Regional and smaller international auction houses have recently expanded in a number of major U.S. cities, another sign of renewed confidence in the global art market.

“The market for art is getting deeper and broader; confidence is stronger,” said Aileen Agopian, director of contemporary art at Phillips de Pury & Company. In 2009, while the economy was struggling out of the recession, “people were tip-toeing around the art market,” she said, but now “the art market has turned, as people have gotten a feel for how things are.” In addition, she noted, collectors who were adversely affected by the downturn have been replaced by collectors coming out of the so-called BRIC countries—Brazil, Russia, India and China. In late 2008 Phillips entered into what it termed a “strategic partnership” with Russian ­luxury-goods company Mercury Group.

Auctioneer Heritage Auction Galleries, Dallas, Tex., which has reported annual sales revenues of $650million, opened a sales and exhibition space in Beverly Hills, Calif., last February, and on Sept. 1 it opened a 2,500-square-foot exhibition gallery at Park Avenue and 57th Street in New York.

According to Greg Rohan, president of the auction house, the New York City space will hold exhibitions that will change every two weeks. Exhibitions will include objects from all 30 categories of Heritage’s sales. Most of those sales will continue to take place in Dallas or Beverly Hills, but Heritage also plans to hold more auctions in New York, at the Fletcher Sinclair mansion at 79th Street and Fifth Avenue, which the auction house rents on an “as-needed basis.” Among the sales slated for the fall are illustration art in October, and, in December, vintage and contemporary photography and Pre-Columbian art.

“New York is a huge market that we can expand into,” Rohan said, noting that the auction house took out an 11-year lease on the Park Avenue exhibition space. Part of what made that move possible was falling prices in the real estate market during the recent recession. “We’re paying half of what it had been just a couple of years earlier.”

Across the street from Heritage, at 450 Park Avenue, is the new 25,559-square-foot sales space of Phillips, which will be inaugurated with the auction house’s sales of contemporary art Nov. 8–9.

Phillips will maintain its other exhibition space and saleroom at 450 West 15th Street. Michael McGinnis, the house’s worldwide head of contemporary art, called the opening of its uptown venue “a natural evolution for the company and presents a tremendous opportunity to expand our business.”

Bonhams Seeks Growth In New York

London-based auction house Bonhams has also been looking at New York as an area for potential growth in sales, having expanded its staff in the city from five to 50 over the past five years, CEO Malcolm Barber told ARTnewsletter. Among the new categories of sale the company is planning for New York in the coming years are Japanese and Chinese art, contemporary Iranian art and contemporary Middle Eastern art, coins, wine and whiskey, jewelry, 19th-century furniture, and African, Oceanic and Pre-Columbian art.

In 2005, Bonhams’s New York operation was limited to a 5,000-square-foot gallery and saleroom on the sixth floor of the Fuller Building on 57th Street and Madison Avenue. Three years later, the auctioneer moved to its current 27,300-square-foot home at 55 East 52nd Street (the former location of the Dahesh Museum of Art), where it has four galleries and two salerooms. “The importance of New York is that it is a sales venue for many categories,” Barber said, particularly noting fine and contemporary art from around the world, jewelry, fine wines and motor cars.

This fall, Bonhams plans New York sales of European paintings (predominantly 19th-­century European paintings) Oct. 29, photography on Nov. 2, modern, contemporary and Latin American art on Nov. 9, and American paintings and sculpture.

Barber said that London remains the principal location for sales of Russian art and that the house’s auction rooms in Los Angeles and San Francisco are the preferred North American sites for sales of Asian works of art, as well as furniture and decorative arts.