Every four years, the fall sales in New York coincide with the presidential election, as they’re always held the second week of November. With that comes a degree of uncertainty, since the election of a new leader can upend markets and shift buying decisions.
The uncertainty has, of course, been particularly dramatic this year, especially now that Donald J. Trump has been elected president, and auction chairmen and art fair directors are trying to make sense of the immediate effects on the art market. But with the stock markets climbing upward—the Dow was up about 1.4 percent by its close on Wednesday afternoon—and the sense that a Republican chokehold on Washington may mean tax cuts for the wealthy, some are saying that not only will the auctions next week be unaffected, but that the new regime could actually spur on sales.
“Trump is probably better for the art market if you analyze it,” said Amy Cappellazzo, co-head of the Fine Arts Department at Sotheby’s, which will hold its contemporary and Impressionist-modern sales next week.
Cappellazzo hastened to add that she would have preferred a Trump loss over a market strengthened by a Trump presidency—a sympathy echoed by other sources who agreed to speak. (Many people, not surprisingly, declined to discuss the subject, or were still processing the information today, just hours after Trump’s shocking upset over Hillary Clinton.)
But even if the often left-leaning heads of auction houses and art fairs were horrified at the results, they had to admit that a scenario in which the super wealthy receive massive tax cuts, along with deregulation that can help the one percent to pad their coffers, could create even more opportunity for art purchases.
“You have to separate the confusion and disappointment in the art world, and the macro-economic realities,” said Benjamin Genocchio, the director of the Armory Show, which will have its next edition in New York in March 2017. “That’s the paradox of the situation: the kind of people who participate in the art market are looking at a huge financial windfall.”
Genocchio added that the Armory Show has already sold all of its booths, so he wouldn’t be affected by any dealers getting cold feet right before the booth application process. And, because the show is still a few months away, there’s time for collectors’ nerves to settle before he needs them to open their wallets on Piers 92 and 94 in Manhattan.
“By the time you get to the Armory Show there’ll be sufficient transition,” he said.
Genocchio said that he watched the returns at the Tribeca loft of the French performance artist Orlan, with a number of art-world luminaries, the bad news numbed by red wine.
“It was meant to be a celebration and it turned into a funeral,” he said. “People were shocked and people started drifting away.”
(One silver lining from Genocchio: “We’re going to have a first lady that you can find naked pictures of on the internet, so that’s an achievement for democracy.”)
But while artists, dealers, and fair directors might be mourning today, it’s well known that many collectors supported the Republican candidate—even if they found fault in his sexual predatory nature, his promise to deport Americans on the basis of their religious beliefs, and his complete lack of foreign policy experience—if solely for the reason that he would work to increase their already massive wealth.
“It’s hard to believe, but some of our clients will be really happy that Trump won,” Cappellazzo said. “If anyone’s just looking at their taxes, they’re happy.”
Next week’s sales should be safe from any post-Trump hit as well, auction specialists maintained. Sara Friedlander, the head of the postwar and contemporary evening sale at Christie’s, said that, despite the timing of the auctions just days after the election, they will not be affected.
“The feeling is that our underlying business remains strong, and the clients are going to continue to be there,” she said over the phone. “There will be some volatility, so I don’t want to speculate. But I think that business right now feels like business as usual.”
(Friedlander also acknowledged that it’s a dark day, and that there are other, more important issues to deal with when Americans deliver the presidency to an unhinged reality television star.)
While an auction with a set number of lots can probably escape these uncertain times unscathed, it’s not clear how a gigantic mega-fair like Art Basel Miami Beach, which opens in just a few weeks with more than 260 exhibitors, will fare.
“The business reality is probably going to have an affect on Miami because of a dampened feelings of the buyers,” Genocchio said.
Art Basel seemed unconcerned, and responded with the following statement: “With this news being so fresh it will take time to understand the impact, as with any major political transition. For now, it is impossible for Art Basel or anyone else to predict how this will impact the market for art, over both the short- and long-term. At this moment, we are not aware of any immediate impact on the fair, and are looking forward to welcoming the international art world to Miami Beach in a couple of weeks.”
If anything, a period of economic turmoil could present opportunities to buyers akin to the the collapse of the financial markets in 2008.
“I’ve spoken with a lot of clients about what they didn’t do in 2008, when the world felt like it was going to shit,” Friedlander said, “and they’ve learned that there are great opportunities in these circumstances—Calders that they sat on, Warhols, etcetera.”
And Cappellazzo said that, when people feel their world is coming apart, they seek out beauty in any form to get through it.
“Pictures are great solace,” she said. “I had a meeting this morning and I’m looking at all these pictures—now, I don’t normally spend a lot of time looking at Thomas Hart Benton, but I felt really good looking at these pictures, looking at art. It was a great solace to me. So people will want their art more, perhaps.”
Update, November 9, 5:56 p.m.: This post has been updated to include the statement from Art Basel.