Barring a miracle, it looks very much like the run of 11 consecutive annual gains for Canadian art sales will come to an end this spring, despite some exceptional paintings on offer. The spring season will need to generate around $30/$35 million to push the 2007-08 year above the $65million recorded for the 2006-07 season. Given the pre-sale expectations of the three major Canadian art salerooms it will need some exceptional results to make this a reality. Even with the addition of one extra saleroom putting its spoils into the pot this spring, the combined pre-sale estimate of Sotheby’s, Joyners and Heffel sits at $17/24 million and if they don’t do better than estimate then it won’t be enough to keep the annual drive alive. Bonhams, the world’s third largest auction house, will be holding its first sale in Canada in June with a mixed sale of Canadian and international works, and the Canadian session looks like it might well add a million or two to the overall sales total, but unless the market seriously challenges the upper end of the triumvirates’ estimates it won’t be enough to ensure a twelfth consecutive annual sales gain.
Why is this exceptional market run coming to an end? Is it the long-awaited correction that we have heard so much about – for years? Or is it because, as some critics would have you believe, the art market is following in the footsteps of several other “investment” markets which are suffering from serious setbacks at this time and cannot sustain investor interest and confidence? The answer, most likely, is neither.
Speaking with several of the auctioneers prior to the spring sales they all agree that the money is there, the collectors and investors are still there – but the consignments, at least the quantity of important consignments, aren’t. More significantly, the major collections are missing. Heffel’s two previous outstanding sales that together generated well over $40 million were largely the result of one or two exceptional collections that the saleroom was fortunate enough to secure. High-profile, high-ticket collections are not forthcoming this time around.
Whether this is because consignors are nervous about the general state of the financial markets and are holding back, or whether it’s because it’s just not time for the next group of important collections to hit the market we don’t know. What we do know is that without these major collections the market will be struggling to post the kind of results we have come to expect in recent years. The kind of results we need to see the phenomenal annual sales record continue its unprecedented upward journey.