Looking at the major Canadian art catalogues before the fall 2009 season you would have to say that the almost cataclysmic recession that we endured throughout the year never really happened. The offerings were excellent, and the estimates, for the most part, were as high – or higher – than the spring 2008 season before the economy went into a tailspin. Such a strong showing was certainly unexpected. Logic would have suggested that quality works would have been at a minimum and that prices would have been modest to say the least. But logic, it seems, does not apply to the Canadian art market. This past fall’s offerings were much like the Vancouver real estate market at that time – and continuing today. Prices were beginning to soar, higher in some cases than the boom market the previous summer, and competition for select properties had returned to the highest-bidder scenario. Recession! What recession?
Of course, I’m not complaining – about the auction season, that is. Nor the housing market come to think of it. The fact that there was such a strong showing last fall says a lot for the market's belief in Canadian art. At least, that’s what I prefer to believe. It might, of course, have been due to consignors’ somewhat belated response to the devastation of their investment portfolios. Seeing that the art market had survived better than most other investment vehicles over the past 12 months, they somehow felt safe – or less afraid - to put their works on the market to shore up their depleted financial portfolios.
Whatever the reason, collectors and investors were faced with a strong and positive season. While the pre-sale estimates suggested that the fall total would see an increase on the spring 2009 sales figures, there were a few ‘unknowns’ that many believed could put the season well over the top. How well were the two ‘iconic’ Harris sketches from the Band collection at Heffels going to do, for example? Were they going to exceed their pre-sale expectations of $3-4 million, and, if so, by how much? Some were even suggesting perhaps a new record for a Canadian painting at auction. Would the Tom Thomson sketches remain in favour, and, as we had seen so often in the past, would the contemporary and post-war markets manage to avoid their historical post-recession declines?
It took just one week of sales at the end of November to answer all the questions. The Canadian art market was back – and how! Records tumbled, estimates were left in tatters, and salerooms padded their bank accounts once again. While the $30 plus million that the season generated may not be enough, even with a great spring 2010 offering, to take the 2009/2010 year back to the heights of the Canadian market, experienced in 2008/09, it will certainly be enough upon which to build the next solid bull market for Canadian art. It was an excellent season and whets the appetite for what’s just around the corner with the coming spring season.