I was able to do a quick round of visits to the auction previews yesterday afternoon, in advance of next week’s sales at Christie’s, Sotheby’s, Phillips and Bloomsbury. In talking with a variety of specialists, the common theme is one of palpable nervousness about just how much the chaos in the financial markets will affect the sales. I was advised more than once that it might be a good idea to “be in the room” for these sales, as no one knows what might happen and some interesting lots may be available at unexpected prices. (Since we never go to any auctions in person, this isn’t really applicable to us, but I understand the underlying point.) Here are some unscientific remarks about each preview:
Sotheby’s: Sotheby’s had the most action of the previews I went to. All four specialists were around, answering questions and circulating. During the time I was there, there were only a couple of other collectors (who shall remain nameless) beyond myself who were actually looking at work out of the frames, but there were a handful of others milling about, including one tour group (?). In addition to the various owner sale preview, there are a selection of images from the upcoming Jammes sale on view in an adjacent room.
Christie’s: At Christie’s, the various owner and Eggleston sales are jammed into rooms on the main floor, with the larger contemporary work upstairs. I was the only one looking at work out of the frames while I was there, although there were at least two other real collectors milling around. There was one specialist working each floor while I was there, although there didn’t seem to be much for them to do. There is a sale of musical instruments going on concurrently, so the rooms are filled with snippets of classical music (buyers testing out the instruments).
Bloomsbury: I had not been to Bloomsbury prior to my visit; it is located on the second floor of a random building on 48th street, not far from Rockefeller Center and Christie’s. This preview had some excitement, as all the specialists and staff were milling around, trying to be helpful, friendly and welcoming. It’s a relatively small viewing space (about the size of a medium sized gallery), so it doesn’t take long to single out the works you are there to see. Overall, I was impressed with the fresh sense of paying attention to the clients.
Phillips: I think I must have visited Phillips at an off time, as the preview was a ghost town: no specialists, virtually no staff save the guards, and very few visitors. These are cavernous spaces, so they feel very empty if you are the only one wandering around (every footfall reverberates). They have several rooms of gallery like exhibitions up at the same time as the preview (in adjacent rooms), which is a bit confusing, as it is not immediately clear what is in the sale and what is not. If this preview is representative of the mood of the marketplace given the overall financial distress, it’s going to be a bloodbath next week.
It seems clear to me from these visits that there are going to be some bargains available at these sales, and those with some liquidity will be able to take advantage of the situation. That said, whether collectors (ourselves included) will feel confident enough to open their wallets at all (even with these opportunities available) is, I think, still very uncertain.