Sotheby's held an auction on Wednesday, Nov.4, to sell off the collection of A. Alfred Taubman, the auction house's former chief. How did it go? In the words of auctioneer, Oliver Barker, it was a long night.
Marking the beginning of the fall season for global art buying, the auction represented one of Sotheby's biggest gambles as the auction house had put $500 million behind selling the Taubman's collection. There are four estate auctions scheduled but, going from the results of the first night, Sotheby's may be regretting assuming a lot of risk for the collection.
Overall, the sale brought in $377 million, including fees. That sounds like a lot of money but when you're gunning for at least a billion dollars, it's pretty dismal. In fact, the sale just barely passed the low estimate set at $375 million.
Will Sotheby's be posting a loss? Will the results of the Taubman auction affirm worries that top-end market demand for art is cooling off?
While the "Masterworks" sale can be considered a gauge of the aesthetic taste of Sotheby's past chief, it also gives the art industry a clue on whether or not the public has gotten over Taubman's misdeeds, which earned him a conviction in 2001 for price-fixing.
By committing to guarantee the sale, however, Sotheby's put its financials on the line. It would appear too that, by the end of the auction Wednesday, the auction house had not managed to off-load the financial risk to third-party guarantors.
Still, 90 percent of the collection had already been sold, with Tad Smith, Sotheby's chief executive and president, saying he was comfortable with the results of the auction for the night.
"With more than 400 works still to be sold over the next several months, we are on track to cover most of the total guarantee," he added.
Having started the season, Sotheby's could be considered a guinea pig of some sort for a buying period that has yet to shake out. A lot of art was still out there for sale and collectors had a lot of choices to make.
Taubman built his collection over the course of more than 60 years. He died in April at 91.