A child-size sculpture of Adolf Hitler fetched $17.2 million, leading two evening auctions that proceeded at a steady, if not frenzied, clip on Sunday in New York.
Maurizio Cattelan’s kneeling Hitler, consigned by money manager David Ganek, set an auction record for the Italian artist and exceeded the high presale estimate of $15 million at Christie’s.
Sunday’s sales kicked off a week of semiannual bellwether auctions that have a combined target estimate of $1.1 billion to $1.6 billion. The stakes are high: After five years of growth, the global art market is slowing down. The separate sales of contemporary art at Christie’s and Phillips offered 76 lots that tallied $124.7 million. That’s less than the $141.3 million a lone Alberto Giacometti sculpture fetched a year ago.
“That’s largely a result of a contracting market,” Ed Dolman, chief executive officer of Phillips, a boutique auction house owned by Russia’s Mercury Group, said about the decline from a year earlier. “We are going to see smaller sales across the board.”
The auction houses were competing for consignments amid falling oil prices, underperforming hedge funds and greater scrutiny of the art market. Despite the smaller tallies and fewer masterpieces than a year ago, both houses sold more than 90 percent of the lots offered, a reassuring sign for the market. Prices include buyer’s commission; estimates don’t.
“There’s a great deal of money in people’s hands willing to invest in the works of art,” Dolman said.
Christie’s special auction “Bound to Fail” tallied $78.1 million, within its target range but nine times less than its themed sale in May 2015. All but one of the 39 offered works found buyers and seven artist records were established. In addition to Cattelan, these included Daniel Buren, Rebecca Horn and Paola Pivi.
“Each object was hand-picked for the sale,” said Brett Gorvy, Christie’s global head of postwar and contemporary art. “It was very difficult to get these works from collectors in a market that’s apprehensive.” The auction house made an effort to keep the estimates conservative to inspire bidding, he said.