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Art buyers find few investment masterpieces
It was only when Jussi Pylkkänen was climbing down from the auctioneer’s rostrum that he realised the scale of what had just happened.
Having presided over the sale of a ravishing nude by Amedeo Modigliani for $170m, it struck him that this surpassed any previous auction figure achieved for the Italian artist’s work — by a staggering $100m.
“I knew the record would be broken, but not by how much. When you get a work that suddenly makes $100m more, that is the greatest single leap,” says the global president of Christie’s.
Since that New York sale in November 2015, auction records for individual artists have continued to tumble, underlining the appetite of super-rich collectors for the most desirable works of art. The global caravan of auctions, gallery shows and art fairs, which this week pauses in London for the annual Frieze fair, rumbles on in anticipation of the next masterwork to be offered for sale.
Many of those buying high-value art argue that the money involved is less important than gaining possession of a unique object of unimpeachable beauty or artistic value (and, perhaps, the chance to stand out from the gilded crowd). The idea of art as an investment is a secondary function, if at all. “You’re supposed to buy art because you like it. It’s a terribly corny phrase, but you get a ‘dividend of pleasure’,” says Bendor Grosvenor, a broadcaster and former art dealer.