The Art Market

June 5, 1987

Report Outline
Special Focus


The art sale held May 11 at Sotheby's auction house in New York represented the sort of landmark that has become increasingly common these days: yet another record price paid for works of art. By the time chief auctioneer John I. Marion brought down his small handless hammer for the last time that night, the glamorous crowd of international art lovers had spent $63.6 million for 94 works of painting and sculpture—more than any single-day art sale in history. That amount broke the previous record of $62.1 million set less than two months before at Christie's auction house in London.

The March 30 Christie's sale also set another record, which stirred intense worldwide interest—the $39.9 million paid for Vincent van Gogh's 1888 painting. “Sunflowers.” The sale price, paid by a Japanese insurance company, was more than three times the previous record paid for a work of art. yet even that record may be challenged later this month, when Christie's offer another Van Gogh work, “The Bridge at Trinquetaille.” Experts predict that the painting, to be auctioned June 29 in London, could reach a comparable price level.

Those records—and a host of others being set almost daily, it seems, for every sort of art work—are the most visible signs of basic changes that are taking place in the way art is bought and sold. Once the domain of a small group of dealers and collectors, who discreetly arranged transactions among themselves, the art market has become a multibillion-dollar worldwide business that generates the media coverage sophisticated financial strategies and vast potential profits of others major industries. New forces—notably. wealthy Japanese and American enriched by successes in finance and real estate—have muscled their way into the market, greatly increasing the flow of money chasing a limited supply of art.

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