Why A Record-breaking $ 120 Million Art Sale For “Scream” Isn’t So High A Price For Some

A whisper runs through the packed house as the stakes rise. The screen behind the auctioneer shows the number 99 followed by six zeros: $ 99 million. In a way, it seems incomplete. Everyone is silently waiting for new auctions, but there is a lull. A Sotheby’s executive holding a telephone receiver in one hand takes a few minutes: the customer on the other end of the line needs more time. “Of course,” said accommodating auctioneer Tobias Meyer before leaning forward towards the audience, a relaxed smile on his face, “For 99 million you can have all the time in the world.”

Seconds later, the unknown telephone bidder bid another million. His rival bidder is rapidly increasing by another million. At that point, it became clear that – this Wednesday night in New York City – Meyer made auction history with Edvard Munch’s pastel drawing “The Scream.” For the first time, a work of art has crossed the $ 100 million mark at public auction.

Meyer energetically dropped the hammer to $ 107 million (€ 81.3 million). “I am selling this work for a historic sum,” he said. Munch’s drawing dates from 1895 and was the only one of four world-famous “Screams” created by the artist that was still in private hands. And it just officially became the most expensive painting ever sold at public auction. The Norwegian artist had beaten the super seller Picasso, the previous record holder. Unconfirmed reports say the buyer is the ruling Qatari family.

Picasso’s painting “Nude, Green Leaves and Bust” fetched $ 106.5 million at auction in May 2010 – auction house buying commission already factored in: actual hammer price was just below the $ 100 million mark. But the milestone is now crossed, and if you add the buyer’s commission to the hammer price of “The Scream”, you have the sensational final price of 119.9 million dollars (about 91 million euros).

There was something a little surreal about how easily the millions were rising that night, as casually as if they were Smarties. And it was striking once again how remote the art market is from the rest of the economy – in fact, everyone is talking, even everything. thought, a worsening of the crisis only reinforces it. The sky is the limit for people with the kind of money to invest in stellar works of art.

This explains the alleged $ 250 million paid during a private sale in the spring of 2011 for a version of Paul Cézanne’s “Card Players”. The prices paid in private transactions like these are considerably higher than the prices charged in public sales.

Pollack, Klimt and “aryanized” art

The same goes for Jackson Pollock’s painting “No. 5, 1948” which American entertainment entrepreneur David Geffen sold in 2006 for $ 140 million to a Mexican collector. For the Neue Galerie in Manhattan, co-founder Ronald Lauder purchased Gustav Klimt’s “Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I” for $ 135 million in a private sale.

But whether it is public or private purchases: the number of people who can afford world-famous masterpieces by Munch and Cézanne is very limited. At the recent New York auction, the auction lasted around 15 minutes, and the few others that were initially there quickly plummeted as the price hit $ 80 million, the original estimate.

Only two experts from Sotheby’s were still on the phone with the bidders at that time: Charles Moffett and Stéphane Connery, both vice-presidents of Sotheby’s New York. Moffett’s client bid very quickly and made the winning bid. As Moffett is also Sotheby’s Global Vice President for Impressionist, Modern and Contemporary Art, his range of collectors and contacts is so vast that even speculation about the identity of his bidder is unproductive, as good a guess as it is. another one.

What we do know, however, is what the seller of “The Scream”, the collector Petter Olsen, plans to do with the record sum of his works of art: in his field in Norway, he plans to open a Munch museum. Prior to the sale, questions of provenance had been broadcast in the media, asking whether a German Jewish owner had to sell the work, purchased by the Olsen family in 1937, for financial reasons. But that, along with the reviews of the German collector’s heirs auction, were not issues that day.

Which begs the question, which also arose when the Klimt portrait of Adèle Bloch-Bauer changed hands, if the inconsistencies of provenance are not one of the attractions of certain works and therefore one of the reasons why such high prices are paid for them. The sale of two portraits of Bloch-Bauer, the wife of a Jewish entrepreneur, marked the end of a 60-year conflict over the return of “Aryanized” works of art by the Nazis. This was not a problem with the recently sold “Scream” although it was also affected by the 20 game.e ideologies of the century.

Another thing to note about the recent sale: just because it’s Munch doesn’t mean the price will always be stratospheric. One of the other works of art in Sotheby’s sale, which brought in a total of $ 331 million (251 million euros), was a “Summer Night” by the Norwegian – and it did not find any Buyer.

Read the original article in German

Photo – Katie Lips

Laura J. Boyer