YORK — The painting once hung in the Cleveland Museum
of Art. And there was no shortage of people who wanted
it in the crowded Christie’s auction room.
artwork, "Women Reaching for the Moon," is a
blur of a woman in a red dress. It was painted by Rufino
Tamayo, the famed Mexican creator of abstract works that
combine European and Latino influences. Though bidding
started at $500,000, it quickly reached $1 million. The
standing-room-only crowd murmured as auctioneer Adrian
Meyer parried with the remaining bidders, and workers
wheeled in rows of extra chairs.
at the painting, at least face it. You still have a
chance," Meyer said to a woman in the audience who
had been bidding, as the price went up to $1.2 million.
"For $50,000, it could be yours."
Meyer finally knocked his hammer against the lectern,
signaling that the painting had sold for $1.2 million,
"Women Reaching for the Moon" became the most
expensive work to pass through Christie’s for the
evening. The auction, held last month, was part of
Christie’s biannual sale of Latin American art.
it was not the most expensive to be sold at the auction
house this season.
October, Christie’s sold a triptych by renowned
British figurative painter Francis Bacon for $142.4
million, a record price for a painting at auction. The
auction house also set a record for the most expensive
work by a living artist when it sold a steel sculpture,
"Balloon Dog" by American contemporary artist
Jeff Koons, for $58.4 million.
may still be worried about consumer spending as the
holiday season approaches, but if the art market is any
indication, the world’s wealthiest have lots of money
small groups of people get richer in various countries
across the world, observers say, they’re putting money
into art both to gain status and invest in something
new. Many have never put their money into art before.
we’re seeing is that wealth is expanding in Latin
America and the Middle East," said Phillip Hoffman,
head of the Fine Art Fund Group, which consults with
wealthy clients who want to buy art. "The new rich
like to enjoy art, show it off, have it as an
company is 30 times bigger than it was three years ago,
he said, as more wealthy clients become interested in
owning art. He has 120 clients — most from Asia,
Europe and Latin America — who have never owned art
before. In fact, one of them dropped $67 million on two
3 percent of the world’s wealthy now own art, but
Hoffman estimates that figure will grow to 30 percent to
40 percent in the next decade.
as an investment really didn’t come into vogue until
the British Rail Pension Fund, which had begun acquiring
art in the 1970s, began to divest of its artworks, said
Barbara Guggenheim, of the art consultancy Guggenheim
Asher Associates. The sales, which mostly occurred in
the 1980s and 1990s, netted tens of millions of dollars
for the fund, leading to an 11 percent return.
the very first time, Wall Street had something very
concrete to look at as a model," she said.
"And Wall Street loves graphs."
global art market is now worth about $60 billion.
days, though, it’s not just art. Wary of losing wealth
in the shaky stock market, the super wealthy are also
putting money into alternative investments, such as
classic cars, wine, gems and watches. Sotheby’s sold a
giant, flawless pink diamond for $83 million in Geneva
last month, the highest ever paid for a gemstone at
as sales of other luxuries go up, art can go hand in
hand, said Martin Friedrichs, assistant director of the
Hollis Taggart galleries on New York’s Upper East
a boom of high-end condos here, and people need
something to put on their walls," he said. "It’s
much nicer to hang a piece of art than a printout from
your online brokerage account."
kinds of high-end investments have been surging as the
number of millionaires around the world has increased
dramatically in recent years.
to Wealth Insight, a British firm that tracks global
wealth, the number of millionaires in China grew 90
percent between 2007 and 2012. The number of
billionaires in that country grew 400 percent from 2008
to 2012. And the number of high-net-worth individuals in
the Asia-Pacific region grew 29 percent between 2007 and
buyers bid heavily for modern art: Picassos, for
example. But Hoffman said they’ve also begun to invest
in Chinese antiquities.
wealth among the rich in Mexico has led to more
competition for Mexican and other Latin American art, as
collectors with more money begin to buy works by artists
from multiple countries.
Mexico, the number of millionaires grew 32 percent
between 2007 and 2012, according to WealthInsight. There
were 145,000 millionaires in that country by the end of
2012, holding $736 billion.
seen in the past five to seven years clients who did not
exist before who are buying quite heavily," said
Gabriela Lobo, director of Christie’s Mexico.
driven up the price of some Latin American artists who
barely sold at all a decade ago. At the Latin American
art auction, a painting by Austrian-Mexican artist
Wolfgang Paalen sold for $200,000; pre-auction estimates
had valued the painting at $40,000 to $60,000.
of these things, we couldn’t give them away, or we’d
sell them for nothing," Lobo said. "Now there’s
a bigger market for these names."
Uribe flew to New York from Miami for the Christie’s
auction with his wife and bid on a work by Carlos Cruz-Diez.
They were outbid. Two out of three of the works for sale
by the Venezuelan artist sold for tens of thousands more
than Christie’s top estimates.
have to have a budget," Uribe said.
he wishes he’d been able to walk away with something.
will get more valuable," he said.
still not clear whether art is actually a smart
investment, especially since the market is considered
opaque because many deals are done in private. This puts
even more value on the public auctions to gauge how art
might be appreciating or depreciating.
are periods where art outperforms equities and periods
where it underperforms, but the important thing is that
it has a low correlation with equities," he said.
1987 to 2012, the Mei Moses World All Art index showed
an average annual return of 5 percent, while the
Standard & Poor’s 500 index added 9.6 percent.
Over 60 years, the art index showed average annual
returns of 9.5 percent, while the S&P was up 10.3
for many super-rich with extra money on hand, it doesn’t
matter whether the artwork becomes more valuable or
less. They like to look at it on their walls, regardless
of what it costs.
don’t buy to sell, but we know it is going to be an
asset," Uribe said. "But if it loses value, I