|lot 422, Sotheby's 16 September 2015 sale|
The estimate was an ambitious $800,000. to $1,200,000. USD.
|lot 424, Sotheby's 16 September 2015 sale|
|lot 425, Sotheby's 16 September 2015 sale|
I watched online and was stunned when one after the other, these and the other early Chinese Buddhist sculptures failed to sell. The beautiful stela, lot 422, was bought in at $780,000., the standing Bodhisattva, lot 424, was bought in at $620,000., and the Wei Buddha head, lot 425, reached only $52,000. One problem with auctions, particularly when one isn't actually in the room but even if you are, is that you don't know if there were any bids at all, the auctioneer could have been bidding off the chandeliers as they say. I hope there were actual bids and the failure to sell reflected that the bids never reached the consignor set reserve price. If that is the case, then perhaps there were buyers for the pieces, at fairly substantial prices but not at the estimated prices. The last piece, the Buddha head relief, might not have had a buyer at all, given the very low price it was bought in for, about a third of the estimate.
Right after the sale I called a colleague in New York who had previewed the sale and knows some prominent collector/scholars who were there as well. What he heard was that Chinese dealers were telling people that the pieces were fake, and apparently, they were believed. Why would a rather unimpressive small damaged Buddha sculpture in the Ellsworth sale, lot 755 in March 2015 sell for 1.5 million, and a large, complete stela of a Buddha fail to sell much less than that? It makes no sense at all.
What the failure of these very good pieces to sell reveal is the irrationality of the art market and how easily manipulated the buyers are. People are prone to believe the worst things they hear, and most cannot see with, or believe their own eyes. The pieces above are clearly authentic, regardless of what was whispered about them. That these naysayers were believed is an indictment of the shallowness of the understanding of the material on the part of the dealers and collectors who should know better. It also shows how irrational the valuation of works of art is, it is completely subjective, there is no objective way to tell if something will sell and what it will sell for. Everything depends upon the mood of the buyers and the spell cast by the marketing etc. on them. I've done very well in my life looking past all that for myself. However it is frustrating and damages faith in the market. Perhaps the failure to sell was due to the high estimates, and after the sale the pieces might sell privately. Let us hope so. The question I have is what motivates people to condemn pieces like this? Whose interest are they serving? If they believe this nonsense themselves, it exposes them as blind to art and ignorant, if they condemned the pieces falsely, this borders on criminal behavior. Such is the art market. Don't believe what you hear, learn to look for yourself.