Crappy Art Market Fails to Take Revenge on Richard Fuld

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Is there no justice? Bargain shoppers snapped up most of Richard and Kathy Fuld’s drawings collection last night at Christie’s. The Lehman CEO and his wife, a vice-chairman at MoMA, had arranged to sell sixteen Abstract Expressionist drawings at auction shortly before Lehman Brothers said it would have to file for bankruptcy. Last night they finally hit the block. All but three sold, most for slightly less than the suggested prices. All told, the Fuld art (just a small portion of their large art collection) brought $13.5 million against an estimate of $14 million to $20 million. The shortfall wasn’t their problem, however: Christie’s had offered the Fulds a guarantee regardless of what happened at the sale.

“Whatever you want to say about them, they’re great drawings collectors,” said private dealer Andrew Terner, who overseas The Four Seasons’ art collection. “As for the overall sale, given what’s going on in the world outside, this was okay — but just okay.”

It felt like the whole room winced early in the sale when a Francis Bacon self-portrait expected to bring $40 million didn’t get above $27.5 million, and didn’t sell. Auctioneer Christopher Burge raced through similar “passes” of works by Warhol, Dubuffet and Brice Marden. Among the bidders sitting on their hands were John McEnroe, tennis star and onetime art-gallery owner. Amid the economy's slump, Christie’s sold two-thirds of the art it offered but only raised $113 million, less than half of what it had hoped to. More than 50 of the works that did sell brought less than the suggested bids printed in the catalogs.

There were just a couple of bidding wars. Seemingly everyone wanted a delicate painting by Yayoi Kusama, possibly because star-making dealer Larry Gagosian has just begun to show the veteran Japanese artist’s work. It brought $5.7 million, double its estimate, selling to New York dealer Philippe Segalot, who has sometimes bought for billionaire François Pinault. Another bright spot was the $13.5 million a telephone bidder spent on Jean-Michel Basquiat’s huge painting of a boxer. It was being sold by Metallica drummer Lars Ulrich.

Tonight’s last big sale of the fall art-auction season may be the most nerve-racking of all, as Phillips de Pury offers cutting-edge art — exactly the sort of unproven works that may head south as the art-market bubble bursts.

There were just a couple of bidding wars. Seemingly everyone wanted a delicate painting by Yayoi Kusama, possibly because star-making dealer Larry Gagosian has just begun to show the veteran Japanese artist’s work. It brought $5.7 million, double its estimate, selling to New York dealer Philippe Segalot, who has sometimes bought for billionaire François Pinault. Another bright spot was the $13.5 million a telephone bidder spent on Jean-Michel Basquiat’s huge painting of a boxer. It was being sold by Metallica drummer Lars Ulrich.