Are the Europeans trumping us? Half a billion dollars in art sold Tuesday and Wednesday in New York, but for the first time in decades, American buyers didn’t win most of the masterpieces at the big spring sales at Sotheby’s and Christie’s. This not only means some great art is leaving the country but also that other nations are calling what’s hot. Christie’s auctioneer Christopher Burge said only 29 percent of the buyers last night were Americans; about half were Europeans and Russians, and the remaining artworks went to Asians and a group dubbed “others,” which covers Middle Eastern billionaires and Latin Americans. (Sotheby’s reported a similar breakdown Tuesday night.) Suffice it to say when Monte Carlo billionaire David Nahmad outbids Larry Gagosian for work by obscure Italian futurist movement painter Marino Marini, art history winds have shifted.
Artists with Euro followings — Feininger and Kirchner — also went thought the roof. Is it the weak dollar? The booming Berlin art scene? The fact that more and more Russians are pouring their oil, metal, and vodka fortunes into art? Whatever the case, Sotheby’s raised $279 million on Tuesday, with 90 percent of the artworks sold. Christie’s, in a jaunty three-hour sale of that alternated record breakers with a couple of jaw-dropping failures, offered more art but only made $236 million, with 68 out of 78 artworks sold. Next Tuesday, the fireworks begin in contemporary art. Sotheby’s is offering a gorgeous Rothko that has inspired a cult. Expect upwards of $50 million. —Alexandra Peers