2008 in Review: Five Memorable Auction Lots

By Judd Tully

NEW YORK—In a year of staggering changes and banner headline news, from the election of a new American president to the unraveling of a multibillion-dollar Ponzi scheme, the art market had its own rollercoaster ride of record-shattering marks and stomach-churning declines.Thanks to the seismic upheavals in the world equity markets, some newbie collectors, such as Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich, burst upon the auction and art fair stage last spring only to disappear just as quickly.Without them, the auction houses’ stated goal of continued growth through tapping new collectors in Asia, the Middle East, and the former Soviet Union fell silent and vanished like Bernie Madoff’s billions. Instead, the houses now face a bleaker picture: a round of sobering layoffs and restructuring, the word “guarantee” stricken from the lexicon (it’s the equivalent of “sub-prime mortgage” to the banking community), and a new realism that immunizes market watchers to the comforting chimes of specialists spinning a falling market as one that is masterpiece driven and ideally suited for seasoned collectors long sidelined by the recent wild surge of prices.The picture will get clearer in early February with the new year’s first significant rounds of Impressionist, modern, and contemporary art auctions in London. Until then, here’s a quick review of the some of the most memorable lots of 2008.
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