Haggling Hopper: “Chop Suey” Sets American Modern Art Auction Record

Those of you who are regular subscribers may recall that, back in September, I mentioned that one of the last great masterpieces by the American Modern artist Edward Hopper (1882-1967) not already part of a permanent museum collection was coming up for sale. You may also recall my prediction that the pre-sale estimate of $70 million seemed rather low, particularly given both popular interest in Hopper, and the fame of the painting in question. “Chop Suey” (1929) is one of the artist’s best-known works, and has been used on everything from book covers to commercial animation shorts.

So it comes as no surprise to this scrivener that “Chop Suey” sold at Christie’s in New York last night for $91.9 million, more than double the previous record for a Hopper work sold at auction. Not only did the painting sell for well over its estimate, but the final result isn’t too far off the $100 million price tag I put on it. In fact, the final price would have been $95.9 million, except that Christie’s had to pay a third-party bidder $4 million in fees.

There’s no word yet on who bought the picture, or where it will end up next, but one suspects that at some point after the dust settles, it’s going to go on long-term loan to a museum. This is the sort of astronomically pricey bauble that, if you hang it above the living room fireplace, will cause your homeowner’s insurance premium to go through the roof. An interesting aspect of the bizarre times in which we live is that you could be fortunate enough to have a dining room full of great paintings by an Old Master, like these, but your household insurance assessment will be less than if your dining room only had a single work by a Modern or Contemporary artist on display.

Of course, this begs the question of whether “Chop Suey” *should* be valued at $100 million, as noted in The New York Times’ reporting on this story:

“Really, $100 million for a Hopper? I don’t know how they come up with these valuations,” said Howard Rehs, a New York gallerist specializing in American art, who, like other dealers, expressed incredulity at some of the estimates put on works in a “gigaweek” of Christie’s, Sotheby’s and Phillips art auctions that could raise at least $1.8 billion.

Of course, I’ve already explained how I guessed at an $100 million valuation when “Chop Suey” was announced for sale: it comes down to a combination of fame, rarity, marketing, and at least two very large egos with wallets to match. In a free market, as the Da Vinci “Salvator Mundi” sale showed, if two such mega-egos with significant funds at their disposal wish to jack up the price on a work of art by bidding against one another until one or the other gives up, then there’s nothing to stop them from doing so. We may not like it, and think it rather tacky or a waste of resources, but more fool they.

Lest one think that the dealers are innocents in all of this, as if they were merely people who just hang a picture on a wall or put a statue on a plinth, then stand back in amazement at the actions of the very wealthy, consider the dual nature of the Rehs Gallery itself, whose founder is quoted in the Times piece above. One incarnation of the gallery sells American bourgeois paintings of the 19th and 20th centuries, featuring the sort of images that are easy to like: romantic streetscapes of Paris in the rain, beautiful women and children playing with puppies, etc. But turn to their Contemporary Art entity and you’ll find a weird mixture of exactly the same sort of images, albeit 21st century versions of them, with plenty of porn and $4,000 graffiti “art” thrown in: just perfect for that little breakfast room in a Westchester County Mock Tudor.

That being said, everyone – not just dealers – working in or following the art market knows that there’s a bubble in the sale prices for Modern and Contemporary Art. It’s mentioned so often in the art press, that it’s practically become conventional wisdom at this point. Everyone is waiting for a crash to happen, and the only question seems to be, when will it arrive and how bad will it be? While there is evidence of price declines here and there with the work of individual artists, there hasn’t yet been the kind of catastrophic implosion, à la tulip fever back in the 17th century, that could restore some semblance of reasonableness to the market.

This then causes me to wonder: well, *IS* there, in fact, a bubble in the art market? The Hopper sale seems to belie that there is, and his coattails may well bring a lot of other representational (i.e., non-abstract) American artists from the first half of the 20th century along with him into the world of even higher sales prices, including Georgia O’Keeffe, George Bellows, and others. In the meantime, we shall just have to keep our eyes open, and see what happens.

subas

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The Courtier in The Federalist: Visit The Rockies And The Alps In One Location At Newark Museum

My latest for The Federalist is up this morning for your perusal. In it, I talk about my recent visit to the excellent exhibition, “The Rockies and the Alps: Bierstadt, Calame, and the Romance with the Mountains,” as well as acknowledge the fact that I have been remiss, in all of these years traveling to and from New York, in never stepping off the train to visit the Newark Museum before now – and I suspect many of my subscribers can say the same. I also discuss how exhibitions and institutions such as this, which are a vital part of our local communities, can be a great resource for homeschoolers, if they and the leaders of these institutions take advantage of the opportunity to work together.

A very special thank you to William L. Coleman, Associate Curator of American Art, and everyone at the Newark Museum, for a great tour and visit of their fascinating collections. If you find yourself in or passing through New Jersey this summer, as many will on their way to the Jersey Shore or to New York City, do stop in and make a day of it: there is so much to see within the vast complex of buildings, from fine art and decorative objects, to antiquities and scientific specimens. And as always I must gratefully acknowledge my editor, Federalist Executive Editor Joy Pullman, for creating something readable out of my excessively wordy musings.

SArgentOHara

3 Good Things for Monday

It’s Monday, it’s the dog days of summer, and…well, it’s Monday. So here are 3 good things I wanted to share:

1. HELPING THE HERMIT IS NOW TAX-DEDUCTIBLE!

Regular readers know that, along with my friends Kevin Lowry and Jon Marc Grodi, over the past few months we’ve been trying to help our friend Brother Rex Anthony Norris establish a permanent Franciscan hermitage up in Maine.  I’m pleased to announce that our project, Friends of Little Portion Hermitage, recently received 501(c)(3) status, meaning your donations are now tax-deductible!  Please consider helping out this great cause, whether you can give $1 or $10,000 or anything you fancy, and also please consider sharing the FLPH site with anyone you think may be able to help.

You can also check out Brother Rex’s daily thoughts on the project’s Twitter and Facebook pages, and leave him prayer requests via the website. He loves to pray for others and in fact that’s how he spends a lot of his day, in prayer.  Don’t hesitate to ask for him to remember your intentions, he is always glad to help.

2. UPCOMING BLOG TOURS (AND GIVEAWAYS)

Okay, so this might technically be more than one good piece of news, but let’s not quibble, shall we? I’m honored to once again be part of two upcoming blog tours, for some forthcoming books from Image Books, the Catholic imprint at Random House.  In September I’ll be part of the blog tour for “The Feasts”, the forthcoming book co-written by DC’s Archbishop, Donald Cardinal Wuerl, and well-known Catholic author, speaker, and broadcaster Mike Aquilina.  The book takes a look at the history and traditions surrounding many of the feasts of the Church, from Epiphany to Easter to All Saints, and everything in between. I’ll be tackling the chapter on Christmas, and you can check out my review on September 16th.

Continuing in the Christmas vein, this December I’ll also be on the blog tour for Scott Hahn’s forthcoming book, “Joy to the World”.  In this new book Dr. Hahn, the prolific writer and very familiar Catholic theologian and speaker, takes a look at the birth of Jesus from the perspective of a family story.  I’ll be sharing my review of his latest with you on December 9th,

And in both cases, gentle reader, thanks to the generosity of Random House, I’ll be offering a giveaway of each book once my review appears – so stay tuned.

3. ART EVERYWHERE, NOW UNDERWAY

The Art Everywhere project, which regular readers will remember my informing you about, has now begun in New York’s Times Square.  Soon it will be spreading to other cities around the U.S., and last through the month of August.  The goal is to encourage people not only to appreciate the rich history of American art, using some of the most popular images from our museums, but also to learn and explore more by actually visiting these great institutions.

Be sure to keep your eyes peeled for the over 50,000 billboards, train platforms, city buses and other public advertising areas around the country which will be featuring 56 works, selected by the public, to celebrate American art.  You can also follow the project on Twitter at @arteverywhereus, and use the hashtag #arteverywhere when you see some of the campaign’s billboards where you are.  I’m really looking forward to seeing where some of the images will be popping up around town over the course of this month.

Art Everywhere billboard in Times Square, New York City

Art Everywhere billboard in Times Square, New York City