Apparently not everyone is scrimping. Yesterday a collector paid more than $28 million for a leather armchair. The sale was about $25 million higher than the Christie's estimate and set a record for a work of 20th-century design at auction.
The sale came on the second day of Christie's three-day auction of the late Yves Saint Laurent's 733-piece collection, held at the Grand Palais in Paris. After spirited back and forth with an anonymous phone bidder, the winning bid came from Cheska Vallois, owner of the Paris gallery Vallois, which had originally sold the chair to Saint Laurent.
"We're absolutely amazed by what's happened, Edward Dolman, Christie's managing director, told Bloomberg. "There are still a lot of extremely wealthy people out there."
The chair was made in 1917, or slightly later, by Gray, an Irish architect and furniture designer, for her first commission as an interior decorator. With lacquered wooden armrests shaped like braided serpents, it shows her in transition from art nouveau to art deco.
It set a record in part because the body of collectors for 20th-century design has grown enormously over the last ten yeas as a new generation of collectors made modernism a fashionable subject of acquisition.
"My gut feeling is that this chair went as high as it did is because it's an Eileen Gray," said William L. Hamilton, who previewed the auction for Art in America. "She's always been a darling of design curators and collectors because she was a woman competing in a men's world, and because as a one-of-a kind object it would be perceived as art."
The Gray chair was not an isolated jackpot. The first two days of the auction brought in $391 million, surpassing Christie's expectations for the three-day event. A three foot wooden sculpture by Constantin Brancusi went for $36.7 million, almost $1 million more than the previous record for a Brancusi.
"Is there new confidence in the market? Who's to say?" Hamilton said. "I'm not sure it's indicative of anything.