The Back Room: Black Friday

This week in the Back Room: Dealers deepen their discounts, Cheim & Read announces closure, an operatic Fragonard, and much more.

Photo by Rolf Vennenbernd/picture alliance via Getty Images.

Every Friday, Artnet News Pro members get exclusive access to the BackRoom, our lively recap funneling only the week’s must-know intel into a nimble read you’ll actually enjoy.

This week in The Back Room: Dealers deepen their discounts, Cheim & Read announces closure, an operatic Fragonard, and much more—all in a 5-minute read (1,421 words).

Top of the Market
Low-Key Panic

Given that it’s the day after Thanksgiving in the U.S. and many of our readers are likely still stuffed from yesterday’s dinner, we’ll keep today’s Back Room on the lean side. Today is also known as Black Friday—the international consumer event marking big sales on lots of things most of us don’t really need—so we figured there is no better day to take a closer look at the state of deals and discounts in the art world.

Discounting prices by a small margin (usually around 10 percent) to close a primary market sale is widely considered the norm within the art trade. However, inflationary pressure and economic uncertainty have slowed sales down in 2023 and many dealers are desperate to move more work before the year is out. This is leading to more creative (or just purely commercial) attempts to entice buyers.

For smaller galleries especially, there is a sense of low-key panic: even as inflation rates ebb, operating and labor costs are on the rise and many need to make a few sales just to cover their bills at this juncture. Several New York galleries have already closed this year, the latest casualty being Cheim & Read, which just announced it would close after 26 years in business, as Artnet’s Vivenne Chow reports. Others with some capital still to hand doubled down and scaled up with larger or additional spaces hoping that growing would keep them from going. This includes Tiwani Contemporary and Alison Jacques which expanded in London, as well as London’s Stuart Shave Modern Art and Cologne-based Zander Galerie, which opened new spaces in Paris.

As we look ahead to Miami Art Week in December with Art Basel Miami Beach (ABMB), Untitled, New Art Dealers Alliance (NADA), and other satellite fairs and events representing the last major sales opportunity of theyear, here are three key selling strategies we’re expecting to see on the fair floors:

1. Deeper Discounts

By and large, taking a little off the top of a sale price to either build a relationship with a client or secure a good (i.e. prestigious) provenance for a work is seen as standard operating procedure for most galleries. But 20 percent may be the new 10 percent this season, even with an exchange rate that is favorable to the dollar. Earlier in the fall, Frieze London and Paris+ by Art Basel yielded fewer sales than hoped according to some galleries. Now many are headed to Miami ready to play limbo and will see just how low they can go.

2. Price Matching

Prices overall might not be falling, even with the discounts, but they’re not rising either. If you saw a work by a well-known artist cheaper somewhere else or even a few years ago, we hear a gallery will match it for you on the artist’s latest work. From what it sounds like, the prices on the previews sent to collectors in advance of Miami are suggestions at best.

3. Buy-One-Get-One

Who doesn’t love a BOGO deal? Art Basel announced their Access online sales platform this week, which allows collectors to buy featured works from a handful of ABMB exhibitors directly through the app if they also include a discretionary donation (minimum 10 percent of the artwork’s sale price) to either The Miami Foundation or The International Committee of theRed Cross (ICRC). The buyer walks away with not only a work of art but also a philanthropy gold star—and presumably an additional tax deduction they can claim before the year’s end.

The Bottom Line

It’s a buyer’s market and bargains abound. Dealers are ready to make deals but with lower sales totals, static prices, and rising overheads, some galleries may be living on a wish and a prayer until March when the art world’s major commercial cycle kicks back into gear.

Read More

Price drop? A visitor checks the wall label for a work at Art Basel Miami Beach 2022. Courtesy of Art Basel.

Price drop? A visitor checks the wall label for a work at Art Basel Miami Beach 2022. Courtesy of Art Basel.

Paint Drippings

Wet Paint was too full of turkey this week but will return next week. In the meantime, here’s what else made a mark around the industry since last Friday morning…

Art Fairs

  • Frieze will co-sponsor the British Pavilion at the Venice Biennale in 2024, partnering with the British Council to support the realization of John Akomfrah‘s presentation. (Press release)
  • Art Basel Hong Kong will host 242 galleries in 2024, a 37 percent uptick on the turnout in March, when the fair took place shortly after the city re-opened following three years of travel restrictions. (Artnet News)
  • London’s Treasure House Fair, which focuses on design and antiquities, has announced its second edition, set to take place in the city’s Chelsea neighborhood during the last week of June 2024. (Press release)

Auction Houses

  • We took a close look at the day sales in New York and identified six hot lots which upended expectations and indicate where the market is heading. (Artnet News Pro)
  • Jeff Bezos has been revealed as the buyer of Pablo Picasso‘s Femme à la Montre, which sold at Sotheby’s for $139.4 million on November 8. (TheCanvas)
  • In our now traditional post-auction rundown, we identify which house was the biggest winner (Sotheby’s), which work generated the most unexpected bidding war, who got the steepest bargain, and more. (Artnet News)


  • Casey Kaplan has announced the representation of Amanda Williams, Beverly Fishman has joined Jessica Silverman’s roster, and Roberts Projects has tapped two new artists: Mia Middleton and Suchitra Mattai. (Press releases)
  • After 26 years, New York’s Cheim & Read has officially shuttered. Its legacy will continue through Maria Bueno, the gallery’s longtime director and partner, who will launch a new dealership Bueno & Co. next year, focusing on private sales of historical and contemporary artworks. (Artnet News)

Institutions & Biennials

  • The entire curatorial search committee for Documenta 16 has stepped down in response to the recent resignations of two of its members, Bracha Lichtenberg Ettinger and Ranjit Hoskote, each for different reasons related to the Israel-Hamas conflict. (Artnet News)
  • Mohamed Almusibli has been announced as the next director of theKunsthalle Basel in Switzerland, replacing current director Elena Filipovicin March next year. (Artnet News)
  • Mariët Westermann will become the first woman director and CEO of the Guggenheim, replacing Richard Armstrong, when she takes up the role on June 1, 2024. (Artnet News)

“You almost have to hit people over the head for them to even understand what they’re looking at.”

—Artist Jenna Gribbon describing the intricacies of painting works about queer desire and lesbian love, on the occasion of her latest exhibition, TheHoneymoon Show!, at Lévy Gorvy Dayan. (Interview)

Work of the Week

Jean-Honoré Fragonard’s The Sacrifice to the Minotaur

Jean-Honoré Fragonard, <i>The Sacrifice to the Minotaur</i> (circa 1765). ©Artcurial

Jean-Honoré Fragonard, The Sacrifice to the Minotaur (circa 1765). ©Artcurial


Date:                   Circa 1765

Estimate:             €4 to €6 million ($4.3 to $6.5 million)

Sale Price:           €5.7 million ($6.2 million)

Selling at:            Artcurial Paris

Sale date:            November 22, 2023

Created for King Louis XV, this modello’s vibrant colors—which are all themore visible thanks to a recent varnish restoration—belie the tragedy of themythological scene. At the center, a young woman laments her fate as theannual lottery winner of sacrificial offering to the half-man, half-bull Minotaur of Greek lore. Her mother weeps in the left foreground while, to the right, the other youths who have been spared fall back in a mix of fear and relief. Measuring roughly 28 by 36 inches, the 18th-century composition is extremely theatrical—an artistic nod by Fragonard toward opera, which was considered the height of cultural expression at the time.

The painting has an illustrious provenance: previously owned by the French politician François Walferdin and later by the couturier and collector Jacques Doucet, it has been held in a private collection since 1912. According to the Artnet Price Database, Fragonard’s Portrait of François-Henri, 5th duc d’Harcourt, sold at Bonhams London for £17.1 million ($27.9 million) in 2013, is the most expensive work by the 18th-century artist to be sold at auction.

—Margaret Carrigan

Thank you for joining us for The Back Room.

See you next Friday.

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