Marion Maneker Vs. Reuters: A Fight Worthy of Pay-Per-View

Mr. Maneker

Marion Maneker, the brains behind the excellent Art Market Monitor blog and the former publisher of HarperCollins’s business books imprint, has been taking on Reuters’s “Art Market Illiteracy Campaign,” to borrow Mr. Maneker’s phrase.

This started subtly enough, with Mr. Maneker calling out a Reuters story by James Pomfret that claimed Sotheby’s Hong Kong contemporary sale displayed “cracks in Asian demand for Contemporary art.” “The reporter’s thesis,” Mr. Maneker wrote, “is that 73% and 77% auction sell-through rates are signs of market weakness.”

The Reuters article included this quote from Edouard Malingue, an Asian art dealer to support this thesis:

“The top lots will fetch crazy prices and the average ones will sell poorly…If you focus on medium quality, mediocre quality then I would be worried.”

To which Mr. Maneker responds with a quick jab to the nose:

“It would be interesting to find the art dealer who raises her hand and attests that she focuses on mediocre quality works.”

Now this fight is heating up. The next day after that first post, Mr. Maneker linked to another Reuters piece, “Sotheby’s Fine Chinese Paintings Sale Bucks Rocky Markets.” The high estimate of the sale was US$41 million and it ended up doubling that. Once again, Reuters includes a quote that presents the ol’ the-good-stuff-is-good-and-the-bad-stuff-is-bad argument, this time from Patti Wong, chairman of Sotheby’s Asia:

“What we can see is that in spite of the volatility in the stock market, there’s still very strong demand for quality works.”

The Reuters article refers to the Chinese contemporary market as “once red-hot.”

Here’s Mr. Maneker with the upper cut—“Reuters Continues to Argue Against Evidence of Strong Chinese Demand for Art”—and some fancy footwork to break the hold and close out round 2: “Nonetheless,” he writes, “Reuters’s editors want to play up their view that Chinese demand for art is faltering.”

Yesterday Mr. Maneker went in for a K.O. In response to a Reuters article Art World Fears ‘Big Chill’ as Frieze Week Begins, Mr. Maneker wrote a post called “Reuters Continues Art Market Illiteracy Campaign.” Here’s how it begins:

“Some deep need to obfuscate is driving Reuters’s recent art market coverage. First, the news service began to define an 80% sell-through rate as a failed auction when viewing the Chinese Contemporary results in Hong Kong last week. Now the financial news service imagines that Chinese collectors will rescue the up-coming Frieze auctions from fears of another financial shock.”

Reuters calls Chinese collectors both the “wild card” and “modern-day Medicis” (sigh), and takes us back to Sotheby’s contemporary sale:

“Recent sales at Sotheby’s in Hong Kong gave a mixed picture of Chinese demand for art and luxury goods. The auctions raised $411 million in spite of difficult conditions on financial markets, yet the total was down from April and of the works on sale, contemporary art struggled most with more than a fifth of lots unsold.”

The question here is whether a fifth of the lots going unsold represents the failure Reuters makes it out to be. (The Financial Times, as Mr. Maneker also points out, claims that the total sales in Hong Kong should “boost confidence in the art market.”) Yes, there seems to be some disconnect here. The evidence of a strong market in China that was used to prove that market’s weakness is now being touted as the saving grace of a contemporary art fair in… London. Here’s the big finish. Take it away Mr. Maneker!

“Chinese buyers have had an impact on the overall art market as the volume of trading in Chinese works of art, artifacts and various forms of painting has exploded and added billions to the art market’s annual turnover. Chinese collectors have had far less impact on sales in the main auction centers of London and New York…More important, Chinese buyers are nearly invisible in the Contemporary art market that dominates Frieze Week.”

As far as this fight goes, it looks like it’s Maneker 3, Reuters 0.