Market and auctions

New York. The automobile has become art.

Bertone's BAT trio at the top of the auction by Sotheby's, together with Van Gogh, Giacometti and Picasso.

Photo credit: RM Sotheby’s

Before trying to comprehend whether the $14,840,000 paid at Sotheby’s New York auction for the three Alfa Romeo BAT cars, a series of masterpieces by Bertone and designer Scaglione from the 1950s, is a lot or a little, we wanted to ask some important international collectors what they thought about the decision to sell the cars as works of art. And to sell them at what is, arguably, the most important auction of the year alongside paintings and sculptures by some of the most important names in modern art.

1953. Nuccio Bertone and Franco Scaglione. Alfa Romeo B.A.T. 5

All the collectors who responded found the idea interesting for several reasons: firstly, it’s confirmation that some cars, the ones that are rare for the low numbers of examples produced or their technical-stylistic attributes, are beyond the normal collecting market. Secondly, this choice sends out a message of respect for what the car represents within our culture. Third, this new reality obliges collectors to adopt uncompromising standards in the methods they use to restore and conserve cars of particular value. Finally, it expands the collecting market beyond today’s very specific confines of passion.

It is also interesting to imagine that this new horizon could very well lead, as is the case of works of art, to tax benefits such as the non-taxation of surplus value, which would most definitely spur on the collection of excellence.

1954. Nuccio Bertone and Franco Scaglione. Alfa Romeo B.A.T. 7

Regarding the fact that the audience at an art auction is different from a car auction, opinions on the subject were divided. There are those who believed that a rivalry between great collectors, in front of other collectors, could have provoked a battle with bids and counter bids ending up in a final applause. Others thought that the price, no doubt conditioned by the moment we are living in, was correct or not too far below the right one.

1955. Nuccio Bertone and Franco Scaglione. Alfa Romeo B.A.T. 9

Everyone hopes that the three cars, like a Renaissance triptych, will remain united and, above all, visible. The dream of seeing them at the Alfa Museum is one of many.

In conclusion, is $14,840,000 a lot or a little? We’ll leave that to your own judgment: the top lot of the auction was a Giacometti bronze which sold for $25.9 million followed by a magnificent Van Gogh at $16,235,000 and a de Chirico for $15,890,000. Then the Alfa Romeo BAT cars at just under $15m, firmly ahead of Picasso, Basquiat, Magritte and other illustrious names. Interesting, very interesting.

$14,840,000 for a very special “triptych”