Art: The Great Massacre of 1990

As auction prices plunge, overhyped contemporary works are hit the hardest

The Great Auction Wave in contemporary art, which rose amid the financial euphoria of 1982 and crested in late 1989, is now over, vanished into the sand. Just as one of its signs was the auction-room applause that greeted some new price level -- $17 million for a Jasper Johns, $20.7 million for a De Kooning -- so its end was marked by another kind of applause.

It came on the evening of Tuesday, Nov. 6, at a sale at Sotheby's in New York City. Anh in a Spanish Landscape, a large 1988 image done in broken plates by the Meatball...

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