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Why It's a Great Time to Be Buying Collectible Art

Roy Lichtenstein, Shipboard Girl. Estimate: $3,000 to $5,000; hammer price: $3,750. Courtesy of Los Angeles Modern Auctions

Boomers are selling off their art collections and buyers can pick up big-name pieces.


Pablo Picasso, ceramic plate, Face No. 197. Estimate: $7,000 to $9,000; hammer price: $7,000. Courtesy of Los Angeles Modern Auctions
Arne Jacobsen, Swan chairs (2). Estimate: $1500 to $2000; hammer price: $4,062.50. Courtesy of Los Angeles Modern Auctions
Jeff Koons, Puppy (vase). Estimate: $9,000 to $12,000; hammer price: $10,500. Courtesy of Los Angeles Modern Auctions
David Hockney, Untitled (red square). Estimate: $40,000 to $60,000; hammer price $25,000. Courtesy of Los Angeles Modern Auctions
John Baldessari, "Leg, Straw, Diver." Estimate: $3,000 to $5,000; hammer price: $4,375. Courtesy of Los Angeles Modern Auctions
Alexander Calder's 1975 handwoven jute maguey tapestry. Estimate: $6,000 to $9,000; hammer price: $18,750. Courtesy of Los Angeles Modern Auctions
Takashi Murakami, Monogram Multicolore—cherry. Estimate: $5,000 to $7,00; hammer price $5,625. Courtesy of Los Angeles Modern Auctions
Andy Warhol, Mao. Estimate: $35,000 to $50,000; hammer price: $43,750. Courtesy of Los Angeles Modern Auctions
Andy Warhol, Orangutan. Estimate: $30,000 to $40,000; hammer price: $45,000. Courtesy of Los Angeles Modern Auctions
Vik Muniz, Standard Station (Night). Estimate: $50,000 to $70,000; hammer price: $75,000. Courtesy of Los Angeles Modern Auctions
John McLaughlin, Untitled. Estimate: $200,000 to $300,000; hammer price: $250,000. Courtesy of Los Angeles Modern Auctions
Roy Lichtenstein, Shipboard Girl. Estimate: $3,000 to $5,000; hammer price: $3,750. Courtesy of Los Angeles Modern Auctions
Roy Lichtenstein, Portrait (from Brushstroke Figures Series). Estimate: $15,000 to $20,000; hammer price: $31,250. Courtesy of Los Angeles Modern Auctions
Roy Lichtenstein, Two Paintings: Green Lamp. Estimate: $20,000 to $30,000; hammer price: $25,000. Courtesy of Los Angeles Modern Auctions
Frank Gehry, Untitled (fish out of water). Estimate: $100,000 to $150,000; unsold. Courtesy of Los Angeles Modern Auctions
Kay Fisker silver pitcher. Estimate: $4,000 to $6,000; unsold. Courtesy of Los Angeles Modern Auctions
Charles and Ray Eames, elliptical coffee table with rod base. Estimate: $3.000 to $5,000; hammer price $2,500. Courtesy of Los Angeles Modern Auctions
Charles and Ray Eames, lounge chair and ottoman. Estimate: $4,000 to $6,000; hammer price $4,375. Courtesy of Los Angeles Modern Auctions
Charles and Ray Eames, segmented base conference table. Estimate: $3,000 to $5,000; hammer price: $3,750. Courtesy of Los Angeles Modern Auctions
Charles Arnoldi's "Billion 1," mixed media. Estimate: $30,000 to $50,000; hammer price: $40,625. Courtesy of Los Angeles Modern Auctions
Mona Kuhn, Bather (photograph). Estimate: $6,000 to $9,000; hammer price: $6,875. Courtesy of Los Angeles Modern Auctions

Pick up a Picasso for $7,000, a Lichtenstein for under $4,000, or an Eames coffee table for $2,500? Those are just some of the gems that sold recently at Los Angeles Modern Auctions (LAMA) in Van Nuys, Calif. The company, owned and run by Peter and Shannon Loughrey, sets a gold standard among the handful of midsize, boutique auction houses across the country. More accessible than Sotheby’s or Christie’s, LAMA holds two sales a year, each with hundreds of lots of modern and contemporary paintings, photographs and furnishings ranging from under $100 up to hundreds of thousands. “Our average lots go for $10,000, which sets us apart from the big houses—and we see that as a sweet spot,” Peter Loughrey, a Sotheby’s-trained art expert and 13-year veteran of “Antiques Roadshow,” told Fortune.

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The couple curates thousands of items down to a few hundred for each sale. Said Loughrey, “It takes six months to pull together an auction—we turn away a lot.”

The pickings will only sweeten going forward, according to LAMA, as large numbers of baby boomers downsize and decide to sell off their art collections while the market is strong rather than pass them down to their children. “It’s surprising how many kids will turn around and try to sell the art on eBay,” says Loughrey.

Pablo Picasso, ceramic plate, Face No. 197. Estimate: $7,000 to $9,000; hammer price: $7,000.
Arne Jacobsen, Swan chairs (2). Estimate: $1500 to $2000; hammer price: $4,062.50.
Jeff Koons, Puppy (vase). Estimate: $9,000 to $12,000; hammer price: $10,500.
David Hockney, Untitled (red square). Estimate: $40,000 to $60,000; hammer price $25,000.
John Baldessari, "Leg, Straw, Diver." Estimate: $3,000 to $5,000; hammer price: $4,375.
Alexander Calder's 1975 handwoven jute maguey tapestry. Estimate: $6,000 to $9,000; hammer price: $18,750.
Takashi Murakami, Monogram Multicolore—cherry. Estimate: $5,000 to $7,00; hammer price $5,625.
Andy Warhol, Mao. Estimate: $35,000 to $50,000; hammer price: $43,750.
Andy Warhol, Orangutan. Estimate: $30,000 to $40,000; hammer price: $45,000.
Vik Muniz, Standard Station (Night). Estimate: $50,000 to $70,000; hammer price: $75,000.
John McLaughlin, Untitled. Estimate: $200,000 to $300,000; hammer price: $250,000.
Roy Lichtenstein, Shipboard Girl. Estimate: $3,000 to $5,000; hammer price: $3,750.
Roy Lichtenstein, Portrait (from Brushstroke Figures Series). Estimate: $15,000 to $20,000; hammer price: $31,250.
Roy Lichtenstein, Two Paintings: Green Lamp. Estimate: $20,000 to $30,000; hammer price: $25,000.
Frank Gehry, Untitled (fish out of water). Estimate: $100,000 to $150,000; unsold.
Kay Fisker silver pitcher. Estimate: $4,000 to $6,000; unsold.
Charles and Ray Eames, elliptical coffee table with rod base. Estimate: $3.000 to $5,000; hammer price $2,500.
Charles and Ray Eames, lounge chair and ottoman. Estimate: $4,000 to $6,000; hammer price $4,375.
Charles and Ray Eames, segmented base conference table. Estimate: $3,000 to $5,000; hammer price: $3,750.
Charles Arnoldi's "Billion 1," mixed media. Estimate: $30,000 to $50,000; hammer price: $40,625.
Mona Kuhn, Bather (photograph). Estimate: $6,000 to $9,000; hammer price: $6,875.

The Loughreys see a real shift in who is acquiring art at auction—away from traditional collectors and toward people who just want one piece for aesthetic or value reasons. “There are so many buyers who are one-time buyers,” said Peter. “Twenty-five years ago, you had the same players in the market, so you could depend on the fact that what you were selling would be accepted. But today, you have buyers who feel a piece is simply a smart investment—completely different from what a collector used to be.”

LAMA specializes specifically in mid-century and contemporary art and objects. In terms of big-name artists, the last sale ranged from a Jeff Koons puppy vase (estimate $9,000 to $12,000; realized price $10,500) and a Charles and Ray Eames elliptical coffee table (estimate $3,000 to $5,000; realized price $2,500) to Jay DeFao’s “Apex” (estimate $80,000 to $120,000; realized price $281,250) and Ed Ruscha’s “Crescent Heights Becomes Laurel Canyon” (estimate $150,000 to $200,000; realized price $468,750 and the star of the sale).

There’s plenty to be had low in the four and five figures, too: a well-known John Baldessari print went for $4,375 and a Sol Lewitt hammered at $6,875.

LAMA runs a casual show—free valet parking, easy bidding registration onsite, free food trucks and drinks and a low-pressure environment. “My advice to newcomers is to just buy what you really like—don’t worry about the investment so much, but play in a sandbox that’s comfortable.”

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