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.
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.
Courtesy of Los Angeles Modern Auctions
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.”