What Do Contemporary Day Sales Tell Us About the Current Market?
Last week more than 20 lots sold for $1 million each.
It’s no secret that volume is down sharply in the auction market right now as compared with previous peak years. Overall totals at the major houses have clearly come back to earth, with volume coming in under $300 million at the evening contemporary sales at individual houses, compared with peak period heights—such as Christie’s $692 million evening sale just three years ago in November 2013.
The same holds true for the day auctions of lower-priced work that always follow the blockbuster evening sales. Volume is down across the board.
And yet, as most experts note, these sales—which largely lack the hype, guarantees, and other financial wheeling and dealing of big ticket lots—offer a much better barometer of the health of the art market, showing robust sell-through rates on material priced mostly under $1 million.
Christie’s postwar and contemporary sale on November 16 pulled in $61.2 million, down from last year’s total of $88.8 million. Of 334 lots on offer, 262, or 78 percent, were sold. Among records at Christie’s were: Bruce Connor’s Cannabis Collage which realized $631,500 nearly doubling the high $350,000 estimate; Harold Ancart, whose Untitled tryptich sold for $751,600, soaring over the the high estimate of $120,000, and Aaron Garber-Maikovska’s Untitled (Triptych), realized $125,000.
Phillips sale on Thursday November 17, realized $9.8 million, just a notch down from $10.5 million last year. Of 139 lots offered, 109, or 78 percent, found buyers. By value the auction was 83 percent sold. In comparison, last year’s day sale included 221 lots, whereas this year’s auction offered 139, indicating a higher average price per lot at the latest auction.
Phillips top lot, Jiro Takamatsu, Shadow No. 1391 (1997), which shattered its $100–150,000 estimate to sell for $538,000, was also a new auction record for the artist. Among other records set at Phillips were a new auction high for Mel Bochner, whose mixed-media Blah Blah Blah (2012) sold for $137,500, as well as the $106,250 paid for Sue Williams’ Big Red Shoes (1998).
Sotheby’s contemporary day sale on Friday, November 18, capped off the week on a strong note. Though the $80.2 million was down from $97.6 million last year, it cleared the high estimate and was also the highest total of the three houses. A total of 15 auction records were achieved, a strong 13 of which were for individual artists, while two were genre-specific works-on-paper, high points for artists Adrian Ghenie and Ellsworth Kelly. Of 313 lots on offer, 269, or 86 percent, were sold. By value, the auction realized 90.9 percent.
Additionally, new records were set for artists including Deborah Butterfield, Amy Sillman, Paulina Olowska, Matias Faldbakken, Laura Owens, Imran Qureshi, Khalif Kelly, Despina Stokou, Scott Olson, Andrew Schoultz, Alyson Shotz, Tim Gardner, and Betye Saar.
The number of lots sold for over $1 million each was 25, albeit down from 37 last year, is a solid reflection of demand nonetheless.
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