As everyone in the art market knows, the day sales are where business gets done. Dealers buy, sell and trade in the room; collectors, well, collect. The secondary market breathes in and out as a greater volume of works at lower price points trades.
Karolina Prawdzik went through the last six years of day sales in New York, each May and November, to see what was happening. Above is a chart of the total sale volumes over those 12 cycles. You can see the big jump in November of 2012. It was followed by a steady state for three seasons and a slow rise to a peak this Spring. Last week, the sales volume dropped around 5%. That’s barely a correction in the market. But it does break a trend since mid-2012. That may be a reflection of the broader economic jitters surrounding a shift in US monetary policy. It may be a conservative approach toward the current global political and economic situation. Or maybe buyers are just stuffed with art from the preceding years.
Switching to looking at the average price of works in the sale, we can see a different story. The broadest trend in the art market since 2010 has been the rise in value of works without a corresponding rise in volume of works sold. That supports the view that art values are going up because of increased global liquidity among the world’s wealthiest. They’re not buying and selling so many more works. The works are just getting more valuable.
But you can also see from the chart below that the liquidity trend had topped in November of 2013. It began to trail off toward an average price in the range of November 2012 (there’s that inflection point again.) Then, suddenly, average prices spiked last season. These aggregate numbers can only tell us so much. The day sales have a lot more art than the Evening sales but it is still fewer than 1000 lots. A few evening lots shifted to the day sales or some uncommon property on the market can skew these figures.
What is worth noting is that the downward trend in average prices during the day sale has resumed. Though it should be noted that we remain above the 2012-2014 levels. Finally, the last statistic Karolina looked at was how much of the overall Contemporary art total was achieved during the day sale versus the evening event. This is, perhaps, the most interesting chart. When the top few lots are overvalued compared to the broader art market—people like to call this a Masterpiece Market—we get lower percentages for the day sales. But when the market broadens, as it seems to have done this cycle, the day sale percentage climbs. Last week, the day sale accounted for a greater percentage of the overall Contemporary art auction total than it has since May of 2010.