Jonathan Yee at Artnet put together this data on Warhol’s painting sales in public auctions over the last 15 years. The resulting charts are fascinating. When you remember that Warhol is a central component of the Contemporary art market, the numbers may be important to pay attention to as well. The first chart shows the total sales volume for Warhol paintings over the last 15 years. These are works on canvas, not prints or other works. When Christie’s announced in 2012 that it would sell the contents of the Warhol estate with its thousands of polaroids and other prepatory material, there was a knee-jerk reaction that these items would somehow “flood” the Warhol market and depress prices.
For all of the massive amount of Waholiana out there, the market for paintings by Andy Warhol remains much smaller. At its peak in 2007, 226 Warhol paintings were sold. Since the financial crisis, the number of paintings auctioned peaked again in 2012 at 187 works. Last year, there were 139 paintings sold, including the two works owned by a German casino that brought $150m.
This year, 108 Warhols were sold publicly. The only time there were fewer works by the artist sold in public was during the depths of the financial crisis in 2009.
To look at the Warhol market in a another way, we can see that there is a steady trend toward higher average prices for the artist’s paintings. But the average price moves in staggered steps of long periods under trend punctuated by brief but sharp periods above trend. You can see from the above chart that 2007 was one rise above the trend and 2014 was another much steeper and more significant rise. There’s no reason that prices cannot rise sharply again. But recent moves suggest the average price will remain at or below the trend line for the next few years.
The Warhol market, and by extension the Contemporary art market, has moved far and fast in a short period. Taking time to consolidate would not be a bad thing for art or the art market. However, there is an interesting data point contained in Artnet’s data. We asked them to provide us with a chart of the median price for a Warhol painting for each of these 16 years. Media price means the middle price for the entire group of works sold in that year. Charting the media price, you can see that it rises and falls over a $300,000 range for 2007-2013 period then breaks out above the range in 2014. The media price stayed above the range in 2015. That’s a good sign … if it keeps up over the coming years.