During the frenzied week of art sales earlier this month, it became apparent that Christie’s Contemporary art department was colonizing the Modern category to present sales momentum. We now have some numbers from Arttactic, via Scott Reyburn at the International New York Times, that illustrate the trend. A direct comparison of Christie’s Contemporary art sales for this May against the previous cycle in November shows only a slight gain. This comes despite an 8% increase in guaranteed works and an overall increase in lots that drove the average price down 15.8%.
Average prices falling aren’t necessarily a bad thing. It can indicate a broadening base of buyers as opposed to a few outsized trophy works. The overall numbers, however, do suggest that the rapid gains of the past 2-3 years may be leveling off:
Without those earlier works, the $871.5 million raised by contemporary pieces at the two sales was just 2.2 percent higher than the $852.9 million Christie’s took at its evening contemporary sale in November. And to achieve that increase it offered 22 additional works. “The auction market for contemporary art is under constant pressure to beat the previous sales season,” said Anders Petterson, managing director of ArtTactic. “The headline figures are up, but to do that they’re having to prop up the sales with more lots.”
Signs of Slower Growth in Top-End Art Sales (NYTimes.com)