The Contemporary Art market has long relied on Andy Warhol to drive prices, sales volume and interest in the category. Warhol is key because, like Picasso in the Modern market, he has both record-setting masterworks and high volume of lower-priced works.
Since the credit crisis, Warhol has performed exceedingly well. In 2010, the Fall sales experienced what might be called a Week of Warhol when $200m in Warhol’s work sold. By 2014, that figure had risen to $290m with $150m concentrated in just two paintings sold by a German casino company.
Last year the Warhol market pulled back some. This year, the numbers are quite interesting. In New York’s May sales there are 36 works by Warhol with a combined estimate of between $28.6m and $41.4m.
Possibly for the first time, there is now more work by Alexander Calder on the market this May with a combined total of 39 works estimated at between $44m and $63m.
Calder too has the kind of high volume of output that makes him eligible for market leadership. The problem has always been with the top end of the Calder market not reaching anywhere near the heights of the Warhol market. The top three prices for Calder sculptures are $26m, $18.5m and $10m.
You can see from the chart above made from data provided by Artnet, which is scaled to each market, that Calder’s total yearly sales volume has yet to even reach the low-water mark of Warhol’s recent market in 2009. Even in a banner sales year for Calder like 2012, the total volume was less than half that of Warhol.
When viewed by average price (on the same scale) we see a different story. Calder’s average price beat Warhol’s in 2012. The big sales spikes for Warhol in 2014 and 2015 were driven by fewer works at higher prices. Though the fewer works simply pulled back to the number of works traded in 2011. So far this year, there has not been much of Warhol’s work on the market.
For Calder, last year was a high point in the number of works trading hands at auction. And so far this year, the numbers seem to be running at a similar pace.
So far this year, Calder’s sales volume is less than half of Warhol’s. It will take a lopsided victory in next week’s sales to tip the tables. But the real point here is not whether Calder’s market can reach the levels of Warhol’s. The significant fact is that Calder has risen in price and volume to fill in some of the space left by the pullback in Warhol.