This artist’s market report for the 2016 Frieze sales was prepared in part with data gathered and charts created by Athena Art Finance. This report is available to AMMpro subscribers. Subscriptions come with a one-month grace period. Feel free to register to read the report and, if you don’t like it, cancel your subscription before you are charged.
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Alighiero Boetti’s market has proved quite strong in recent years. Boetti is the first of the Arte Povera artists to see work break out on the market; and he is one of the few artists from that movement to have a large and liquid market. In fact, Boetti was the artist with the most works offered during the London sales timed to coincide with the Frieze art fair.
The trading in Boetti tells us a bit about the state of the artist’s market. There has been a great deal of activity in Boetti’s market over the last decade. In 2014, three of the top prices for the artist’s work were set. That recalibration set off a cascade of price appreciation in the Boetti market as 15 of the top 30 prices for the artist were achieved since 2014. Two of those top three works were relatively rare and unique. One was a large embroidery work from the 1970s.
During the Italian art sales of 2016, Christie’s had hoped to set a new top price for the artist’s Tutto series with a work estimated at between £1.8 and £2.2m which, had it sold just at the low estimate, would have established both a price substantially higher than any other Tutto previously sold and either the second highest price for the artist or a new record.
The work did not sell and Christie’s suggested its failure was due to the absence of Chinese bidders who had previously been moving Boetti’s market. But a look at the data from the London sales suggests the artist’s market may be consolidating at the top while works at the lower end of the oeuvre gain in value.
Maps Show the Way
The best way to demonstrate that is to look at the market for Boetti’s embroidered maps. A map was the top lot in London during the Frieze sales and these works have been among his most recognizable and frequently sold works in recent years. Indeed, 19 of his top 30 prices are for maps.
The Boetti map that sold in London just in October of 2016, La Primavera Dell’Annio Millenovechentonovanta (1.2-1.8m GBP,) sold well. The £1.325m ($1.6m) it achieved was in line with the overall trend for map prices over the last two years. (Last section of chart below) The highest price for a map was achieved in 2010 for £1.8m ($2.7m) followed quickly by a work in 2011 that made $2.3m. The second highest price for a map came in 2013 with a £1.6m ($2.5m) sale.
You can see from the chart of map prices tracks the map prices from Boetti’s top 100 sales recorded over the last 10 years. The sales break into three distinct periods. From 2006 to 2009, Boetti’s maps traded quite frequently on the market. Prices clustered between £500k and approaching £1m. demand was resilient enough that prices held up after the global financial crisis showing only a dip to the bottom of the range in early 2009.
In 2010, prices for Boetti’s maps shifted to a higher register. Previously high prices became the lower bound of a more volatile trading range that included the top two prices for the series at the beginning of the period in 2010 and at the end in 2013.
After October of 2014, prices began to cluster more consistently around an average price of $1.69m. Not only is that a substantial rise in value but it also marks a more consistent market with only a few outlier sales that might be accounted for by condition, quality or the presence of an idiosyncratic bidder.
Having established a more stable and predictable price level, sales frequency increased. Twice as many works sold in the last two years than had in the previous two periods. This suggests that a clear price point has created greater confidence in the market and attracted a sufficient supply of new buyers to keep the sales going.
The prices have been more consistent these last two years but they’ve also shown a tendency toward drifting down slightly. As often happens with markets that are satisfying collector demand for a certain type of object, a strong sale excites both interest among buyers and sellers. But each successive sale reduces the pool of potential buyers.
Taken over a longer period (shown in the second chart above,) the highest prices of six years ago are coming down; the lowest prices of seven years ago are rising.
Frieze Performance Beyond the Map
Christie’s attempt to set a new reference price for a work from the Tutto series may have been an attempt to either draw new buyers into the Boetti market or excite the appetite of recent map buyers toward a different sector of Boetti’s artistic output.
Had the Tutto sold, Boetti’s sales performance would have been very strong. But the work did not. And, as mentioned above, the map sold below the low estimate. Despite these setbacks, Boetti’s performance against his estimates remained credible. Boetti’s market is not breaking out at the top; but there is enough interest and activity at the lower price points to support solid performance. We can see that in the overall sales against estimates.
©Athena Art Finance
This chart above, prepared by Athena Art Finance, shows the overall performance of all of Boetti’s works on offer against the low estimates on a hammer basis. This allows us to see a one-to-one comparison of estimates and hammer prices. In a mature market for an artist’s work, there are a number of lots that will not find buyers. At Frieze, only 71% of the Boetti works sold. One lot was withdrawn and five were bought in.
©Athena Art Finance
On a lot-by-lot basis, we can see that six of Boetti’s works out-performed estimates. Five lots sold within the estimate range and four lots were sold below the low estimate, including the highest value lot representing more than a third of the total.
©Athena Art Finance
In other words, the six lots that out-performed the estimates needed to make up for the shortfall of the top lots. We can see that performance depicted in the scatter graph above. Three of the four works that under-performed estimates were above the average price for the artist. At the same time, 80% of the works that sold above the low estimate were priced well below the average.
With such consistency in the top of the market demonstrated by the steady sale of map works, buyers seem to be pursuing the lower-priced lots. This kind of market performance suggests buyers are looking toward under-explored areas of Boetti’s oeuvre to find value.
Estimates during Frieze were in line with recent performance, particularly for the higher value lots. Among the works that were bought in, the majority were among the top seven estimated works. Again, this suggests that the top of Boetti’s market is losing momentum.
The Frieze sale confirms that the market has a good sense of how to price a Boetti map. If there are any doubts, Christie’s has a map in its November Evening sale estimated at $800k to $1.2m, a conservative estimate that should help the work perform.