This analysis of the mid-season Contemporary art sales in London is available to AMMpro subscribers. Subscribers get the first month free on monthly subscriptions. Feel free to cancel at any time before the month is up. Sign up for AMMpro here.
The three main Contemporary art auction houses just held their mid-season clearinghouse sales in London. The results were interesting for those who follow the middle market either as collectors or dealers. Overall, the top lots did not perform terribly well. Across all three auction houses the sales were three-quarters sold through, a solid number at this end of the market.
Works that were priced the highest—around £100k—did poorly. A number of the works estimated in £40-60k range failed to perform and some of the works in the £25-35k range simply failed to find buyers. Nonetheless, there were plenty of works sold somewhere between £40 and £77k. Those works made up the top lots outside of the top ten works and most of those were bid up from much lower estimate ranges.
Overall, the London mid-season sales had an aggregate premium value of £7.3m ($9.17m) with a quarter of lots selling above the high estimate and and overall hammer ratio of (hammer price/aggregate low estimate) 1.02.
Just to give you a better sense of how the works with the highest estimates were treated in these sales, we color-coded the results. Red shows a work that under-performed estimates; orange works performed within estimates; the green lots out-performed. Even though 25% of the lots out-performed the estimate range overall and 13 of the top 40 lots with the highest estimates out-performed too, three of the top five estimated lots (and seven of the top 25 lots) under-performed.
Buyers showed up at these sales looking for out-of-the-money works but were more than willing to bid them up to respectable prices. Here is a chart of the top 40 lots by estimate with Gunther Forg showing very well. The work from his series of Lead paintings sold toward the high end of the estimate range at Sotheby’s and Christie’s did even better on a relative basis with a 2005 work.
The most competitive lots in the sale were much lower down in the estimate range. The list below of the top 30 lots based upon hammer ratio (the hammer price divided by the low estimate) which shows the intensity of bidding had only five lots with high estimates in the five figures.
There were a number of artists like Sarah Lucas, Sterling Ruby, Franz West, Frank Auerbach, Gabriel Orozco, Doug Aitken, Chris Ofili, Katrin Fridriks, Jeremy Deller, Anselm Reyle, Andy Warhol, Alighiero Boetti and Ugo Rondinone with four or more works sold across the three houses but only one showed a significant trend. Marcel Broodthaers had a dozen works for sale. Nine of those sold above the admittedly quite low estimates. Only a single work under-performed.
Finally, here is a list of the top 40 lots by price paid. Mike Kelley, Rondinone and Forg each of two works on the list. But all of the other lots are by different artists.