The full analysis of the Paris Contemporary art sales—including which artists’s markets are surging—is available to AMMpro subscribers.
The Paris Contemporary sales are not a major event in the international circuit of art auctions. Even though the sales at Sotheby’s and Christie’s are conducted in Day and Evening events, the works on offer and artists who predominate are secondary players. This isn’t an insult to the French or to Paris. The sales reflect a specific taste and feature the kinds of works that connoisseurs, dealers and other value-seekers are looking for.
Moreover, the current market continues to be more about discovering over-looked historical masters whose work will increase in value as time goes on. For that kind of buying, Paris is a playground of value. This last sales cycle illustrated that vividly. The top lot of the week was a world record price for a 1960s work by Pierre Soulages. The work was owned by Soulages’s American dealer Sam Kootz which only added to provenance. the €6.2m price reflected that.
There’s more going on these results than a single work with good provenance. Soulages had four of the top ten prices in Paris. Nicolas de Stael had three of the top ten prices. Seven of the top ten lots were sold at prices over the estimate range reflecting strong bidding and persistent competition. Only two works sold within estimates and one lot required a compromise from the consignor to get a transaction.
The sale total of €58m was achieved through the sale of 363 lots out of 426 offered or 85% sell-through. Among the sold lots, a powerful 51% of the sold lots achieved prices above the estimate range. Only 11% of the lots forced the consignors to settle for a price below estimates. The top ten lots of the week accounted for 35% of the overall total with €20.7m in value. The average lot value for all of the sales was €136,981 recognizing that art is a substantial asset.
The top evening sale lots were recognizable names from Europe’s modern masters, the kinds of artists most valued by the market right now. Below is the top Evening sales lots:
The day sale lots held more surprises. The top lots there were overwhelmingly works that were bid well above the estimates. Take Frank Stella’s Study for Attica Poster which sold for a price seven times the high estimate. Larry Poons’s work, once sought after and famous, was again the subject of aggressive bidding that made Wheeler sell for seven times its high estimate too. Below is the top lots from the day sale:
Turning our attention to the works that saw the most dynamic price moves, only a handful had six-figure estimates:
The Paris sales underscored the strength of certain artists’ markets. We’ve already discussed Pierre Soulages. The chart below makes clear how much demand there was in Paris for his work. All but one sold above estimates and only one other work was offered and failed to sell:
Jean Dubuffet’s market has been on a longer growth trajectory but there were still an ample number of works bid over the high estimates and an equal number that sold within the estimate range. Only one lot was sold below the low estimate and one bought in.
For Victor Vasarely, the pattern was similar. Six lots were bid above; five lots sold within estimates; and one lot failed.
Zao Wou-ki showed even greater strength perhaps because of the depth of his market in Asia which resulted in these bidding patterns: