This analysis of the New York Contemporary art sales in November of 2017 is available to AMMpro subscribers. Monthly subscriptions begin with the first month free. Feel free to subscribe and cancel before you are billed. \
When you remove the Leonardo painting and the Ferrari Formula 1 car from the New York Contemporary art results, a startling landscape appears that runs almost directly in opposition to the popular impression of the state of the art market. To wit, for all of the disorientation caused by a $450m auction price, the art market is not most active and competitive at the very top. The day sales in Contemporary art were a hotbed of competitive activity and a major increase in sales volume.
The rise of highly managed sales back-stopped by third-party guarantees has meant that a significant portion of the top of the art market is non-competitive. Contrast this with the day sales which achieved a sell-through rate of 88%, just three percentage points below the Evening sales, without the financial supports of third-party guarantees or irrevocable bids.
Nearly 30% of the value in the Contemporary evening sales were sold at the low estimate or below. Almost 83% of the value was sold at or below the high estimate.
In lot terms, nearly 73% of the evening sale lots were at or below the estimate range. The hammer total for the Contemporary evening sales was essentially the same as the aggregate low estimate for all of the evening sale lots. The result is a hammer ratio (hammer total divided by aggregate low estimate) is a flat 1.00. Finally, the top ten lots, only one of which was bid above the estimate range, accounted for 43% of the overall Evening sale totals.
Contrast that with the day sale statistics. Almost 43% of the day sale lots were sold at prices above the estimate range. The day sale’s hammer ratio was a very healthy 1.22 reflecting the competitive nature of the selling. And 78% of the sale value achieved prices at or above the low estimate.
The market share tables make for the most interesting reading this season, especially when several of the artists represented are on the table with only a few works sold. Peter Doig, Franz Kline, Cy Twombly and Roy Lichtenstein all appear high on the market share list with only a few works sold. Warhol and Calder each had 39 works on offer; Ruscha had 18. Nonetheless, the market share tables skew towards the head with Andy Warhol dominating even as his market has gone quite cold. More than half of the Warhol value comes from the sale of the guaranteed work, 60 Last Suppers, which made $60.8m.
Notable positions on this table are Philip Guston’s rise to a position just below the top ten; Joan Mitchell’s appearance below Guston at 12; Hans Hoffmann’s rise to the 14th position in market share; and Jeff Koons and Gerhard Richter’s drop to positions 21 and 22, despite having both been market leaders.
Below, you see the list of top 28 Evening sale lots and the dominance of works sold at prices within or below the estimate range. Only 15 lots sold above $10m. Among those, only six made prices above $25m.
There’s clearly still a masterpiece market active in some way. But the market activity is further down the price spectrum. Take a look at this list of the 41 Evening sale works that were most aggressively bid upon. You can see that the top lot was estimated in the six figures. There’s only one work estimated above $10m. The most common estimates were from the six figures up to $2.5m. That seems to be where the art market is right now.
Switching to the top lots from the day sale, we see, again, more evidence. There were 40 lots in the day sales that sold above $1m. In the past, those lots would have been more likely included with evening lots. But there now seems to be a logic to offering certain works as featured day sale properties for the more informed and discerning day sale buyers. Works by Wayne Thiebaud, George Condo and Morris Louis all did exceptionally well in the day sales.
Switching to the most dynamic lots, we see a broad range of artists. Tom Otterness tops the list of most dynamic day sale lots when a work of his made more than 10 times the low estimate. Emerging Contemporary stars like Jennifer Guidi are alongside historical masters like Ad Reinhardt, Ruth Asawa and Larry Rivers.