This analysis of the London Contemporary auction sales results—made possible with data from our partners at Live Auction Art—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 primary story from the London sales cycle in March may have been that Modern art—particularly works by Pablo Picasso—has reclaimed its position at the forefront of an advancing market. That's a situation we have not seen since the darkest days of the global financial crisis when art buyers defied expectations and continued to spend money on highly valued 'blue chip' works.
At that time, the preference for Modern works was seen as a flight to quality. Even as the world's financial system stuttered and threatened to stall, buyers were willing to spend record sums at auction in 2009 (for a record single-owner sale) and 2010 as two different works (first a Giacometti and then the Brody Picasso) set new auction records for an individual work of art.
Once the art market has proved its durability, the action shifted from Modern works back to an explosion of Contemporary buying as the numbers ramped from 2012 until peaking in 2015. With the Rockfeller sale at Christie's coming the week before New York's sales cycle, it looks like Modern art will continue to hold the spotlight.
But what of the Contemporary market? As Picasso leads the Modern market, Andy Warhol has been the pillar of the Contemporary market. The Pop! artist's market power has been diminished these last few years. Other powerful names in the Contemporary market continue to perform but often without the sort of tone-setting sales surprises we've recently seen in the Richter, Basquiat and Bacon markets.
Does that mean Contemporary art is in retreat? The numbers in London, where the Modern market out performed Contemporary by 27%, might be taken that way. And there are good reasons, the impending Rockefeller sale, to believe Contemporary art is being eclipsed. But the numbers tell a different story. The Contemporary market has fewer fireworks these days but there's a compelling trend for us to examine more closely.
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