Even without the Rockefeller sales, the balance of excitement this season continues to lean heavily toward the Modern market. By far, the highest value lots on offer are works from the early 20th Century led by the Modigliani nude at Sotheby’s but also including the Malevich there, two Picassos and Christie’s and a very, very valuable Matisse.
With that in mind, we’re taking a close look at some 12-year charts produced by our friends at Pi-eX who have tried to create a consistent measure of the various owner Impressionist and Modern Evening sales excluding single-owner sales and specialty sales that have become a staple of the New York seasons.
Looking at the numbers for the Evening sales, we can see some striking trends that have become more pronounced over the last few years.
The chart above shows the number of lots offered in the Evening sales from 2007, the heyday of the Impressionist and Modern market, until this year. You can see that in terms of the number of lots on offer, this is the lowest year in the whole period falling just short of the nightmare year of 2009 when the art market was expecting a prolonged freeze in activity.
But looked at from the value side by aggregating low estimates against the previous 11 years actual hammer volumes and we see the opposite. Expectations are for the second best sales cycle since the global financial crisis.
It is not too hard to see that the concentration of value in the Impressionist and Modern market in fewer artists and only certain works within an artists overall body of work has created this situation. The Modigliani represents more than a third of the total projected value in the sales.
Given those factors, one would expect to see a steady growth in the average sales value. This is something Pi-eX graphed below so you might see the true shape of the Evening sales. Average sales value would be expected to peak this year with the presence of the Modigliani which has already been sold to an irrevocable bidder.
The surprise is the dip in average value in 2016 with a recovery below the peak of 2015 the following year. This points to one of the less discussed features of the so-called market slump of 2016. The broader art market seems to have continued along with a fair bit of strength from 2015 on but the top of the Impressionist and Modern market clearly lagged. That under-performance pulled the rest of the market’s total volume down.