Our friends at Pi-eX have shared their charts for the New York Evening sales and we’re happy to add a little narration for the AMMpro subscribers. Above the paywall, it’s worth remarking that the pre-sale volume (excluding works with estimate upon request which is an increasing category) is down this year over 2017 but within a range that has remained fairly steady since 2015.
In other words, for all of the talk of “recovery” in the art market over the last year and a half, the Contemporary category has actually been restrained and substantially lower than the period from 2012 to 2015.
This is especially important when we turn to the issue of guarantees.
When looking at the guarantees by value (below) we can see that 2015 was the high point for third-party guarantees followed by a sharp reversal in 2016. In 2017, the proportion of third-party guarantees in terms of value was back to a majority of the Evening sales. This year, we’re seeing a little more restraint in the proportion of the Evening sale value that is backed with side deals.
The auction houses are also taking on more direct risk this season. That’s worth noting.
Let’s turn to past performance. Pi-eX has created a chart of Evening sale estimates that takes the Estimate on Request category into account. So you can see (below) that the difference between the hammer-price performance of estimated works was fairly low against the aggregate estimates. The total hammer price for the sale of estimated works is the gold ball. Except for 2012, the hammer totals ride close to the low estimate with a strong performance in 2017. Add the works that are estimate upon request and you can see some big pops 2007, 2008, 2014 and 2017.
Isolating the estimated works in their own chart (below) shows the pattern from 2012 to 2016 when the average hammer price falls toward the average low estimate steadily over a five-year period. Last year broke that trend.
Considering the falling average low estimate in the category and falling average hammer price, it looks like the Contemporary art market has actually been in a slump over that same five-year period. Last year’s upswing is a positive sign buy hardly a strong signal. That might change with this season with its higher average low and high estimate.
Finally, Pi-eX’s unique chart balancing the value of work that sold above the estimates (in blue below) against the value of work sold under the low estimate or were bought in shows an interesting signal. Last year showed the strongest surge since 2010 toward works being pushed above the low estimate by competitive bidding.
This could be a signal of the Contemporary market heating up toward another strong cycle like the 2010 to 2012 period. We’ll know more next week.