This analysis of the Spring 2018 Contemporary art sales results—including a look at market share by artist and a list of the most dynamic lots—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 Contemporary art sales in New York this May were significantly smaller than the total sales in the Impressionist and Modern category but that doesn’t mean the sales were inconsiderable. Overall, there was $1.143bn in Contemporary art sold in New York during the May sales cycles. That was up 6% over the previous May.
So the headline is that Contemporary art is still growing. But that growth is coming in a different form from previous years as the following numbers will show. More to the point, the growth is quite positive for the sustainability of the market. The Evening sales volume rose 3% from 2017 to 2018 as far as the May sales in New York are concerned. But the day sales. Oh, the day sales, my friends. That’s where the action has been building for some time.
This May the day sales out performed spectacularly. The performance of day sale lots added to evening sale performance for artists like George Condo to significantly change the impression of how these artists are performing. We’ll get to that analysis. But first, let’s look at the actual numbers.
The Evening sales made $909m in sales volume with a third of the lots selling above the high estimate and a strong 93% sell-through no doubt a product of the many guarantees. The bidding was reasonable strong for a hammer ratio of 1.14. The average price of an Evening sale lot was $5.5m up slightly from the previous year’s $5.38m.
Last year, the top ten lots in the evening sales comprised 45% of the total sales volume. But this year that number has dropped significantly to 36%. This is a significant move even if it mostly represents the absence of the Jean-Michel Basquiat untitled head that sold for $110m last year. The drop also reflects the broader trend in the market where value is moving down to lower price points and across more artists without impacting overall volumes.
The day sale totals show the strength of the middle market. Year over year, the New York Contemporary day sale total rose 20% from 2017 to 2018. That’s a dramatic jump. And the percentage of the total sale represented by the top ten lots rose from 10% to 12.5% as the average price rose from $231k to $256k or by 10%. The percentage of day sale lots sold above their high estimates was consistent with the previous year at slightly more than 40%.
Turning to the market share numbers for May, there were seven women artists—Joan Mitchell, Agnes Martin, Cecily Brown, Yayoi Kusama, Helen Frankenthaler, Julie Mehretu, and Njideka Akunyili Crosby—in the top 40 artists by market share. That’s a strong showing. Warhol continues to have price of place alongside Basquiat but their market share remains smaller than in the past. Richard Diebenkorn’s market share was boosted by the Zucker collection being sold and selling well. Joan Mitchell’s record price played a part but her sales were broader than that one performance and she came in seventh with more than 3% share.
The power of David Hockney’s career retrospective can be seen in the 4.27% market share from nearly $50m in sales, a position that is rare for Hockney. Other former drivers of the market like Rudolf Stingel, Christopher Wool, Mark Rothko, and Gerhard Richter remain in the market share tables even with more muted performance in the market.
The top Evening sale lots were a mixture of old favorites like Francis Bacon and Jean-Michel Basquiat with new names at this level like James Kerry Marshall , George Condo and, even, David Smith. The top of the sales were not driven by dynamic bidding but they were also not overly weighted with works laboring under unattainable estimates. Fewer than a third of the top 38 lots show below were sold at compromise prices. Only a dozen were sold at prices above the estimates. The Evening sale lots are fully priced with the market focused on specific works.The day sale charts, below, are skewed more toward competitive lots but not without a smattering of works that could not meet the seller’s expectations. Among the dynamic lots from the Evening sale, we see strong bidding across price points.The most dynamic day sale lots were dominated by George Condo whose work had a large consignment at Christie’s which sold for prices several multiples of the high estimate. The names are more diverse than the Evening sales but the also populated with many familiar artists as buyers seek out overlooked gems.