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We showed you the very strong numbers for the Paris Contemporary art sales. Here we have a broader look over the last 12 years of the Evening sales that shows the dramatic rise this season over previous years. From the chart below prepared by our friends at Pi-eX, you can see that sale totals for both Sotheby’s and Christie’s Paris Evening sales were fairly consistent over the previous five years. The hammer total oscillated between the low €20m range and the mid-€30m range. This year, the combined Evening sale hammer total was above €50m.
Both houses have benefitted from the growth of this market. Sotheby’s much more so than Christie’s despite the latter’s ownership being based in France. Although these numbers combine both houses, Sotheby’s—which has run these sales consistently over the last 12 years—tends to perform better in the market with sales at or above the high estimates (with a few exceptions.)
In general, you can see from the auction performance chart of total hammer volumes against aggregated estimates that the auction houses have a good track record of predicting performance that falls within the estimate range. There was a slight breakout above the estimate range in 2010 and 2011. Sales in 2017 pushed the top end of the estimate range before this year’s over-performance.
The most important question is whether the 2018 breakout in volume is simply the function of a few Shiraga, de Staël and Zao sales that are extrinsic to the French or European art market. Or is there a broader internal dynamic to the French or European art market where there is an influx of interest, buyers and a broadening of artists whose work is considered valuable.
These numbers offer no clue to that very important question. The one thing we can see from the past performance is that strong sales like the 50% of sold lots making prices above the high estimate seen in 2018 are not unheard of in this market. You can see from Pi-eX’s chart balancing lots sold under the low estimate or bought in versus those that exceeded the hammer price that 2009, 2010 and 2011 saw a steady progression of sales volume toward the upside. Excepting 2009 and 2010 when there were very few failed lots, this year’s sales were only comparable in high sales exceeding estimates with few works bought in to 2011. That year was not the harbinger of more sales. Though 2012 was a particularly harsh year for Europe in the macroeconomic environment.
Subsequent years saw a Contemporary Evening sale performance that was s broad mix of disappointments and exciting surprises. In 2017, the market shifted strongly bullish. This year surpassed that sentiment.