This 11-year look back at London’s Spring Contemporary Evening sales—based upon data from Pi-eX—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 London June Evening sales of Contemporary art have been substantially reduced by Christie’s new strategy of focusing on the October sales season in London. Nonetheless, the pre-sale value of works on offer this season in the two remaining Evening sales is greater than last year. We will know more by the end of the week whether Christie’s has abandoned the June sales too soon. The auction house has even hedged its bet slightly by including a seven-figure Pierre Soulages work to its day sale of lower-value art.
Before the sales begin, let’s look back at the last 11 years of Evening sales data compiled by our friends at Pi-eX. The origins of Christie’s move away from this season lie in a long-standing desire to remake the auction calendar. But there was a proximal cause to the decision created by the 2015 June Evening sales.
In that season, both Sotheby’s and Christie’s had tough sales that signaled caution about the Contemporary art market in general but specifically about the strength of the June sales season. At Christie’s that season, there were four works by Gerhard Richter that failed to find buyers.
At Sotheby’s, the damage was much greater where nearly £50m in low estimate value failed to sell. The works were by Francis Bacon, Andy Warhol, and Peter Doig, market stalwarts all.
Even with those failed lots, Sotheby’s posted a much larger sale total than Christie’s that season. In response, Sotheby’s scaled back but only to rebuild the value of the sales. Note in the chart of above of Sotheby’s June Contemporary Evening sale hammer totals that 2009 to 2015 is a steady progression of increasing sales totals. This year, Sotheby’s has more on offer in value terms than they did last year. So the auction house is taking the reset in stride.
Christie’s has seen a different pattern. Their sales shot up in 2012 only to reverse course as the firm focused on the New York auctions where they pushed higher and higher sale totals in the Contemporary category. Even though 2014 and 2015 were stable in terms of sales, the 2016 market retreat seems to have pushed Christie’s toward their new strategy.