This analysis of the November 2018 Contemporary sales in New York is available to AMMpro subscribers. Monthly subscriptions begin with the first month free. Feel free to subscribe and cancel before you are billed.
The Contemporary art market may feel pricey and pushed by guarantees to the point where the sales are often anti-climactic. By the numbers, Contemporary art is striking in its strength, breadth and depth. Yes, the top lot of the week dominated with its will-it-won't-it tension over the sale price. In the end, the Hockney painting sold for the low estimate the consignor was demanding which demonstrates the amount of energy that has gone into this market achieving its ambitions. Nonetheless, the broader numbers were a step forward for the market. In Contemporary art, nearly $1bn in transaction volume took place at Christie's, Sotheby's and Phillips. That was up 35% from last November's sales cycle. Much of the increase came from the Ebsworth collection so top heavy in works by Willem de Kooning, Jackson Pollock and Jasper Johns, but the presence of the Hockney and Mary Tyler Moore's Richard Diebenkorn painting that made a near-record were important contributors to the soaring totals.
There were significant sales for a number of classic artists like Alexander Calder and Gerhard Richter at strong prices. For the first time in some time, the day sales found a limit to their momentum. With $218m in sales during the auctions held between evening events, down from $233m the previous year, the day sales were hardly damaged or facing serious problems. The blip in sales volume, sell-through rates and average prices during the day sales could easily be a seasonal anomaly or the product of the mix of works on offer.
The only directional information the day sale totals provide is a sense that the middle market's upward momentum has some limit. In the longer run, that may be a much healthier market development.
The most dynamic lot on offer last month was the Philip Guston drawing, Window, (above) sold from the Anderson collection of works on paper that did not do as well as many (us included) expected. Individual high quality works like the Guston drawing were bid up. But the collection itself did not perform to the level of the best works perhaps because they were distributed through different sales like the Contemporary Evening sale rather than sold together as a group either in a single-owner sale or during the day sales.
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