This analysis of Swann Galleries’s African American art sales in New York is available to AMMpro subscribers. Subscriptions begin with a free month for the curious.
Swann Galleries has developed the African American art market with a singular focus for a decade. Their sales have helped define the category for collectors, locate works and provide a measure of demand. Over the decade, sales totals have almost quadrupled. The following charts break that growth into finer detail.
Much of the market interest comes from the rising value of particular artists who drive the category. This season, Norman Lewis’s Block Island led the sale with a $389k price, far from his most valuable price at auction which is $965k which was achieved in the Fall of 2015.
Swann’s sales have developed the market for artists like Barkley Hendricks where other houses have gone on to tap broader pools of collectors to push the prices even higher.
When we look at the Swann results sale by sale, we can see some inflection points in the rise of this market. Despite some brief false starts when average prices rose sharply in Oct ’09 or when volumes and average prices rose together in Oct 11 and Feb 12, the Swann sales from April 2015 have been on a growth path in both sales volume and average prices.
The rise has been characterized by advances and consolidations that one can easily see in the chart below. Both sales in 2015 revealed an upward spike in demand. By October 2016, average prices had reached a bottom before resuming an upward climb. The most important fact in the drop in sales volume in April 2016 and the bottom in average price the next season is that these lows were still higher than the previous period that ended in 2014. The average price in October 2016 was slightly below but still in the approximate same range as Oct 11 and Feb 12. The ceiling for average prices had become the floor. That’s usually a strong sign in markets.
To get a better sense of the growth in sales volume, we took that data and created a four-sale moving average. That chart, below, gives a better look at the progress Swann is making in building the category.
The inflection point in 2015 has been recreated in the period from April 2018 to present. If Swann can maintain this same level of sales volume, and it is important to note that the April 2019 sale did not have as many high value lots as some of the stand out sales like the one held the previous year, the moving age will continue to rise in October.
Looking at the average price per sale, we can see the rise began a little earlier and is as sharp as the rise in volume beginning in October 17. Again, the April 18 sale was an anomaly with several high-value lots by a broad range of artists from Beauford Delaney to Elizabet Catlett to Jacob Lawrence, Charles White and Norman Lewis which skewed the average price well above the trend. Even so, the next sale was able to keep average prices near the previous high and at the level of the sale that preceded that record. That too was a strong indicator of the market depth on the supply and demand sides.