This analysis the past 10 years of Second Quarter sales at the three main auction houses—Christie’s, Sotheby’s and Phillips—was made possible with data from our friends at Pi-eX. It is available to AMMpro subscribers. Subscriptions begin with a free month for the curious.
Sales at Sotheby’s, Christie’s and Phillips in London, New York and Hong Kong were down in the first quarter of 2019 from the levels reached the previous year. Over the last decade in the art market, sales seem to follow cyclical patterns where volume rises and falls with some regularity.
The most important recent year in the art market was 2016 when sales dropped dramatically from the previous year and, even, the two subsequent years. This year’s results so far show the market moving back toward a position midway between strong years like 2014-15 and 2017-18.
The composition of the sales in Q1 has not remained steady over this period. Pi-eX has produced a chart with overall volume of sales segmented by market. You can see that the US contributed more to the total volume this year than last year but not as much as in 2017. The UK’s portion of overall sales smaller than 2018 and and most other years in the chart. China is smaller this year than last but still quite a bit more sales volume than at any other time.
Much of the fluctuation in value comes from the top of the market as shown in this chart that divides the results by Day versus Evening sales. The increase in Day sale volume over the period from 2016-18 is even more interesting when put in context of the auction houses’ concerted effort to reduce the number of lots sold and increase the sell-through percentages.
In the chart, below, you can see the steady decline in the number of day sales held in recent years which is also an effect of the auction houses moving their low-value works into online sales.
Finally, we have a break down of the sales by category. The Contemporary art category has two compelling trend lines. From 2010 to 2015, Contemporary art sales rose steadily and dramatically to a peak in 2015. The market re-set of 2016 inaugurated another upward trend with a sharp jump in Q1 Contemporary art sales last year. In 2019, that number has pulled back sharply from 2018 but remains slightly above 2017 suggesting the Contemporary art market still has a healthy amount of demand.