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.
Our friends at Pi-eX have provided us with the last 12 years of hammer totals for the Impressionist and Modern May Evening sales and the Contemporary Evening sales. These totals reflect only the regularly held Evening sales and exclude special collections like the Rockefeller sale last year and special auctions like the curated “masterpiece” sales of previous years.
The combined low estimate of the Impressionist and Modern Evening sales is in the mid-$500m range. For Contemporary art, that number is closer to low end of the $700m range.
Impressionist and Modern art could easily out perform but based on recent years, the number is likely to be lower than last year but higher than the previous peak year of 2015. The number of Impressionist and Modern works brought to auction continues to come down even as the value rises in these sales. That’s a reflection of the increasing asset value of art in general and Modern works in particular.
Switching to aggregate sales, we can see that although the aggregate estimate range has been relatively steady since 2015, the performance has not been. May 2018 had several high value lots offered without estimates that skewed the performance in the end. The lots offered without estimates this year are over overall lower values than last year.
For Contemporary art, the aggregate estimate range levels off from 2016 on. The performance of estimated lots too has been within a tight range. It is worth noting that the preceding four-year period showed an increasing estimate range but a similarly tight range of performance on the estimated lots. The big variable comes from the lots offered without estimate. These have made a dramatic difference in the overall performance. Again, this is a sign of the effect that the very top of the market has on the overall dollar volume spent in these sales cycles.
Looking at the same results as average prices, we can see that the Impressionist and Modern sales have bounced around in average price. These charts don’t average the works sold without estimates which creates some more volatility, especially in the last three years of sales performance. They also don’t reflect special collections like the Rockefeller sale which had far more Impressionist and Modern work on the market than is normally absorbed and it did so without damaging the average prices.
Contemporary shows a very different profile in terms of average prices. Not only are the last seven years fairly consistent, the average price for estimated lots has been falling slightly in the Evening sales. This may reflect the increasing diversity of the Contemporary art market as more artists are featured in the Evening sales often at lower prices.