Our friends at Pi-eX have been compiling the sale catalogues for May’s all-important auctions in New York. They exclude works that are published with “estimate upon request.” Those works tend to be very high value. But there are only a handful of those. Nonetheless, the combined low estimates for the Evening sales in New York for Contemporary art and Impressionist and Modern art give us a rough sense of the marketplace relative to previous years. These numbers are only for the regular Evening sales and do not include any curated sales or single-owner collections that might have their own dedicated sale. Pi-eX does this to maintain some consistency.
What you see in the first chart, above, is that the expectations for Contemporary art have surpassed even the peak year of 2015. That was the peak year for expectations even though the previous year of 2014 ended up being the better year for performance. Perhaps more striking than assembled Contemporary art relative to the 2014-15 peak is the difference between this year and the previous three May Contemporary sales cycles.
Switching to Impressionist and Modern art, the charts are somewhat more consistent. There’s a slight increase in low-estimate value this year over the previous two years. But the overall level of expectations is still a way off the level set in 2014.
Pi-eX helpfully breaks down the low estimate value in to groups based upon the price points so we can see how much of the market value comes from works at different price levels. Below you can see that he main difference in Contemporary art is the sudden return of a number of lots at the $50m level. Jeff Koons’s Rabbit, Robert Rauschenberg’s Buffalo II, and the Double Elvis [Ferus Type] together account for something like half of the jump in 2019.
Impressionist and Modern art is different. Here the rise in value is coming from works with low estimates between $1m and $4m. and between $4m and $10m. That should be a healthy sign for that market if the works sell and sell well.
Auction house guarantees are a perennial subject of interest and concern in the art market. Pi-eX’s tabulations show that third-party guarantees are down in Contemporary art having been replaced by direct guarantees. That’s mostly a function of the Newhouse collection at Christie’s where all but the top lot is directly guaranteed. That’s also a reflection of the confidence of sellers who are increasing eschewing guarantees for a greater portion of the resulting sale. In Contemporary art, there seems to be a trend toward increasing number of third-party guarantees for lower value works where the auction houses may be trying to cultivate both buyers and sellers.
The guarantee game is a little different in the Impressionist and Modern market, as we can see in the chart below. This season, third-party guarantees have increased but remain a smaller part of the overall market.