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.
This AMMpro post is made possible with data from our friends at Pi-eX. Subscribers will see charts made from the last 10 years of Q2 data compiled by Pi-eX. Monthly AMMpro subscriptions begin with a free month before you are billed. Feel free to cancel your subscription before you are billed if you do not like the information provided.
Pi-eX compiles the reported sales figures at the three international auction houses. In an effort to track activity in the art and luxury auction markets, Pi-eX reports regularly on the quarterly results. Separately, they report on the annual results.
Here we see charts of the last ten years of second quarter results. With the overall numbers broken down three different ways: by type of property (including whether the property came from an significant estate); by region; and by auction value with breakdowns by sales above $100m, below $100m and less than $10m.
The headline here is that although the second quarter of 2019 was below the total for 2018, the key difference in outcomes was not a decline in the market but the absence of some huge private collections sold during the period. Whether we look at the total sales for the auction houses—including design objects, watches and other property—or we only consider the sales of fine art, the chart says the same thing.
From 2016, when the market went through a dramatic reset, to present, there has been a steady rise is fine art sales. The Q2 total for Fine Art was about the same in 2018 and 2019 if you remove private collections like the massive Rockefeller sale and the Mandel collection. That plateau was still higher than 2017 and 2016. So the market’s fall this year is better understood as a return to trend. Though that trend is slowing.
Curiously, viewed through the prism of geography these sales show a decline in overall second quarter sales around the world. Since 2014, sales in Switzerland, France, China and the UK have all declined in absolute value. The Q2 totals for the United States have increased steadily over the last four years even (recognizing the blip of the special collections in 2018.)
From 2016 to 2019, second quarter sale totals have shown an increasing slant toward the US. Whether this is a reflection of the relative strength of the US economy in contrast to Europe and Asia or simply a reflection of the fact that a large portion of global art transactions, especially at the ver top the market, are conducted in dollars during sales in the United States.
The other trend Pi-eX has illustrated in these charts is that in the same period from 2016 to 2019 smaller sales have contributed less and less of the Q2 sales value. Larger sales with totals above $100m have picked up the slack.