This analysis of the September 2019 Mid-season Contemporary in New York is available to AMMpro subscribers. Monthly subscriptions begin with the first month free. Feel free to subscribe and cancel before you are billed.
Sales during the Mid-Season Contemporary auctions in New York rose again by almost 12% this year over last. The total sale for all three houses was $64m an increase over last year’s $57.3m and the $46.6m made in 2017. The rate of increase is slowing. But the total sales volume and the average price of a work sold in these auctions is still higher this year over the last two. Sell-through rates remains the same and only slightly fewer lots were offered this year as last year.
What is surprising to learn is that after years of growth in this so-called middle market, some shifts are beginning to emerge. The top ten lots sold that week accounted for almost a quarter of the total sales volume in September. That’s up from closer to 21% the year before. The hammer ratio was also a weak .96 suggesting the estimates are now fully in line with buyer’s expectations.
The market share numbers show a dramatic shift toward women artists. The top six artists by share of dollars spent in these sales included four women: Cecily Brown (who also had the top lot of the week), Helen Frankenthaler, Joan Mitchell and Yayoi Kusama. Louise Nevelson rounded out the list of women artists among the market leaders for a disappointing five out of 29. But at least painters who were women were able to take the top three spots.
For all of the excitement around the street artist KAWS, his market share fell this year both in dollar terms and share from the year before. He remained among the top artists but this time behind Andy Warhol who was able to improve his position even if his sales were difficult with half of the lots not finding buyers.
Sam Gilliam and Sam Francis held steady from year to year. But George Condo’s previously robust market seems to have evaporated from these sales.
The list of artists whose work dramatically out-performed estimates featured Larry Poons, Nicolas Party and Sam Gilliam with more than one work. The rest of the most dynamic lots were one-off examples like Martin Wong’s Ten Brooklyn Storefronts that caused such a stir when it sold for 12 times the low estimate.
The list of the top 35 lots from the auctions shows that there was still strong bidding for these works. Half of the lots were bid above the high estimates and only 20% were sold at compromise prices. Down here in the middle market there is still more room for works to be discovered by bidders than there is pressure to meet high estimates, even for celebrated artists like Cecily Brown, Joan Mitchell, Ed Ruscha, Helen Frankenthaler and more.