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The growth of the African American art market has been a buttressed in some of the most important ways by the efforts of Nigel Freeman and his team at Swann Galleries. Beginning in 2009, Freeman and Swann have steadily built the market for Modern and Contemporary art by African-American artists. Until 2015, growth was limited. But from 2015 to 2017, Swann’s African American sales were substantially higher over both sales held that year. The new market volume wasn’t sustainable but over the next two years, Swann was able to steadily increase sales auction by auction.
The growth of the market at Swann is easier to see with a four-sale moving average where we can see that the rise is fairly steady (Swann held three sales in 2014 so the sale totals are lower but the yearly total was actually an increase.) The 2015 to 2017 period showed much sharper growth than in the past but was no match for the accelerating of the last two years or last four sales. The chart above shows the four-sale moving average as a light green line.
Total sales are not the only measure of market growth. Average prices tell us a bit about the changes in market composition (though the number has its own biases.) Average prices in these sales are more volatile that the total spend in the sale. October of 2015 and April of 2018 were sharp spikes in the average prices in Swann’s sales. Those average price spikes do help pull up the overall price level over time. Yes, there was a dip in average prices in October 2016, but the two spikes are followed by consolidating average prices at a new level.
We’ve added a moving average for the average price level (if that makes sense) so readers can see the broader progress in average price level over time. So far, the average price level has kept rising.
Just to tie this up in a neat package, we’ve created a chart of the Swann Galleries total sales volume and average price plotted along side each other so readers can see the interaction between average prices and sales volume. Notice the way the peaks coincide. Sales volume and average prices are rising together. That tells us the works in the sale are getting more valuable rather than sales increasing simply due to greater volume of lots or fewer lots accounting for the same overall volume.
Average prices in Swann Galleries African American art sales remain above the level of October 2017 when sales volume shifted into a much higher level. That suggests the African American art market is still quite strong and capable of making another move in the next few years.