This analysis of the November 2019 New York Contemporary sales is available to AMMpro subscribers. Monthly subscriptions begin with the first month free. Feel free to subscribe and cancel before you are billed.
There were a number of notable anomalies in the New York sales of Contemporary art earlier this month. The headline numbers were down significantly but the market itself seems to be strengthening. How is that possible? Well, the curious thing about the art market is that the concentration of value in the very top of the market can drive headline sales without actually producing a robust market for art. The pool of buyers for works priced above $50m is obviously quite small no matter how many very wealthy persons there are in the world. But what has become apparent this season, like no other season before it, is that the market for still quite valuable works of art priced anywhere from the tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars, and even to the single-digit millions, is experiencing a critical mass moment.
This is most visible in a single comparison of statistics. The total dollar volume spent on Contemporary art this year in New York declined from the previous year by 21%. The Evening sale total was down even more than that. In November 2018, there was $994m in art purchased in the Evening sales of Contemporary art; but this November that number dropped to $704m or 29% lower year-over-year.
This is the big decline that many observers remarked upon both before and after the sales. What few have noticed is that the Day sale totals were up dramatically. For several years, the auction houses have been concentrating on increasing the sales of Contemporary art in the so-called middle market often seen best in the day sales. Sotheby's has been particularly aggressive in building this high-volume (of lots) and high(er) margin business segment.
Last year, the November day sales of Contemporary art totaled $218m. That was considered quite strong and a testament to the vibrancy of the market. This November, Christie's posted a $117m day sale of Contemporary art, a record for this type of sale. The total across Sotheby's, Phillips, Christie's and Bonhams in Contemporary art day sales was a whopping $263m. That's a nearly 21% rise from an already strong base.
It's too early to tell. But the numbers suggest we've reached new territory in the Contemporary art market.
Sign up to Art Market Monitor Premium today
You need a membership to AMMpro to view this article and other exclusive content daily.
You can register today for $90 per month—with your first month free!—or for $756 per year (no free trial period.)
If you already have an account, sign in here: