This detailed analysis of the February Modern art sales in New York was made possible with data from our friends at Live Auction Art. It is available to AMMpro subscribers. Subscriptions begin with a free month for the curious.
Sitting in a airport VIP lounge during February's Evening sales of Impressionist, Modern and Surrealist art, a collector set down his iPad after watching the auctions and quipped, Magritte is the new Warhol.
It was a good line because it not only acknowledged the volume of work by the Surrealist master that had sold in the Winter season but it also nodded toward the restructuring of the Contemporary art market that has seen the mysterious disappearance of Andy Warhol from auction market leadership.
But it turns out that something even more fundamental may be taking place in the art market. It was only a year ago, in the same sales, that a mysterious buyer hoovered up works by Pablo Picasso through the clumsy and obvious bidding of Gurr Johns's Harry Smith.
That buying contributed to the £166m spent on Picasso's art that season which seemed, at the time, like a harbinger of another big year for the artist. Indeed, it was. The Picasso market reached another apex in 2018 with annual hammer price volume in Evening sales over $550m. The average price was also at a near peak just behind the previous record year of 2015 that saw lower sales but a higher average price.
Perhaps all of that market activity left buyers exhausted. Because this Winter in London, Picasso's market volume was less than 10% of the previous year's total. Evening sales totals were off by more than a quarter this season from last. Picasso dominated last year's sales with 42% of the market; Magritte took top spot this season with 13% of the spending volume.
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