Art Market Update May 2016

All eyes turned to New York as a busy week of sales followed right on the heels of Frieze NY. The display that had everyone talking at Frieze was the Maurizio Cattelan installation, a recreation of his 1994 work; Warning! Enter at your own risk. Do not touch, do not feed, no smoking, no photographs, no dogs, thank you, which featured a live donkey beneath a chandelier.

The installation was only the first talking point for works by Cattelan this week, as his contentious sculpture Him, a child-sized statue of a kneeling, penitent Hitler, appeared as one of the star lots in Christie’s curated sale Bound to Fail. Him was one of the many lots, along with Jeff Koons’ One Ball Total Equilibrium Tank and Bruce Nauman’s Bronze work Henry Moore Bound to Fail which sold to great success, kicking off a loaded auction week with turbulent results.



Phillips first sale of this May’s auction season was their 20th Century and Contemporary art evening auction, which garnered modest success having taken risks to bring in top-level lots, including works by Koons, Brice Marden and Cattelan. Of the 38 lot auction, 21 were backed with guarantees, leading to a high sell-through rate, however we believe that over half the guaranteed lots were sold to the guarantors, including, it was admitted post-auction, the star Koons lot, Naked, for the low estimate price of $5m hammer.

Christie’s achieved high targets and maintained a consistent sell-through rate. The combination of Bound to Fail and the evening auction demonstrated that informed buyers are likely to remain active so long as the quality of the works on show remains high.

In contrast to last May’s sales, Christie’s fell far short of its previous achievements. 2015’s curated sale Looking Forward to the Past achieved a staggering $705.9m, followed by their evening sale that reached $658.5m, making a stunning combined total of $1.4bn. Bound to Fail’’s modest $78.1 m fulfilled its titular prophecy and the evening sale’s high achievement of $318.4m, seem meagre by comparison with last May.

Many experts in the field, however, were supportive of Christie’s performance, including Managing Director of the Fine Art Fund Group, Guy Jennings, who said: “Less may be coming to the market in 2016 but prices are still strong, one cannot expect the same results in a constantly shifting market.” Guy went on to commend the “very strong performance and professionality of the Christie’s sales”, singling out the success of Bound to Fail which had a 97% sold-by-lot rate and a 98% sold-by-value rate.

Talk after the Post-War and Contemporary sale was rife with Jean-Michel Basquiat’s star lot Untitled that sold for $57.3m, with an unpublished estimate in excess of $40m, setting a new record for the artist at auction. There was also a noticeably strong performance coming from female artists in the sale, such as Joan Mitchell and Agnes Martin, with a new record being set for the latter’s Orange Grove at $10.7m.

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Christie’s achieved high targets and maintained a consistent sell-through rate. The combination of Bound to Sotheby’s evening sale followed with mixed results kicking off with a tidal success, as the first lot, Adrien Ghenie’s Self-Portrait as Van Gogh, sold for more than 7 times its high estimate of $300,000, reaching $2.1m hammer. The buyer, it was later revealed, was Japanese Millionaire Yusaku Maezawa, who collectively spent close to $98m on works of art this auction season, also snapping up in the same sale Christopher Wool’s Untitled (Chameleon) as well as the record breaking Basquiat from the Christie’s sale.
Other successes included Bacon’s Two Studies for a Self-Portrait which surpassed its estimate, reaching $34.9m, making it one of the highest selling lots of the night. The evening was, however, punctuated with disappointment as two Twombly star lots, including one of his iconic blackboard paintings, sold below their low estimates. Nonetheless, Sotheby’s presented a solid sale with high-calibre lots, proving that there is still a keen market for contemporary art amongst collectors whose eyes alight only for the best.


A different story can be read from the Impressionist and Modern sales. Neither house matched the same success achieved in the Contemporary sales, with Sotheby’s trailing behind as a third of its 62 lots failed to find buyers. This, however, is to the notable exception of lots such as Rodin’s marble sculpture Eternel Printempts which sold for $20.4m, setting a new record for the artist at auction and far exceeding its $12m high estimate. Monet’s Marée Basse aux Petites-Dalles was also another bright moment in the rocky auction, which nearly doubled its high estimate after a hotly contested 2 minutes of bidding, reaching $9.9m.

Coming at the end of a long and busy week of sales, there were fears that the Christie’s Impressionist and Modern evening sale would suffer from ‘auction fatigue’. This to a certain extent became true, though 86% of lots were sold at the Christie’s auction, bidding on the night was still extremely measured and not even the top lots sold above their high estimates. Modest prices were attained for some of the important artists of the early 20th century, including Modigliani, Monet and Picasso. The most successful lot of the night, and one of the few to outsell its high estimate, was Georges Braque’s Mandolin à Partition (Le Banjo) which struck up a bidding war between four bidders including the Nahmad family, finally selling to a telephone bidder for $10.2 million. A new record was also set for Frida Kahlo, whose work Two Nudes in a Forest reached $7million, albeit on only one bid.

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With highs and lows appearing throughout each of the sales, what the 2016 May auctions have made apparent is that buyers are looking for quality and in every case, where the quality was high, the bidding was high, showing rumours that the art market is faltering are more a reflection of the availability of artworks coming to the market, rather than a disinterest in buying art.

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Copyright 2016 The Fine Art Group, All rights reserved. Any unauthorized use or disclosure is prohibited. The graphs in this report have been prepared and issued by ArtTactic Ltd. The information herein was obtained from various sources; we do not guarantee its accuracy or completeness.
*Neither the information nor any opinion expressed constitutes an offer, or an invitation to make an offer, to buy or sell any works of art related to the artist in this report. This research report is prepared for general circulation and is circulated for general information only. It does not have regard to the specific investment objectives, financial situation and the particular needs of any specific person who may receive this report. You should seek specialist advice regarding the appropriateness of buying or selling any works of art or the strategies discussed or recommended in this report and should understand that statements regarding future prospects may not be realized. Investors should note that income from buying works of art, if any, may fluctuate and that each work of art’s price or value may rise or fall. Accordingly, investors may receive back less than originally invested. Past performance is not necessarily a guide to future performance. Foreign currency rates of exchange may adversely affect the value, price or income of any security or related investment mentioned in this report.
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