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Contemporary Art Surges Ahead at Spring Sales

Spring sales of Impressionist, modern and contemporary art, held from May 3-13, produced $598.4 million, a drop from last spring’s take of $634.2 million but still among the highest totals in recent seasons and nearly double the $299.3 million reported in spring 2003. The major New York auctions, held each fall and spring, have climbed

NEW YORK—Spring sales of Impressionist, modern and contemporary art, held from May 3-13, produced $598.4 million, a drop from last spring’s take of $634.2 million but still among the highest totals in recent seasons and nearly double the $299.3 million reported in spring 2003. The major New York auctions, held each fall and spring, have climbed steadily since a drop after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, peaking at $678 million last fall.

Christie’s dominated both sale categories this season, taking $179.5 million for Impressionist and modern art and another $170.95 million for contemporary art, earning $350.5 million altogether. Sotheby’s realized $118.6 million for Impressionist art and $94 million for contemporary art, for a total of $212.6 million. Phillips, de Pury & Company, which no longer holds sales of Impressionist art, posted $35.2 million in evening and day sales of contemporary art.

Totals for Impressionist and modern art at Christie’s and Sotheby’s dropped, to $298.2 million from $387.92 million in the fall, even as the upward trajectory of the contemporary art market continued. This time around, combined contemporary sales rose by $9.9 million, to $300.2 million, at Christie’s, Sotheby’s and Phillips, surpassing the traditionally dominant Impressionist and modern figures.

Commenting on the divergent moods and results at Sotheby’s and Christie’s, PaceWildenstein president Marc Glimcher told ARTnewsletter, “You couldn’t draw generalizations about the market. Each night was somewhat extreme. Initially the reaction was, ‘There is no good material, the sales are dull, and people are losing interest.’ The next night at Christie’s the sentiment was, ‘Wow! Quality sells and brings out huge prices.’”

Glimcher adds, “So many things happened during the auctions that did make sense, and that includes works that didn’t do well. There’s a ton of sense in the art market as well as nonsense.”

The sold-by-lot rate of Impressionist art was 79.5 percent, with 564 of 710 lots on offer finding buyers. Of the 1,199 contemporary works offered, 933 were sold, for a rate of 78 percent. Roughly 68 auction records were set at the three houses, most of them for contemporary works, including: 25 at Christie’s contemporary sales and 2 at its Impressionist auction; 11 at Sotheby’s evening contemporary sale; and 30 at Phillips’ evening and day contemporary sales.

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