ARTnewsletter Archive

Exuberant Spring Auctions Spiral to $894.5 Million

Spring sales of Impressionist, modern and contemporary art, held at Christie’s, Sotheby’s and Phillips, de Pury and Company from May 2-12, rose to $894.5 million, up nearly 50 percent from the $598.4 million seen last spring and 17 percent above the $765.3 million realized last fall. The season total is one of the highest ever.

NEW YORK—Spring sales of Impressionist, modern and contemporary art, held at Christie’s, Sotheby’s and Phillips, de Pury and Company from May 2-12, rose to $894.5 million, up nearly 50 percent from the $598.4 million seen last spring and 17 percent above the $765.3 million realized last fall. The season total is one of the highest ever.

Once again, the sales indicated a booming market for contemporary art— more than 140 artists’ records were set. At Christie’s, contemporary auctions taking $211.1 million slightly outpaced Impressionist sales of $208.7 million. Sotheby’s moved into the lead this spring, grossing $433.4 million, well ahead of Christie’s $419.86 million total. Sotheby’s Impressionist and modern sales fetched $248.29 million, while its contemporary auctions realized $185.1 million.

Phillips, which no longer holds Impressionist art sales, took $41.2 million in two sales of contemporary art. The house has carved out a considerable, and successful, niche selling cutting-edge works by contemporary artists—much of it produced in just the last two decades.

“We are seeing an increasing number of collectors—that is the right word— collectors,” Robert Mnuchin, a codirector of L&M Arts, Manhattan, told ARTnewsletter. “There may be speculators, but we are not seeing them. We are seeing an increasingly broad base of buyers who are interested in collecting and pursuing art. That would speak to a relatively good underpinning of the market.”

The number of Impressionist lots offered at Sotheby’s and Christie’s was 652, fewer than the 710 works on the block last spring. However, the sell- through rate remained steady, with 81 percent of the works on offer finding buyers, compared with 79.5 percent a year ago. Despite this drop in the number of works being auctioned, the $457 million Impressionist total for both houses was far ahead of the $298.2 million scored last May.

Meanwhile, both the sale rate and the number of contemporary works on offer climbed considerably—to 87 percent, for a combined 1,475 works at the three houses, compared with the 78 percent sell-through rate for 1,199 works a year ago. Contemporary sales at the three houses collectively realized $437.5 million, also far ahead of the $300.2 million recorded last spring.

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