ARTnewsletter Archive

Contemporary Art Eclipses Imp/Mod Again at Fall Auctions

Postwar and contemporary art sales surged again at the major fall auctions as fresh material sparked competitive bidding from buyers all over the world and affirmed the continued strength of the market.

NEW YORK—Postwar and contemporary art sales surged again at the major fall auctions as fresh material sparked competitive bidding from buyers all over the world and affirmed the continued strength of the market.

At the end of a four-day sale series (both evening and day auctions) at Phillips de Pury & Company, Christie’s and Sotheby’s, the overall contemporary art total was $769.4 million, compared with $755 million in contemporary sales achieved in fall 2010 and $718 million achieved this past spring.

“It’s unbelievable that something like this can happen in a deep recession like what we are in,” London dealer Nicolai Frahm told ARTnewsletter. “It kind of goes with the predictions that great art is going to be more or less recession proof. This is really one of the best contemporary sale series ever.”

The leader in the contemporary sector was Sotheby’s with a total of $370 million. It was followed by Christie’s, which posted a total of $318.1 million, and Phillips, which realized $81 million—far higher than its $26 million total last November, excluding its special “Carte Blanche” sale results.

Continuing a trend that has gathered momentum in recent seasons, the volume of contemporary sales far surpassed that of Impressionist and modern art, which realized $400.2 million in the recent season. The change reflects both the tastes of younger, wealthy international buyers as well as the decreasing supply of Impressionist and modern masterpieces available, as the best works have been snapped up by major private collectors and institutions.

Said Frahm: “Art has really become one of the safest, if not the safest asset class. People really trust in it in a way they have never done before. Buyers are now from all over the world. It has really become such a global market where everyone wants to get in on the action.”

For the two-week series, which includes the Impressionist and modern sales held in the first week of November, the auction houses realized $1.16 billion compared with $1.29 billion seen last fall.

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