It wasn’t a big event by any stretch. This past weekend’s sale of Post-War and Contemporary Art at Christie’s London brought a mere $1,855,077 for the 108 lots sold. To put matters in perspective, this total sale represents less than one third of the price paid for the 1,000th most expensive work of art ever sold at auction.
The performance of the evening’s highest-priced lot, however, suggests that a recovery might well be underway in the contemporary market. Marlene Dumas’ Dancer (1999), which was originally estimated to sell in the range of $151,600–227,400, ended up bringing $379,622, including the buyer’s premium-double the mid-range estimate.
Marlene Dumas is no stranger to high prices; her most expensive work, The Visitor (1995), sold for $6,333,848 in July 2008 at Sotheby’s London. All of her top ten auction sales have brought more than $1 million when buyer’s premiums are included.
What is remarkable about the sale of Dancer, however, is the relatively low price it brought when one considers the sales for other works from the artist’s “Strippinggirls” series (Dancer‘s peer group). Painted between 1998 and 2000 in collaboration with the photographer and film director Anton Corbijn, this series does not belong to Dumas’ highest-priced tier of works, although its average price, $883,603, is well above what Dancer brought in at Christie’s yesterday. Only one painting from this group has sold for less when Spread (1999) went for $141,900 at Christie’s in November 2003.
Given the volatility of the contemporary art market, it is too early to say how Dumas’ works will perform going forward. The modest price brought at Christie’s suggests that Dancer will likely prove to be an attractive acquisition for its buyer—assuming, of course, that said buyer has a reasonable tolerance for short-term price volatility, is prepared for a long holding period, and was motivated by future market considerations in the first place.
To view the peer group for this sale and repeat sales data on Dumas’ works, visit Skate’s Art Market Research.