NEW YORK—Fall sales of Impressionist, modern and contemporary art at Sotheby’s, Christie’s and Phillips, de Pury & Company hit an unprecedented total of $1.38 billion in auctions held from Nov 7-17. Overall sales increased by $488.5 million, or nearly 55 percent, compared with sales last May of $894.5 million. The total for fall 2005 was $765 million.
This time the total for Impressionist and modern art sales alone—$847.3 million—is close to last May’s overall tally and nearly double the $457 million Impressionist and modern total. The surge in the overall volume of Impressionist and modern art this season represents a marked change from recent ones, when this category was nearly eclipsed by the increase in volume of postwar and contemporary sales—a category that also remained strong, with sales hitting $536.6 million, up from $437.5 million last spring.
“The sales were quite extraordinary,” Dominique Levy, co-owner of L&M Arts, New York, told ARTnewsletter. “All the elements were combined—the incredible quality of the works offered, as well as the emotional factor of a number of works that had been restituted. This is a very hungry market for great works of art.” Levy was also impressed by the strength of the demand for lesser works. “There is an incredible gap between the cost of high-level, extraordinary works and the cost for everything else,” she reports. “The difference between $2.5 million and $3 million becomes much easier when a great work costs $20 million. Suddenly it doesn’t feel that expensive.”
Michael Findlay, director of Acquavella Galleries echoes the point. “Not only did the very good things in the Impressionist and modern evening sales do well, but even the moderately good things sold [for higher-than-expected prices],” says Findlay. “That is a testament to how strong the art market is right now.”
With record prices and overall volume reaching such heights, some observers wondered how much higher prices can go. “The veteran in me says there is gravity and there will be an adjustment,” Findlay told ARTnewsletter. “It can only adjust down.” He adds, however, that the “roots of the Impressionist and modern art market are more secure—it’s slightly more impervious to fashion. If there is any kind of soft landing, the contemporary market may feel it more. What goes up the fastest comes down the fastest.”
Christie’s led the sales, posting a two-week total of $866.4 million, the highest such sum ever realized for the house. Sotheby’s took $476.3 million. Moreover, its sale of the collection of David Whitney on Nov. 16 reaped an additional $10.6 million in contemporary sales (of a sale total of $13.9 million), though this figure was not included in the house’s official two-week tally. The Phillips evening and day sales on Nov. 16-17—which were focused exclusively on contemporary art—made $41.2 million, the same total reached last spring.