in other words

Everything you ever wanted to know about the art market but didn't know who to ask
Special Issue: Auction Analysis

Breaking Down Postwar & Contemporary by Numbers

Jean-Michel Basquiat, Flexible (1984) © 2018 Estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York, NY

BY Charlotte Burns
executive editor of In Other Words

AND Joe Dunning
director at AAP

In Analysis

Contemporary Evening Sales

Overall, the houses made a combined $921.1m in their evening sales: Christie’s totaled $397.2m; Sotheby’s $392.3m and Phillips $131.6m. This was up on last season’s combined $733m and the previous May’s total of $877.6m.

As was the case in November, the bulk of the action was in the $1m to $5m range. Excluding all Impressionist and Modern works included in Sotheby’s Mandel sale and Phillips’ main evening auction, 78 lots sold across the houses for a combined total of $200.3m. Across the $5m to $10m range, 28 lots sold for a combined $189.6m. Above $10m, 21 lots sold for a combined total of $484.5m.

Sotheby’s offered 75 lots, selling 73 for $392.3m total (97% sold by lot). Excluding the Impressionist and Modern lots in the Mandel Collection (see “Breaking Down Impressionist & Modern by Numbers“), there were 67 contemporary works offered, 65 of which sold (97%) for a total of $367.5m. Most of the activity here was for works sold between $1m and $5m (37 lots for a total $90.1m). Above this, activity was fairly evenly spread: 11 lots sold between $5m and $10m to total $78.2m; 10 lots sold for more than $10m (total $194.2m).

Christie’s sold 58 of the 64 lots on offer for a total $397.2m (91% by lot). Here too, the majority of action by volume was within the $1m to $5m price band, within which 26 works sold (total $72.7m). 13 lots sold between $5m and $10m for a combined total of $85.8m. The majority of the value was in the nine lots sold above $10m ($232.3m).

Phillips offered 33 contemporary lots, selling 30 for a combined $125.1m (91% by lot). By volume, works in the $1m to $5m range once again provided the bulk of the action: 15 lots for a total $37.5m. The value came from the two lots that sold above $10m—Robert Motherwell’s At Five in the Afternoon (1971) at $12.7m and Jean-Michel Basquiat’s Flexible (1984) for $45.3m, making a combined $58m.

Contemporary Day Sales

Phillips offered 227 contemporary lots in its day auction, selling 199 for a total $21.6m at a sell-through rate of 87% by lot. Combined with the $2.4m made from the 12 Modern works it sold in the same auction, the $24m set a new benchmark for its day sales, setting a third consecutive record (beating the $20.8m total in November 2017 and $18.6m in May 2017).

The vast majority of the lots at Phillips sold for below $100,000 (139 lots for a total $5.4m) while the bulk of the value was between $100,000 to $500,000 ($55 lots for a total $12.3m).

Sotheby’s sold 312 of the 357 lots in its day sale for a total $107m (88% sell-through). Most of the works sold for prices between $100,000 and $500,000 (143 lots for a combined $37.6m) while most of the value came from the 23 lots that sold between $1m and $5m for a total $43.6m.

Christie’s offered 296 lots, selling 239 for a total $102.3m (81%). Most of the works sold were in the $100,000 to $500,000 price bracket (140 lots for a total $37.2m) while the majority of the value came from the 22 lots that sold between $1m and $5m for a combined $42.2m.

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