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Everything you ever wanted to know about the art market but didn't know who to ask
Special Issue: Analyzing the November New York Auctions

Value and volume

Auction week by the numbers

New York auction totals since May 2008. Graph by Julia Vennitti

BY Julia Vennitti
editorial assistant

Published
In Analysis

More than $1.4bn was spent across the categories of Impressionist, Modern, postwar and contemporary art during the sales in New York last week. 

Impressionist and Modern evening sales

Christie’s offered 58 lots in its Impressionist and Modern Art evening sale, selling 52 for a total of $191.9m, with a sell-through rate of 90%. In terms of performance against estimate, the bulk of the sale hammered below the low estimate: 21 of 52 lots (40% of the sale). Nonetheless, 19 hammered above (37% of the sale) and 12 hammered within (23%).

The bulk of the value and volume took place in the $1m to $5m range, with 29 lots (59% of the volume) selling for a total $71.1m (37% of the total). This was a shift from previous seasons when there were more higher-value lots. So, last week four works selling for more than $10m apiece provided 31% of the value ($59.3m) while, in May this year, nine lots in this range represented 65% of the value and, last November, eight lots sold above $10m to generate 53% of the sale’s value. 

There was solid activity this season in both the $500,000 to $1m range (10 lots, or 19% of the volume, sold for a combined $7.6m) and the $5m to $10m range (eight lots, or 15% of the volume, for a total $53.5m, or 28% of the sale’s value).

Camille Pissarro, Jardin et poulailler chez Octave Mirbeau, Les Damps (1892) sold for $10.3m with fees in the Christie’s evening sale of Impressionist and Modern art, against an estimate of $4m to $6m

Sotheby’s offered 50 lots, selling 42, in its Impressionist and Modern art evening sale for a total of $209m, a sell-through rate of 84%. Here too, most of the lots hammered below the low estimate (21 lots, or 50% of the volume), with 30% hammering above the high (13 lots) and eight works hammering within estimate (19% of the sale’s volume).

The bulk of the value came from the five lots that sold for more than $10m for a total $91.1m—44% of the sale’s value. This was down on May when 60% of the value came from five lots selling above $10m and November last year when 64% of the value was generated by the ten works sold in this range. 

The rest of the value for this season’s sale was fairly evenly spread between the $5m to $10m range (seven lots selling for a combined $54.4m) and the $1m to $5m range (23 lots selling for a combined $4.2m). Just two lots sold between $100,000 and $500,000, generating a combined $600,000 (2% of the sale’s value).

Post-war and contemporary evening sales

Francis Bacon, Pope (c. 1958) sold for $6.6m with fees during the evening sale of contemporary art at Sotheby’s, against a $6m to $8m estimate

In its contemporary art evening auction, Sotheby’s offered 50 lots, selling 46 for a total of $270.6m at a sell-through rate of 92%. A large number of those works hammered above the high estimate (21 lots, or 46% of the sale). Ten works hammered below the low estimate (22% of the sale), while 15 (33%) hammered within. 

Overall, the sale total was down from May ($341.9m) and November ($362.6m). This season, most of the value came from six works which sold for more than $10m, totaling $120.7m. Just one lot sold within the $500,000 to $1m range, generating $860,000 in revenue and representing less than 1% of the sale’s value. 

Though 59% of the sale’s volume sold within the $1m to $5m range (27 lots) they comprised just $72.8m of the sale total, or 27% of value. Meanwhile, 26% of the sale (12 lots) sold within the $5m to $10m price band, generating $76.3m (28% of the sale’s value). 

In its postwar and contemporary art evening sale, Christie’s offered 54 lots, selling 48 for a total of $325.3m with a sell-through rate of 89%. This is almost $200m less than its total in May ($538.97m) and also down on November ($357.6m).

More than half of the works offered (23 lots) hammered below the low estimate. The remaining works were split evenly between selling above and within the estimate.

Most of the sale’s value came from eight works which sold for more than $10m, for a combined total $170.9m. The rest of the sale found most of its value in the $1m to $5m range (28 lots sold for a total $86.5m, or 27% of the value) and the $5m to $10m range (nine lots sold for a total $65.5m, or 20% of the sale’s value). Just three lots sold between $500,000 and $1m, for a $2.3m total (less than 1% of the sale’s value).

In its 20th-century and contemporary art evening sale, Phillips offered 42 lots, selling 40 for a total of $108.1m (a 22% increase from $88.5m total last November, and up on May’s $99.9m total) at a sell-through rate of 95%.

Much of the sale hammered below the estimate (18 lots, or 45%) while 33% (13 lots) hammered above, and 23% (nine lots) hammered within.

In terms of value, 28 lots sold within the $1m to $5m range for a total $72.1m, comprising 67% of the sale’s value. This was the vast majority of the sale’s revenue—only 14% of value each came from the $5m to $10m range (two lots, selling for a combined $15m) and the $10m-plus range (one work selling for $15m). Just three lots sold between $100,000 and $500,000 (for a combined $1.1m).

Ed Ruscha, Start Over Please (2015) sold for $4.2m with fees in the Phillips 20th century and contemporary art evening sale, against an estimate of $3.5m to $4.5m

Impressionist and Modern day sales

In its Impressionist and Modern art day sale, Sotheby’s offered 363 lots, selling 263 for a 72% sell-through rate and a total of $53.3m, topping the two previous sales seasons ($44.7m in May and $50.1m last November). Here, the majority of works (116 lots, or 44% of the sale) performed above estimate while 35% of the sale, or 91 lots, hammered below the low estimate and 56 works (21% of the sale) hammered within.

Most of the sales’ value (38%) came from the 88 lots that sold within the $100,000 to $500,000 range for a total $20.3m. Works which sold in the $500,000 to $5m price band comprised 49% of the value; 18 lots sold between $500,000 and $1m for a total $12m (23% of total value) and seven lots sold between $1m and $5m for a total $13.7m (26% of total value).

Alfred Sisley, La Seine au bas Meudon (1878-79) sold for $1m with fees in the Sotheby’s day sale of Impressionist and Modern art, against a $600,000 to $800,000 estimate

In its Impressionist and Modern art day sale, Christie’s offered 234 lots, selling 178 for a total of $24.2m with a sell-through rate of 76%. The sale was fairly evenly spread in terms of works performing above or below estimate: 74 lots (42% of the volume) hammered below the low estimate; 27 (15%) hammered within; and 77 (43%) hammered above. The overwhelming value of the sale—52%—came from 57 lots that sold within the $100,000-$500,000 range for a total $12.7m. The remaining value was spread across works which sold between $500,000 to $1m (nine lots, or 5% of the sale, generating $6.4m) and works which sold for less than $100,000 (111 lots, 62% of the sale generating $4m). Just one lot sold within the $1m to $5m range, representing 5% of the sale’s value.

Christie’s also staged an Impressionist and Modern Art Works on Paper sale, which totaled $12.2m. 

Post-war and contemporary day sales

Sotheby’s day sale of contemporary art saw 267 of 304 lots sell for $100.7m. Though this year’s sell-through rate was higher, at 88%, the sum is almost identical to last year ($101.1m at an 83% sell-through rate). More than half of the sale (56%) hammered above the high estimate while 26% of the sale (69 lots) hammered below the low estimate, and 18% of the sale (48 lots) hammered within.

The majority of the sale’s value came from works sold in the $1m to $5m range (20 lots sold for a total $37.7m, or 37% of value) and the $500,000 to $1m range (44 lots sold for a total $30m, or 30% of value). 

Meanwhile, 28% of the value came from works sold between $100,000 to $500,000; a total $28.2m across 114 lots.

Just 5% of the sale’s value came from 33% of its volume: 89 lots sold for less than $100,000, making up $4.8m of the overall total.

Raymond Pettibon, No Title (It Would Glisten…) (2010) sold for $1m with fees against an estimate of $500,000 to $700,000 during the Christie’s day sale of post-war and contemporary art

Christie’s post-war and contemporary art day sales totaled $117.1m, surpassing the $93m made in May. The morning session had a sell-through rate of 94% (selling 136 of 145 lots for $77m) while the afternoon session had a sell-through rate of 85% (selling 119 of 140 lots for $40.2m).

Overall, 56% of the morning session (76 lots) hammered above the high estimate, while the afternoon session sold 47% of works (56 lots) above the high estimate. In the morning session, 24% of the sale (32 lots) sold below the low while 21% (28 lots) sold within. In the afternoon session, 12% of the sale (14 lots) sold within the estimate and 41% of the sale (41 lots) sold below the low.

George Condo, The Picture Gallery (2002) sold for $920,000 during the Phillips day sale, within its estimate of $700,000 to $1m . Courtesy Phillips

Most of the morning session’s value, 48%, came from 17 lots sold in the $1m to $5m range for a total $36.6m. Then, 20% of the value came from 61 lots sold in the $100,000-$500,000 range for $15.7m. 

Meanwhile, in the afternoon session, 47% of the sale’s value came from 71 lots sold within the $100,000 to $500,000 range for $18.8m and 35% of value was generated by the eight lots sold within the $1m to $5m range for a total $14m. Just 3% of the sale’s value came from 31 lots that sold for less than $100,000 (a total $1m).

Phillips set a record for its combined 20th-century and contemporary art day sale results, selling 187 of 220 lots (at a sell-through rate of 85%) for a total of $19.8m in the afternoon session and 100 of 126 lots (at a sell-through rate of 79%) for a total of $19.8m in the morning session—a combined day sale increase of 58% from the previous year. 45% of the morning sale hammered above the high estimate, while the afternoon session was even higher at 55%.

The bulk of value and volume for the morning session was in the $100,000 to $500,000 range (selling 47 lots for $10m total). Thereafter, the value of the morning sale came from seven lots sold within the $500,000 to $1m range for a total $5m, representing 25% of the overall value. The same amount of value—12%—came from two lots sold in the $1m to $5m range for a total $2.5m as the 44 lots sold for less than $100,000 for a total $2.4m. Meanwhile, most of the afternoon session’s value, 51%, came from the $100,000 to $500,000 range (49 lots, for a combined $10m).