Christie’s & Sotheby’s Auction Sales – Where Does the Art Market Stand?

As auction power houses wrapped up yet another record-breaking season with their latest cycle of Post-War & Contemporary (PWC) sales recently, posting an impressive $1.6 billion worth of sales (let’s be honest, that is a staggering amount of money…jaw dropping, really!) – I thought to highlight some of the standout lots and share my views on where the art market stands as 2014 draws to a close.

Flash Figures:
– Christie’s PWC evening sale totaled $852.8 million (a new record, best result to date for a one day/evening sale). While Sotheby’s posted sales of $343.7 million
75 out of 80 lots were sold at Christie’s vs. 66 out of 79 were sold at Sotheby’s
– Top lot at Christie’s: Andy Warhol’s Three Elvis (1968) sold for $81.9 million
– Top lot at Sotheby’s: Mark Rothko’s No. 21 (1953) sold for $45 million

Andy Warhol’s parade of silkscreen print gems seem to have stolen the show at Christie’s, Phillips and Sotheby’s PWC sales (a style that’s become iconic of Warhol’s career). Even as supply was rich, demand was just as strong for this American legend – the litmus test for the strength of the market is Gerhard Richter, Warhol’s work now seems to be a healthy contender as a sample study of art-conomics. In addition to Three Elvis, Warhol’s Four Marlons (sold for $69.6 million) and Liz #3 [Early Colored Liz] (sold for $31.5 million) just to name a few of the 64 lots that hit the auction block with only 10 failing to sell (totaling $290 million worth of Warhol!).

Fancy a fix of Warhol, but don’t have hundreds of millions of dollars to spend? Check out the Art Gallery of Ontario’s own Silver Liz as Cleopatra by Andy Warhol…it will only cost you the gallery’s entrance fee (or free for members!). The silver background is the same as in Three Elvis, one can only appreciate the texture and shine of this magical silver hue achieved by the artist, where the diamond dust glistens upon the canvas.
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Andy Warhol
Three Elvis
Image Courtesy of Christie’s

Another contemporary fellow whose artwork fared well is Pop Art icon, Roy Lichtenstein (and of one my favorite artists – Woman in Bath from 1963 fondly livened up my dark, cement barge of a dorm room in the towers of Ezra Stiles). The artist’s famous comic style, filled with speech bubbles and expressive emotions (beautifully created by tiny circles of pigments, Ben-Day dots) have become the archetypal style of the artist and in recent years have been particularly fetching to buyers. These latest sales have included more abstract pieces by the artist, breaking with his traditional 1960s manner that have realized equally impressive prices. Works such as Reflections on the Prom from 1990 (selling for $21.4 million) were enough to taunt buyers.
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Roy Lichtenstein
Woman in Bath
Image Courtesy of WikiArt

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Roy Lichtenstein
Reflections on the Prom
Image Courtesy of Christie’s

In light of the AGO’s upcoming Jean-Michel Basquiat retrospective, Now’s the Time set to hit Toronto in February (please mark your calendars now – this a must see show for anyone interested in contemporary art!). I wanted to highlight Sotheby’s sale of two paintings by Basquiat, so that you can properly admire the value of his work (monetarily and artistically speaking, of course!). Basquiat’s Untitled (1983) sold for $3.9 million – it was last sold at auction at Sotheby’s New York in May 1997, fetching $79,500. Another Untitled painting (1987), sold for $5.8 million (last for sale at Sotheby’s London in June 2007, selling for $1.3 million). Let’s hope the proper art insurance has been put into place to cover these rising values!

For the last few years as art keeps achieving higher and higher prices, critics, commentators and collectors alike have questioned, have we reached the top? Yet, just as quickly as these thoughts are uttered, records keep falling the following season, achieving even more illustrious price peaks. As each auction cycle draws to a close, the words on everybody’s lips are becoming all too familiar: will the bubble burst? Like all asset classes (yes, I do consider art to be an asset – if you are paying well within tens of millions of dollars for a work of art that is), it is impossible for the market to keep growing at an exponential rate and experiencing returns for pieces whose value has risen ten fold in the last decade (or even over the course of a few years ie: the Basquiat mentioned in the previous paragraph). The market is unsustainable, however, I don’t believe a complete market collapse will be taking place any time in the future à la 2008 (unless a total economic meltdown is in our midst…highly unlikely, where artwork sold for tens of millions of dollars will all of a sudden dip down to the hundreds of thousands range – sadly, that would STILL be out of my price range). I think what we can logically expect to see is an art market that will hold and level out over the coming years, a market where pieces will retain their value and no longer capitalized on immense returns.

Holly knows art.

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