Sales Trends from Spring Auctions 2015

May 31, 2015

The time has come to summarize this incredible New York spring sales of contemporary art at three biggest auction houses: Christie's, Sotheby's and Phillips. As you already know, that mad two weeks of auctions of Impressionism and Modern art, and Post-War and Contemporary art was worth more than $2.6 billion and brought many world records - the most famous one being a $179 million sale of Picasso's Women of Algiers (Version O) at Christie's, which is the new world record for an artwork sold at an auction. But, hey, how did just Post-War and Contemporary auctions go?

Lucian Freud's Benefits Supervisor Resting from 1994 was on sale at Christie's - it was sold for $50 million

Four Days of Sales Frenzy

We have taken into the account Day and Evening sales held from May 12 - 15 at New York's Christie's, Sotheby's and Phillips - a total of 7 auctions: three Evening sales at each auction house, and four Day sales, one at Sotheby's and Phillips and two at Christie's (two sessions, actually, but held with two days apart). The result? Total of $1,171,382,300, and that's without buyer's premium, so we could roughly say that around half of those $2.6 billion went on Post-War and Contemporary part. That info confirms the fact we've already known from analysis of the art market in last couple of years: Impressionism and Modern art, along with Post-War and Contemporary art are two biggest and fastest-growing segments of the art market.

But, let's go back to that four days frenzy. As expected, Christie's had the largest sales volume: total of $670,770,000 was spent on 417 lots ($578,680,000 on an Evening sale and $37,519,000 + $54,571,000 on two Sessions of Day sale), or average $1,608,561 per lot - not bad, huh? Sotheby's ranked second with $405,699,500 ($329,945,000 + $75,754,500) spent on 366 lots, which was good for average $1,108,468 per lot. Finally, Phillips had Evening and Day sale worth of $94,912,800 ($83,135,000 + $11,777,800), with the average of $400,476 per lot.

Roy Lichtenstein - The Ring (Engagement), 1962. This Lichtenstein's work was sold at Sotheby's Contemporary Evening Auction for $37 million

The Differences Between Evening and Day Sales

Sotheby's had the biggest percentage of sold lots at Evening sale (87.3), comparing with 84.7 percent at Christie's and 77.8 at Phillips, but Christie's had an edge over Sotheby's in lots sold over high estimate (one third at Christie's, and 32.7 percent at Sotheby's, with just 10.7 percent at Phillips). The total amount of money gathered at Evening sale at Christie's was just 2 percent shy of the sum of high estimates for sold lots, which was easily the best result among those three auction houses. So, to wrap it up, Christie's had the most successful Evening sale, closely followed by Sotheby's, and Phillips hadn't had that much of a success.

When we speak of Day sales, the general mark is that percentage of sold lots was lower than at Evening sales, except for Phillips (77.4 and 80.2 percents for two Sessions at Christie's, 78.1 percent at Sotheby's and 78.4 percent at Phillips), but the thing is that those lots that were sold, proportionally, sold better when looking at their estimated value: the sum of hammer prices at Day sale at Sotheby's was 0.5 percent bigger than the sum of high estimates (-13.4 percent at Evening sale); at Session II at Christie's was +1.2 percent (-2 percent at Evening sale) and at Phillips it was -15.7 percent (-25.6 percent at Evening sale). Only at Session I at Christie's this percentage was worse than at Evening sale: -16.6 percent. Session I at Christie's was also the most successful one in terms of percentage of lots sold over high estimate - almost half (47.7 percent) lots were sold over high estimate, in comparing with 42.1 percent at Sotheby's. Phillips and Christie's Session II did a lot worse - 24.3 and 22.2 percent, respectively.

All in all, you will find more numbers regarding these auctions in two tables bellow. Surely, those four days of May were historic, and they will be remembered, but then, if you take a look at the fact that guarantees would have been payed anyway, you start to wonder: were those days as much historic, as much they were one huge marketing message?

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All images for illustrative purposes only, courtesy of Christie's and Sotheby's.