Optimistic Results For London Art Auctions

Isaac Mostovicz writes that contemporary art auction results are pleasing...

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Following up on my previous post covering the Contemporary Art Auctions that took place in London in June, I can happily note that positive predictions proved accurate. Despite several pessimistic estimates by market pundits, outcomes are above expectations.

Prestigious auction house Sotheby’s sold 37 out of 40 lots for a total of £25,549,450 (almost $42 million). This is 92.5 per cent sold, a sell-through percentage which, according to Sotheby’s contemporary art expert Cheyenne Westphal, is “one of the highest ever”. The auction’s top price came for Andy Warhol’s Tunafish Disaster, which sold for £3,737,250 ($ 6.1 million). Ten of the lots at the auction sold for over $1 million.

At Christie’s 35 out of 40, or 88 per cent, of lots were sold for a total of £31,063,350 ($31,778,604). This minimal failure rate of 12 per cent compares with the auction house’s best performances, when the market was on its height. Peter Doig’s Night Playground went for £3,009,250 (ca $5 million), fetching the highest ever action price for the artist.

Phillips De Pury & Company sold 30 out of 39, or 77 per cent, of their lots for a total of 7,396,700. It set the sales record for an astonishing 18 artists including Jack Goldstein and Ashley Bickerton.

However, despite these delightful outcomes, sales results of auctions are still substantially below what contemporary art auctions achieved when the art boom was at its height.

As one could expect, this is not necessarily the fault of bidders, but largely due to consignors, who are unwilling to sell high-profile, high-value pieces in a weak market. Auction houses have also shown an unusual unwillingness to guarantee sellers minimum prices on lots.

Considering this, as well the current financial climate, bidders were impressively keen, chasing artists rarely or even never seen at auction. Art advisor Wendy Goldsmith, quoted at Bloomberg.com, said that buyers “now focus on the available material. The market has stabilized. From now on things will improve”.

Photo by Ehsan Khakbaz

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