In the first half of 2012 leading auction houses Christie’s and Sotheby’s show conflicting views on the state of the market. Despite the record-breaking sale of Munch’s “The Scream” Sotheby’s is posting a 15.8% decrease in sales from the similar period last year. Christie’s, however, is boasting an 11.2% increase.
For Christie’s, this first-half has been a record-breaking period with sales amounting to £2.2 billion. Most categories witnessed large jumps in sales figures including post-war and contemporary that rose by 34%, jewellery by 28% and old masters and 19th-century art by 50%. The Asian and Middle Eastern department though experienced a 23% drop. The top sale of the period was Mark Rothko’s “Orange, Red, Yellow” which sold for £53.9 million in New York in May. Other notable sales included two Yves Klein works (one selling for £23.6 million) and a Henry Moore sculpture entitled “Reclining Figure: Festival” that sold for £19.1 million.
In London, the major auction houses are noting an increase in interest in Post-War and Contemporary works. This period is generally the most successful in the American markets, but London buyers seem to prefer 19th and early 20th century works. At the end of June Sotheby’s, Christie’s, and Phillips de Pury were just £2 million shy of setting a London record for a week in Post-War and Contemporary sales. The record of £261 million was set in June 2008 before the banking crash. The sale of notables works by Francis Bacon, Yves Klein, Gerhard Richter, and Jean-Michel Basquiat contributed to the success of the contemporary auctions. Due, perhaps, to Olympic excitement, Phillips announced a record sale of a collaboration piece by Andy Warhol and Jean-Michel Basquiat for the 1984 Olympics that sold for £6.8 million.
The sales results from both Christie’s and Sotheby’s indicate interesting trends within the art market. While extremely high-end works are selling for record-breaking prices, lesser-known works are not faring so well. These sales figures seem to relate to the global financial climate in that the super rich are still super rich and able to purchase the best pieces on offer, whereas those with less wealth are becoming more discerning in their purchasing and cautious in their spending. That being said, Christie’s figures indicate a 23% increase in sales at the South Kensington showrooms that typically sell lesser known works. With the recent cooling of the Chinese economy, the formerly prosperous East Asian market saw marked decreases in sales. A Wall Street analyst recently downgraded Sotheby’s from ‘Buy’ to ‘Hold’ due to the first-half results figures. It is clear that the art market is still doing well though with continuing instability of international finances, it remains to be seen how long this boom will last.
Words: Emily Sack © ArtLyst 2012