Thursday, April 1, 2021

Bringing Clarity to the Art Market



Bringing Clarity to the Art Market

In the past, the business of evaluating art was driven by connoisseurship.  But the art market has been evolving.  Institutions now are major factors in the market, and they need different tools.  They must measure performance, and continuously monitor and update performance on a real-time basis. That is why they need what they use to evaluate any other type of investment: data.

Banks, insurers, and wealth managers are fiduciaries, and just like high-profile art collectors, do not want to lose money on their investments. So, why do other asset classes such as stocks, bonds, loans, real estate, and insurance undergo more scrutiny than art when the auction market provides a wealth of measurables? The problem has always been translating the data into actionable information.

Art Auction Analytics was built to find the story within the data and bring it to life

We do this by providing valuations and performance monitoring via a proprietary measure, Artist Market Value (AMV). AMV is comprised of several metrics (Key Performance Metrics of KPMs) including Demand (actual vs. expected price), Liquidity, Movement, among others. This allows you to look at value and its various components over time and to identify trends likely to affect it in the future. Because AMV is based on actual auction transactions, it is objective, verifiable, and easily accessible. It enables you to make major financial commitments with a high degree of confidence.

Monitoring AMV Shows that Even Blue-Chip Artists Can Go Out of Favor

Any asset will have swings in value, and you can’t afford to be blind to them. You also need to be able to anticipate changes. This chart highlights the movement of a particular blue-chip artist’s AMV over the past five years. 

Conventional wisdom is that blue-chip artists, much like blue-chip stocks, maintain their value over the long term. Thus, they are safe bets. But even blue-chip artists are not immune to fluctuations in value. If an artwork by this artist had been purchased in 2018, its value today would have declined by approximately 22%. When millions are at stake, that can be a devastating loss. But now, with data as your guide, you have got a new way to appreciate art for its beauty—and value.

Do you want to know who this artist is? Are there any topics you’d like us to cover in future posts? At Art Auction Analytics, we have AMV data on thousands of Post-War & Contemporary artists and transactions in the tens of thousands. Before you make your next investment, let’s talk.

Next up: the power of Art Indexes

Thursday, February 28, 2019

The Hot Artist, Overheated Market and Next Day’s Hangover

What do we mean by a ‘Hot’ Artist?

First, let me be clear.  A hot artist, with an overheated market in our world, is not good.  It is reminiscent, of the high-flying markets in the late ’90s, of ‘hot’ internet stocks and the get-rich-quick atmosphere.  Frenzied ‘Investors’ snatched up dotcoms without any sense of their financials.  These same ‘Investors’ seemed assured that said stocks would skyrocket in the near future, and they would be on the next episode of Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous (RIP Robin Leach). 

Yet, in the prophetic words of Blood, Sweat and Tears, “What goes up must come down.” And so, many stocks did come down, often quickly and with a vengeance.  Suddenly, you had a new roommate – poor great aunt Beatrice, entranced by a can’t miss success story done by a crack journalist on the Channel 5 Evening News for whom financial statements are a foreign language, who put her life savings firmly in the now-defunct   

A few times a year, this same phenomenon usually plays itself out with an artist (note, history repeating itself is not a new concept, tracing back to at least Polybius circa 150 BC; yet people continue to ignore it).  Yes, artists do not have “financial statements” that frenzied amateur art collectors can ignore, but having to own the next big thing is a powerful emotion.  The market gets excited over this next Picasso.  What buyer hasn’t wished to tell friends about a work by some unknown artist way back bought at a near steal that is now worth tens of millions?  You look like a genius and it makes you feel so good.

These next virtuosos are not hard to spot.  They tend to be emerging artists – artists who are usually between their late twenties and forty, and who have been carefully cultivated by the right gallery.  Before you know it, something inexplicable happens– a single lot sells way above estimates, the artist is having a show at the right gallery, an art market maker says something positive about the artist – and, as though a switch was flipped, suddenly everyone must have a work by the artist. 

What does an Overheated Market look like?

Beyond the glowing press, what do we see with a hot artist’s performance at auction?

  • Sales of the artist’s lots go way above the pre-sale estimates.
  • The number of lots offered at auction jumps.  
  • Most, if not all, of the lots are sold, certainly above the percentage of lots sold for other artists at auction.
  • The artist out-performs similar artists by genre and most other artists offered at auction. 

As a result, the market value of a hot artist tends to at least double in value from the previous auction cycle (An auction cycle is defined as either the first half or second half of a calendar year)
However, once the hype recedes …

  • The artist’s prices at auction will be more in line with pre-sale estimates.
  • The number of lots offered will decrease to levels before this euphoria.
  • Lots will start going unsold, sometimes at a higher rate than the auction.    

…and the artist’s market value will settle below where it was before the hype.

What does the ‘Next Day’s Hangover’ look like? 

Figure 1.0 provides an example of the change in market value for the artist Adrian Ghenie.  Fueled in February 2016 by the sale of his ‘Sunflowers in 1937,’ his market began to soar in the 1st half of 2016.  Ghenie’s sales prices crushed pre-sale estimates, the number of lots offered jumped and they sold.  For example, 100% of his artworks sold at auction, 17 lots in total, well-above estimates.  His market remained hot in the second half of 2016, though not to the degree of the previous six months; it did see the sale of ‘Nickelodeon’ in October, his most expensive artwork, sold at auction in a coveted evening slot.  Despite this, 2017 saw Ghenie’s market value eventually stabilize at a level lower than it was before the spike.

Figure 1.0

By the way, I’m not showing you this as some kind of indictment on the artist; I would personally love to own a Ghenie as in my humble opinion his work is brilliant, though I tend to like the expressive over the conceptual.  Instead, it shows what can happen when a market for an artist becomes irrational.  Even artists have commented that these spikes are often detrimental in the long run: 

“I think that every young or mid-career artist is a case open to debate (from an artistic point of view). They are judged as work-in-progress artistic phenomena, and as long as their prices are low the conversation around them can be well-balanced. But when an artist like that scores millions at auction, a balanced debate is compromised. People start to be hysterical, over-confident or hyper-skeptical, highly subjective, jealous, etc. This is my case entirely. If you ask me what I wish for the future, I would say that I would like to go back to a sort of normality, but it is hard to define that normality… I don’t really have many colleagues of my age to ask ‘how did you survive this tsunami?’” – Adrian Ghenie (from: The Art Newspaper, June 22, 2018: )

Why is this important?

 Before we move forward, I’m going to use the word “transact.”  We apply to any of the following: insuring an artwork, lending against an artwork, advising a buyer on an artwork, or buying or selling an artwork. 

So, in the real world where art is an asset, you need to be able to identify a hot market for an artist.  Qualitatively, be wary when you see a cavalcade of publicity that says said artist is the next Picasso or Warhol, or the artist suddenly has works prominently displayed in a major museum; or, when this artist launches to the top of a list of ‘hottest selling artists’ in an arbitrary category in a glossy magazine -- people love lists, even if how said list came into being is a big black hole.     

More quantitatively, you need to know if you are transacting on an artworks value at a peak; if so, you must understand that most certainly, this value will decrease.

So how much time do you have? 

  • A hot market for an artist will last for approximately two auction cycles or one year.  So, it is relatively brief. 

So how bad will the correction be? 

  • That depends.  In most cases it will decrease significantly.  You hope it stops where the artist’s value is outperforming the market at a realistic and sustainable clip.  But, just as likely, the correction can be severe where the artist’s market value settles below the market value prior to the sudden increase.  There are plenty of artists who experience the nightmare of being a has-been, for no sin of their own except that for a brief point in time everyone wanted to own a piece of their art.  

If you are in a transaction involving a hot artist beware.  Make sure you understand and account for value decreasing, sometimes significantly, very quickly.  Be particularly skeptical of optimistic prognostications and in-the-moment media statements on the artist.  Have checks in place to monitor the value so you are not left with a so over-valued transaction that you will not be able to explain when the CFO calls.

Art Auction Analytics’ data allows you to track market values to identify overheated artists.  If you come across an overheated artist in your insurance or lending portfolio, it may be time to re-evaluate. The underlying data and key performance metrics (demand, volatility, confidence, correlation, etc.) can be used to further analyze the market values. 

The content in this report is provided for information purposes only and is not intended for investment purposes.  A reference to Artist Performance, Artist Market Value, Key Performance Metrics, predictive modeling, additional (and future) analytics or any observation concerning an Artist provided in this report is not a recommendation to buy, sell, or hold such Artist or make any other investment decisions and does not address the suitability of any investment in an Artist.  The Content should not be relied on and is not a substitute for the skill, judgment and your experience or the experience of your advisors and/or clients in making investment and other business decisions.  Art Auction Analytics does not act nor shall be deemed to be acting as a fiduciary in providing the site or the services. 

Sunday, February 10, 2019

Let the 2019 Auction Season Begin - Kind Of


Since the beginning of the new year, I admit I’ve been missing auctions -- entering data and making sense of it is my version of happiness.  Well, auctions are back, kind of.  On January 24th, Phillips teased us with its Evening & Day Editions that featured Post-War and Contemporary art.  Sadly, this was only a single event in a drought of auctions which will last until late February. 

The works were mainly multiples-- works on paper, screenprints, lithographs, etc. with pre-sale estimates largely of a few thousand dollars.  So, we were not necessarily talking about high rolling works that can make an auction season.  Still the range of artists was impressive from Picasso at the top of the art pyramid through to some emerging artists. 

Let me be clear, until some oils on canvas and sculptures get slung around between buyers and sellers, I'm going to mostly reserve judgement.  We will not get a good gauge until the London auctions kick off in late February through early March.  Still I'm going to throw a bit of caution to the wind.  We can use this as an early indicator of what we might see in the art market this year.  

Key Takeaways

  • A down year?  Slightly more lots were offered at the same auction last year.  
  • More dark portents? In 2019, the unsold rate was approximately 7.5%, over twice the 3.5% from the same auction in 2018.
  • Can I pile it on?  The percentage of lots that sold below the estimated high jumped to about 25% from 22 ½% the year before. 
  • Perhaps a silver lining?  This is still well below the approximate 20% of total artworks that went unsold in the second half of 2018.


  • Demand for Alexander Calder works on paper and Yayoi Kusama screenprints continue to be strong.  Sale prices routinely routed pre-sale estimates.
  • The market really knows Roy as Roy Lichtenstein’s ratio of sale price to pre-sale estimates for all of his works sold were about the same.
  • A cold winter for Eduardo Chillida, one lot sold at estimate, two other lots sold just under pre-sale estimates, but three other lots all sold well below pre-sale estimates.  Hopefully in spring he warms up. 

Friday, August 5, 2016

The Art Market Really Condensed

August 5, 2016

The art market today is a vibrant, sometimes volatile, sometimes crazy, constantly dynamic bazaar. 
Hot artists have become brands unto themselves.  They may see their works skyrocket confoundingly high one day only to disappear into oblivion the next.

I know this is not always popular with the traditional art for art’s sake believers, but art has become an asset class and people now buy or “invest” in art both for the pleasure of having something on a
Goya, The Sleep of Reason Produces
Monsters from Los Caprichos, 1799.
Etching, aquatint, drypoint,and burin,
plate: 21.2 x 15.1 cm (Metropolitan
Museum of Art).
wall but also to see it increase in value.
Indeed, the art market is so intertwined with “the transaction” that sometimes it is hard to not see an artwork as anything but an asset.  The popular press often covers sales with columns that look like they could reside in the finance section; buyers may buy a work sight unseen based on the advice of an art advisor that the work will increase in value.

Though this blog will focus on art as an asset and the artist as brand, I will never argue against the
importance of taste or connoisseurship -  people should buy what they like.

When I approach the art market, I focus strictly on market performance.

If you want to buy art to see it appreciate, you should care about the art market.  It is bigger than you think, supply and demand are global, and there is general growth; even in a down year, the 2015 numbers compiled by economists who follow the market bear this out.

I’ll mostly concentrate on the Post-War & Contemporary Art Market (sometimes called Post-1945).  From an art history or museum context, this period starts with abstract expressionist works like those of Jackson Pollock or Mark Rothko
You might ask why we begin here.  Quite simply Post-1945 is the most readily available and the most associated with art as an investment.  Let’s hit a few key points you need to know.

The Good:
  • Post-1945 makes up about 46% of the almost $64 billion plus art market. 1
  • The market is global with artists and buyers participating worldwide.  
  • Just under $7 billion in worldwide auction sales were realized last year. 2
  • You don’t need to be a millionaire to buy art, established, blue-chip artists have lithographs, pen and ink drawings, works on paper selling for a few thousand dollars. 
  • Financial institutions actively look for ways to finance purchases or make loans against art, providing clients with access to liquidity. 
The Not So Good:
  • Pundits have, for the last couple of years, been predicting a bubble burst sending prices and values hurdling downward. 
  • Post-1945 sales in 2015 slumped by approximately 7% -  maybe not a bubble bursting but a downtown nonetheless.  
  • Many art funds have had trouble making the types of returns that one would expect from normal securities.
As with other markets, the art market is not easy to master.  My goal is to provide you with the tools needed to start the conversation and then show how to look at the art market both broadly and, at times on a more granular level.

Stay tuned,


1. Data from the TEFAF Art Market Report 2016, prepared by Dr. Clare McAndrew, The European Fine Art Foundation, 2016, p. 15.   
2. I bid.