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. 

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