All eyes on the autumn sales

[05 Oct 2009]


The first September sales have produced lacklustre results. In a climate of serious prudency – with no room for over-bidding or risk-taking – only the safest bet on the contemporary market (Andy Warhol) has lived up to expectations. However, one exception to the market’s general gloom has been the thirty year-old Indian artist Jitish Kallah.

On 16 September 2008, Christie’s New York sale of Modern and Contemporary Asian Art generated a total of $10.3m, substantially above the expected $6.5m. Exactly one year later, the revenue from the same auctioneer’s South Asian Modern & Contemporary sale was just half that sum: the $5.1m posted was a weak result compared with the $5.6m estimated, and the bought-in rate was close to 37%. The market for contemporary Indian art is therefore in bad shape, although there was one new record: Jitish KALLAT, a young artist (born in 1974 in Bombay) who seems crisis-immune. On 16 September 2009, his previous record was pulverized when the bidding for a work entitled Dawn Chorus – 7 went to $320,000… three-times its high estimate.

After the first New York contemporary art sales of the new season Andy WARHOL is the clear winner generating the best results at both Christie’s and Sotheby’s: a painting from the Flower series dated 1964 fetched $895,000 at Christie’s on 23 September and a Campbell’s Soup Can (Tomato Soup) sold for $310,000 the following day at Sotheby’s.The 155 contemporary art lots at Christie’s generated a total of $3.57m vs. $5.2m from the Post-war & Contemporary Art sale of 9 September 2008. The bought-in rate was practically the same: 27% in 2009 vs. 28% in 2008. The contraction was sharper at Sotheby’s which generated $8.5m from its New York Contemporary Art sale on 10 September 2008 vs. just $4.4m this year (24 September 2009). In 2008, there were 416 lots in the catalogue. This year, the catalogue had approximately one hundred fewer lots and the overall revenue total was down 48%.

The success of Warhol’s pieces proves that the mega-stars of contemporary art are still very much in demand. At the same time, the results for works by Damien HIRST and FANG Lijun at Phillips de Pury & Company (26 September 2009) were equally reassuring. The two stars of the market generated the best results of the Now sale at around £80,000 each ($127,872 for Hirst’s Second Series Biopsy: M865-303/M865-304 and for Fang Lijun’s 2002.10.1 ). However, overall, the ultra-contemporary selection for this sale did not go down particularly well and the bought-in rate was 40%.

The October 2009 sales will test the resistance of Asian art in Hong-Kong (6 October, Sotheby’s) and of photographic art in general (7 & 8 October at Christie’s NY, 9 October at Sotheby’s NY, 16 October at Phillips de Pury & Company NY). The forthcoming London sales (16, 17 and 18 October) will allow an accurate gauge of the health of the contemporary art market. In October 2008 in London, Christie’s and Sotheby’s posted a combined total of $80m for their Part I contemporary art sales.