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FAB Market Insights

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Auctions + Art Fairs, Market Reports
6.13.2022 by FAB Team

New York Art Week

As the FAB team heads abroad for the London auctions and European art fairs, we look back at the May 2022 auction season and what it might indicate for the coming months.

The message from New York was clear: the art market is robust, active and based on collectors seeing longevity in the pricing of high-quality art. As a seasoned auction goer and clearly with a vested interest, I can report that, yes, there were a few unexpectedly (and perhaps unwarranted) high prices, but the overall pricing was a product of wide-ranging and multi-national demand for very good art. This was true at Christie’s, Sotheby’s, and Phillips, and the frenzy at the Frieze art fair. Also, with the stock market uncertainty, the very top of the market is quite thin.

All this needs to be tempered by the fact that the auctions were carefully selected and offered art from 1860 to the present day, in other words Impressionist to Contemporary art. The market is not buoyant in some areas, 19th century landscape or genre painting for example. So the results of the May 2022 auction season should not be interpreted as strength across the board.

In some additional surprise changes, auction houses found themselves operating under a new climate of business-friendly deregulation that saw previous rules for the art market lifted. According to the New York Times, the new law means that auctioneers will no longer need licenses after June 15. Some art law experts are concerned the repeal goes too far, removing the regulations that protected the market from money laundering and ensured that all players operated by the same rules. The auction houses played by the old rules this season, but we wonder if that will change in the autumn.

Andy Warhol (1928-1987), Shot Sage Blue Marilyn, 1964. Acrylic and silkscreen on ink on linen. 40 x 40 in (101.6 x 101.6 cm). The top lot of the Ammann Collection, $195 million. 9 May 2022.

The two high points of the New York auction season were undoubtedly the sale of Andy Warhol’s Shot Sage Blue Marilyn for $195 million and the second part of the blockbuster Macklowe Collection at Sotheby’s. The Warhol became the most expensive American artwork sold at auction while the Macklowe sale unseated the record for a single owner collection, previously held by the Rockefeller Collection. Christie’s entire 20th and 21st Century Week brought in just over $1 billion, but Sotheby’s nearly made as much in selling off the Macklowe’s extraordinary collection.

There were also several other real successes, including Phillips during their 20th Century and Contemporary evening sale. Basquiat’s Untitled (1982) sold for $85 million, marking one of the highest prices for the artist since 2017. It was Phillips biggest evening auction ever, grossing $225 million and, according to Artnet, marked an incredible 90% increase over last year’s results. In a deliberate choice, female artists made up a majority portion of the sale, though Basquiat’s painting nearly made as much as all the other lots combined.

Women and artists of color performed extremely well at all three auctions houses, with standouts being Shara Hughes, Anna Weyant, and Ernie Barnes. The biggest surprise was Barnes’ The Sugar Shack; with an estimate of $150,000 - $200,000, it sold for a staggering $13 million hammer price, initially thought to have been bought by hedge fund manager Bill Perkins but later the Hollywood agent Larry Tyler.

Another market pointer came from strong interest in Surrealism, beginning with the dedicated sale of the Rosalind and Melvin Jacobs Collection through Christies’s, where Man Ray’s Le violon d’Ingres became the most expensive photograph ever sold. At Sotheby’s, another female artist, Leonora Carrington was one of many who incited bidding at the evening sale; she was also one of the few artists to do well (and sell) at a notably lackluster day sale auction during one of the worst stock market dips since June 2020.

Mark Rothko (1903-1970), Untitled, 1960, oil on canvas, 70 ¼ by 74 ½ in (78.4 by 189.2 cm). The top lot of the Macklowe Sale at Sotheby’s, $48,008,000. 16 May 2022.

Despite the surge for underrepresented artists, the top spots, by price, were still held by the familiar names: Picasso, Monet, Rothko, Warhol to name a few. Though it’s easy to become inured by enormous price tags, the respectable prices garnered nonetheless still make up a large portion of the sales profits. Picasso’s Femme nue couchée sold to its sole bidder, Amy Cappellazzo, at Sotheby’s for $67.5 million - presumably for a client at her new advisory firm, Art Intelligence Global, focusing on the Asian art market. Another work with high expectations, Monet’s Le Grand Canal et Santa Maria della Salute from his series of paintings from Venice, topped its $50 million estimate by just over $600,000 with fees. Like the Picasso, it did not drive fierce competition, and ultimately only had two bidders.

Ahead of sales weeks, there was much speculation about the health of the art market following two tumultuous years during the pandemic. Some wondered if it could cope with the volume of quality, high value works coming for sale at the same time, and the answer was a powerful ‘yes.’ We wonder if this will be sustained in the four upcoming London auctions.

London and Beyond

In London, the mood has been bolstered by Queen Elizabeth II’s platinum jubilee marking her 70th year on the throne. Sotheby’s is commemorating the historic occasion with exhibitions highlighting ‘British creativity’, including rare jewelry from aristocratic collections, manuscripts, and royal portraiture. Christie’s is hosting London Now, a ‘festival’ of events and exhibitions on arts and literature. Both celebratory series will culminate with the traditional auction season at the end of June, with Christie’s and Sotheby’s hosting their usual modern and contemporary sales.

Shara Hughes (b. 1981), At Full Tilt, 2018, oil and acrylic on canvas, 78 x 66 in (198.1 x 167.6 cm). Estimate: £400,000 – 650,000 at Christie’s.

Highlights for the coming sales are not of stand-out high-quality similar to those in New York, but nonetheless raise the question of how much top art the market can manage at one time. Upcoming lots to watch are Yves Klein’s Anthropométrie de l’époque bleue, Monet’s fittingly London-based Waterloo Bridge, effect de brune and rising star Shara Hughes’ At Full Tilt. Another lot worthy of note is Simone Leigh’s Untitled V (Anatomy of Architecture series) following her representation for the United States at the Venice Biennale.

Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841-1919), Place de la Trinité, c. 1878, oil on canvas, 20⅛ by 24¾ in (51.1 by 62.8 cm). Estimate £4,000,000 – 6,000,000 at Sotheby’s.

One additional lot of special note for the FAB team is Pierre-Auguste Renoir’s Place de la Trinité (c. 1878). In 2001, FAB director Ray Waterhouse was invited to Los Angeles to evaluate the art collection of a renowned oil and entertainment mogul. With a mind to selectively sell, the client wanted to maintain control of the sales process instead of having his estate lawyers merely send his art collection to auction. The FAB team prepared a comprehensive report, including current values. Place de la Trinité was the first work chosen for sale. Within a month, we had brokered a deal to a collector based in the United Kingdom.