A series of evening auctions held in London during the Frieze art fair at the three main houses—Phillips, Sotheby’s, and Christie’s—provided more evidence of a market contraction, with sales down a remarkable 20 percent compared to the same ones held last year.
Together, the three houses pulled in a collective £139 million ($168 million) with fees. (That figure excludes the sum from a single-owner sale at Christie’s last week). The evening sales hammered at a total of £112 million ($136 million), well below the £130 million combined low estimate. Across the eight total sales dedicated to contemporary art conducted by the houses, some 622 artworks were for sale, of which only 500 works, or 80 percent, of them sold.
According to data collected by Pi-eX, an auction data analyst, the total between day and evening sales was down by 18 percent from last year’s equivalent sales, a far cry from the £232 million ($301.6 million) achieved in 2022.
Combined, the sum brought in across the three evening sales dedicated to contemporary and modern was a 20 percent drop from the collective £172 million ($210.5 million) with fees that was brought in last year during the same period.
The dip signals some reticence market-wide ahead of a forthcoming tranche of evening sales scheduled to take place next month in New York. A sale of contemporary artworks from the collection of Liu Yiqian, the founder of Shanghai’s Long Museum at Sotheby’s in Hong Kong earlier this month unfolded in similar fashion, surprising market watchers when it brought in just $69.5 million. The final sum was far from its target of $95.4 million.
During Christie’s modern and contemporary art sale, a 1918 painting by the Dutch-French artist Kees van Dongen emerged as the leading lot of the week. The work, La Quiétude, went for £10.8 million ($14 million) with buyer’s fees, selling for three times its pre-sale estimate. Following closely behind, value-wise, was Jean-Michel Basquiat’s Future Sciences Versus the Man (1982), which brought in £10.4 million ($13.5 million).
Meanwhile, the painter Paula Rego, who died in June of last year at the age of 87, was among the top-selling artists. Rego’s Dancing Ostriches from Walt Disney’s ‘Fantasia,’ a figurative scene featuring Rego’s former assistant Lila Nunes, set a new benchmark for the artist at auction, with a record price of £3.1 million.
In total, Christie’s London contemporary art evening sale generated £44.7 million ($54.5 million), with 88 percent of the lots sold.
At Sotheby’s, Gerhard Richter’s Abstraktes Bild (1986), one of the major lots headed to auction last week, failed to sell. As a result, the evening sale total came to just £24.4 million ($31.7 million), falling below its pre-sale target of £39.9 million ($48 million).
The houses’s 21-lot ultra-contemporary “Now” evening sale performed better. It surpassed the pre-sale estimate £9.3 million ($11 million), bringing in a collective £15.5 million ($18.9 million) with buyer’s fees.
A painting by Iraqi-born painter Mohammed Sami, titled Poor Folk (2019) fetched £558,500 ($680,755), seven times its low estimate. It depicts a prickly cactus on a sheeted bed, and it re-set Sami’s record for the second time this year alone. Bidding for the work involved 10 people within the auction room, along with those on the phone with Sotheby’s specialists.
A third of the lots went to buyers based in the US, a Sotheby’s representative said after the sale, while 20 percent of buyers were from Asia.
In that sale, Lynette Yiadom-Boakye’s Six Birds in the Bush (2015) fetched an impressive £2.95 million ($3.6 million), exceeding the estimated value range of £1.2 million–£1.8 million ($1.5 million–$2.2 million) and setting a new record for the British artist. Yiadom-Boakye’s previous record was set in May 2021, when her 2009 figurative work painting Diplomacy III sold for $1.95 million at Christie’s in New York.
Meanwhile, Phillips’s contemporary art evening sale brought in a respectable £18.3 million, a result tjhat was about on par with last year’s auction. Records were set this time around for Marina Perez Simão and Francesca Mollett.