Results: Christie's NY Post War and Contemporary Art Evening Sale

On Wednesday Christie's NY held its Post War and Contemporary Art evening sale, with record results.  The Wednesday night auction totaled an impressive $853 million including buyers premiums (keep in mind the previous evening at Sotheby's totaled $343.6 million including buyers premiums, which now pales in comparison).

Highlights of the sale from Christie's press release are

Strong Sell-Through Rates of 94% By Lot and 97% By Value
Global Participation With Auction Registrants From 43 Countries
11 New World Auction Records Set Including for Cy Twombly, and Ed Ruscha
4 Auction Records Set for Artist by Medium
3 Works Sold Above $50 Million, 23 Above $10 Million, and 69 Above $1 Million

I have posted an article from the UK's Telegraph in the block quote because it has an interesting and good analysis and comparison of the different art market sectors, which I thought might prove useful for the appraisal community to review and keep in mind.

The Telegraph reports
Christie’s record $853 million dollar (£536 million) contemporary art sale in New York on Wednesday night is another stage in an upward curve that has been rising almost continuously since the 1990 economic recession, with a short interlude for the credit crunch in 2008/09. To give an idea of the rate of expansion, a week of contemporary art sales in New York held by Christie’s and Sotheby’s in May 2009 during the crunch made 213 million dollars. This week, contemporary art sales by Sotheby’s, together with this sale by Christie’s, have realised 1.4 billion dollars so far, with more sales at Christie’s and Phillips estimated to bring another 150 million dollars by Friday afternoon.

Unlike Old Master paintings, where great works are in ever shortening supply, there is a constant supply of contemporary art by the top 100 artists of the period, c1945 to today. Supply of Impressionist and Modern art masterpieces (from early Monet to late Picasso) has also been dwindling. Impressionist and Modern art took over from Old Masters as the biggest money spinner attracting new money back in the 1960s. But in 2007, contemporary art took the lead. Since 2009, contemporary sales in New York have been doubling Impressionist sale totals.

While the supply is more constant, demand has also been growing. One reason is that contemporary art is easier to track pricewise. There is enough auction information on Andy Warhol, for instance, to track price rises for every type of work he produced, and that gives buyers and sellers confidence. Warhol’s Triple Elvis, for instance, had been bought by a German gaming casino, Spielbank, Aachen, in 1977 for about 83,000 dollars, and sold for 82 million dollars on Wednesday.

Contemporary art is fashionable and doesn’t need too much art historical knowledge to appreciate. It’s marketing has become very sophisticated, attracting the most global audience of super rich buyers. The Christie’s sale attracted 500 bidders from 43 different countries. From 50s abstract expressionism, 60s pop, 70s minimalism and the multitude of different directions contemporary art has followed since then, the sale had it all covered with good examples in each category.

Chinese buyers claimed 6 and 7 figure works by Gerhard Richter and Willem de Kooning, and Middle Eastern buyers were active on top selling works by Warhol, Twombly, and Jeff Koons. But it was Americans who dominated. Six of the eleven record prices were bid by US dealers. Larry Gagosian, for example, paid record prices for works by Ed Ruscha, Martin Kippenberger, and for photograph by Bruce Nauman.

A key factor in the sale was the level of guaranteed prices. Nearly half the lots, including the highest value lots, had all been guaranteed to sell either by Christie’s or by a third party (where Christie’s does not take on the financial risk; otherwise the auction house pays the seller the guaranteed amount should the work fail to sell in the auction and Christie's takes ownership itself). The guarantee was used a lot in the last art boom, but disappeared after huge losses were made in the credit crunch. Now the guarantees are back, but without them, the sale might have told a different story.
Source: Christie's and the Telegraph 

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