New York reveals the art market’s latest trends


Francis BACON’s Study for a Portrait (1977) dominated New York’s May sales of Contemporary & Post-War Art with a result of $49.8 million at Christie’s. Although big, it was significantly below the results posted a few days earlier at the Impressionist & Modern Art sales where three works fetched above $70 million. These included of course Amedeo MODIGLIANI’s Nu Couché (sur le côté gauche) (1917) which sold for $157 million (incl. fees), the 4th best Fine Art auction result of all time.

New York’s prestige Spring sales have therefore confirmed that post-war art is still generating lower results than masterpieces from earlier periods. This is hardly surprising given the rarity factor: few major works from the early 20th century remain in circulation whereas the market for Contemporary and Post-War Art is awash with top-quality works. Between 16 and 18 May New York’s branches of Christie’s, Sotheby’s, Bonhams and Phillips offered more than 1,000 Contemporary and Post-War lots. In short… Modern art is still the art market’s leading period, accounting for 44% of turnover in 2017 according to Artprice’s 2017 Art Market Report. However, Contemporary art sales are now where the biggest results are hammered and where collectors’ preferences are most clearly visible.

The latest trends

One such trend is the current recognition of African culture and its crossovers (especially with American culture). For example, a total of eight works by Kerry James MARSHALL were sold in May 2018 generating more than $33 million. Acquired by the rap artist Diddy, his canvas Past Times (1997) fetched 21.1 million (incl. fees) on May 16 at Sotheby’s against an estimate of $8 to 10 million.

Works by Lynette Yiadom-Boaky, Barkley L. Hendricks and Njideka Akunyili Crosby fetched superb results at New York’s recent Contemporary art sales and there was strong demand for works by Julie Mehretu, Mark Bradford and of course Jean-Michel BASQUIAT. The latter generated two new spectacular results, including $45.3 million Flexible (1984) on May 17 at Phillips. The previous day, a painting by Kehinde Wiley, estimated between $50,000 and $70,000, fetched $106,250. The prices of works by this African-American artist have shown an impressive progression since he painted the official portrait of former president Barack Obama.

American artists Mark Tansey and Jonas Wood also created surprises with two paintings that sold respectively for double and triple their estimates at Sotheby’s on 16 May. Mark Tansey’s giant canvas (165 cm x 205 cm) Source of the Loue (1988) was acquired for $7.4 million and Black Still Life With Yellow Orchid (2013) set a major new record for Jonas Wood (born in 1977) at $2,055,000.

Market restructuring in the Post-War segment

The latest results show that the prices of several major post-war artists are stabilizing. Works by Franz Kline, Gerhard Richter and Alexander Calder only just reached their estimates. More surprisingly still, Andy WARHOL’s diptych Double Elvis [Ferus Type] (1963) fetched exactly the same price it was acquired for in May 2012. Reaching $37 million at Christie’s on 17 May 2018, the work has the same value as six years ago.

On the other hand, a number of major female artists from American abstraction are clearly enjoying renewed market interest. A few days after David Zwirner’s gallery announced an exclusive deal with the Joan Mitchell Foundation, Joan Mitchell’s work began to inflate on the secondary market. Christie’s offered two of her paintings on May 17, including Blueberry (1969), which climbed to a new record at $16.6 million. Helen FRANKENTHALER has also come back into the market limelight with Blue Reach (1978) fetching over $3 million against an estimate of $1-1.5 million at Sotheby’s.