Mid-Season Sales Explained (Again)

Paul Allen's Collection; Mel Ramos Dies at 83; Kaws Builds Momentum; Crozier Buys a UK Warehouse

Bruce Nauman’s MoMA retrospective opens in New York on Sunday, Oct. 21st. The New York Times Style Magazine ran a long profile on Nauman and his art by Nikil Saval called Bruce Nauman, The Artist’s Artist. Kind of hard to argue with that sentiment. Here are some other other interesting points from the story:

  • “One would have to look to Andy Warhol to find a figure who cast such a long shadow over the cultural landscape. Nauman’s career has done nothing less than create an entirely new language for visual art, a legacy that can be seen everywhere from the aphoristic installations of Glenn Ligon and Jenny Holzer, to the monumental assemblages of Jeff Koons and Richard Serra, to the conceptual mischief of Barbara Kruger and Louise Lawler.”

  • “It is conventional to think of Nauman as having no particular style, no unifying idea that is uniquely his. Instead, he seems to have fascinations, or obsessions: stretches of working through the same basic set of materials or ideas over the course of several years. And yet, Nauman does circle around a fundamental problem: the experience, in one’s environment, architecture, language or body, of being controlled. He subjects himself, his artistic collaborators and his viewers to disturbing experiments in surveillance; he makes us participants in art that is hectoring, aggressive, buttonholing and violent, and fills us with a sense of complicity. That he does so in virtually every medium only makes the sensation more overwhelming — when trapped in the mind of Bruce Nauman, there is no escape.”

  • “Nauman had always been attracted to sculpture — painting is perhaps the only medium he avoids — but with neon he found a form that brought with it the synesthesia of sound that fused with light and color: the buzzing and droning of the tubes, along with the occasional pop or crackle.”

  • “By the late 1970s, Larry Gagosian had opened his first gallery and Julian Schnabel had sold out his first show of “broken plate” paintings: two events that signaled the crudeness, volatility and sheer commercial swagger that would overtake the art world in the years to come. Nauman’s work from this time stood apart from that world, even as he became recognized for his influence and enduring vision. Pursuing his own path, far from everyone else, he became at once emblematic and singular.”

Paul Allen Has Died at 65

The extent of Paul Allen’s art collecting has been visible these last few years through traveling exhibition, Seeing Nature. On the occasion of his death at 65 from cancer, we can take quick look at some of the art he bought:

David Hockney, The Grand Canyon (1998)
Paul Signac, Morning Calm (1891)

Paul Gauguin, Maternité II

Vincent van Gogh, Orchard with Peach Trees in Blossom (1888)

Thomas Moran, "Grand Canyon of Arizona at Sunset," 1909

Crozier Buys a Warehouse from Christie’s in the UK

Crozier has acquired Christie’s Park Royal Warehouse where it will take over operations beginning October 15, 2018. The Park Royal facility will be Crozier’s first London location, joining its 17 existing facilities in North America. Crozier also bought LA Packing, Crating and Transport this month as well.

  • “We are delighted to partner with Christie’s on this project and to work with their highly experienced team to bring the best solutions for our respective clients. This acquisition advances a number of strategic priorities for Crozier including growing our footprint internationally, welcoming more clients from the UK, and providing best-in-class services,” said Simon Hornby, President of Crozier.

Mel Ramos Dies at 83

Charles Desmarais points out that the 83-year-old who died on Sunday was among the pioneers of Pop Art with his mixture of nudes and advertising imagery but remained less celebrated than his peers:

  • “Other artists who came to attention in the early 1960s for their use of comic-book imagery, like Roy Lichtenstein, James Rosenquist, Andy Warhol and Ramos’ teacher Wayne Thiebaud, parlayed that first success into international stardom. Ramos did not quite achieve those rarified heights, but his work entered the permanent collections of more than 35 major museums, and was presented in exhibitions internationally.”

Kaws-Mo Builds This Fall

The Wall Street Journal wasn’t distracted so much by Banksy’s prank two weeks ago that it missed the record price paid for a work by KAWS. In response, the paper put together a pocket biography of the artist.

  • “On Nov. 8, Mr. Donnelly, 43, will open a new solo show at Skarstedt Gallery in New York. ‘When I was doing graffiti I never would have imagined I’d make a living as an artist,’ he says. ‘I think the art market is brutal.’”

The Sponge Bob image sold in London made $1.3m. The month before, a dozen works were offered in the NY Mid-Season sales. Ten of those works sold for prices above estimates. The total was $2.12m and the average price was $193k. The art market may be brutal but these days it is pretty much caressing Kaws.

Mid-Season Contemporary Topping Out or Consolidating?

We've had comments from readers about the drop in sales seen in our analysis for AMMpro subscribers of the shoulder season Contemporary sales in New York held in September. We thought it worth addressing those concerns.

It is important to remember that there are two ways to look at sales cycles. One is to include all similar works sold during the same period to record the market demand and selectivity. That's what we did with our original report which included single-owner sales at each of the houses. That's what accounts for the drop in sales from 2017 to 2018. Sotheby's had two single-owner sales in the period and Phillips had another where KAWS first demonstrated some of his market momentum that continues today.

The second way is to look at like-for-like sales comparisons. Here it is worth reviewing how the mid-season contemporary sales performed year-over-year with the single-owner sales excluded. Why? Because you can see an important growth trend in the middle market persisting. According to numbers shared with us by Sotheby's covering all three houses, the September sales looked like this:

2018 Premium Total: $57.3m    2017 Premium Total: $46.6m

2018 Average Price: $72.2k       2017 Average Price: $51.5k

Hammer Ratio: 1.03 .                  Hammer Ratio: 1.11

The rise in premium total was 23% year over year. But the average price rose a whopping 40%. The fall in the hammer ration (the hammer price divided by the low estimate) shows that bidding stayed closer to the estimate range. A slightly higher rate of works getting bought in, 24% versus 21% the year before suggests that estimates have finally caught up with the market. The shoulder season sales are no longer bargain bins where collectors, dealers and advisors go to find overlooked works of value.

These numbers are the culmination of a trend that can be seen across the four sales offered in the last two years that saw a progression from the Spring of 2017 where the the premium total was $44.6m and the hammer ratio, 1.19; to Fall 2017's $46.6m, 1.11; to Spring 2018 where the total was still higher at $53m with a 1.07 ratio; to Fall 2018's $57.3m, with a minimal 1.03 ratio. It's easy to see the way the estimates and hammer prices are converging as specialists get a better grip on the market. Curiously, the average prices bounce around the $50k range for three of the four sales cycles. But then the average price jumped this September.

We try to stay out of the horse race between the houses in these sales analyses. But to be fair to Sotheby's who flagged this data, we can look at some differences between the houses. Sotheby's consistently has the higher average prices in the $70k range in 2017 and the low $100k range this year. But Christie's saw the biggest jump in average prices from consistent $50k range to $76k this past season. Christie's also consistently has a hammer ratio below 1 showing their mid-season estimates are aggressive.

The big question is whether the jump in totals and average prices indicate continuing growth expectations for these sales or whether we’ve seen them reach a level of maturity.

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