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Sotheby’s Case of the Mondays

Joan Mitchell "Ground" sotheby's art auction
You wouldn’t have needed an abacus to determine that something was off in the Sotheby’s auction room. Photo: Timothy A. Clary/AFP/Getty Images
Marion Maneker
May 14, 2024

Let’s start with the good news: Sotheby’s, the global art auction powerhouse, made just over $267 million last night, with very strong sell-through on the lots offered and only one lot withdrawn due to lack of interest. (In this case, the work was said to have been shopped around privately long enough to alienate potential bidders.) The lone withdrawal—even if the lot had been estimated at $6 million—was an encouraging sign that sellers’ expectations are getting back in line with buyers’ appetites. 

The hammer ratio for the evening tells a different story, however. Calculated by dividing the aggregate hammer price of all the sold lots against the aggregate estimate, the hammer ratio shows us the strength of bidding, and measures whether the estimate level was too high or too low. At .94, the hammer ratio signals estimates are still too high.