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Warhol, Basquiat & A $1.4 Billion Question

Christies Global Head of Private Sales Adrien Meyer sells the top lot of the evening Andy Warhol's Flowers
A reason to be optimistic lies in the performance of the top 10 lots, which made $312 million and accounted for 23 percent of the week’s sales. Photo: Courtesy of Christie's Images Ltd.
Marion Maneker
May 21, 2024

First, the bad news: There are many good reasons to fear that the U.S. elections in November will constrain what is already a frigid art market. Two years ago, of course, New York’s May sales cycle totaled $2.74 billion, with an average price per lot of $1.8 million. But by 2023, after the Covid-era orgy had subsided, the art market began a relentless contraction. This week, the May sales at Bonhams, Christie’s, Phillips, and Sotheby’s totaled $1.39 billion, down around 50 percent in two years. The average lot value was $925k. An additional 47 lots with an estimated value of $74.4 million were withdrawn to protect the lots for future sales. 

The good news is that I think we’ve reached the bottom. Part of the complex interaction between market performance and future estimates is that sellers must take into account past performance when consigning. The withdrawn lots don’t show up in the market statistics, but everyone is aware of what didn’t sell and how the lots were priced. These numbers are likely to bring the estimate level down to a place where results can begin to trend upward.