A staggering $1.6 billion worth of art changed hands during New York’s auction gigaweek last week. The three houses stuffed 11 sales of Impressionist, Modern, postwar and contemporary art into just five days. The combined total is up $400 million from the equivalent sales in May 2016, which made $1.2 billion. What should market-watchers take away from the onslaught? Here are our parting observations.
Biggest Trend: Big-Ticket Lots
Top-heaviness seems to increasingly define the evening sales. Both Christie’s and Sotheby’s were deeply reliant on a few top items. Consider Sotheby’s postwar and contemporary sale, where the record Basquiat, which sold for $110.5 million, represented a third of the evening’s $319.2 million total. Throw in the second-priciest lot of the night, a Roy Lichtenstein that fetched $24 million, and the two items account for about 42 percent of the sale.
Biggest Winner: Christie’s
All told, Christie’s made $833.9 million from its four sales last week, besting rival Sotheby’s by nearly $200 million. The publicly-traded auction house made a combined $635 million from its five sales. Meanwhile, Phillips, which did not hold Impressionist and Modern auctions, made $128.9 million last week.
Biggest Loser: The Owner of This Wade Guyton
It’s easy to focus on record prices and dizzying numbers, but don’t forget: Not everyone who puts an artwork up for auction makes money. To wit: One unlucky collector bought Wade Guyton’s Untitled (2005) at Christie’s New York in March 2014 for $1 million. It sold at Phillips last week for $670,000—a $330,000 loss. Ouch.