ARTBnk Auction Sales Analysis: Spring/Summer 2020

Art Daily
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Richard Prince, Navy Nurse, 2004, inkjet and acrylic on canvas, 76 x 54 ¼ in, ARTBnk Value: 5,968,428.
Richard Prince, Navy Nurse, 2004, inkjet and acrylic on canvas, 76 x 54 ¼ in, ARTBnk Value: 5,968,428.

NEW YORK, NY.-ARTBnk is often queried for objective information about the art market, especially auction markets. With so much hyperbole about up/down liquidity of late and many requests for a reality check, ARTBnk has prepared an in-depth look at the pandemic and the auction markets.

ARTBnk reviewed 22 Evening and Day Sales occurring between June 29th – July 30th 2020 at Sotheby’s, Christie’s and Phillips. For the purposes of this analysis we focused on the 627 lots that our system currently provides ARTBnk Valuations for, or 52% of Evening and 33% of Day Sale lots.

At the end of March the ARTBnk Value algorithm was adjusted based on a number of broad based economic indicators. This resulted in ARTBnk Values in aggregate being reduced by 20% from values prior to the pandemic. As we can see from the graph below, the recent sales in aggregate performed slightly higher than this adjusted ARTBnk Value and slightly lower than the auction house buyer’s premium adjusted mean estimate. This indicates that market performance met both the ARTBnk Value and auction house specialists expectations.

However, simply combining all sales into a single graph doesn’t tell the entire story of market performance. A breakdown of the sales into segments reveals how different dynamics and formats affected the overall results and provides a more complete understanding of performance.

Day Sales
In the Day Sales the numbers tell a story of a market going through a price correction. In this case the ARTBnk Value and the sold prices differed by only 1.2%, supporting the ARTBnk projection of an approximate 20% decline in market value.

Digging deeper we find that 25 of 326 (7.6%) Day Sale lots significantly overperformed, selling for more than 100% above the buyer’s premium adjusted high estimate. It is typical that a handful of lots will achieve results of this level, but these overperformers are generally not representative of an overall market shift for an artist. When we remove overperformers to account for this, we see that the total ARTBnk Value is actually 6% above the total sales, which indicates that the middle market has fallen an additional 6%—26% in total—since the onset of the pandemic.

Evening Sales
In the Evening Sales we see that the final sale price fell almost exactly in between the ARTBnk Value and the buyer’s premium adjusted mean estimate. This indicates that the high end market works generally favored in Evening Sales performed better than the 20% drop anticipated by ARTBnk Value, but below the expectations of the auction house specialists.

Of particular note is the number of lots in the Evening Sales that were guaranteed. These guarantees were likely arranged prior to the pandemic and represented just over 50% of the total dollars generated while only accounting for 39% of the Evening Sale volume.

With such a large portion of the Evening Sale lots guaranteed, how well did they actually perform and how are we able to measure success? First, we see that 38 (52.8%) of the guaranteed works sold at or below the buyer’s premium adjusted low estimate, which is presumably the level of the guarantee, indicating no competitive bidding and a likely sale to the guarantor.

Second, we see that the total sale price of $380,187,305 for the guaranteed works is 2.6% above the ARTBnk Value of $370,552,666. Does this mean the high end of the market is down 17.4%?

Single Owner Sale
If we go one step further and look at the entirely guaranteed single owner Ginny Williams Collection as a separate event the numbers become clearer. We can see that the Ginny Williams Collection clearly outperformed the other Evening Sales with the best performing lots representing works by women artists, which are the hallmarks of the collection.

With final sale prices coming in 39.9% above the ARTBnk Value, we can conclude that works of exceptional quality continue to outperform the market, even during the most challenging economic times.

Looking at the Evening Sale lots excluding the Ginny Williams Collection we see a different story. Here, the aggregate of the sold prices and the ARTBnk Value are almost identical, indicating that outside of the prestige of a single owner sale, but still aided by guarantees, the high end market performed essentially inline with ARTBnk’s expectation of a 20% market downturn.

What effect do guarantees have on performance? In order to provide a true apples-to-apples comparison to the performance of the Ginny Williams Collections where 100% of lots carried a guarantee, we must separate the performance of guaranteed and non-guaranteed lots within the rest of the sales. Excluding the Ginny Williams Collection, the difference between the ARTBnk Value and sold price of guaranteed lots is -0.6% and non-guaranteed lots is +3.3%.

Relative to the presale ARTBnk Value the non-guaranteed lots out performed the guaranteed lots by +2.7%. This points to the power and prestige of the single owner sale as a potential predictor of performance, regardless of the use of guarantees.

To drill down further, when overperformers are excluded from the non-guaranteed Evening Sales results, as we did for the Day Sales, we get a clear picture of performance at the high end. In this case, 8 out of 114 (7.0%) lots sold for more than 100% above the buyer’s premium adjusted high estimate (once again the expected auction behavior). Now we see that the non-guaranteed lots sold 3% below the presale ARTBnk Value, indicating that the high end market has dropped 23% during the pandemic.

Guarantees not only aid the performance of the overall high end market but also limit the potential upside. Only 1 out of 72 (1.4%) guaranteed lots sold for more than 100% above the buyer’s premium adjusted high estimate: Helen Frankenthaler’s Royal Fireworks. With an estimate of $2,000,000-$3,000,000, it sold for $7,895,300, setting an auction record for the artist more than 2.5 times higher than her previous record. Actively traded, the Frankenthaler market has a compound annual return (CAR) of 10.8%, while the return for this work (purchased in 2011 for $818,500) exceeded that with a CAR of 15.6%.

So what are the takeaways? From pre-pandemic levels, the Day Sales (middle market) have seen a value correction of -26% and the Evening Sales (high-end market) have seen a correction of -23%. No matter how bleak the economic climate, the highest quality works command the highest results, illustrated by the performance of the Ginny Williams Collection at +19.9% above pre-pandemic values. The victory in these sales is not based on market performance, but that there is still a market at all. We congratulate all those who worked diligently to overcome the obstacles of the pandemic and produce these sales. We look forward to the innovations to come!

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