Warhol, supercars and NFT – what’s next for the art market after a crazy 2022?

Top of the Pops: Andy Warhol's Shot Sage Blue Marilyn (1964) sold for $195 million May 9 at Christie's in New York - ANGELA WEISS/AFP via Getty Images

Top of the Pops: Andy Warhol’s Shot Sage Blue Marilyn (1964) sold for $195 million May 9 at Christie’s in New York – ANGELA WEISS/AFP via Getty Images

Auction houses are adding up their annual data to show how well they are dealing with the effects of the pandemic, the war in Ukraine, rising inflation, interest rates and the likelihood of a global recession. It turns out that art is experiencing an unexpected period of flourishing – detached from the real world.

According to data analysts ArtTactic, art sales at Sotheby’s, Christie’s and Phillips reached a record $7.5bn (£6.2bn) last year, up 14.7 per cent on 2021. Various market assumptions have also changed: trendy contemporary art is down 14.3 percent, while Impressionist art, considered old-fashioned by some, is up 80 percent.

Each saleroom had a different story to tell. Sotheby’s will report a record $8 billion in consolidated sales in 2022 – but only $5.7 billion of that is for works of art, down nine percent from the previous year. The remaining $2.3 billion came from the sale of luxury jewelery and watches, real estate and cars: their most valuable item was a vintage 1955 Mercedes-Benz coupe, for €125 million (£110 million).

Contemporary art declined but was still the best-selling category of the year at home, grossing $1.8 billion, thanks to strong sales of post-war works and glimpses of Warhol’s revival, as in White Disaster (White Car Crash 19 Times), a 1963 silk-screen painting, which sold in New York for $85.4 million in November. Impressionism and Modern Art brought in less, $1.2 billion, but it was the highest total in the category since 2015. The star here was Magritte’s large-scale L’Empire des Lumières (1961), which fetched £59.4 million in London in March, a record for a painting at auction in Europe. One of the most disappointing areas of the global market has been NFTs, which are down 90 percent from their January high. Sotheby’s felt the impact in September by selling 26 lots of NFTs owned by pseudonymous MaxStealth, which they valued at £4.2m – and sold for just £1.5m.

Christie’s reported more compelling 2022 total sales of $8.4 billion, an increase of 17 percent from 2021, driven by an 84 percent increase in sales of “masterpiece” works for over $5 million. This was due to the return of live sales and the greater trust placed in them by sellers of high-value works of art. One major success was Warhol’s screenprint Shot Sage Blue Marilyn (1964), which was turned over to dealer Larry Gagosian for $195 million – the second most expensive painting ever put up for auction (after the $450 million Salvator Mundi disputedly attributed to Leonardo ).

Les Poseuses, Georges Seurat's Ensemble (minor version) was part of the Paul G. Allen collection and grossed $149.2 million - Christie's

Les Poseuses, Georges Seurat’s Ensemble (minor version) was part of the Paul G. Allen collection and grossed $149.2 million – Christie’s

Most of Christie’s total of $6.2 billion came from Impressionist, Modern and Contemporary art, which improved 21 percent. This figure included the highest-ever single-owner collection, the $1.6 billion Paul G Allen Collection, where record prices in excess of $100 million each were paid for paintings by Seurat, Cézanne, van Gogh, Gauguin and Klimt. Geographically, the Americas improved the most with a 73 percent increase; The weakest performance was recorded in Asia, where sales fell by 20% due to Covid and travel restrictions.

In third place, Phillips announcing record sales of $1.3 billion, CEO Stephen Brooks said the company was “going through a remarkable period of growth” and cited the sale of a large, untitled Jean-Michel Basquiat painting for $85 million. The artwork was sold by Japanese e-commerce billionaire Yusaku Maezawa, who paid $57 million for it in 2016.

But beneath the surface, Phillips’ performance was less turbocharged. Total sales were just an 8 percent increase compared to 2021, and in Asia, where the company has invested heavily, sales actually fell by 38 percent, repeating the trend at Christie’s. This must be worrying. Nearly a third of buyers in 2022 are Asian, 40 percent of whom are millennials: around 10 percent of them focus on contemporary art – Phillips’ most prestigious department – enough to drive a highly speculative market.

Not far behind is Bonhams, which will reveal this week that it has closed the gap with Phillips, with a 27 percent increase from $817 million in 2021 to just over $1 billion in sales. Last year, the company acquired three auction houses in Europe and one in America. The battle for first place usually gets the most attention – but who will finish third in 2023?

The artists set the sales agenda for 2023

The Old Masters Market is often written off due to the lack of masterpieces for sale, but it still attracts interest. Last year, in its classic sales department (led by Old Masters), Christie’s saw an impressive 37 percent increase in turnover worldwide. Meanwhile, individual discoveries included a Chardin still life with strawberries (€24.4 million or £21.6 million) and a record €23.2 million for what is believed to be Michelangelo’s first male nude – both in Paris, about time. Artcurial and Christie’s, respectively.

New York will step up this month with two big deals: an early Rubens ($25-35 million at Sotheby’s) from the collection of Metropolitan Museum of Art trustee Mark Fisch and his estranged wife Rachel Davidson; and a recently found portrait of the 16th-century mannerist Bronzino at Christie’s, which is valued at $3-5 million – more than enough to keep the Old Masters in the frame.

In the modern sector, surrealism is booming with a set of specialist sales, starting with Christie’s in London on February 28, followed by Sotheby’s and Bonhams in Paris. Female artists will continue to attract attention, with Sotheby’s going to hell for leathers in February and March with separate auctions for female artists and designers, as well as a sales exhibition to celebrate International Women’s Day on March 8.

Rising Star: Sahara Longe Triptych 2 (2022).  Painter was a hit at Frieze - courtesy of the Timothy Taylor Gallery

Rising Star: Sahara Longe Triptych 2 (2022). Painter was a hit at Frieze – courtesy of the Timothy Taylor Gallery

However, there are many indications that the fever of ultra-modern art will cool down. Between 2019 and 2021, artists born after 1974 saw a phenomenal increase of 305 percent, but in the last three months many of the hottest new artists received fewer offers than in the previous two years. Auction specialists will prepare for a slowdown in 2023.

However, in galleries, race and gender will have as much influence on shopping decisions as age. An example is two exhibitions for emerging young black artists. In May, Timothy Taylor presents his first exhibition for young figurative painter Sahara Longe, who was a hot seller at Frieze London last October when her prices ranged from £15,000 to £45,000. Also eagerly awaited since signing with White Cube last year, South Africa’s 36-year-old Cinga Samson’s first British appearance takes place in July. Samson’s atmospheric figurative work caused a stir in the summer of 2021 when a portrait with bright, staring eyes sold for $378,000, 11 times its estimated value. Its prices have since stabilized as buyers wait to see what the White Cube program will do for it.

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