Art market trends — our specialists’ insights
From ancient arms to Zao Wou-Ki, via Cuba, South Indian sculpture, Van Gogh, Hermès Birkin handbags and the art of Papua New Guinea — what’s hot in the Christie’s salerooms, plus our our unrivalled team’s predictions for the season ahead
With the autumn sales season upon us, we picked the brains of our specialists for their insights into the market trends of 2017/18 — what’s selling, who's buying, and how to turn these trends to your advantage.
Tessa Lord, Specialist, London: ‘We have continued to witness growing enthusiasm for works by German Post-War artists such as Gerhard Richter, Sigmar Polke, Georg Baselitz, Albert Oehlen and Martin Kippenberger. Oehlen in particular has been the subject of extraordinary international attention and critical recognition: in the past four years alone, we have seen four world records set for the artist at auction. This momentum has extended across generations, and we’re now seeing greater interest in artists such as Günther Förg and Imi Knoebel.
‘This demand has arguably been fuelled by high-profile international exhibitions. Polke was the subject of a critically acclaimed solo retrospective, Alibis: Sigmar Polke 1963-2010, at London’s Tate Modern in 2015, later touring to MoMA in New York; The New Museum devoted a grand solo exhibition to Oehlen in 2015 (his first museum exhibition in New York City), and he was celebrated with a solo show at the Guggenheim Bilbao in 2016-17. In 2015, Baselitz was selected to present his most recent self-portraits at the Venice Biennale, in the triumphant last room of the Arsenale.’
Clara Rivollet, Specialist, Paris: ‘We have noticed a shift of interest toward 20th-century Asian masters — at the expense of contemporary Chinese artists. Market-wise, this is reassuring: we now have enough distance to better judge the quality of 20th-century works, and we’re also able to place each piece in the context of the artist's whole body of work — as compared to pieces by younger artists, whose evolution is still in progress. We see major contemporary art galleries making this strategic move as well.
‘There is increased interest in artists who travelled to the West (France, Italy, the United States) and fused notions of Western avant-garde with Eastern concepts. There is also a hunger for absolute masterpieces. The sale of Zao Wou-Ki’s 29.09.64, which broke a longstanding world-record price at auction, is the most brilliant example.
‘I’d advise new collectors to look out for still-affordable works on paper and prints by established artists such as Zao Wou-Ki, Sanyu, Chu Teh-Chun and Foujita. The market will most probably catch up very soon!’
Diana Bramham, Specialist, New York: ‘Perhaps the most striking trend is the steady increase in demand for modern and contemporary Cuban works. For American buyers, this is no doubt the result of changing relations between the United States and Cuba, and the many museum and gallery exhibitions on modern and contemporary Cuban art.
‘Most recently, the Houston Museum of Fine Arts held the important exhibition Adiós Utopia, which focused on Cuban art since 1950; the Whitney Museum of Art held a retrospective for centenarian artist Carmen Herrera; the David Zwirner Gallery focused on geometric abstraction from the island with its Concrete Cuba show; and Galerie Lelong dedicated an exhibition to three key modern and contemporary female Cuban artists, Amelia Peláez, Loló Soldevilla and Zilia Sánchez. Beyond the US, Wifredo Lam, arguably Cuba’s most revered artist, was the subject of a major retrospective that travelled from the Centre Pompidou in Paris to the Reina Sofía in Madrid and Tate Modern in London.
‘This trend was clearly reflected in our May auction of Latin American Art in New York. Works by contemporary Cuban artists Roberto Fabelo and Manuel Mendive sold for well over their estimates, and set world auction records for the artists.’
Laetitia Delaloye, Head of Department, Christie's London: ‘Five years ago there were a few collectors, including Russian buyers, who were very active in ancient arms and armour. In recent years these collectors went quiet, but now it seems that they are coming back.
‘One strong indicator of this is the sale of a Greek bronze helmet for a staggering $1 million in New York in April. In London in July, a European Bronze Age ceremonial dirk sold for £485,000 (the last one sold at Christie’s went for £51,000 in 1994), and a Roman bronze cavalry parade mask sold for £100,000. These objects are becoming must-haves in a way that they weren’t before. Overall, we’re seeing arms and armour starting to appeal to an ever-broader base of collectors, who then branch into antiquities.
‘We've also seen increased interest in smaller Roman marble statues or statuettes, which are achieving higher prices at auction. This is likely because these pieces are so easy to live with — you can put any kind of art next to it and it will sing.’
André Zlattinger, Deputy Chairman, London: ‘Modern British art sits in the 20th century category alongside Impressionist and post-war, but our price point is quite different. People are now looking to us with renewed interest. In the past two years, but specifically in the past six months, we’ve noticed an upturn in international interest in certain artists: Hepworth, Riley, Auerbach, Nicholson and Moore, to name just a few. In particular, they suddenly have a very broad appeal in both the United States and Asia.
‘Riley and Auerbach are in their late 80s; Hockney just had his 80th birthday. These artists have continued to push boundaries — even their later work is recognised as important. They're standing up to that kind of evaluation.
‘Another big trend is sculpture. In the past it has been more of a collector’s thing, but there’s now a real appetite for British sculpture, particularly from Asia.
‘In recent years, we've been able to bring to market major works that haven't been seen before. We're very fortunate in that regard, and that obviously generates a lot of interest. Modern British Art is a growing market and has been for the past decade — our sales get stronger and stronger every year.’
Bruno Claessens, European Head of Department, Belgium: ‘One key development in the African and Oceanic market is the rising profile of Oceanic art, which is now sought after by an increasing number of collectors. While it represented about a third (or less) of total results in past sales, we’ll probably see a 50/50 split between Oceanic and African art in future auctions, confirming the increased interest in — and commercial value of — art from the region.
‘One of the surprises of the spring season was a Sepik mask, last at auction in Paris in 1965, estimated at €40,000-60,000. It generated the most buzz during the preview, and was one of our most talked-about objects. At auction in April in Paris, it made €290,500 after an intense bidding battle between several top collectors. We also set a world record for a previously unknown U'u club from the Marquesas Islands. We had three of these in our sale, and they all sold very well.
‘While the rarest examples of Polynesian art have always been highly prized, Melanesian art is catching up. The art of Papua New Guinea, New Ireland and New Britain is more popular than ever. All objects from this region achieved strong results in the April sale of the Laprugne Collection, and we are actively sourcing top material from the region for our Paris sale on 30 October.’
Jay Vincze, Head of Department, London: ‘I think the most interesting trend at the moment is the increase in Asian bidding in our field. There has been a steady growth over the last few seasons: 11 per cent bid/bought value in February 2016 and 19 per cent in June 2016, growing to 37 per cent in February 2017. In June 2017, eight of our top 10 lots from the Impressionist & Modern Art Evening Sale saw bidding from Asia.
‘Christie’s coherent and well-defined strategy in the region combines tours and lectures with individual client contact. This continues to attract both new and established bidders to Christie’s, and specifically to the best works in our Impressionist & Modern Art sales.
‘Two lots in our June evening sale exemplified this successful approach to demand from the region: Vincent van Gogh’s 1889 Le moissonneur, (d’après Millet), which sold for £24,245,000 against an estimate of £12,500,000-16,500,000, and Claude Monet’s 1882 oil Le chemin creux, which sold for £5,653,000, well above its pre-sale estimate of £2-3 million. Both lots had been exhibited in Hong Kong prior to the sale, and attracted significant interest from Asian collectors who competed against bidders from around the globe.’
Leiko Coyle, Vice President and Senior Specialist, New York: ‘At auction in March, a 12th-century black stone figure of Avalokiteshvara sold for nearly $25 million — a world record for a South Indian sculpture. This result not only highlights the current desire for masterpiece-quality works of art, but also the increasing importance of provenance, due to closer scrutiny of the antiquities market. Buyers will pay a premium for great works with great provenance, and our strict due diligence process allows collectors to buy with the utmost confidence.’
Matthew Rubinger, International Director, London: ‘The past two years have seen a significant shift toward smaller handbags. The most popular size for a Hermès Birkin bag, for example, used to be 35cm, with some opting for 40cm. Now the leader is a 30cm, with some choosing a 25cm.
‘That said, in the past six months we’ve had some indication that the market is starting to come back the other way. Purists still say that the 35cm is the most iconic size for a Birkin, and it might be for that reason that this size is starting to regain steam. More broadly, both the Kelly and Constance models are still outpacing the market.’