Art auction sales stepped off a cliff in 2016

Art auction sales were down globally last year. London-based auction house Christie’s recently reported a 27 percent decline in art sales from a year earlier—and a 36 percent drop from the market’s peak two years ago. And New York-based Sotheby’s has already reported a rather sharp decline. It reports art auction sales down 30 percent from the year before. Similarly, smaller boutique house Phillips said its own art auctions produced 1.5 percent less than the previous year.

While tried and true masterworks like Claude Monet’s “Grainstock”, Willem de Kooning’s “Untitled XXV”, and Pablo Picasso’s cubist portrait of a “Seated Woman” did well garnering profits in the millions, other art categories suffered. Contemporary art was down significantly by 41 percent. Modern and impressionist art sales fell as well, by 50 percent.

While the decline of the art sales market is indeed sad, before calling the market a total loser, there are a few bright spots: Christie’s sold 10 percent more art via private brokered sales and its sales of Old Master paintings, along with 19th-century art and Russian art, grew by 31 percent to $312 million.

While Guillaume Cerutti, Christie’s new CEO, said the past year has been “challenging” he is optimistic sales will be on the rise going forward. Because a third of bidders last year were first-timers, he is confident they will be an uptick in the near future with a possible influx of new and repeat buyers. He told the WSJ,  he plans to invest more in “collector hotspots” like Beijing and Los Angeles.

It’s also optimistic to note that the art market is still very much alive in the U.S., with Christie’s selling $2 billion in art in the states last year. [WSJ] 

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