The six-month auction results report from online auctioneer and art market resource artnet, reveals that the global fine art auction market was down 6% in the first six months of 2015. The Chinese fine art market witnessed the greatest contraction at over 30%. However, United States sales value increased 19%.
In the second quarter of 2015, the global fine art auction market decreased 5% by value sold when compared to the same period in 2014, dropping from $6.6 billion to $6.2 billion.
“Despite this contraction in overall value sold, the average price per lot during the quarter increased over 20%, to $69,000,1 suggesting an appreciation in the sales of high-value lots,” states the report. “ In fact, 766 lots sold for prices in excess of $1 million throughout the second quarter. While this number decreased 11% from last year, the value brought in by these artworks increased 10%, reaching $3.8 billion.”
In addition, the number of works realizing prices greater than $10 million increased from 63 to 71, and collectively accounted for over $2.1 billion.
This increase in value can be partly attributed to the success of lots such as Pablo Picasso’s Les femmes d’Alger (version O) which realized $179.3m at Christie’s Looking Forward to the Past sale on May 11, and Alberto Giacometti’s L’homme au doigt, which broke records garnering $141.2m in the same sale.
Overall, the top five sales in Q2 brought in $2.3 billion.
“Fine art auction sales results for the first half of 2015 were greatly influenced by the performance of Q2,” states the report. “As of June 30, 2015, market value had contracted 6% in comparison to 2014; however, the supply of lots was considerably more limited, with 17% fewer artworks making it to the auction block. Demand was also slightly down from last year, as was the sell-through rate, from 65% to 62% worldwide. Overall, during the first half of the year, 141,200 fine art lots were sold, totaling $8.1 billion (down from $8.6 billion in 2014).”
The decline reflects weaker auction performance in four of the top five fine art markets: the United Kingdom, China, France, and Germany. China, in particular, witnessed a dramatic decline of approximately 30% in value ($700 million), largely impacting global auction market trends. The United States, however, witnessed a significant increase (+19%) in value sold, with a strong upswing in Q2 (+21%). As a result, the United States ranked first in terms of sales at $3.4 billion—42% of the total global market. The United Kingdom and China (including Hong Kong) claimed the next two spots, respectively.
Overall, the top five countries for the sale of fine art during the first half of the year include: the US, the UK, China (including Hong Kong), France and Germany.
Top artists in the first half of 2015
In the first half of 2015, the top 10 artists at auction earned over $2.0 billion, and comprised 23.3% of the total market by value.
Pablo Picasso topped the list and Claude Monet ($289 million), by no means a stranger to the list, climbed to the second spot, barely edging out perennial heavy-hitter Andy Warhol ($288 million). Gerhard Richter was the only living artist to make the list, ranking sixth with $152 million in sales.
The highest-ranking female artist was Yayoi Kusama, who ranked 49th, with $28.7 million in sales.
The rankings for the first half of the year include: Pablo Picasso ($441 million), Claude Monet ($289 million), Andy Warhol ($288 million), Alberto Giacometti ($204 million), Mark Rothko ($181 million), Gerhard Richter ($152 million), Francis Bacon ($150 million), Cy Twombly ($113 million), Joan Miró ($97 million), and Jean-Michel Basquiat ($94 million).
Chinese artists Zhang Daqian and Qi Baishi still hold the top two spots among all Chinese fine art artists—ranking 12th and 13th respectively.
Top lots in the first half of 2015
Collectively, the top 10 lots sold at auction realized over $800 million, representing just under 10% of global market sales. Of these lots, 60% were categorized as Impressionist and Modern, while the remaining 40% were considered Post-War and Contemporary. All sales of these top 10 lots took place during May.
Pablo Picasso’s Les Femmes d’Algers (Version “O”) (1955) claimed the top spot, becoming the most expensive work ever sold at auction. Alberto Giacometti’s L’homme au doigt (1947), which sold for $141.2 million during the same sale, ranked second. Mark Rothko also ranked among the top three, with his No. 10 (1958) selling for $81.9 million.
Although the number of lots offered decreased in the global art market, artnet Auctions saw an increase of over 7% in the first half of the year, as compared to the second half of 2014. The number of lots sold also increased 20% in the same time period, bolstered by a strong Q2, in which the number of lots sold rose 12% year over year. There was a dramatic upswing in registrants in the first half of the year, with an increase of 134% over the first half of 2014. Active bidders also increased 15% in the first quarter compared to Q1 of the year before.
The top-selling lot by a living artist was Gerhard Richter’s Abstraktes Bild (1986), which sold for $46.3 million at Sotheby’s London in February. The painting, which now holds the record for most expensive lot by a living European artist, sold previously in 1999 for $607,500.