The Nature of the Market at Year End

The First Art Newspaper on the Net    Established in 1996 Wednesday, April 17, 2024

The Nature of the Market at Year End
Works Offered at Christie’s by Christopher Wool and Francois-Xavier Lalanne.

NEW YORK, NY.- To open the new year, ARTBnk reviewed 29 Evening and Day Sales at Sotheby's, Christie's, and Phillips that took place in November and December to measure the current performance of the market as we begin 2021. For the purposes of this analysis we focused on the 1,228 lots that our system currently provides ARTBnk Values for, or 36% of all Evening Sale and 39% of all Day Sale lots. In this analysis, we will show the performance of the low, middle, and high value segments of the market.

This report is generated by utilizing presale fair market values—ARTBnk Value—for each individual work of art which is determined through ARTBnk's unique AI valuation methodology which combines thousands of quantitative and qualitative data points with systemic regression analysis.


At the end of March 2020 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 exceeded their total presale ARTBnk Value and fell short of the aggregated auction house buyer's premium adjusted mean estimate. This would appear to indicate that market performance broadly met both ARTBnk and the auction house specialists’ expectations.

Explaining Overperformers

55 (5.7%) of the 963 analyzed lots sold for more than 100% above the buyer’s premium adjusted high estimate. While it’s typical that a handful of lots will achieve results of this level, these overperformers are generally not representative of an overall market shift for an artist. One such example is Andy Warhol’s VIP Ticket, sold at Sotheby’s November 18th Contemporary Art Day Online Auction for $201,600, well above it’s buyer’s premium adjusted high estimate of $75,600. It would be an error to consider this overperformance as indicative of Warhol’s overall market performance in the November/December sales; even including Warhol’s overperformers, the aggregate sum of his 48 lots sold totaled $29,733,986, -11.6% below his aggregate presale ARTBnk Value total of $33,615,156 and -13.5% below his aggregate buyer’s premium adjusted auction house mean estimate total of $34,353,485. Though VIP Ticket yielded an impressive sale the Warhol market remains in distress.

Market Sectors

High End Market

The aggregated sold price for the high end market, represented in this analysis by works with sold prices greater than $1m, fell between the presale aggregate ARTBnk Value and the buyer’s premium adjusted mean estimate.

When we exclude the 4 overperformers of the 101 high end sold lots the aggregated sold price of $352,033,622 exceeds the aggregated presale ARTBnk Value of $343,912,226 by only 2.4%. This indicates that the high end market is still down 17.6% from pre-pandemic values.

Middle Market

Lots achieving a sold price between $100k and $1m, representing the middle market, realized less favorable results than the high end market. The aggregated sold price of $118,114,662 fell short of the aggregated presale ARTBnk Value of $130,166,812 by -9.3% .

Excluding overperforming lots from the middle market sales analysis sees a precipitous drop in performance with an aggregated sold price of $107,729,602. This result falls short of the aggregated presale ARTBnk Value of $124,812,239 by -13.7%, suggesting that the middle market is down -33.7% from pre-pandemic levels.

The considerable drop in the middle market correlates with another notable measure of market performance: buy-in (BI) percentage. 123 of the 504 lots offered with buyer’s premium adjusted mean estimates between $100k and $1m failed to sell, for a buy-in rate of 24.4%, making this the market segment with the highest buy-in rate. When compared with the low and high end markets, and as we’ll see when we examine the low end market in detail, buy-in percentage reinforces the trend of a more stable high end market relative to middle and low end results.

Low End Market

The low end market, consisting of lots garnering sold prices below $100k, also failed to perform to the level of the high end market, generating an aggregated sold price of $19,703,819 and falling short of the $21,291,939 aggregated presale ARTBnk Value by -7.9%.

Removing overperforming lots from the low end market sales data further diminishes performance, as the aggregated sold price of $19,026,213 falls -9.9% below the aggregated presale ARTBnk Value of $21,105,634. Only slightly less than the dip in the middle market, this indicates a significant drop in the low end market of -29.9% from pre-pandemic levels.

Guarantee vs. Non-Guarantee

An important factor when determining how lots performed against their auction house estimates is guarantees. The aggregated sold price for guaranteed lots of $123,320,370 was essentially in line with the presale ARTBnk Value, only -2.3% below the total of $126,260,535, though failing to meet the buyer’s premium adjusted mean estimate total by a difference of -13%. This is in stark contrast to non-guaranteed lots where the aggregated sold price exceeded the aggregated ARTBnk Value by 1.5% and the auction house mean estimate total by 0.6%. The takeaway here is that the guarantee, though often secret, generally borders the low estimate and is a more accurate foreteller of value, and therefore more often than not one can expect a guaranteed lot to undershoot its mean estimate. On the flipside, auction house estimates for non-guaranteed lots correctly reinforced ARTBnk’s adjustment of pandemic-affected values, as non-guaranteed lots, their auction house estimates, and their ARTBnk Values finished in lockstep.

Lots without Estimate

The previous analysis excluded two lots that sold with estimates upon request. Lots sold without estimate are almost exclusively outliers of a quality that considerably exceeds the norm for an artist’s market, and the two excluded here from the previous analysis fit that mold. David Hockney’s Nichols Canyon sold for $41,067,500, 32% above its presale ARTBnk Value of $31,107,992, while Clyfford Still’s Untitled sold for $18,442,500, -7.8% below its presale ARTBnk Value of $19,996,746. When including these two results in aggregate sale totals, sold prices exceed presale ARTBnk Values by 2%, a seemingly positive result.

Digging deeper, if we’re to remove overperformers from this data we see ARTBnk Value and sold price totals again nearly mirroring each other, with the aggregated sold price of $538,299,437 just -0.5% below the aggregated presale ARTBnk Value of $540,934,837.


It is clear that the art market is still heavily affected by the pandemic, as the overall accuracy of pandemic-adjusted presale ARTBnk Values lays bare. After accounting for overperformers, sale totals and presale ARTBnk Values were just a half of a percentage point apart, affirming the -20% market downturn at the onset of the pandemic. Further inspection shows that the lack of a further dip in overall performance as the pandemic has drawn out can largely be attributed to the high end market, as it was the only sector that outperformed its presale ARTBnk Value, though by a thin margin. The sheer volume of dollars in the high end market helps to burnish the overall picture, though a closer look reveals drops from pre-pandemic levels of -33% and -30% in the middle and low end markets respectively. What is also clear is that auction houses anticipated this drop, as aggregate estimates for all lots sold without guarantees fell within the narrow difference between aggregate presale ARTBnk Value and sold price.

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