ARTBnk's Spring Market Report: April 2021

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ARTBnk's Spring Market Report: April 2021
Bridget Riley (b. 1931) Cupid's Quiver, 1985, oil on canvas, 60 7/8 x 49 3/8 in.

NEW YORK, NY.- As spring has arrived and with the world striving for normalcy, the results of major auctions held at the end of March were encouraging. The 20th/21st century art day and evening sales at Sotheby's and Christie's in Hong Kong and London from the 23rd to 26th of March were a preview of things to come in 2021. Were expectations (auction house estimates) tempered to give the appearance of a stronger recovery? How did outlier sale prices affect overall results? While some of the best works of the last 120 years were on offer, some achieving stellar results, we'll take a deeper look at whether the market is truly back.

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


This report analyzed 361 lots offered over the period which totaled $358,765,830 in sales, 6.7% above their aggregated pre-sale ARTBnk Value totals of $336,215,078, and 10.5% above aggregated auction house buyer's premium adjusted mean estimate totals of $324,657,372.

Due to broad economic retraction last spring ARTBnk reduced calculation metrics by approximately 20% across the market. At first glance, this gain in sold price against the ARTBnk Value in the aggregate appears encouraging, but a clear indicator that the overall market has not returned to pre-2020 levels.


It’s not uncommon that a handful of lots achieve results well above market expectations, but these outliers are not representative of an overall market shift. Generally identified as selling at 100% or more of the buyer's-premium adjusted high estimate, excluding these works from aggregate sale totals offers a clearer understanding of the overall health of the market.

Of the 361 works analyzed, 27 (7.5% by volume) were identified as outliers. With a total sold price of $34,883,087 they accounted for 11.6% of value of all lots sold in the period. By removing these outlier totals from the aggregate sale total, the overall market gains shown above are effectively erased. Without the inclusion of outliers the market underperformed ARTBnk Values by -1.9%, indicating a further contraction beyond 2020.

ABOUDIA (b. 1983) Untitled, 2013, acrylic and oilstick on paper collage on canvas

Christie's Post-War & Contemporary Art Day sale, March 25th, London
Estimate: £15,000-20,000 ($20,000-27,000)
Sold: £162,500 ($222,214) - 550% above the BP adjusted high estimate.

High End Market

Of the 55 total lots that sold above $1 million, 4 qualified as outliers during this sale period with a combined sold price of $34.9 million. Including those results shows aggregate sale performance at an encouraging 8.9% above pre-sale ARTBnk Value and 11% above the auction mean estimate. Excluding outliers the aggregate High End total of $265,171,913 is more sobering at -.43% below the pre-sale ABV and just 1.5% above the auction mean estimate.


The result for Christie's March 23rd single lot Hong Kong sale of Jean-Michel Basquiat's Warrior was very good, but with a guarantee in place, hardly a surprise. Hammering mid-estimate, the final sold price + buyer's premium of $41.8 million (323,600,000 HKD) just exceeded ARTBnk's highest Compound Annual Return rate for the artist (16.7% based on past sale performance) showing considerable strength in the Basquiat market and one that tracked to auction house expectations.

Jean-Michel Basquiat, Warrior, 1982, Acrylic and Oil Stick on Wood Panel, 72 x 48 in

Middle Market

The middle market had 150 total lots sold, with 11 overperforming lots. After removing these outliers, the adjusted sale total of $47,471,266 was -5.77% below the aggregated pre-sale ARTBnk Value, but 2.1% above the buyer's premium adjusted mean estimate.

Low End Market

The low end market had 155 total lots sold, with 12 lots qualifying as outliers. The adjusted sale total of $6,676,914 was -10.24% below the aggregated pre-sale ARTBnk Value. And with sale totals -4.6% below the buyer's premium adjusted mean estimate it was the worst performing sector of the market in these sales.


Of the 361 lots reviewed, 18 sold with guarantees, making up only 5% of lots sold by volume yet accounting for 30% of the total sale value. Of note, there were no outliers identified among guaranteed lots.


65 of 361 lots offered in this analysis failed to sell, for a buy-in rate of 15.3%. Buy-in rates of 11.3% in the high end market, 16.2% in the middle market, and 15.8% in the low end market indicate that buy-ins were not heavily weighted to one category.


The sales in the period analyzed were by and large successful. Many re-offered works that had floundered at auctions in 2019 and 2020 sold well here in 2021. There were noteworthy works from established and emerging artists, some with record prices and many with encouraging results.

There is reason for optimism, but the exclusion of outlier results from sale totals shows the majority of the market still performing at 2020 sale levels based on ARTBnk Values generated from past performance. There may have been moments of exuberant bidding perhaps based on depressed auction estimates or spring fever (or both). In any case, while deeper analysis may not reinforce the success trumpeted by the auction houses and in the press, the lack of a further dip in overall performance along with the heights reached by overachieving works, give reason to believe that the market has stabilized and is poised for growth in 2021.

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