Contemporary Art Day Sales Down But Sotheby’s Shows Relative Strength

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The real business of the art market is conducted during the day sales. Across categories and houses, the day sales were down but less than the overall market suggesting there’s still plenty of buying going on and more of it at the business end of the market than at the trophy end (in relative terms.)

In Contemporary art, which seems to get all of the focus these days, Phillips had the smallest drop, just 7% but the composition of Phillips sales both in the evening the day has changed dramatically. Once a mart for emerging artists being flipped or having their markets built, Phillips now sells similar material to Christie’s and Sotheby’s. But the year-over-year comparison doesn’t tell us much this go round.

At Sotheby’s, the day sale made $80m. There were strong performances by works like the Helen Frankenthaler, above, Sam Francis’s work on paper that was the cover lot and a rare Warhol portrait of Wounded Knee leader Russell Means.

In 2015, Sotheby’s day sale made $98m. The 18% drop gives a good indication that the department is still firing on all cylinders.