What Did London’s Latest Art Auctions Reveal About the Contemporary Art Market?

A sizable Hockney sale, plus positive news for Basquiat buffs

Sotheby's winter auction
The results of London's latest art auctions offer an array of information about the state of the art market.

The last two weeks have seen a number of high-profile art auctions in London — including a Sotheby’s auction at which David Hockney’s painting The Splash was put up for sale. Now that they’ve been completed — with mixed results for both sellers and buyers — the question can be asked: what does this mean for the art world?

A new article by Kelly Crow at The Wall Street Journal offers a few notable takeaways from what met expectations, what underperformed and what held steady. The Splash itself sold for $29.9 million — but there was only one bid for it. Still, that represents a significant increase from the $5.4 million it sold for the last time it was auctioned, in 2006. Sotheby’s own report on the sale notes that it’s the 3rd highest auction price for one of Hockney’s works.

What else can we glean from these sales? Jean-Michel Basquiat’s work remains an excellent investment. Crow quotes Scott Lynn of Masterworks.io, who said that “Basquiat is the best ‘risk-adjusted’ return for any artist we track in the blue-chip segment.”

[Lynn] says his firm analyzed the auction-resale values of these artists and determined that Basquiat’s works have historically grown in value at 17.7% a year.

Crow’s report notes that the high-end auctions sold nearly all of the works put up for sale, though that wasn’t reflected throughout the season. “There were a few cracks in the so-called middle market for lesser-priced goods, a segment that had been bulletproof in recent seasons,” Crow writes.

Whether these are signs of an impending market slowdown or just a temporary break from the norm remains to be seen. With the spring auction season just around the corner, we should know more then.

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