In 2023, a cold snap on the art market

En appearance, the art market is doing like a charm. In November, in just ten days, Sotheby’s and Christie’s totaled nearly $2 billion in sales of works in New York. More modestly, Drouot boasts a year of growth of 4%, with a total of 378 million euros in 2023. However, the varnish has cracked, the frenzy has subsided. To the point that modern art broker Thomas Seydoux says it bluntly: “Let’s call a spade a spade, the market is down. »

The auction houses have not yet finalized their balance sheets. But according to a report published in November by the Art Basel fair and the UBS bank, the cumulative sales of Christie’s, Sotheby’s, Phillips and Bonhams showed a fall of 16% in the first half of 2023, compared to the same period in 2022. France, Christie’s sold 6,000 lots in 2023, or 1,000 works fewer than last year.

“Woman with a Watch” (1932), by Pablo Picasso, was sold for $139.4 million on November 8 at Sotheby's in New York.

“We are coming out of two euphoric years post-Covid-19, and given the context, it is holding up very well”, puts Cécile Verdier, president of Christie’s France, into perspective. And to put forward the example of the Rothschild collection, sold on October 11 in New York, barely four days after the carnage perpetrated by Hamas in Israel: estimated at between 20 million and 30 million dollars, the contents of the Château de Ferrières exceeded $60 million.

Read the analysis: Article reserved for our subscribers Cold snap on the contemporary art market

“You shouldn’t just look at the priceshowever, warns Mr. Seydoux, but see how they are built. » Auction houses have in fact secured their backs – and those of their sellers – by having the majority of lots guaranteed by third parties. The process consists of setting in advance a minimum price which will be paid to the seller regardless of the outcome of the auction. If the work does not reach this price, it is purchased by the auction house or a third party, usually a dealer.

Caution of the hyperrich

Emily Fisher Landau’s splendid collection, which totaled $406.4 million at Sotheby’s, was 80% guaranteed by third parties. As for the Triton collection, made up of big names in art history like Picasso and Modigliani, sold for $84.7 million at Phillips, it was fully guaranteed.

The terracotta “Concetto spaziale, Natura” (1959-1960), by Lucio Fontana, was sold for 2.2 million euros on October 19 at Sotheby's in Paris. The terracotta “Concetto spaziale, Natura” (1959-1960), by Lucio Fontana, was sold for 2.2 million euros on October 19 at Sotheby's in Paris.

The practice is nothing new. What is more serious is the lack of depth of the market, as evidenced by the results obtained ric-rac. “When in 2021 or 2022 we had seven customers for a lot, we now only have fourrecognizes Florent Jeanniard, vice-president of Sotheby’s France. There is less desire, less excitement. Both buyers and sellers are more cautious, they turn their backs. » An observation that corroborates the latest Art Basel-UBS reportpublished on November 2: the superrich would only devote 19% of their portfolio to art, compared to 24% in 2022.

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