FRED SCOTT: Resurgent art market clocks up record prices
Art economist Clare McAndrew’s 2018 total art market report was published by Art Basel and UBS in March. She found that the art economy in 2017 reached $63.7bn in total global sales, a rise of 12% from the previous year.
Private and gallery sales were estimated at $35.2bn, with auction sales contributing $28.5bn. The staggering $450m paid for Leonardo da Vinci’s Salvator Mundi in November 2017 at Christie’s in New York made up 11% of the auction market figure.
In 2018, the strong trend of the art market seems unstoppable. Global art buyers spent almost $3bn on art in New York over a two-week period in May.
Christie’s’ turnover amounted to $1.79bn, of which $833m was raised from the collection of the late David and Peggy Rockefeller.
This impressive collection broke the previous record of $484m raised for the Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Berge private collection.
During the Rockefeller auction, 22 world records were set and this staggering result again reveals the importance of provenance in the sale of artworks. The couple’s estate is donating all proceeds from the sale to charity.
Sotheby’s Post-War and Contemporary sale in May generated $859m, $157.2m of which was paid for Modigliani’s Nu Couché oil painting as well as $21.1m for Kerry James Marshall’s Past Times (1997).
Marshall’s result elevated his status to recognition as the most expensive living African American artist at auction. Sean "Diddy" Combs, the Grammy award-winning rapper, producer and entrepreneur, bought the painting.
Besides Marshall’s piece, the sale included important works donated by African American artists to raise funds for The Studio Museum’s new building in Harlem, designed by architect David Adjaye. Works by Mark Bradford, Njideka Akunyili Crosby, Julie Mehretu, Lynette Yiadom-Boakye and Glenn Ligon raised $16.4m while 37 other works brought in $3.8m.
Phillips’s 20th Century & Contemporary Art sale in March was its best overall auction, harvesting $135.1m.
The works included Picasso’s La Dormeuse (1932), which sold for $41.8m.
The revived strong collector interest in contemporary art points to a gradual new growth path following a two-year staggered decline in this category’s turnover since 2014. The US art market is still the largest, while new money and aggressive bidding from wealthy Chinese collectors are pushing up prices.
The local and African contemporary art market performed particularly well during the first half of 2018. Strauss & Co’s contemporary art auction in February offered 71 lots and achieved a sell-through rate of 80%, generating R13.6m.
The two auction stalwarts, William Kentridge and Robert Hodgins, fetched the highest prices of R2.3m and R1.25m, respectively for a charcoal drawing from Kentridge’s stop-animation film Felix in Exile (1994) and Drunk in the Docks, the autobiographical painting evoking London-born Hodgins’s arrival at Cape Town’s harbour in 1938.
Important works at the Strauss March sale included Still Life with Coffee Pot and Fruit by Erik Laubscher, which sold for a new record price of R2.3m. Besides these results, the sale also confirmed serious interest in contemporary art as several of the younger artists achieved new record prices.
The top-selling lot on their June 4 auction was Alexis Preller’s Head (Adapting itself to the Unendurable), which achieved R6.9m.
Aspire Art Auctions realised two new records at their February Deodar House auction for Willem Boshoff’s Clast Mar (2009), which sold for R682,820, and Angus Taylor’s Sit en Staan (2008), which fetched R2.16m.
Kentridge and Gerhard Marx’s Fire Walker (2010), which etched the skyline in the Deodar garden, sold for R3.98m. Paintings by old masters at Aspire’s March 25 Cape Town auction also performed well, with Irma Stern’s Hydrangeas and St Joseph Lilies selling for R4.77m.
Art from the rest of the continent remained buoyant during the first semester.
The Investec Cape Town Art Fair in February, as well as the 1-54 art fairs of February and May in Marrakech and New York, focused on contemporary African art.
The 13th edition of the Dakar Biennial, curated by Simon Djami, hosted 75 artists from 33 countries. The 10th edition of the Berlin Biennale, curated by SA’s Gabi Ngcobo, will open on June 9 in the city.
Benedict Enwonwu’s portrait entitled Tutu achieved an astounding $16.2m at the Bonhams African, Modern and Contemporary Art auction on February 28. Sotheby’s’ second sale dedicated to Modern and Contemporary African Art in March realised $2.55m against a pre-sale estimate of $2.42m.
The April launch of The Norval Foundation, a private art museum on the Steenberg Estate in Cape Town, constitutes a major highlight for the art scene. The venue includes a sculpture park, restaurant and a nature reserve and opened with an exceptional retrospective of Sydney Kumalo and Ezrom Legae, and a selection of sculptures by Edoardo Villa and global contemporary artists.
• Scott is a partner in Walker Scott, which offers end-to-end art management services.