The Art Market Tops & Flops 2017: Which Artists are up, which down?



We went through the auction sales totals of the last three years for the most popular artists at auction, with the question: whose sales are up, whose prices are down?


It became clear that 2014/2015 were stellar years for almost any of the artists we looked at, but 2016 crashed sales totals down for many of them. It is interesting to see that not many artist's markets have recovered from this, and even fewer been able to actually build up their markets from 2015 to now.


While it its obvious that there is a whole generation of the so-called "Zombie Formalism" artists whose prices were pushed up until 2014/2015 and now are cut in half and lower, also market heavyweights like Andy Warhol or Gerhard Richter have seen their markets come down or stagnate since 2014 (as you can see from the chart below).


We tried to analyse who are the artists whose markets have not crashed or stagnated, but seen a steady build-up over the last 3 years.  Below are a few charts, first of what is happening in the Top End, and then who are the winners of the last three years regarding their total sales at auction from year to year.


As said before: the sales totals of most of the blue-chip artists are considerably down, although 90% are seeing an upward trend again. Only Gerhard Richter's sales totals have not recovered so far. 


However, the fact that sales totals are down for top end artists does not necessarily mean that their markets are weak in general. As in this segment supply is everything, it very much depends on whether top lots by these artists come to the market or not. For example,  in 2017, there haven't been any major top Richter works at auction - which of course has influenced his total sales.


In general though, you can say that if there is a demand, usually pieces flow into the market. You can see this in the case of Jean-Michel Basquiat's market which has exploded over the past three years, with several top pieces coming to the market. Basquiat is actually the only one in the top end whose sales totals are up. It will be interesting to see what happens to his market in 2018. We predict a stagnation or a slight fall-back as supply of top works might be a key problem this year; and as high market had sky-rocketed in 2017 due to the $110million sale to Yusaku Maezawa in May 2017. This will be difficult to top in 2018.



However, apart from the top end, let's analyse now who are the winners of 2017 and whose markets have been up over the past three years:


Of course one has to take into consideration that these sales totals only reflect what was sold at auction; gallery sales are not included. Especially in the case of Condo, Kusama, Stingel, Oehlen, Wood and Hirst, sales totals will be even higher as they all had major gallery shows in 2017. However, the gallery shows influence demand and push auction sales higher - so there is a correlation that if prices rise very steep at auction, it is usually because of previous shows at galleries and with dealers who make the market.



Sales totals do show the total quantity of lots coming to the market but are not reflective of the individual artist prices. They can be high because many high-priced lots of the artists were sold; or just high because there is a lot of material by this artist on the market and people are throwing it into auction. What is more interesting is the question how the prices are developing. To find this out, you see below an analysis of the average prices of each individual artist from 2015 - 2017.


You will see that for example while David Hockney's and Howard Hodgkin's markets seem up by just looking at their total sales, their average prices are actually down. Their markets might see a slowdown or adjustment in 2018. The same for Josef Albers. His sales totals were up from 2015 to 2017, but the average price reveals that just more lots came to auction and his price level remained the same.




Now, after finding out who are the winners of 2015 - 2017, who are the ones whose total sales have come down from 2015 - 2017?  Quite a few. Some of them because there is less demand for their art, some because their market has had a supply problem with no major works coming to auction in the past two years. See below a few who lost:


So what can we conclude from this? The Top End of the market is difficult at the moment, and it has been since 2016 - as it is very much depending on supply and on the selective tastes of the buyers. It will depend on the top lots coming to the market in 2018 whether Basquiat's meteoric rise continues and whether Warhol, Richter, Bacon etc. will surge again.


In the rest of the market, several artist markets who were buzzing in 2015 didn't quite survive 2016 and are now struggling. It will be up to see whether they can recover in 2018. But on a brighter side, there are several artists whose markets have been rising lately, and who we can expect to further succeed in 2018:


Especially interesting for 2018 will be George Condo, Peter Doig, Albert Oehlen, Rudolf Stingel, Hans Hofmann and Yayoi Kusama (and let's see also what happens to Hans Hartung who has been pushed by several galleries lately and whom we should expect to succeed at auction in 2018).


Other stars-on-the-rise, but with some reservations as their body of work might not be able to meet the rising demand are: Jonas Wood, Wolfgang Tillmans, Hurvin Anderson and Mark Grotjahn.


And there are of course the young ones, new to the auction scene but high in demand in the art world and therefore already bringing seven-figure prices -  2018 will show whether the current art market stars Lynette Yiadom-Boyake, Laura Owens, Shara Hughes, Kerry James Marshall, Jonas Burgert and Njideka Akunyili Crosby can continue their rise.


We will take a deeper look into the markets of the artists analysed in this report over the next weeks. Expect several in-depth artist reports of Condo, Oehlen, Stingel etc.  -  so check our website regularly or sign up for our newsletter so that we can update you when a new artist report is online.