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Despite Weakening Art Market, These 4 Areas Show Strength

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While the art market overall has seen slight “contraction” since 2014, some areas are still showing growth.

“Our 2015 numbers were down slightly from 2014, largely because 2014 was such a spectacular year,” said Bonnie Brennan, senior vice president and senior director at Chrisitie’s Americas, during a press briefing with Wilmington Trust in Christie’s New York offices. “We’ve seen great strength in 2016.”

For the first half of 2016, Christie’s has sold $3 billion globally, down from $4.5 billion for the same period in 2015. According to Christie’s, sales volumes are down largely due a drop in supply of works of art at the highest level.

“There’s great hunger and demand for the best of the best and there’s a limited number in private hands,” Brennan said. “We are always happy when they come up, but that doesn’t happen every day.”

To illustrate the high demand, Brennan pointed to a report by TEFAF that found 28% of the entire art market was for works over $10 million in 2015.

“That’s a real demonstration of that hunger at the highest level,” she added. “And you saw that in masterpieces…some of which we sold here at Christie’s: the Picasso for $179 million [and the] Modigliani for $170 million.”

Pablo Picasso’s Les femmes d’Alger, Version O from 1955 actually set a new world auction record for any work of art, according to Christie’s, when it sold in May of last year.  

Amedeo Modigliani’s Nu couché (Reclining Nude), which was painted in 1917-1918, went to what Brennan called “sort of an unexpected buyer,” a former cab driver in China who’s building a museum in Shanghai.

Despite the reductions in sales volumes and masterpieces, Brennan still sees many strengths within the art market.

The Modigliani that sold, for example, speaks to several trends Brennan is seeing in the market: “masterpiece demand, new buyers and the importance of emerging markets in our field, and the importance of a global buyer base.”

Meanwhile, Kemp Stickney, chief fiduciary officer at Wilmington Trust, stressed the importance for art collectors to understand the market and the buyers.

“If you’re a passionate collector, you really understand the market,” Stickney said. “Not only do you understand where the market is—is it in New York? Is it in Hong Kong or London or elsewhere?—but you also need to understand where the collectors are. Is it a narrow but deep group of collectors or is it a broad group of collectors—very few of which can afford the number that you have or the pieces you’ve purchased over a long period of time?”

Here are four trends in the art investing market that have shown strength, despite a weakening overall art market.

1. New buyers buy-in.

Brennan said there’s been a “tremendous number” of new buyers entering the market. In the first half of 2016, more than 25% of Christie’s buyers were new to Chrisitie’s. New clients in the Americas increased by 22%, with the New York saleroom bringing in 21% of new buyers globally. 

“There are new people entering the market all the time and I think that’s a great sign of future stability,” Brennan said.

2. U.S. remains strong.

“What often gets overlooked is how important the U.S. is to the art market,” Brennan said. “In 2015, the U.S. was the only market that had growth. And it’s been slightly overshadowed in 2016 by China, but we represent an incredible core here in the U.S. of the sales overall.”

In 2016, sales in America has reached more than $1 billion of art.

“It really is the heart and the soul of the market,” Brennan said.

3. Online sales expand.

Another area of growth is online sales, Brennan said.

“It’s a great way to get new buyers engaged in the process,” Brennan said.

E-commerce sales at Christie’s grew 96% from $15.3 million in the first-half of 2015 to $28 million in the first-half of 2016. Total sales acquired online since Christie’s started having online sales about five years ago has reached $100 million.

“That’s something you didn’t see 10 years ago,” Brennan said.

4. Stories sell.

“One of the most passionate responses we get is when we have a great story to tell,” Brennan said. “Those collections or property with great provenance is almost impervious to market conditions.”

Christie’s sold the collection of Joan Rivers this year, and Brennan said it sold for “much more than we expected.” Next week, Christie’s is getting ready to sell the private collection of President and Mrs. Ronald Reagan.

“While that property is quite modest in its intrinsic value the expectations are great” Brennan said. “And I think there will be some outstanding results for objects that are quite similar to what all of you might have in your homes.”

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