Auctions: the ins and outs of unsold goods

As a terra incognita within the art market, unsold goods have long stayed in the shadows. But they may be set to live a second life. This month, Art Media Agency, in partnership with Auction After Sale, is publishing an unprecedented report on this topic. A foretaste follows… Until today, unsold goods have remained relatively overlooked by the media when talking about auction sales. Journalists, experts and researchers have only scantily broached the topic. As a direct consequence of this oversight, the art market faces a lack in knowledge — as well as tangible results — concerning this reality. Several reasons explain this silence: first of all, the negative image evoked by unsold goods. One need only look at the words used to describe the phenomenon — namely “burnt” works — to understand this. Such unflattering parlance refers nonetheless to a reality that is inherent to the distribution means offered by auctions. Things are gradually evolving, with the issue becoming more urgent, and after-sales procedures gaining in popularity. In France, a number of auction houses fought for the liberalisation of the nation’s 2000 and 2010 legislation, which struck them as less favourable than their overseas equivalents. Today, while after-sales sales are gradually authorised across the globe, they do not seem to be an opportunity capitalised on by a majority of auction players. If the situation is evolving — despite great resistance from the art market —, then this is also because auction houses are looking for new sources of growth, and several players are slowly getting involved with a market whose potential is increasingly apparent to them. Over the first six months of 2016, the turnover “lost” due to goods failing to sell totalled 4.3 billion euros worldwide — a figure that would have been reached if lots had sold for...

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Results of Frieze NY

The 5th edition of Frieze New York, taking place from 5 to 8 May, ended on a successful note with good sales. The fair’s director, Victoria Siddall, expressed her satisfaction: “I was delighted to hear many people say this week that the quality of work and the environment of the fair were better than ever.” Frieze was organised on Randall’s Island not far from Manhattan. Notable sales include the sale of 5 Fred Wilson sculptures by Pace Gallery (one of which will join the collection of an Asian museum). Hauser & Wirth sold two glass sculptures by Roni Horn for $975,000 each. 303 Gallery sold all the pieces on its stand, by Doug Aitken, Alicija Kwade and Hans-Peter Feldmann, while Lisson Gallery admitted that half of its presentation was sold even before the opening of the fair, with works by Lawrence Weiner, Pedro Reyes, Ryan Gander, Haroon Mirza and Stanley Whitney. Meanwhile, Lehmman Maupin sold seven works by Erwin Wurm and Paul Kasmin’s solo show on Walton Ford sold everything. This 5th edition of the fair gathered 200 galleries from thirty or so different countries, representing nearly a thousand...

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Online sales platform Auctionata confirms its leadership

On 8 March 2016, the online sales platform Auctionata announced a Gross Merchandise Value of $90 million (€81 million) in 2015, in other words a 165 % leap marking its strengthened leadership in the online auction sector. The company envisages developing new sales formats and increasing broadcasting times for its auctions in 2016. Auctionata, set up in Berlin in 2012, is based in Berlin, New York and London. The bulk of its turnover comes from Berlin (80%) while New York and London represent 20 % — the house is however strengthening its position in the United States. It ran 249 auctions in 2015. Its progress is attributed to the launch of new processes, allowing sales to be held from two or three different locations. Auctionata holds the online sale record for a 17th century porcelain vase sold for €875,000 ($951,000). According to Alexander Zacke, chairman and founder of Auctionata: “With 200,000 customers from 199 countries and several distinct yet complementary livestream formats, Auctionata has gained a significant reach. At the same time, our permanently accessible auction experience and diverse offering appeal to a steadily increasing, international and particularly young customer base. On our path to becoming the world’s first ‘24/7 auction channel’, we will further increase our livestream auction frequency and air time while expanding our service offering for...

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Publication of auction sales figures in France

The Conseil des Ventes Volontaires (CVV), a body that regulates the voluntary sale of items at public auctions, has published figures on auction sales in France for 2015. In 2015, €2.7 billion was raised at auctions in France, notching up a 10 % rise compared with 2014 (markedly higher than the average over the period 2006-2015: +3.6%), earning 2015 the title of the best auction year in France. This progress affects all sectors but unequally: in this way, the “second-hand cars and industrial equipment” category went up by 14.9 %, the “art and collection objects” rose by 6 % and the “horses” sector increased by 4 %. The 6 % rise of the art sector corrects the 1.1 % dip in 2014. Within the “art and collection objects” sector itself, dynamism is uneven, with the sale of collection objects progressing by 36 %, jewellery and precious-metal items by 9 % while “art and antiquities” remained stable and regular sales continued their sharp fall (-7%). Strong and steady progress can also be noted in recent years for electronics: +30% in 2015. The report also reveals a strong concentration of the auction-sales market — a trend confirmed in the last four years. The 20 main sales operators sell 69 % of the total auction value on French soil, with the top three operators alone representing 38 %. Christie’s regained the prime position in France with €182 million, in other words a 28 % rise compared with the previous year, while Sotheby’s recorded a slight drop even if it still came out with €174 million. France’s third operator, Artcurial (€146 million), shows steady results compared with 2014. Druot is continuing to decline but still accounts for 33 % of the total auction...

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Results of the “Impressionist Modern & Surrealist Art” sale at Sotheby’s

On 3 February 2016, the “Impressionist Modern & Surrealist Art” sale took place at Sotheby’s in London. The session finished with a total sales figure of $134.9 million (€124.4 million). Of the 53 lots on offer, 38 found buyers, including 5 going for more than $10 million. Each lot was sold for an average of $3.6 million. The portrait of Marie-Thérèse Walter by Picasso, Tête de femme (1935), went for £18.9 million, the best result of the evening. Amongst other noteworthy sales was the new record set for a work by Paul Delvaux, Le Miroir, sold for £7.3 million. Surrealist works totalled £14.9 million, with a new auction record for a sculpture by Man Ray. Claude Monet’s painting, Le Palais Ducal vu de Saint-Georges Majeur (1908), sold for £11.6 million. Finally, Henri Matisse’s work, La leçon de piano (1923), belonging to Royan Middleton, publisher and printer, purchased in 1927, sold for £10.8 million. This work is amongst the artist’s masterpieces, on a par with those found at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. or the Kunstmuseum in...

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