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London's Frieze Week at Christie's Auctions: Balancing Opportunities and Challenges, Market Volatility, and Cautious Buyers

OGP | Collectors' Recommendations

Oct 26, 2023

London's Frieze Week at Christie's auctions showcased the complexity and variability of the contemporary art market. Buyers, sellers, and auction houses must stay attuned to market dynamics and adapt to the ever-changing environment. As geopolitical events and economic factors continue to influence the art market, navigating these uncertainties remains a significant challenge for all market participants.

London's Frieze Week at Christie's auctions presented a stark contrast, reflecting the current uncertainty in the art market. Against a backdrop of geopolitical tensions and economic downturn, the auctions commenced with two significant events: The Now Sale, showcasing ultra-contemporary art, and the Contemporary Art Evening Sale.

Christie's The Now Sale surpassed expectations, achieving £15.5 million ($19 million) in final sales, despite a relatively modest presale target of £9.4 million to £13.6 million. Standout performances included Lynette Yiadome-Boakye's "Six Birds in the Bush" (2015), which set a new auction record for a Black British female artist, soaring well beyond estimates to reach £2.9 million ($3.6 million). Cecily Brown's "Tricky" (2001) also outperformed, selling for £2.6 million ($3.2 million) against its estimated value of £1.2 million to £1.8 million.

However, the auction witnessed a range of outcomes. While some artworks far exceeded expectations, others failed to find buyers, like Jordan Casteel's portrait "Jonathan" (estimated at £300,000 to £400,000). The auction attracted significant participation from American buyers, with one-third of the lots going to the United States, indicating continued interest in contemporary art.

In the subsequent Contemporary Art Evening Sale, the market atmosphere underwent a dramatic shift. With presale estimates ranging from £39.9 million to £57.9 million, the auction faced challenges even before its commencement, with four other lots being withdrawn, including works by renowned artists like Jeff Koons and Gerhard Richter.

Richter's "Abstraktes Bild" (1986) carried the highest estimate of the sale (£16 million to £24 million) but fell short of expectations, closing at £14.5 million. The absence of substantial bids for this pivotal piece impacted the sale's total, ultimately reaching £30.2 million ($37 million). Despite some individual successes, the overall performance of the auction underscored the market's ongoing volatility, especially in the context of economic downturn and geopolitical tension.

Buyers have become increasingly cautious, carefully evaluating their investment choices. Some renowned artists saw moderate gains, but works by masters like Pat Steir and Robert Ryman sold at a loss compared to previous auction prices, highlighting the market's uncertain trajectory.

This auction reflects the art market's current state of flux, as changing tastes and economic challenges influence buyers' decisions. Economic downturn and geopolitical tensions are impacting buyers, making them more risk-averse and focused on potential returns. This event reminds us that, like any other market, the art market is filled with uncertainty and fluctuations, and both buyers and sellers need to approach market changes with caution and wisdom.

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