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State of the Art Market

In this installment of our newsletter, we embark on an exploration of the changing terrain of the art market, which has been distilled from Artnet's 2023 Mid-Year Intelligence Report. Encapsulating their rigorous methodology and meticulous scrutiny of art industry data spanning from January to May, we've condensed the report's core findings to furnish you with a comprehensive view of the art market's present condition.

Ultra-contemporary artist Nicolas Party's Trees (2019)

Top facts from the report:

  • 5 billion - The total (USD) spent on fine art at auction between January 1 and May 20 - down 14 percent from the equivalent period in 2022.

  • 184.2 million - The amount of money (USD) spent on ultra-contemporary art (Artnet's newly coined term for artists born after 1974) - at auction by May 20, 2023. That's down more than 25 percent from the same period in 2022.

  • $42,172.00 - The average price (USD) of a fine artwork sold at auction in the first five month of the year, down 6 percent from 2022.

  • 10 - The number of women among the top-selling fine artists at auction in the first five months of 2023. That's fewer than last year but for the first time, more than one woman managed to crack the top 20.

  • -51% - The decline in revenue from the highest-end artworks at auction. In the first five months of 2022, works priced at $10 million and up generated a total of 2.4 billion. But as the extraordinary material that piled up during the pandemic began to dwindle, sales in this top price bracket slumped to 1.2 billion.

  • -22% - The dip so far in total sales generated by the Big Three auction houses - Sotheby's, Christie's and Phillips - year over year.


In the Contemporary category, Jean-Michel Basquiat led with the two top sales for El Gran Espactaculo (The Nile) and Now's the Time, which were sold by the estate of the late music executive Mo Ostin, one of the spring season's biggest consignors at Sotheby's.

Jean-Michel Basquiat, El Gran Espectaculo (The Nile)


Conspicuously absent, Warhol topped the list last year with the $195 million sale of Shot Sage Blue Marilyn (1964). The highest selling lot this year, Louise Bourgeois' $32.8 million bronze spider, would have placed seventh in last year's rankings. "Is it a supply or a demand issue?" asked Caroline Sayan, CEO of the advisory firm Cadell North America. Pointing to the generational shift in taste and record prices that are difficult to sustain, she concluded, "It's both."

Louise Bourgeois, Spider, 1996


Henri Rousseau’s Les Flamants (1910), the third best-selling work in the Impressionist and Modern category, set a record for the artist.


Over the last three years, speculators have boosted the markets of a handful of artists like Matthew Wong, Jonas Wood and Adrian Ghenie, each of whom has a unique approach to figuration. The 6.7 million price for Wong's River at Dusk was nearly 38 percent more than it realized when it last came to the block three years ago. However, according to the report, the category is struggling to retain the remarkable highs of the last few years. Only the top four works on this list would have made the cut in their last mid-year report.

Matthew Wong's River at Dusk (2018) led the Ultra-Contemporary art category


According to the report, "There is a sense that the secondary market for photography has gone soft in recent years. Although prices have come down for stars like Andreas Gursky and Richard Prince, the perception also reflects a myopic focus on traditional photography auctions, when, in fact, much of the best inventory has shifted to higher-profile contemporary-art and single-owner sales. In fact, none of the works in this list sold in a regularly scheduled photography auction."

Lee Friedlander’s The Little Screens (1961–70) was among the works offered by the Pilara Family Foundation at Sotheby’s and tied for ninth place in the photography category

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