Auction Results: Christie’s

The results are in from the series of sales at Christie’s earlier this week, and as expected in this financial meltdown, it was a very mixed bag. We’ll look at each one in some depth and then try to draw some summary conclusions at the end.

Contemporary Photographs

Total Lots: 93
Pre Sale Low Total Estimate: $1551000
Pre Sale High Total Estimate: $2352000

Total Lots Sold: 54
Total Lots Bought In: 39
Buy In %: 41.94%
Total Sale Proceeds: $1020250

Press reports on auctions always focus on the buy in rate, and at just under 42%, this sale was pretty disappointing. We think however that buy in percentage on its own is a bit misleading, as it fails to take into account the quality of the material. If a sale is full of superlative pieces and the buy in rate is high, that says one thing; if a sale is full of second rate, boring material, a high buy in rate says something quite different. This particular sale was not, in our opinion, of consistently excellent quality; in general, it was more a middle of the road group. So perhaps the takeaway is more about bringing the prices of this genre of work back to earth a bit, especially for pieces that didn’t merit the run up.

Here’s the further, more detailed breakdown (Low, Mid and High as defined in the previous preview post, here):

Low Total Lots: 23
Low Sold: 18
Low Bought In: 5
Buy In %: 21.74%
Total Low Estimate: $162000
Total Low Sold: $137250

Mid Total Lots: 63
Mid Sold: 34
Mid Bought In: 29
Buy In %: 46.03%
Total Mid Estimate: $1650000
Total Mid Sold: $722500

High Total Lots: 7
High Sold: 2
High Bought In: 5
Buy In %: 71.43%
Total High Estimate: $540000
Total High Sold: $160500

This data seems to indicate that as the prices went up, the sale got weaker. Peter Beard had a particularly unfortunate day, with only 1 of 7 pieces finding a buyer. I think this sale mirrored the general economic situation: assets were delevered across the board and there was a flight to quality (and away from risk).

Photographs By William Eggleston

Total Lots: 60
Pre Sale Low Total Estimate: $1439000
Pre Sale High Total Estimate: $2191000

Total Lots Sold: 54
Total Lots Bought In: 6
Buy In %: 10.00%
Total Sale Proceeds: $2998250

In the face of the fierce economic headwinds, this sale did smashingly well. The proceeds were well above the high estimate and the buy in rate was low. Perhaps this is another example of the flight to quality, as Eggleston’s reputation was long ago cemented and his work has durably held its value (and appreciated).

Here’s the breakdown (as if it was needed) with the definitions found in the preview post, here:

Low Total Lots: 8
Low Sold: 7
Low Bought In: 1
Buy In %: 12.50%
Total Low Estimate: $63000
Total Low Sold: $63125

Mid Total Lots: 43
Mid Sold: 38
Mid Bought In: 5
Buy In %: 11.63%
Total Mid Estimate: $938000
Total Mid Sold: $1082875

High Total Lots: 9
High Sold: 9
High Bought In: 0
Buy In %: 0.00%
Total High Estimate: $1190000
Total High Sold: $1852250

Christie’s had to love the 9 for 9 on the High lots, nearly doubling the High estimate for those works. Overall, a tremendous success. In a better market, it would have been a white glove sale, and the prices would have been even higher.

Photographs

Total Lots: 258
Pre Sale Low Total Estimate: $5175000
Pre Sale High Total Estimate: $7587000

Total Lots Sold: 137
Total Lots Bought In: 121
Buy In %: 46.90%
Total Sale Proceeds: $3424000

At nearly 47%, the buy in rate was as high in this sale as I can remember seeing in any major sale since we started collecting. There was a particularly dispiriting stretch in the afternoon where 12 straight lots failed to sell. I think this result can again be attributed to uneven quality across the sale, in the face of the increased scrutiny by buyers.

Here’s the breakdown (definitions again in the preview post, here):

Low Total Lots: 63
Low Sold: 41
Low Bought In: 22
Buy In %: 34.92%
Total Low Estimate: $528000
Total Low Sold: $362125

Mid Total Lots: 158
Mid Sold: 79
Mid Bought In: 79
Buy In %: 50.00%
Total Mid Estimate: $3519000
Total Mid Sold: $1496125

High Total Lots: 37
High Sold: 17
High Bought In: 20
Buy In %: 54.05%
Total High Estimate: $3540000
Total High Sold: $1565750

As with the Contemporary Photographs sale, this sale also got weaker as the prices went up.

Across these three sales, Christie’s took in $7442500, and while clearly not what they were hoping for by any means, my guess is that it can be called some kind of victory in this economic crisis. Our conclusion is that these outcomes were not hugely surprising, and were perhaps appropriate given the circumstances. Great work still sold well, and lesser work was forced to work harder to find a home.

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