Art Market

5 Global Trends Affecting the Art Market This Fall

Benjamin Sutton
Sep 10, 2019 4:38PM

20 lots from independent bottler Silvano Samarol to be sold at Sothebys, “The Ultimate Whiskey Collection,” on October 24, 2019. Courtesy of Sotheby

It’s back-to-school season in the art world. Dealers, collectors, and auction house specialists have returned from their summer slowdowns to calendars full of exhibition openings, gallery dinners, fairs, and evening sales. In the coming weeks, galleries in the art world’s hub cities will open some of their most ambitious shows, auctioneers will reveal the masterpieces lined up for their marquee fall sales, and the art fair roller coaster will pick up speed as it heads for Art Basel in Miami Beach in December.

As the fall art season gets underway, let’s take a look at five forces—some global and geopolitical, others highly industry-specific—influencing how the art market does business in the coming months.

A Brexit chill?


London’s big annual art market moment—when the Frieze and Frieze Masters fairs coincide with the evening sales of contemporary art at Christie’s, Phillips, and Sotheby’s—is just around the corner. But this year, it will occur less than a month before Britain’s scheduled departure from the European Union on October 31st. Will the impending Brexit have a palpable impact on art transactions in early October? If nothing else, foreign collectors and dealers will want to get their art out of the U.K. after the fairs and auctions to avoid the shipping logjam that many fear will happen in the event of a no-deal Brexit.

Last year’s Frieze in London saw a flurry of major sales as the prospect of Brexit remained a distant abstraction. The U.K.’s share of the global art market actually grew slightly in 2018, making it the world’s second-biggest art marketplace after the U.S., according to economist Clare McAndrew’s most recent Art Market Report. The political tensions and looming logistical complications may or may not inhibit buyers from opening their wallets, but they could lend fuel to a dynamic some saw playing out already last year: Paris challenging London for the title of Europe’s art market capital.

But there may be some silver linings to the Brexit storm clouds for British art lovers. Boris Johnson seems intent on creating as many as 10 freeports around the U.K., where high-volume collectors could park their holdings without incurring import fees and taxes.

Paris on the rise

Paris’s Foire Internationale d’Art Contemporain (FIAC) fair takes place two weeks after Frieze and has risen in prominence in recent years, with President Emmanuel Macron hosting a party for dealers and artists in town for the fair at the Élysée Palace last year.

There have been other signs of Paris’s rising art market standing since then. Mega-dealer David Zwirner announced he’s coming to town: His gallery’s new space in the Marais district will open during FIAC with a Raymond Pettibon show. Christie’s lined up a big-ticket Nicolas de Staël painting for its evening sale in the French capital the same week. With a pre-sale estimate of €18 million to €25 million ($19.8 million to $27.5 million), the de Staël is the caliber of eight-figure lot typically offered in London or New York; its October 17th sale will be a test of Paris’s draw for top-tier collectors of modern art.

Tariffs, turmoil, and the Chinese art market

On the first of this month, the trade war between the administrations of Donald Trump and Xi Jinping became very real for the art market. Any Chinese-made artwork or antique more than 100 years old entering the United States is now subject to a 15 percent tax—an added cost some fear will wreak havoc on the market for Chinese art and antiquities not only in the U.S., but worldwide.

Even before the tariffs came into effect, tensions between the leaders of the world’s biggest and third-biggest art markets seemed to be taking a toll. In July, Pace Gallery announced that it would close the massive outpost it opened in Beijing in 2008, when it was one of the first Western galleries to establish a full-time base in mainland China. In explaining the decision, Pace founder Arne Glimcher said it was “impossible to do business in mainland China right now and it has been for a while.”

The trade war may not significantly affect the Asia Week sales currently happening in New York, as the lion’s share of the works being offered were imported before the imposed tariffs. But the longer the tariffs remain in place, the more severe their impact on the art market will become. Auction houses may start shuffling their sales to avoid bringing Chinese-made works into the U.S. entirely. As a Christie’s spokesperson explained, “If the U.S. tariffs on art and antiquities of Chinese origin remain in effect beyond the current calendar year, Christie’s expects a portion of consignments may necessarily shift to other regions such as London, Paris, or Hong Kong.”

The latter city is currently embroiled in its own struggle with Xi’s government; if the current protest movement continues into early October, it could affect the auctions slated for the first half of the month. Meanwhile, dealers and auction house specialists offering Chinese artworks and antiquities this fall may have to make difficult choices about how they’re priced, and at which fairs and auctions they’re featured.

Mid-size galleries get in on the artists’ estate game

Tom Fairs
Untitled, c. 1997-2007
Van Doren Waxter

A year ago, some of the world’s biggest galleries were showcasing works by deceased artists of whose estates they’d recently secured representation. The chance to work with the representatives of late artists with large bodies of inventory, exhibition histories, deep bibliographies, and existing collector bases has provided a welcome new revenue track for many mega-galleries. In the past year, this strategy has trickled down to mid-size galleries, which are increasingly touting their own representation of artists who may not be quite so well-known—yet.

An extreme example of this phenomenon is New York–based dealer Andrew Edlin, whose roster features many outsider artists. His gallery announced that it would be representing the estate of Pearl Blauvelt, a self-taught artist whose entire body of work was discovered in a wooden box in her abandoned home after her death in 1987. Edlin will be showing Blauvelt’s work at upcoming editions of the Outsider Art Fair in Paris and New York.

London’s Hazlitt Holland-Hibbert is getting set to stage its first show of works by the proto-Pop artist Eduardo Paolozzi next month; the gallery started representing his work in August. Van Doren Waxter announced its representation of Tom Fairs’s estate last month, too. The gallery’s first show of the British artist’s glowing drawings and paintings of landscapes and cityscapes dense with lines and saturated with colors opens on September 10th. Back in February, New York’s Hollis Taggart revealed it would begin working with the estate of Color Field painter Leon Berkowitz, whose work the gallery will be showcasing in October. And in March, Hales Gallery picked up the estate of Indian modernist Anwar Jalal Shemza, and will be showing his work at Frieze next month.

The list goes on, but working with artists’ estates clearly appeals to small and mid-size galleries, helping them diversify their offerings. Unlike signing a young artist whose career needs nurturing and collector base needs expanding, an artist’s estate comes with a large body of work and the surrounding historical context, making it easier to sell their story and their art to collectors and institutions. As artists become increasingly savvy about setting up their estates—and those estates become increasingly proactive in their posthumous promotion—the competition to build out the markets for deceased artists’ works is likely to become fiercer.

Some skateboards, guitars, and whiskey to go with your Warhol?

The Macallan 50 Year, Lalique Edition Six Pillars Collection. Courtesy of Sotheby's.

Next month in London, Sotheby’s will hold an exceptional single-owner sale of pieces accrued by an anonymous collector over the course of two decades. It is expected to bring in around £4 million ($4.8 million). In a statement, the collector discussed the genesis for his collecting.

“I started this collection and realized that if I really spent time on it and was selective in my choices, I might be able to put together something significant and unique,” he said. “Two decades on, I think the collection is at that point where it is indeed unique.”

His collection consists entirely of bottles of whiskey—“the most valuable collection of whiskey ever to be offered at auction,” according to Sotheby’s. The blockbuster marketing of the winsome whiskey trove resonates with a growing pattern that has the art world’s two top houses moving into other collectible markets, from wine and liquor to historical artifacts and designer handbags.

To be sure, Christie’s and Sotheby’s have been pursuing this strategy for several years. Christie’s aggressively staffed up its handbags and accessories department in 2014, sparking a lawsuit from a competitor in the process. The following year, Sotheby’s launched a partnership with automobile auctioneer RM Auctions.

But in the past year, the dynamic has accelerated. In January, Sotheby’s caused a splash by offering up a complete set of limited-edition Supreme skateboard decks—248 in all, including decks featuring works by Damien Hirst, Marilyn Minter, and George Condo—as a single lot, with a pre-sale estimate of $800,000 to $1.2 million. It eventually sold for its low estimate to Vancouver-based collector Carson Guo. Sotheby’s followed it up in May with another Supreme offering: an online sale of more than 1,300 objects spanning the streetwear brand’s history. Then in July, the auction house took a similar approach to sneakers, offering a collection of 100 pairs of shoes—some historically significant, others just very rare and expensive. Canadian car collector Miles Nadal snapped up the whole bunch, including a pair of Nike running shoes from 1972 that set a new world record for shoes at auction, selling online for $437,500—more than double its high estimate of $160,000.

Both Christie’s and Sotheby’s have also been offering a growing array of artifacts of historical importance. Both auction houses organized sales timed to the 50th anniversary of the moon landing: Christie’s “One Giant Leap” sale brought in a total of $907,000, while Sotheby’s offloaded what it claimed were the best surviving video recordings of the moon landing for $1.8 million. In June, Christie’s set a new world auction record for a guitar when it sold the collection of Pink Floyd member David Gilmour, bringing in a total of $21.5 million. Next month, it will sell a trumpet specially designed for Miles Davis.

Signaling its commitment to such sales, Christie’s re-hired consultant Nancy Valentino—a powerful figure in the entertainment industry who’d worked at the auction house from 1991 to 2003 and established its “Popular Arts” division. Expect this fall’s auction calendar to feature an eclectic array of offerings, with bottles of whiskey and musical interludes punctuating the marquee sales of modern and contemporary art.

Benjamin Sutton