The 2023 Art Market Review

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The 2023 Art Market Review

In 2023, observers closely monitoring the art market witnessed a notable trend: correction. Following a series of remarkable sales and unprecedented spending in 2022, expectations for 2023 were tempered by ongoing economic uncertainties. Amidst the market’s volatility since the pandemic, many speculated whether this year would establish a “new normal” for the art industry.

As the year draws to a close, definitive conclusions about the state of the art market in 2023 remain elusive. Nevertheless, it’s possible to scrutinize key data points that encapsulate the year’s trends. By examining auction outcomes alongside exclusive primary market insights from Artsy, we can distil five pivotal observations about the art market in 2023.

Unsurprisingly, the upper echelon of the auction market yielded just over half the sales value compared to 2022.

Throughout 2023, the most expensive artworks at auction failed to match the heights of the previous year. The top 100 lots at auction amassed $2.4 billion, a stark contrast to the $4.1 billion total in 2022. This significant decline became evident from the midpoint of the year, as combined sales across Christie’s, Sotheby’s, and Phillips saw an 18% decrease during the first half of 2023, according to ArtTactic. The fall auction season in New York further underscored this downturn, falling notably short of expectations.

The disparity between the two years becomes strikingly apparent when examining the select few most expensive works. In 2023, only two artworks surpassed the $100 million mark—Pablo Picasso’s Femme à la montre (1932) and Gustav Klimt’s Dame mit Fächer (1917)—compared to six in 2022. Notably, only two artists featured in the top 10 sales from both years: Klimt and Jean-Michel Basquiat.

A simple comparison amplifies the imbalance between the two years: The top 13 artworks sold at auction in 2023 totalled $800.7 million, falling short of the combined total for the top six artworks at auction in 2022 ($809.6 million). The price paid for the top nine artworks from 2022 could purchase the 19 most expensive artworks from auctions in 2023, with some change to spare.

The relative valuations of certain artists’ works year over year present intriguing comparisons. Among the top 500 artworks sold at auction in 2023, 11 were by Andy Warhol. However, the combined sales of these artworks amounted to $81.4 million, less than half the price of Warhol’s most expensive artwork sold in 2022—the record-breaking $195 million Shot Sage Blue Marilyn (1964).

It’s worth highlighting that iconic works, like the aforementioned Warhol piece with its impressive provenance, contributed significantly to the rosy results of 2022. The top end of the auction market in 2022 was buoyed by remarkable artworks and sales from historical collections, including the Paul Allen sale at Christie’s, marking the biggest sale in auction history.

In 2023, the auction market continued to heavily favour its uppermost tier. The combined value of the top 25 lots sold at auction this year exceeded that of those ranked 100–500. Predictably, this bias leaned towards late artists: Only three of the top 20 works at auction this year were by living artists (Jasper Johns, Gerhard Richter, and Ed Ruscha). However, this marks an increase compared to 2022, which featured just one (Johns). As customary in the market, the top 500 lots by ultra-contemporary artists (born in 1975 or after) could be purchased for the price of the top two lots at auction this year—with a surplus of $10 million.

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