The Case for Buying and Selling Art at Auction

ArtPrice’s Global Art Market report of 2017 revealed some very compelling information about the buying and selling habits of collectors, worldwide. This information also gives tremendous confidence in not only the middle and top end of the art market, but the bottom end too, where the majority of sales occur.

Despite the headline grabbing record breaking sale of Salvador Mundi by Leonard Da Vinci for $450 Million (the highest price paid ever for a work of art), and the surprising sale of a painting by Contemporary American artist Jean Michel Basquiat for $110 Million (unseating Andy Warhol as the highest price paid for an American artist), 2017 generated a high proportion of affordable works.

Lot 904: Alexander Calder “The Circus,” lithograph. Est. $1,500 – $2,500

Half of the total global lots sold were acquired for less than $1,200 (including buyer’s fees). The high-end market, works fetching over $100,000, represents just 3% of the total number of works in circulation on the global Art Market. As you can see below, 60% of all lots sold were purchased for less than $2,000.

Price structure of the lots auctioned in 2017

Percentage of lots Auctioned less than
100% $450,312,500
99% $354,835
98% $158,361
97% $97,621
96% $68,750
95% $51,883
90% $20,691
80% $7,053
70% $3,529
60% $1,975
50% $1,165
40% $720
30% $457
20% $277
10% $142


Unsurprising, prints and works on paper represent the majority of the works sold under $1,000 (66% and 55% respectively). The print market has dropped precipitously over the years. With a loss of interest in late 19th and 20th Century prints and engravings, the average buyer can now purchase original prints, signed by artists included in the Art Historical cannon, for extremely low prices.

Lot 1033: Leonard Baskin “Poet Laureate,” woodcut. Est. $600 – $800

This price range also represents the base of the market for paintings (42%). The proportion of sculptures and photographs sold between $1,000 and $5,000 is higher than that of any other medium. This price range represents more than a third of the lots sold in these two types of works.

This information is very compelling to those who have never sold or purchased artwork, or personal property, at auction. With a small scope of understanding, coupled with exposure limited to only those works mentioned in newspaper headlines, the average person may not consider the auction market to be accessible to them when they are interested in buying or selling. However, this is a common misconception leading potential bidders and consignors to seek means of buying and selling elsewhere, often resulting in the disposing of property in a way that yields poor results, or acquiring property at a premium, which is often unnecessary.

Lot 1022: Roberto Matta, Two prints: etching and lithograph. Est. $400 – $600

In an era when Western savers are suffering the impact of the ECB’s negative interest rates and the FED’s almost-zero rates, the Art Market has become a genuine alternative investment market that is both reliable and sustainable. Half of the works sold fetched less than $1,000 and these include works from all eras and almost all mediums. This effectively gives amateur collectors and bargain hunters an immense choice.

The next-up price bracket – between $1,000 and $50,000 – accounted for 45% of the works sold at auction. In fact, only 5% of artworks crossed the $50,000 threshold in the Western market. These factors should give most people tremendous confidence in the art market as a primary means for both buying and selling.

2018 is looking promising for the market overall, with a high level of confidence remaining steady as the year progresses. Auction houses all over the world are expanding to meet the growing demand of the general population, and offering more property than ever, with a constant stream of auctions to supply both buyers and sellers a platform to move the demand for property of all types.If you are considering buying or selling, auction is the best place to do it, and 2018 is looking like the right time to do it.


Debrah Dunner
Fine Art Specialist