Bloomberg points out that the top 10 lots of 2012 are 44% higher than the top lots of 2011 even on the heels of a similar calculation that Sotheby’s overall sales for the year are down 10% across all categories.
The top 10 priciest lots added up to $594.6 million, a 44 percent increase from $413.6 million in 2011, according to Bloomberg calculations.
Logic suggests this is further evidence of the concentration of value in a few trophies (or masterpieces, as the auction houses prefer to call them.) Adam Lindemann puts some better color on the trend in his year-end piece for the New York Observer:
In November, Christie’s Contemporary Art Auction tallied a sale of historic proportions, totaling a whopping $412.2 million. This type of result creates a myopic view that, despite the bad economy, art is selling like hotcakes. Though big numbers were achieved for blue-chip names like Franz Kline and Mark Rothko, the theater of it all helps keep all the smaller boats afloat—and disguises the reality that, outside the tippy-toppy-type “trophy” auction results, the rest of the art market has slowed down.
Though one wrinkle in this point of view is the outsized effect of the sale of Munch’s Scream which doesn’t entirely account for the 44% increase but certainly adds to the total substantially. Without Munch, this Rothko—slightly more than 2/3 the price of the Munch— would have been the highest priced work of the year.
The Art World Game Changers of 2012 (Observer)