Global auction sales at Christie’s, Sotheby’s and Phillips totalled $12.21bn in 2018, up 8.9% from 2017, with Christie’s retaining its leading position by generating an overall $6.22bn. Image courtesy of Christie's. Image courtesy of Christie's.

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The figures from ArtTactic’s 2018 auction overview found the post-war and contemporary art market rose 18.1% last year to $3.88bn, a slowdown from a 40.3% growth in sales in 2017. Modern and Impressionist art auction sales rose 36.3% to $3.28bn.

Post-war and contemporary art auctions still account for the largest share of sales at the three auction houses at 31.8% but Modern and Impressionist sales have more than doubled since 2016 and now account for 26.9% of total auction sales last year.

The Chinese and Asian art market slumped 17% in 2018 after a 21% growth in sales in 2017. ArtTactic reported the decline was largely due to a significant drop in sales at Christie’s, from just over $1bn in 2017 to $708m in 2018.


Global auction sales in 2018 by category (US$) for Christie’s, Sotheby’s and Phillips. Data source: ArtTactic's 2018 Auction Overview.

In contrast, Christie’s US sales of American art boosted the category which recorded a tripling of sales in 2018. Two single-owner collections at Christie’s were behind the jump: The Collection of Peggy and David Rockefeller and The Barney A Ebsworth Collection. American art posted a record year in 2018 with sales reaching $601m, up from $141m.

Total global auction sales from Christie’s, Sotheby’s and Phillips reached $12.21bn in 2018, up 8.9% from 2017. Christie’s retained its leading position with total auction sales of $6.22bn, an increase of 5.5% from $5.89bn in 2017, while Sotheby’s reported sales of $5.2bn, up 10.7% on 2017 ($4.69bn). Phillips’ 2018 sales were up 27.7% to $797m from £624m.

Slower second half

However, ArtTactic noted that a strong first half of the year was followed by a much slower second half for the three major auction houses.

Alongside ArtTactic’s 2018 auction overview it also published its global art market outlook for 2019.

Although the 2018 figures were buoyant, it cautioned that for 2019 the “global art market could be facing an uphill struggle in the wake of slowing economic growth, triggered by trade wars and the uncertainty around Brexit, which is only weeks away”. The 2019 outlook survey findings are based on a sample of 103 art market participants including auction specialists, collectors, dealers, advisers and curators.


Totals and market share in 2018 for Christie’s, Sotheby’s and Phillips global auction sales by location. Right: Christie's president Jussi Pylkkanen conducting the sale of The Collection of Peggy and David Rockefeller in New York. Image courtesy of Christie's.