Christie’s, in a press release, announced their annualized report of their operations. They outlined results of their “core categories” in their annual report.
“The Impressionist and Modern Art category (including Modern British Art, American Paintings, and Latin American Paintings) grew by 57% to £1.3bn ($2bn, up 47%) compared with the same period for 2014, continuing the team’s market leadership. The Post-War & Contemporary department also continued to be market leaders with total sales of £1.5 billion, down 14% ($2.2 billion, down 20%). Sales of Asian Art increased 9% globally to £478.6 million ($734.2 million, up 2%), highlighted by the record-breaking Ellsworth sale of Asian Art. Sales in the 20th and 21st Century Culture category increased 9% to £93.7 million ($143.7 million, up 2%). Old Master Paintings, 19th Century and Russian Art sales totalled £154.9 million, down 37% ($237.6 million, down 41%). Luxury (including Jewellery, Watches and Wine) sales totalled £493.4 million, down 13% ($756.9 million, down 19%). This category also proved to be the most successful entry point, attracting 21% of all new buyers, and maintaining its position as market leaders.”
In makes for interesting reading as to the state of the industry. But for those of us in the decorative arts world, we are officially not recognized as a meaningful part of their operations. Well, if you read a little deeper, Christie’s does have sales of 20th and 21st Century Culture, so I guess we get a little respect even if it is by far the smallest segment. So how come this original, core market has fallen off the screen. We still have predictable antiques shows (abet more mixed with art and contemporary). Is 17, 18, and 19th Century furniture, decorative, and fine arts so out of fashion and relevance?
The short answer is YES. Yes, they may look cool and have a wow affect, but is it something you want to live with? It can be quite intimidating to own something you just don’t understand and frankly don’t have the effort to focus on for pleasure. Taste today is defined by edginess and simplicity along with functionality and aesthetics. Today, antiques in a quantity of one is more than enough for the affect.
As a sage of the industry, I remember a famous PR comment by Sotheby’s back in the 1980s, when the Japanese pulled the rug out from the Impressionist Art market. They said something to the affect that the Decorative Arts markets was holding up quite nicely as a traditional core of their operations (and the buyer’s premium was racking in the profits). Cycles in taste will always be evolving. Neo-classic design has morphed for 2 millennia. I think the decorative art will hang in there for the next millennium.