Perhaps the most dynamic and high profile sector of the international art market, Modern, Post-War & Contemporary Art, has also been distinguished as the highest grossing category in recent years. It dominated the global art market in 2016, making up a remarkable 75 percent of its overall value, and accounting for 66 percent of its volume. Private collectors and institutions alike have focused significant attention on this area of collecting, resulting in a robust and competitive marketplace fueled by demand for quality material by blue-chip artists. Even within this thriving segment of the market, however, collectors remain discerning and there are myriad factors that can affect the value and appeal of a work of art at auction.  

One such consideration is whether an object is fresh to the market. Collectors are more inclined toward works of art that have been in private hands for a significant length of time, unavailable for purchase or viewing and therefore unknown to the market. Similarly, an object’s rarity — either in the marketplace or within the artist’s overall body of work — can play an important role in its desirability, and thus its ultimate value. The economic concept of supply and demand and the principals of scarcity are also applicable within the art market as collectors value the rare, the unique and the finite.

Another important factor is provenance, which can play a pivotal role in determining the ultimate success of a work of art at auction. Collectors value a concrete and traceable history of ownership, and an artwork accompanied by labels, receipts or other documentation allows potential buyers a certain degree of confidence in their acquisition. Additionally, objects coming from a notable collection tend to attract significant attention. Buyers often wish not only to own a particular work of art, but also to possess a piece of history or culture associated with a specific collection. 

The market also takes note of the importance of a particular work or theme within an artist’s career. An exceptionally executed painting, a preparatory sketch for a seminal sculpture, a drawing that exemplifies a critical movement or motif in the artist’s oeuvre — all of these are of significant interest to the market.

Yet, of even greater importance to collectors is the name of the artist attached to the work of art. Understandably, collectors are more likely to invest in well-known artists with a precedence of success at auction. This is especially relevant to the Contemporary Art market due to the extensive and ever-increasing presence of social media, allowing artists to create a brand for themselves, increase exposure and to build a market around their name. Brand familiarity is desirable in the eyes of a collector and therefore can help increase the value of the artist’s work at auction.

Condition is another important element of an object’s appeal.  It is important that collectors take care to maintain the condition of their artwork and prevent deterioration over time, whether they are displaying the art in their homes or are keeping it in storage. Paintings, prints and works on paper, for example, should be framed with acid-free archival material and kept out of direct sunlight so as to preserve the vibrancy of their colors. They should also be kept away from moisture or particularly humid locations that may result in mildew or mold damage. Buyers consider an object’s condition when purchasing it and will often pay a premium price for a piece in exceptionally fine condition. Therefore, collectors looking ahead to an ultimate sale of their art should make efforts to be thoughtful stewards of the pieces in their care.

During the Spring 2017 sale season, Freeman’s Modern & Contemporary Art Department achieved successful sales results for numerous works of art encompassing many of the desirable qualities discussed above. Two case studies include the single owner auction of artwork from the Collection of Stanley Bard and the sale of Lynn Chadwick’s iconic 1983 sculpture, “Maquette Jubilee II”. 

Stanley Bard served for nearly half a century as the manager of New York’s legendary Chelsea Hotel. During his tenure, the hotel was home to such famous residents as Robert Mapplethorpe, Patti Smith, Bob Dylan, Jackson Pollock, Christo and Jeanne-Claude, Mark Rothko, Barry Flanagan and countless others.

Freeman’s was honored to offer, in a single owner auction, Bard’s personal art collection. This sale celebrated his compelling story and his unique relationship with the artistic community that he fostered at the Chelsea. Furthermore, it consisted of many previously undiscovered and fresh-to-market pieces acquired directly by Stanley from the artists themselves. This captivating narrative drew a large number of bidders to Freeman’s and resulted in an auction that was 99 percent sold by value, with a total of nearly $2,000,000.

The same day, Freeman’s also held its biannual Modern & Contemporary Art Auction, which included art from various owners. The highlight of the sale was an important work by British Modernist sculptor, Lynn Chadwick. “Maquette Jubilee II” represented a pivotal theme and subject within the artist’s oeuvre. In excellent condition, it came to the market from a private collection where it had been held since it was first acquired from a prominent gallery in 1988.  The work exemplified many of the hallmarks of desirability in today’s marketplace and it soared to a final selling price of $466,000, which is within the top 25 prices ever paid for a Chadwick sculpture at auction.