Art market watchers approached the past few weeks, into which New York auctioneers Christie's, Sotheby's, and Phillips packed a punishing six sales over five nights, with hesitation. A slowdown in the art market at the top end, and a period of major upheaval at Sotheby's, led to worries of a disastrous week. But it wasn't too bad of an outcome. People are buying; it's just at a slower and smarter rate. 
Auguste Rodin, Eternel printemps, 1901-03, Sold for $20.4 million at Sotheby's, biggest seller of the evening

Results were reassuring especially in what has become the main sector of auction trading: the postwar and contemporary field. Impressionist and modern art auctions, however, were unimpressive at best, with Sotheby's failing to sell one of three top works on offer at their evening sale. The contemporary market seems to be a much better barometer of the general art market, whereas Impressionist and Modern used to carry the weight. 
Cy Twombly, Untitled (New York City), 1968, Sold for $36.7 million at Sotheby's, estimated at $40 million
There has been a significant drop in sales volume in the spring evening auctions this year compared to last year.
Christie's suffered an enormous drop, unable to repeat the remarkable $705 million "Looking Forward to the Past" curated sale which drove last year's total. In contrast this year's "Bound to Fail" curated sale only generated $78 million.

Meanwhile Sotheby's total sales volume dropped almost by half. Last year the house generated $748 million in sales, compared to this year's $386 million.
Jean-Michel Basquiat, Untitled, 1982, Sold for $57.3 million at Christie's, All-time high price at auction for the artist
Experts say the sales indicated a return to sobriety on the part of the houses after overly ambitious estimates and excessive guarantees offered to sellers. We all have been waiting for the market to normalize. It was clearly skewed almost off the charts in terms of energy and money but now that is coming to an end.
Everyone was watching Sotheby's especially closely in the wake of staff departures and its acquisition of advisory firm Art Agency, Partners. While volume at both houses was markedly down from past years, though, the auctioneers may have made better profits this time around as a result of fewer price guarantees. In past years, when the houses promised high prices to coax owners to sell, and then bidders didn't materialize, the houses were left holding the bag. Both auction houses were trying to outdo each other with guarantees and valuations, and that couldn't go on forever.
But sobriety, and the absence of gigantic $100 million artworks seen in recent years, hardly means collectors aren't shopping. The drop in sales volume, instead, reflects a downturn in seller confidence, as the houses had a tough time convincing collectors to consign top-level works. Of course famed Japanese collector Yusaku Maezawa spent no less than $98 million over the two-day auction period. 
Agnes Martin, Orange Grove, 1965, Sold for $10.7 million at Christie's, World-wide auction record-breaking price
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