What New York City’s Art Auctions Tell You About the Stock Market — and Social Mood

By Peter Kendall | Chief Analyst for U.S. Markets and Cultural Trends

The fall and spring auctions in New York City are the art market’s bellwether sales events. And according to The New York Times, the results from the City’s spring art auction season “tell a story of a masterpiece market come down to earth.” The article notes that the spring sales at Christie’s, Sotheby’s and Phillips delivered $1.4 billion — a 22 percent decrease from total earnings of $1.8 billion in 2023.

While auction experts called it a “respectable finish,” the general art market nervousness is a bad sign for the next major auction season in November. It’s “a momentum-based market,” said one expert about the art industry. “There can be a little bit of a herd mentality.”

We agree wholeheartedly, save for the “a little bit” part. The art scene, like any speculative, freely-traded market, is very much driven by herd mentality. And as such, it often closely tracks the stock market, because both are driven — higher or lower — by waves of social mood. Positive social mood impels demand for fine art and stocks, whereas negative social mood decreases demand.

Signs of weakness in the art market were apparent before this spring auction season. The message of last November’s bidding was decidedly mixed. “While the figures from the fortnight of sales looked impressive, there were still several significant indicators of an art market in flux,” reported Artsy.com. “Each auction house held a sale that cumulatively fell beneath their low estimates,” and there were lots of withdrawals. Sotheby’s modern evening sale, for instance, was reduced to 33 lots from an original 40.

“A notable clutch of works by blue chip artists failed to achieve their low estimates. Works by Jeff Koons, Andy Warhol, Pablo Picasso, and Salvador Dali all hammered below their low targets.”

“Despite a Sagging Art Market,” The New York Times reported that this Picasso from August 1932 did bring a winning bid of $139.4 million, the highest price paid for a work of art in 2023.

“The sale of ‘Femme a’ la montre’ not only cements its status as a masterpiece, but also underscores the enduring fascination and value of Picasso’s work.”

Interestingly, Picasso started the painting at the bottom of a massive decline in the Dow Jones Industrial Average and the start of a multi-decade rally.

With the painting’s record price aligning closely with what we believe is the end of a long upward wave in the stock market, we suspect that the sale will mark a peak for Picasso and many other artists and artworks of “enduring fascination.” The fascination should yield to bafflement at the artistry as well as the prices that were paid for it.

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This article was syndicated by Elliott Wave International and was originally published under the headline What New York City’s Art Auctions Tell You About the Stock Market — and Social Mood. EWI is the world’s largest market forecasting firm. Its staff of full-time analysts led by Chartered Market Technician Robert Prechter provides 24-hour-a-day market analysis to institutional and private investors around the world.