Etel Adnan's Market is Poised for Recalibration

Just before her death last year at 96, her work reached a new high of $494,010. Two sales this week will tell the market more.

The market for Etel Adnan’s work entered a new phase late last year when two important milestones were passed. The first came in October when a new record price was set for Adnan’s work. The late-blooming artist—for much of her life Adnan was a professor of philosophy and a poet—had seen her work in galleries and museums only in the last 20 years of her life.

Two decades is enough time to build a strong reputation and develop a market. On October 14th, a untitled 1973 work by Adnan, which was originally owned by a Beirut collector who acquired the work from the artist in the 1980s, was offered with a £60,000 low estimate. The work ultimately sold for nearly six times that amount or £352,800. The price was significantly higher than any other previous sale of the poet-painter’s work.

Although slightly larger than the work she would become well known for, the painting was more almost three times the value of her previous record price for an even earlier work from 1960, which made £131,250 in London the previous April. In between the two record prices there were a number of other works sold at new price points suggesting an expansion of Adnan’s market appeal and value.

The second event was Etel Adnan’s death at the age of 96 in Paris a month after the record-setting sale. How Adnan’s passing will effect her market is unknowable, but it is likely that her death will increase interest in her entire body of work.

In market terms, it is important to understand that there has been significant growth in sales and prices in the last year. With only two works on offer in London this week, both from 1960, the market for Adnan’s signature landscapes will have to wait for more public data. In the meantime, let us look at the information we have.

The charts in this post are bubble graphs of prices for Adnan's work sold publicly in the last five years. The color represents the medium. The size of the bubble represents the hammer ratio (hammer price divided by low estimate), which indicates how dynamic the bidding was for the work. 

It should not be a surprise to see the top price paid come as the result of aggressive bidding. 

Removing the record sale from October 2021, the distribution of prices for Adnan’s work shows a level of convergence based upon the previous record price of $171, 148. Of the more than a dozen paintings sold in the period between the Winter of 2019 and end of 2021, most grouped their prices within the value spectrum established by the previous highest price. That can be seen with the addition of some bars showing the convergence price of $97,038, also achieved in October.

The point of this second chart is that prices are grouped roughly around the mid-point between the previous high and low prices with some other works selling within the range. The new high price of $494,010 re-calibrates the market, and we can expect to see new prices that fall between the previous low and high which would suggest prices in the range of $250,000. A rapid doubling of prices is unlikely to take place. But market participants are likely to keep these two sales closely in view for what they indicate about where Adnan's market might go next. 

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