The two auction houses Sotheby’s and Christie’s proved their resilience by adapting to new health measures implemented throughout the year, conducting more online sales and reducing physical auction rooms.
Despite the impossibility of holding indoor auctions for almost nine months, the auction specialists’ 2020 balance sheet is satisfactory. Patrick Drahi, owner of Sotheby’s, and François Pinault, with his house Christie’s, are the first to regain the upper hand this year, with more than $5 billion in sales for the American company (down 16% compared to 2019), compared to $4.4 billion for the British company (down 25%).
“This leadership spans several categories such as fine arts and luxury, and key regions, with our fifth consecutive year leading in Asia,” said Sotheby’s CEO Charles F. Stewart.
Guillaume Cerutti, CEO of Christie’s, explains that “the absence of a prestigious collection in the United States, such as SI Newhouse, Ebsworth or Rockefeller, has affected our performance. In addition, the postponement to mid-July of the sale scheduled for the end of May in Hong Kong, shifted the search for works to the months of April to June, in full confinement there“.
However, the health crisis linked to Covid-19 led to a drop in auction sales for the two art multinationals. For Sotheby’s, auctions represented $3.5 billion, a 30% decrease from 2019, while for Christie’s, the decline is estimated at more than 40%, to $2.8 billion.
The main reason for this decline is the difficulty in finding valuable lots to offer as sellers are more reluctant in times of lockdown. Only two works of art alone sold for more than $25 million at auction, compared with nine last year.
Christie’s reveals that it has made more sales of high-value items in online sales than in physical sales, and the multinational company is experiencing a 57% increase in online sales to $1.3 billion. Sotheby’s achieved a higher figure than its rival, at $1.5 billion, but experienced a slightly lower decline of 50%.
Both auction specialists have increased their online sales and more than 70% of Sotheby’s auctions took place online this year, compared to 30% in 2019, with more than 40% of new bidders on the web. Christie’s also boasts a record for digital sales at $311 million, an increase of 262%.
“There has been a strong shift, with online sales multiplied by 5, but we have also chosen to maintain physical sales when possible or when it seemed the best option for our customers,” said Guillaume Cerutti.
In Asia, where the health situation stabilized first, Sotheby’s made $982 million in sales, or 20% of its sales. Asians also obtained 9 of its 20 “top lots” for the year. Christie’s sold 34% of its lots in Asia, compared with 33% to Americans and 33% to Europeans, Middle Easterners and Africans.
Featured Photo : © Sotheby’s
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