Sotheby’s and Christie’s Reimagined Auctions Pay Off
What was an evening event is now an afternoon event. Degas and van Gogh are modernists of the 20th century today. Six-digit prices are few and far between.
This new reality was evident at Sotheby’s and Christie’s Marquee Summer Livestream “Evening” auctions of modern and contemporary art in London after Brexit, which began Tuesday and Wednesday at 2pm this year to wake wealthy Asian bidders hold.
“We live in a world that is more global than ever,” says Melanie Clore, co-founder of the London-based art consultancy Clore Wyndham.
“Hong Kong is growing fast,” said Clore, who was once chair of the Impressionist and Modern Art division at Sotheby’s in London. “In Asia there is a new wave of young people who have a lot of available money. The taste has changed. “
On Tuesday, Sotheby’s two-part livestream auction of British and international works of modern and contemporary art in London raised a total of £ 156.2 million in fees, or approximately $ 215 million from 91 lots. Aided by the inclusion of modern British works, this represented a decrease of 11 percent compared to the total proceeds from the corresponding pre-pandemic evening sales of British and international art in June 2019.
The auction categories of Sotheby’s and Christie’s experienced a dramatic upheaval in London. Last summer, when the pandemic stifled both demand and supply and 19th century art went out of style, Christie’s and Sotheby’s both gave up their traditional standalone evening sales of Impressionist, modern and contemporary art and experimented with innovative part-live -, partly online auctions, which brought together material from the 20th and 21st centuries in order to cater to the changing tastes of younger, international collectors.
Sotheby’s, like Christie’s, no longer offers a special selection of large format impressionist art in London. The occasional late 19th century gem, such as a Degas or van Gogh drawing, is still offered in evening auctions of 20th and 21st century material when it is of great value. For example, this week Sotheby’s sold an 1883 Degas pastel depicting a woman bathing for £ 2.7 million, or $ 3.7 million, and Christie’s sold an 1885 Van Gogh drawing of a man digging potatoes for £ 862,000 or about $ 1.2 million. Phillips didn’t hold major art auctions in London in June, but instead focused on opening sales at his new New York headquarters.
“London is down,” said Christine Bourron, executive director of Pi-eX, a London-based research firm that tracks the performance of international art auctions. “She has to reinvent herself. Brexit makes trade more difficult. “
Aggregate Sotheby’s, Christie’s and Phillips’ auctions in London raised $ 1.2 billion in the first half of 2021, compared to $ 1.5 billion in the same period in 2019, according to Pi-eX data. Corresponding auction sales in Hong Kong rose to about $ 1.3 billion, down from $ 892 million. Revenue in Paris for the first half of 2021 was $ 409 million, up from $ 229 million in 2019.
The effects of the Covid pandemic and Brexit on the UK art market are still difficult to untangle. But it is clear that London-based auction houses are already reinventing themselves by developing new sales formats and also looking into the distance. Sotheby’s opens a new headquarters in Cologne and relocates Alex Branczik, his London director for contemporary art, to Hong Kong. Christie’s live streaming auctions of 20th and 21st century art in London are now routinely combined with sister listings in Paris.
Sotheby’s and Christie’s historic auction rooms have been converted into TV studios for their live streaming sales, leaving limited space for a small invited audience. Today’s digitized auctions of fine art are all about selling to global customers, and London has succeeded in doing so, aided in part by a variety of guaranteed minimum prices for sellers and by being conveniently located in the international time zones.
“London is a place where everyone can enjoy a global auction,” said Bourron. “New York hurts Asian collectors and Hong Kong hurts Americans.”
Lot 1 at Sotheby’s sets the tone. “I’m pirouetting the night away,” a bright blue and orange abstract from 2019 by young British painter Jadé Fadojutimi, pulled in several bids from Hong Kong before selling for £ 402,200 or about $ 553,000, four times the pre-sale estimate .
These London auctions continue to attract some impressive works of the blue chip names of 20th century European art. Sotheby’s modern and contemporary offerings on Tuesday included “Tensions Calmées,” an example of the more playful geometric paintings of 1937 Wassily Kandinsky made towards the end of his life in France. From a US collection that had not been auctioned for more than 50 years, it was sold to a telephone bidder in London for £ 21.2 million, or nearly $ 30 million, making it the most expensive for both houses Lot of the week.
Sotheby’s added evening revenue from a sale of British modern and contemporary art, which also benefited from the presence of an international online audience, adding £ 48.2 million, or approximately $ 66 million, to the grand total.
On Wednesday, Christie’s 51-lot “evening” livestream of 20th and 21st century art in London was viewed by experts as having an advantage over Sotheby’s. Its grand total of £ 119.3 million, or about $ 164 million, was a 46 percent improvement over corresponding Impressionist, Modern, and Contemporary sales in June 2019.
Its success was due in large part to a delicate 1951 Giacometti bronze sculpture, “Homme qui chavire,” which grossed £ 13.7 million, or about $ 19 million; and the 1969 Picasso painting “L’Étreinte”, which had never been auctioned before and which fetched the top price of the night at £ 14.7 million or over $ 20 million, responded to a telephone bid from New York.
“It was a big, glitzy Picasso that appealed to contemporary tastes,” said Hugo Nathan, co-founder of Beaumont Nathan, a London-based consultancy. “Late Picassos used to be in daily sales, but now they’re easier to sell than his cubist or blue periods.”
The London auction was immediately followed by another 40 lots in Paris, Great Britain and France, which formed an unlikely post-Brexit tag team. The Paris auction was auctioned of 24 pieces from the collection of 20th century works.
This consisted mainly of relatively small works by big names – but included the painting by René Magritte “La vengeance” from 1936, a work that had never been offered at auction before and for 14.6 million euros or about 17.3 million US dollars -Dollar was the highest auction price so far this year for a painting in France, according to Christie’s.
Overall, Paris’s revenue accounted for less than half of the total proceeds from Christie’s London auction, showing that Paris still has some way to go to replace London as the post-Brexit European art market capital.
“Paris has tried to become the center of the European art trade, but auctions are going better in London,” says Marco Voena, co-founder of Robilant + Voena, a car dealership with locations in London, Milan, New York and Paris. “People are confident in London, even if there have been big problems. That is tradition. “