Charles Stewart, Sotheby’s CEO, commented: “We are proud to conclude the first seven months of the year with $2.5 billion in sales, and I would like to thank our clients and employees for their extraordinary support during the pandemic. Our success was driven by strong customer demand for art and luxury, Sotheby’s unique specialist expertise and trusted client relationships around the world, and our remarkable adaptations and innovations to the current environment. The company is in a strong financial position as we head into the second half of the year and, based on the demand we witnessed in New York, Hong Kong and London over the past month, it promises to be an exciting fall.”
MARKET & COLLECTOR INSIGHTS
Charles Stewart continued: “The art and luxury markets have proven to be incredibly resilient, and demand for quality across categories is unabated. The power of Asia, combined with the sophistication of established collectors and the appetite of new clients, was central to our success over the past seven months, and particularly since March. And although driven by necessity, it’s clear that our clients’ interest and confidence in technology has fundamentally changed.”
In total, Sotheby’s has conducted 250+ live and online sales to-date in 2020 (1 January – 31 July), which were a strong 80% sold overall.
More than 30% of all bidders and buyers in the period had never transacted with Sotheby’s before, and more than 30% of all bidders and buyers are under 40. They saw competition in their auctions from 100+ countries, with nearly 20% of new bidders and buyers, in particular, coming from across Asia.
A key driver of Sotheby’s success in the first part of 2020, and a big part of what is driving the market today, is Asia. In the first seven months of the year, their sales in Asia totalled nearly $450 million – not to mention the impact Asian collectors had in their international salerooms. Sotheby’s rescheduled April sale series in Hong Kong, which was held in July, was the 7th-consecutive series to exceed $400 million – a testament to Sotheby’s market-leading position in Asia for five successive seasons.
Online buyers in both their live and online auctions dramatically increased their appetite to transact at high levels this spring. While the average lot value in their online sales is just over $20,000 (more than double the average in 2019), 12 works have sold for prices in excess of $1 million since March, including both fine art and luxury goods. Online buying in their live auctions included two benchmark prices achieved in the same evening: first with Joan Mitchell’s Garden Party, sold to an online bidder for $7.9 million, and later with Jean-Michel Basquiat’s Untitled (Head), sold for $15.2 million. That same night, a client from China bid up to $73.1 million on Francis Bacon’s large-format masterpiece Triptych Inspired by the Oresteia of Aeschylus.
INNOVATION & ADAPTATION DRIVES SALES
Charles Stewart continued: “Our team successfully took the circumstances of the past several months and turned them into opportunities, which advanced numerous initiatives that will likely change our business forever. Innovation is underway in every corner of the company: from creative sale formats that maximize flexibility for our clients, to the deployment of new digital tools that allow more people to engage with us than ever, to the launch of multiple buy-now initiatives.”
Beginning in March, with lockdown measures in place around the globe, Sotheby’s dramatically accelerated their online sales program in order to meet the continued demand and needs of collectors. They converted a number of traditional live auctions online, added wholly new online sales to the calendar, and continued to source and sell remotely.
Combined with the overall buoyancy of the market, those efforts propelled Sotheby’s online sales to grow a staggering 540% in the first seven months of 2020 (compared to the same period in 2019). In total, they held 180+ online auctions across 44 collecting categories that have raised more than $285 million, with sales continuing to close daily.
Notable online sales successes since March include:
- In May, during what would traditionally have been a major moment in the international auction calendar, Sotheby’s added their first-ever Online Day Auctions of Contemporary and Impressionist & Modern Art. Their Contemporary Art Day Online Auction set a new record for any online auction at Sotheby’s (more than double the previous record), achieving $13.7 million.
- Sotheby’s achieved their highest price for any artwork sold in an online auction twice this spring: first with Georgio Morandi’s Natura morta (Still Life) from 1951, which realized $1.6 million in their Impressionist & Modern Art Day Sale Online in May (estimate $1/1.5 million), and next with Ivan Aivazovsky’s monumental painting The Bay of Naples, which soared to £2.3 million / $2.8 million in their Russian Art sale in June (estimate £800,000/1.2 million).
- In their Luxury sales, a Magnificent ‘Tutti Frutti’ Bracelet by Cartier achieved Sotheby’s highest price for any jewel sold in an online sale when it achieved $1.3 million in April (estimate $600/800,000). An ultra-rare Rolex Daytona JPS reference 6264 in 18-carat gold soared to $1.5 million in July, a record for a watch sold in an online auction (estimate $400/800,000).
- Michael Jordan’s Game Worn Autographed Nike Air Jordan 1s from 1985 set a new auction record for any pair of sneakers when they sold for $560,000 in May (estimate $100/150,000).
Against a backdrop of fair cancellations and gallery closures, Sotheby’s offered unprecedented access to their private sales program to both new and established collectors. This included the launch of a robust online viewing platform, the debut of Sotheby’s Gallery Network, and the opening of their East Hampton Gallery in June.
Sotheby’s overall volume of private sales transactions increased approximately 10% year-to-date in 2020 compared to 2019, with the most traded artists including Andy Warhol, Yoshitomo Nara, Eddie Martinez, Sam Francis and Ed Ruscha. In total, private sales for the period totalled $575 million (including private sales of inventory).
Notable private sales and additional buy-now initiatives include:
- Online Viewing Platform: Featuring works spanning 15 different categories, now publicly listed on sothebys.com and available for immediate purchase.
- Sotheby’s East Hampton Gallery: In June, they introduced a new space that brings together exceptional works of art, design, and luxury offerings in a curated lifestyle setting, all available for immediate purchase. Situated in the heart of East Hampton, New York’s retail and gallery district, the space brings a lively calendar of events, from virtual wine tastings to trunk shows.
- Sotheby’s Gallery Network: A digital buy-now marketplace launched in April that empowers notable gallery partners to make immediate sales online. To date, the program features 24 galleries, including primary-market artworks coming directly from artist studios.
Sotheby’s Home: Now listing more than 12,000 items in 13 different categories, including handbags, diamonds and pens. Sotheby’s Home added nearly 2,000 new clients in the first half of 2020 and saw a 35% increase in sales and a 48% in transaction volume, compared to the same period in 2019.
This June marked the reintroduction of live auctions to their global salerooms. In just two months, their auctions in New York, Hong Kong, London, Paris and Geneva achieved a remarkable $1.2 billion, led by the highest price for any work at auction this year (Francis Bacon’s Triptych Inspired by the Oresteia of Aeschylus, sold for $84.6 million in New York), the highest price for any work at sold at auction in Asia this year (Sanyu’s Quatre nus, sold for $33.3 million in Hong Kong), and the highest price for any work at auction across Europe – both for the year (David Hockney’s The Splash, sold for $29.8 million in February) and for the summer season (Joan Miró’s Peinture (Femme au chapeau rouge), sold for $28.7 million in London this week).
Their marquee sales in particular were wholly re-imagined, and transformed into a revolutionary auction format that was conducted via innovative and seamless video streams. Debuted on 29 June, an auctioneer in London was united with phone bidders in New York, London and Hong Kong in one high-definition experience. Clients placed bids with Sotheby’s specialists in New York, Hong Kong and London via phone, or via Sotheby’s state-of-the-art proprietary online bidding platform.
The evening, which totalled $363 million and established 14 new auction records, marked the most important single test of the international art market in 2020 and attracted five times Sotheby’s average online viewership. In July, their London sale series employed the same live-streamed global format and was watched live by an audience of 150,000.
With many clients unable to visit their galleries this spring, a number of new digital innovations brought virtual access to prospective buyers, who responded enthusiastically to new tools and means of engagement including:
- Augmented Reality: The debut of a new AR feature in Sotheby’s iOS app allows users to view artworks in their homes alongside their existing collection before placing a bid. The AR function maps to a user’s wall and furniture and displays a high-resolution image of the work that is true to its unframed dimensions providing the perfect opportunity to “live” with a work before purchasing.
- Virtual Gallery Experience: Allowing users around the world to move through their galleries and experience their exhibitions and artworks as they are installed – with the added ability to learn more about specific works through associated videos, audio commentary and informational wall texts. This new exhibition experience also is integrated with their digital catalogues, so users can read full catalogue notes for works of interest, browse the rest of the sale, or bid on a specific work of art.
Enhanced Digital Catalogue: Sotheby’s new, immersive digital catalogue experience showcases a ‘digital-first’ design that emphasizes visual storytelling through video, interactive media, and other rich content formats in a way that moves beyond print media. This new presentation resulted in a 38% increase in page views and a 58% increase in site engagement.