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Global Demand Fuels Record Sales at Sotheby’s and Christie’s

Sotheby’s and Christie’s both released record sales results for the first half of 2008, as the art market continues to surge ahead despite broader economic volatility and a weak U.S. dollar.

NEW YORK—Sotheby’s and Christie’s both released record sales results for the first half of 2008, as the art market continues to surge ahead despite broader economic volatility and a weak U.S. dollar.

Sotheby’s said that its aggregate auction sales for the first six months of the year were $3 billion, the best result in the house’s history. Including private sales and sales from its Noortman Master Paintings dealership, Sotheby’s reported a consolidated total of $3.2 billion. “Demand has remained very strong for great works of art, and the market has continued to be robust,” said Sotheby’s CEO Bill Ruprecht.

Christie’s, which is privately held and does not release detailed quarterly financial reports, said its first-half sales worldwide were £1.8 billion ($3.5 billion), up 10 percent from £1.6 billion ($3.2 billion) for the first half of last year. The house noted particular strength in Impressionist and modern art, Postwar and contemporary art, and Asian, Indian and Arab art. The total includes private sales of £153 million ($301 million) brokered by Christie’s in the first half of 2008, as well as sales conducted by its wholly owned subsidiary Haunch of Venison.

Christie’s acquired the London-based gallery, which also has branches in Berlin and Zurich, early last year (ANL, 3/6/07) in a deal that drew considerable criticism from dealers and galleries, and resulted in Haunch of Venison being banned from most major art fairs. The gallery is scheduled to open a Manhattan branch—comprising two floors and 20,000 square feet of office and exhibition space—next to Christie’s New York headquarters in Rockefeller Center on Sept. 12.

Calendar Shift Accounts for Drop

For the second quarter of 2008, Sotheby’s reported net income of $95.3 million, or $1.46 a share, a decline from the $107.3 million, or $1.64 a share, reported last year. Sotheby’s said the difference was primarily due to the shift of its London summer contemporary-art sales to the third quarter from the second (ANL, 7/22/08). This year’s contemporary sales were pushed back a week from June, when the sales were held in previous years, to July. Those contemporary auctions added $242.4 million to Sotheby’s year-to-date sales total.

Second-quarter revenues were $320.2 million, a decrease of $19.3 million, or 6 percent, from the prior year’s revenues, which was also largely attributable to the shift in the London sale calendar.

Capitalizing on the fast-rising demand within Asia for contemporary Asian art, Sotheby’s also announced that, starting in 2009, the house will hold sales of contemporary Asian art exclusively in Hong Kong. Kevin Ching, CEO of Sotheby’s Asia, said that despite success with international sales of contemporary Asian art, “we have carefully reviewed the results of these auctions, and it has become increasingly evident that Contem¬porary Asian works have consistently fetched the highest prices at auction in Hong Kong.”

Two years ago, Sotheby’s launched its first sales of contemporary Chinese art in New York (ANL, 1/17/06), hiring former Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum manager Xiaoming Zhang as a specialist. (Zhang has since left Sotheby’s.) The auction house said it will continue to hold presale exhibitions of contemporary Asian art in New York.

In recent seasons Sotheby’s, as well as Christie’s and Phillips, de Pury & Company, has placed works by such top-selling artists as Zhang Xiaogang and Zeng Fanzhi in its evening sales of Postwar and contemporary art, confirmation that the works are of interest to major international collectors. Some observers note, however, that collectors based in Asia have complained about having to abide by New York sales schedules in order to bid on a work.

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