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Auction-House Annual Sales Drop From 2007’s Peak Levels

After posting record results in 2007, officials of leading auction houses Christie’s and Sotheby’s said overall sales dropped in 2008 as the economic crisis continued to dampen demand for art and collectibles.

NEW YORK—After posting record results in 2007, officials of leading auction houses Christie’s and Sotheby’s said overall sales dropped in 2008 as the economic crisis continued to dampen demand for art and collectibles.

Sotheby’s posted consolidated sales—including auctions, post-auction sales, private sales and dealer revenue—of $5.3 billion, down 14.5 percent from the record $6.2 billion achieved in 2007. (Between 2006 and 2007, the house experienced a 51 percent jump in sales, from $3.66 billion to $6.2 billion.) Sotheby’s auction sales accounted for $4.9 billion of the 2008 total, down from $5.4 billion in auction sales in 2007.

Meanwhile, Christie’s announced 2008 sales totaling $5.1 billion, a 19 percent decrease from its record $6.3 billion total of 2007. Representatives of the auction house said the 2008 figure includes private sales of $487 million, a 10 percent decrease from private sales of $542 million in 2007. As a privately held company, Christie’s is not required to release detailed financial reports.

Sotheby’s was scheduled to release its ­fourth-quarter earnings on Feb. 26. Sotheby’s stock has experienced a sharp drop in the past 12 months, and as ARTnewsletter went to press it was trading below $7 a share, down more than 75 percent from over $31 a share a year ago.

Sotheby’s also recently opened offices in Jakarta and Istanbul. In a statement announcing the new branches, Henry Wyndham, Sotheby’s chairman, Europe, said, “In recent years collectors and buyers based in Turkey have become increasingly active in Sotheby’s international auctions across a broad spectrum of categories.” In the latest in a series of moves intended to capitalize on the emergence of regional art markets, the house announced it will hold its first sale of Turkish contemporary art in London on March 4. Sotheby’s will also hold its first auctions in Doha, Qatar, with a series including sales of contemporary art (March 14–17) and Orientalist art (March 18).

At Christie’s, the largest declines were in sales of Postwar and contemporary art, which totaled $1.09 billion, down 30 percent from $1.6 billion in 2007, and in sales of Russian works of art, which dropped 59 percent to $59 million from $144 million in 2007. Art-market observers did not find either drop surprising, given the very rapid growth of these sectors in previous years. In 2007, Postwar sales at Christie’s rose by 75 percent from the year before, and sales of Russian art rose by 88 percent.

Sales of Impressionist and modern art experienced a smaller decline, falling only 17 percent to $1.2 billion from $1.4 billion in 2007.

CEO Edward Dolman said that “despite the turmoil in the second half,” Christie’s remained profitable in 2008.

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