ARTnewsletter Archive

2011: Banner Year for Auctioneers As Demand for Fine Art Surges

Auction houses Christie’s and Sotheby’s reported yet another record year as the art market continues to shake off broader global economic woes.

NEW YORK—Auction houses Christie’s and Sotheby’s reported yet another record year as the art market continues to shake off broader global economic woes.

Christie’s, a privately held company owned by billionaire art collector and luxury goods magnate François Pinault, said 2011 sales were £3.6 billion ($5.7 billion), marking a nine percent increase from 2010, when the house posted sales of £3 billion ($5 billion). The figure includes private sales of £502 million ($808.6 million), which were up 44 percent from 2010, when the house reported private sales of £369.3 million ($572.4 million).

Postwar and contemporary art was the top-selling category, realizing a total of £735.7 million ($1.2 billion), up 22 percent from the level realized in 2010. The second-strongest category was Asian art, which realized £552.9 million ($890.1 million), a 13 percent rise from 2010.

Christie’s said it saw increased buyer activity across a wide geographic range in the past year, reflecting the “international appetite for collecting.” U.S. and European clients accounted for 77 percent of sale registrations, with 13 percent from Greater China, an increase of 2 percent compared with 2010. Registered clients from Russia and the CIS increased 15 percent. Meanwhile, according to Christie’s, new clients represented 12 percent of the value of global sales.

Christie’s said it sold 719 works at auction for more than $1 million each in 2011, as compared with 607 in 2010. Of the top-ten selling works of the year, each sold for well over $20 million, including works by Roy Lichtenstein, Andy Warhol, Francis Bacon, Mark Rothko, Pablo Picasso, Claude Monet, Maurice de Vlaminck and sporting artist George Stubbs. Seven of the ten-highest lots were sold in New York sales.

CEO Steven P. Murphy called the results “very encouraging,” adding, “there are many more collectors who are increasing their investment in their collections as the explosion of interest in art, fueled by globalization….meets the art that is coming to market.”

Christie’s has also continued investing in its online initiatives, particularly Christie’s LIVE, its interactive online bidding platform. Christie’s said LIVE drew 25 percent more bids than in its previous year. As part of its December sales series of the collection of the late Elizabeth Taylor, Christie’s held a two-week online-only sale that brought in $9.5 million.

Sotheby’s, a publicly held company, releases detailed quarterly and annual earnings reports. Fourth-quarter and full-year 2011 results will be released later this month.

Meanwhile, according to the results on Sotheby’s website, there has been a 12.2 percent rise in its worldwide auction sales, to $4.9 billion. Last year’s reported figure was $4.3 billion, while the result in 2009 was $2.3 billion. Additonal private-sales figures will be included in Sotheby’s upcoming report

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