NEW YORK—Business is booming at international auction houses, as shown by 2010 sales figures recently released by Christie’s and Sotheby’s. While longstanding U.S. and European collectors continue to pour money into art and collectibles ranging from Old Masters and Chinese porcelain to Impressionist, modern and contemporary art, significant demand from wealthy younger buyers in Russia, Asia and the Middle East are further fueling a rise in sales. The major houses have made it clear they are positioning themselves for more growth by setting up offices or bolstering staff in such cities as Dubai, Hong Kong and Doha, Qatar.
Sotheby’s, which is publicly held and traded on the New York Stock Exchange, is to report its detailed fourth-quarter and full-year earnings later this month. In the meantime, the house said that last year’s auction sales totaled $4.3billion, up significantly from the $2.3billion total of 2009. Private sales will be included in the upcoming report.
Christie’s International, which is owned by billionaire art collector and luxury-goods mogul François Pinault, said 2010 sales were £3billion ($5billion), up 53 percent (on the basis of British pounds), from the £2.1billion of 2009. Christie’s executives said the result was the highest in the auction house’s 245-year history. The total includes private sales of £369.3 million ($572.4 million), an increase of 39 percent from 2009 private sales of £265.7million ($417.2million).
While established markets still account for the greatest proportion of new and existing clients and sales volumes, and “new client registrations from the U.K. and the U.S. increased in excess of 40 percent, the Asian and BRIC economies are also contributing,” house officials reported.
European and U.K. auction sales totaled £1.1billion ($1.7billion), up 9 percent from the previous year, while sales in North and South America totaled £1.3billion ($2billion), up 111 percent over 2009 sales. Hong Kong sales totaled £465.8million ($722million), reflecting a 114 percent increase, while sales in Dubai were £32.9million ($51million), an increase of 157 percent. The top-performing international category was Impressionist and modern art, followed by Postwar and contemporary art. The third-highest category was Asian art, followed by jewelry, jadeite and watches.