February 09, 2015

‘Trophy’ Buyers Push Art And Jewellery Sales To New Heights At Christie’s And Sotheby’s


THE art and jewellery markets are still going strong!
Christie’s International said on Tuesday it sold $8.4 billion of fine and decorative art last year, up 17 per cent from the year before and a record for the London-based company. The total at privately held Christie’s included $6.8 billion in auction sales and $1.5 billion in privately brokered art sales. It sold $35 million of art online, up 60 per cent from 2013.

Rival Sotheby’s said it auctioned $6 billion in art last year, up 18 per cent from the year before and also a record for the New York-based auctioneer. Sotheby’s will release consolidated totals, including private sales, next month.

Both auction houses said roughly one-third of their buyers last year were first-timers, a sign that the art market still is being fuelled by an expanding generation of newly wealthy people choosing to start collections.

For the most part, these new buyers are shopping at the top, seeking masterpieces at the highest price points in part because they seem like safe bets and status symbols. Competition to win these coveted consignments is eating into the houses’ profits, a phenomenon both houses say they are trying to combat.

To meet the demand for trophy art, Christie’s offered up 86 artworks last year that wound up selling for more than $10 million apiece. The roster included an $82 million Andy Warhol silkscreen of Elvis Presley, Triple Elvis [Ferus Type],above, and a $65 million Edouard Manet portrait of a Parisian woman, Springtime, that sold to the J. Paul Getty Museum.

Christie’s chief executive Patricia Barbizet, who took over from ousted former chief Steven Murphy last month, says the company owes much of its success to the “strong appetite” of contemporary-art collectors, but she says “other departments have been growing and doing well. Our success is global.”

In terms of collecting categories, Christie’s sold $2.8 billion in postwar and contemporary art, up 39 per cent from the year before and exceeding Sotheby’s $1.6 billion total for the same category last year. Christie’s sold $1.2 billion in impressionist and modern art, up 19 per cent from the year before but less than Sotheby’s $1.4 billion total for selling similar art.

Christie’s jewellery sales totalled $755 million, up 11 per cent from 2013 and easily surpassing Sotheby’s $602.5 million jewellery total. The company also sold $288.3 million of Old Masters and 19th-century art, up 13 per cent, and $71.4 million of rare books and manuscripts, up 38 per cent.



Competition between the two houses is expected to get more heated in Asia. Christie’s sales of Asian art dropped 18 per cent to $717 million last year, and its salerooms in the region also auctioned less art overall, dropping 10 per cent to $844.1 million. Asian buyers still represent 27 per cent of Christie’s global clientele.

Barbizet says the figures indicate that traditional collectors of Asian art are shopping less at home and starting to expand and migrate to different categories such as jewellery and contemporary art, which they can find in multiple salesrooms and art fairs around the world.
In addition, Sotheby’s is proving to be a tough competitor on the Asian front, with its sales of Asian art totalling $900 million and its Chinese clients buying more than $1 billion in art world-wide. Barbizet says Christie’s would continue to bet big on Asia, particularly China.

Christie’s said it remains committed to conducting sales at its hubs in India and the Middle East.

By Kelly Crow

With thanks to The Australian

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