Christie’s Plots a Hong Kong to New York Relay to Revive Sales
This time last year Christie’s, Sotheby’s and Phillips sold a staggering $2 billion of Impressionist, modern, postwar and contemporary art over five days in New York.
Champagne flowed as the rooms filled with titans of industry. A stainless steel bunny sculpture by Jeff Koons fetched $91 million, an auction record for a living artist.
That world is gone. The coronavirus pandemic has made physical auctions impossible with businesses shut and even intrepid collectors keen to observe social distancing.
“We live off big events,” said Alex Rotter, chairman of postwar and contemporary art at Christie’s. “We have parties, we have cocktails and auctions with 800 people in the sales room cramped next to each other. And crowds coming in to view works of art. This will not be possible for quite a while. ”
That’s put the auction houses in a tough spot, forcing them to rethink the way they do business, through private sales and online events. So far that’s produced just a fraction of the typical revenues that flow through the global art market.
Christie’s initially delayed its auction until June, but has decided to push it out further, in anticipation of some form of reopening. On July 10, it will conduct a relay-like auction, starting in Hong Kong, shifting to Paris and London and finally New York over the span of about two hours. Instead of having separate categories, it will be a mix, with a group of lots sold in each location.
Highlights include a 1955 Pablo Picasso painting, “Les femmes d’Alger (version F)”, estimated at about $25 million and Roy Lichtenstein’s late “Nude with Joyous Painting,” estimated at about $30 million.
The events will have live and live-streaming components to reach as many people around the world as possible while complying with social distancing regulations in each location, said Rotter, who’s currently hunkered down in the Hamptons, along with many of his clients.
“We are an auction house, so we need an auctioneer,” he said. “We need a live component for the higher value lots. We need people to see the works and talk about the works.”
Experts will be in the actual sales room, taking bids from clients, while the action is broadcast online.
“I’ll be standing there, hopefully with my colleagues, depending again on what the government says,” Rotter said. “With 50 people in the room, or 100 people in the room or no people in the room. Most people will be watching the auction online.”
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