How the pandemic changed the way high-end art is sold

The pandemic has probably permanently changed many ways of selling high-end art.

In 2020, when Covid significantly reduced overall revenues for both Sotheby’s and Christie’s, personal sales revenues at two international auction houses surged. Compared to 2019, Sotheby’s was up 60% to $ 1.6 billion and Christie’s was up 85% to $ 1.5 billion. ..

Currently, live auction revenues are expected to increase as the pandemic recedes, but art experts believe that personal sales will continue to grow in popularity. By 2025, Adrien Meyer, Global Head of Private Sales at Christie’s, predicts that private sales will reach about one-third of Christie’s revenue. This is the same percentage as the 2020 pandemic year. The percentage for 2019 was 20%.

Rather than displaying merchandise and waiting for bids, the auction house contacts people around the world who may be interested, based on in-house auction records. For example, if Monet is for sale, 12 potential buyers who bid or did not bid at Monet’s auction could receive the call. The sale is complete when you first contact the best customers ranked by criteria such as purchase history and agree to purchase the item at the set price.

Private sales began to pick up about 10 years ago. The Covid-19 accelerated the shift as large-scale public sales declined and buyers and sellers gained a reputation for much faster private sales.

Another advantage of private sales: There is no official record of what an object was sold for or wasn’t sold. By keeping the latter out of the public eye, you can prevent your work from “burning” in the world of art. In other words, future buyers are unaware that the work did not sell and are suspected of having a problem with the work.

Unlike selling private art, a final bid in a public auction can far exceed the auction quote as buyers compete with each other. Photo: French artist Paul Cézanne’s “Nature morte de peches et poires” and an employee of Christie’s at the 2019 auction.


Tolga Akmen / Agence France-Presse / Getty Images

Private sales also offer more flexibility in terms of timing. For example, Sotheby’s Global Head of Private Sales, David Schrader, said Sotheby’s and Christie’s could hold auctions for certain items such as Impressionism and contemporary art only twice a year, and what the seller is. Buyers will have to wait a few months to see if there is any. In private sale, he says, many works are sold throughout the year.

Personal sales also have advantages when faced with competition from similar products scheduled for auction. “If sold privately, it could improve the performance of the object,” Schrader says. In addition, “more esoteric items” or items with few auction records “may be considered better for private sales than for auctions,” he says.

Sellers may have trade-offs. Final bids on public auctions can far exceed the auction quote as potential buyers compete with each other. “Competition and sentiment can push prices up,” says Evan Beard, managing director of private banking at Bank of America. Some of its clients are collectors. This is unlikely if the auction house staff is talking to one collector at a time.

Grant is a writer in Amherst, Massachusetts.

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How the pandemic changed the way high-end art is sold

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