It’s been a big year for the three major international auction houses with record sales and new developments in digital technology. The businesses are keeping up with the times, embracing cryptocurrencies and NFTs, an area awash with money laundering and smokescreen economies. The upper end of the art market has seen record-breaking achievements for blue-chip artists—the result of investors divesting away from the overheated property and shares markets. Let’s look at the results of 2021 by auction houses and what the CEOs are saying.
2021 results include consolidated sales at $7.3 billion with auctions running total at $6 billion and private sales achieving $1.3 billion, as auctions rebound and clients respond to a seamless digital and physical experience. With several sales still to go, Sotheby’s standout year to date.
Sotheby’s has reported a record year in the company’s history, driven by strength and depth of demand and an influx of new collectors and powered by rapid expansion of offerings and platforms.
New sale formats and categories attracted a wider audience of participants (a record number of bidders joined in Sotheby’s sales, with 44% them new to Sotheby’s) and a rise in quality works coming to the market is meeting strong demand from new and established collectors.
Notable achievements underlying these historic results include a number of new benchmarks established across regions and categories, including a record year in Asia, a record year for global sales of Modern and Contemporary art, and a record year for Luxury with Watches, Wine & Spirits, Design and Books & Manuscripts each achieving all- time highs for annual auction totals. Additionally, the arrival of new categories such as streetwear and NFTs have further expanded Sotheby’s audience to a new demographic of collectors.
“Our unparalleled expertise and innovation mindset led to extraordinary results across categories and regions and set new benchmarks for selling art and luxury”. – CHARLES F. STEWART, SOTHEBY’S CEO
ART MARKET REACHES NEW HIGHS
Growth in wealth corresponds with growth in demand for emerging artists, as collectors discover new talent in addition to acquiring blue chipworks which are selling at new highs:
Volume of transactions from $5-50 million increased by two thirds: from 91 in 2020 to 158 in 2021
Works sold for over $10 million in twelve different categories including, Asian Art, Contemporary, Modern, Latin American Art, Old Masters,Watches, Jewels, Books & Manuscripts, and NFTs, with more works
sold for over $15 million than in any other year.
125 plus records made for leading artists in Sotheby’s marquee sales, with hundreds more set across all categories and platforms throughout the year
A record year for Modern and Contemporary art, with sales of $4.3 billion across auction and private sale channels, including:
New sale formats seamlessly integrating Impressionist, Modern and Contemporary masterpieces, building on the success of the integrated sale categories in London’s 2020 flagship sales
New auction, “The Now”, featuring masters of today and those of tomorrow, resulting in a white glove sale, and drawingbroad audiences online and in person, outstripping estimates with deep, vigorous competition for the vast majority of works.
Auction sales of Old Masters together realised the highest yearly total in a decade.
DRAMATIC EXPANSION OF AUDIENCES
Having welcomed thousands of clients back into its galleries and salerooms in May, Sotheby’s simultaneously expanded its digital capabilities and reach: with over 16.6 million livestream views this year, 4.2 million social followers across all platforms, 13.2 million unique visitors to Sothebys.com, 6.5 million unique visitors to online catalogs, and over 200,000 bids placed online this year representing92% of total bids; while online sales realised a record $800 million.
Meteoric rise of NFTs and the launch of Sotheby’s Metaverse, a first-of-its-kind dedicated Web3 enabled NFT marketplace, saw a dramatic expansion into a new audience with 78% of NFT bidders being new to Sotheby’s and more than half of them under 40, wide adoption of this new aesthetic and nearly $100 million of NFT sales to date with multiple benchmarks achieved, including a record for a single CryptoPunk ($11.8 million) and a record for a single Bored Ape ($3.4 million). Sotheby’s created a virtual gallery in Decentraland to exhibit NFTs and established dedicated Twitter and Discord channels to engage with the NFT and crypto communities directly.
An influx of younger, tech-savvy collectors also saw a landmark crossover into purchases of physical works such as Alberto Giacometti’s Le Nez bought by Justin Sun, founder of the cryptocurrency platform Tron, for $78.4 million last month in New York.
Asian collectors remain a strong force across all locations and categories, accounting for one third of all bids by value in Sotheby’s worldwide sales, and a stunning 46% bid or bought on lots over $5 million, resulting in yet another record year for Asia:
In New York in November, Asian collectors accounted for approximately 20% of the bids in New York, acquiring under bidding a number of the high value works including, Mark Rothko, Yoshitomo Nara, Ellsworth Kelly, Alexander Calder, Gerhard Richter, Banksy, Monet’s Le Bassin aux nymphéas, Egon Schiele, Roy Lichtenstein and Pierre-Auguste Renoir.
During the Frieze Week Contemporary Art Sale in London, Banksy’s Love is in the Bin sold to an Asian collector for £18.6million / $25.4 million, setting a record for the artist.
Total projected sales in 2021: USD$ 7.1B (£5.2B Strong Rebound +54% vs 2020; +22% vs 2019.
Founded in 1766, Christie’s is one of the top three world-leading art businesses. Renowned and trusted for its expert live and online auctions, as well as its bespoke private sales, Christie’s offers a full portfolio of global services to its clients, including art appraisal, art financing, international real estate and education. Christie’s has a physical presence in 46 countries throughout the Americas, Europe, the Middle East, and the Asia Pacific, with flagship international sales hubs in New York, London, Hong Kong, Paris and Geneva. It also is the only international auction house authorised to hold sales in mainland China (Shanghai).
Christie’s 2021 auctions spanned more than 80 art and luxury categories, at price points ranging from $200 to over $100 million. In recent years, Christie’s has achieved the world record price for an artwork at auction (Leonardo da Vinci’s Salvador Mundi, 2017), for a single collection sale (the Collection of Peggy and David Rockefeller, 2018), and a work by a living artist (Jeff Koons’ Rabbit, 2019).
CHRISTIE’S KEY TAKEAWAYS FROM 2021
The highest total in last five years, back to higher levels than pre-COVID
Breakdown: Total auction (Live and Online): USD $5.4B / £3.9B, Private sales: USD $1.7B / £1.3B
Continuing the pattern of previous years, clients in each region contributed roughly one-third of Christie’s total auction sales by value: Americas 35%, EMEA 34% and Asia 31%.
Historic sell-through rate and highest prices at auction
Historic sell-through rate at auction: 87%, demonstrates the depth of demand and performance.
Christie’s holds the two highest prices for works sold at auction in 2021:
Picasso’s Femme assise près d’une fenêtre (Marie-Therese) for USD $103.4M (the only work at auction above $100M in 2021) and Basquiat’s In This Case USD $93.1M.
Several other results of interest at auction in 2021:
Highest value work bought by a museum at auction – Caillebotte’s Jeune homme à sa fenêtre
(USD $53 M – New York / November)
Highest value work sold at auction for a charitable cause – Banksy’s Game Changer
(£16.76 M – London / June)
Highest value work sold at auction for a living female artist – Yayoi Kusama’s Pumpkin
(HKD $62.54 M/ USD$8.18 M – Hong Kong / December)
Christie’s is the leading auction house for NFTs.
First significant auction house to sell an NFT; establishing a landmark price: Beeple’s Everydays sold for USD 69M – March 2021
More than 100 NFTs sold in 2021, for nearly $150 M
75% of buyers in this category are new to Christie’s, with an average age of 42
Online auction sales continue to grow.
up 43% to USD $ 445 M average lot value USD$ 23,400 (vs USD$ 6,100 in 2016)
Nearly half of all of Christie’s auctions now take place online.
Record year for Private Sales
Total projected private sales $1.7 B (£1.2 B) : +12%vs 2020, +108% vs 2019
Four works selling privately above USD 50m
A significant contribution from Asia
Asian buyers contributed a total of USD 1.68B, +32% up on 2019
Asian spend across all auction rooms globally represented 39% of sales in H1 and 31% for an entire year.
Auction sales in Hong Kong reached USD$ 1.03 B in 2021, with a record season in Fall 2021
New Headquarters in Asia – Christie’s new Hong Kong HQ opens in The Henderson by Zaha Hadid Architects in 2024 and Christie’s Shanghai relocates to BUND ONE in Spring 2022 with the inaugural sale in March 2022
The substantial influx of new clients and millennials
35% of all buyers in 2021 are new to Christie’s, with almost 2/3 entering via online sales
32% of new buyers are millennials
Luxury is the largest recruiter of new clients at 32%
Paving the way to the future
Equity, Diversity & Inclusion Initiatives: Christie’s has done much to diversify its sales this year, notably through its 20/21 sales, with 66 new world auction records for women artists and 47 new auction records for BIPOC artists in this category; plus partnerships with organisations that present the work of diverse artists
Sustainability: Christie’s is the first international auction house committed to becoming NetZero by 2030 and first to achieve Science-Based Target Initiative (SBTi) accreditation for reducing carbon emissions by 50%
Christie’s offered the top two most valuable artworks sold at auction in 2021: Pablo Picasso’s monumental masterpiece Femme assize près d’une fenêtre for $103.4 M and Basquiat’s In This Case for $93.1 M; both highlights of Christie’s inaugural 20/21 category sales in New York this May.
In November, the Cox Collection, one of the most significant privately-held collections of Impressionist art to be offered at auction, featuring three works by Van Gogh from the end of the artist’s lifetime, was 100% sold for $332,031,500. Gustave Caillebotte’s Jeune homme à sa fenêtre, from the Cox Collection, was purchased by the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles for $53M, the highest value work bought by a museum at auction this year.
In June and July, Old Masters broke records in London, including a world record for Bernardo Bellotto’s View of Verona with the Ponte delle Navi (£10,575,000 / $14,561,775) and Leonardo da Vinci’s Head of a Bear, setting a new world auction record for a drawing by the artist (£8,857,500 / $12,196,778).
In Paris in November, Woman at the Fountain from Jean-Baptiste Siméon Chardin set a new auction record at €7,110,000 ($8,024,912) and in May in Hong Kong, Zhang Daqian’s Temple at the Mountain Peak sold for HK$ 209,100,000 ($27,062,468).
Private Sales at Christie’s is growing in size, value and depth and is no-longer counter-cyclical to market strength. Transactions at all levels now occur around critical sale weeks within a strong auction market.
Private Sales in 2021 totalled $1.7 B/£1.2 B, an 108% increase in 2019; the number of transactions between $5-10m doubled in 2021 (vs 2020); the number of buyers for Private Sales rose 42% against 2019; 60% of all Private Sales clients are also active across Christie’s auction sales.
Christie’s pop-up programme continues worldwide in key collecting centres such as Palm Beach, Southampton, Aspen, Monte Carlo, and online, including Dream Big’s annual summer sculpture exhibition on christies.com.
NFTs (NON FUNGIBLE TOKENS)
In 2021, Christie’s launched the world’s NFT market at auction and has helped propel this new category into a powerful force for the future of the global market. NFT sales made up 8% of Christie’s contemporary art 2021 sale.
Sales of the more than 100 NFTs sold by Christie’s in 2021 totalled nearly USD 150M; the historic online sale of Beeple’s Everydays achieved $69 million this March; Larva Labs’ Cryptopunks ($17 M) and digital artwork by FEWOCiOUS ($2.16 M) attracted new and younger collectors, 74% of whom were new buyers to Christie’s; Christie’s first NFT sale in London took place in October and in November Beeple’s HUMAN ONE hybrid NFT sculpture achieved $28,985,000.
Other NFT highlights include partnerships with The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Gucci and collectables giants Superplastic. The first-ever NFT sale in Asia, hosted by Christie’s in its No Time Like the Present online auction, achieved a total of HK$122 M ($15.6 M). Christie’s held the first-ever live auction with bidding conducted entirely in Ether during the Post-War to Present sale in October in New York. The first-ever on-chain NFT auction curated by Christie’s and hosted on OpenSea achieved $3.5 M in December.
Guillaume Cerutti, Christie’s Chief Executive Officer, commented: “We are pleased with our 2021 achievements. Beyond our auction and private sales results -which are exceptional, Christie’s has also made a breakthrough in new sales formats and categories, NFTS in particular. They have allowed us to showcase works by new emerging and under-represented artists and reach out to a new audience of younger clients. We have also made great progress in other priorities, with important investments in Asia and with our commitments to becoming carbon net-zero by 2030 and to building and sustaining a more equitable and diverse profile for our company. Growth, innovation and responsibility remain at the forefront of our objectives for 2022.”
2021 Marks Phillips’ Most Successful Year in Company History Global sales: $1.2 billion Up 32% compared to 2019 Auction sales: $993.3 million Up 35% compared to 2019
Sell-through rate of 91% across all sales, among the highest in the industry
50% of all buyers across online-only and live auctions were first-time buyers at Phillips, with strong input from online-only sales.
100% of NFTs have sold across live and online-only sales
NFT sales helped engage with a new audience; 88% of bidders in Phillips’ first NFT auction were new to the company
Private sales to date: $208.2 million *Subject to change following the conclusion of the year
Up 21% compared to 2019
Digital Milestones and Online-Only Sales
44,000 new online accounts were created throughout 2021.
50% of lots Phillips sold to online buyers across live auctions. This is up from 32% in 2019.
Online-only sold totals increased by 417% since 2019 and by 68% from 2020, marking a record year for the channel.
Phillips saw digital engagement increase by 25%, with an 20% increase in web traffic and a 26% increase in new clients visiting the website compared with 2020.
Phillips became a destination for NFTs in April, with Mad Dog Jones innovative REPLICATOR realising over $4.1 million, making him the most expensive living Canadian artist.
Continued Success in Asia
36% of global spend in auction sales went to buyers in Asia
Of the top ten lots sold by Phillips in 2021, 5 went to buyers in Asia, illustrating that Asia-based collectors are active on a masterwork level
Georgia O’Keeffe’s Crab’s Claw Ginger Hawaii was acquired in the New York Evening Sale of 20th Century & Contemporary Art by the Long Museum in Shanghai, where it will soon be displayed
Phillips continues to have a record-breaking year in Asia in 2021, with auction sales in Hong Kong realising over HK$2.1 billion/ US$270 million, nearly double the results of the previous year
Reinforcing its commitment to the Asia Pacific region, Phillips will open its new Asia headquarters in the vibrant West Kowloon Cultural District in Hong Kong in Fall 2022, featuring a permanent purpose-built exhibition space and saleroom, allowing for year-round events and auctions in its own space
Stephen Brooks, Chief Executive Officer, said, “2021 has proven a historic year for Phillips. For the first time in the company’s 225-year history, we reached over $1 billion in sales, whilst achieving an extraordinary sell-through rate of 91%. Across the board, our six auction categories achieved new milestones, several of which had their most successful years ever, with Private Sales also firmly outpacing pre-pandemic levels. Having achieved this record year, Phillips is poised to continue its exceptional growth into 2022 as we look forward to many exciting opportunities ahead, including the opening of our new state-of-the-art exhibition space and saleroom in Hong Kong’s West Kowloon. We have an extraordinary team and an encouraging market landscape. There is an increasing appetite among collectors for the unrivalled service we provide – offering the most desirable works by early 20th century masters alongside the ground-breaking artists of today.”
Cheyenne Westphal, Global Chairwoman, said, “The vibrancy of the market this past year was a welcome sign as the world began to open back up in 2021, with Phillips further broadening and deepening our reach. We continue to have our finger on the pulse of collectors’ ever-evolving tastes, which have become increasingly thoughtful and complex. Cross-category collecting has become a priority, not only for private collectors, but for museums around the world, demonstrated in Georgia O’Keeffe’s Crab Craw Ginger Hawaii having been acquired by the Long Museum in Shanghai. This work was sold in in our New York Evening Sale – the same auction as works by Shara Hughes and Pierre Bonnard, each receiving a tremendous amount of enthusiasm from bidders, leading to the sale becoming our most successful in company history. Our entire global team have worked tirelessly to build a carefully curated group of sales this year and the success in these results is a testament to their efforts.”