Christie’s Reports 25 Percent Drop in Sales for 2020, Forecasts Record $1.2 B. in Private Sales

Christie’s has announced a 25 percent drop in annual sales overall, but has forecasted a total of £987 million ($1.2 billion) in annual private sales for the year of 2020. Total sales for the house are projected at £3.4 billion–£3.5 billion ($4.6–$4.7 billion), according to Christie’s CEO Guillaume Cerutti’s statement […]

Christie’s has announced a 25 percent drop in annual sales overall, but has forecasted a total of £987 million ($1.2 billion) in annual private sales for the year of 2020.

Total sales for the house are projected at £3.4 billion–£3.5 billion ($4.6–$4.7 billion), according to Christie’s CEO Guillaume Cerutti’s statement in a press briefing. “It was expected since we entered in the Covid-19 situation and is in line with our forecast around mid-year,” said Cerutti. Referring to a decline of around 25 percent compared to 2019, he added, “The biggest part of this drop is with live auctions.”

Conversely, the annual private sale result surpasses the houses’s 2019 total by 56 percent and marks the highest historic annual private sale total. Sixty-two percent of that total was generated during the second half of the year.

Cerutti confirmed the London-based house sold 3 works for prices above $100 million and 12 above $25 million—a substantial milestone given that 9 works total achieved a final price of $25 million in the house’s public auctions, including Roy Lichtenstein’s Nude with Joyous Painting (1962), which sold for $46 million, along with Barnett Newman’s Onement V (1969) and Brice Marden’s Complements (2004–07), which each sold for $30.9 million in July.

In a statement on the report, Erin McAndrew, Christie’s international director of corporate communications, described the high number of top private sale transactions as “a rare occurrence,” given that works at the top end of the market are typically traded at public auction.

Among the other key figures from 2020 addressed in the briefing included those pertaining to the house’s digital expansion. In previous years, online only sales represented around 1–2 percent of revenue. This year, that figure has increased to 8 percent, according to Cerutti. Christie’s expects to raise the number of scheduled online sale for 2021, predicting around half of all sales will take place online.

Cerutti also addressed the changes to regional distribution of collectors. “For the first time, we think that the proportion of buyers and bidder coming from Asia will be superior to the number of buyers and bidders from America,” said the CEO, nodding to the strong run of Hong Kong sales that took place in early December. During its modern and contemporary art evening sale in Hong Kong last week, together with a single-lot sale devoted to a Sanyu painting that brought in $22 million, the two sales generated a collective HKD 1.02 billion ($132 million), making more than the following New York–Hong Kong relay sale on the same day.

Cerutti attributed the lag in the December New York sales to potential fatigue among collectors. He noted the house is taking into consideration the present demand among clients for “a moment where the market can gather.”

For 2021, Cerutti said top consignments were already scheduled for auction. Three works by René Magritte, Joan Miró, and Max Ernst from the Claude Hersaint collection are expected to achieve a collective $28 million for the house’s first major sale of the year, “The Art of the Surreal,” an evening sale that will take place in early March. The house has also secured a top work by Francis Bacon, with details on the cataloguing and its estimate yet to be announced.

“We believe that there will be a better alignment between supply and demand,” said Cerutti on the house’s projected financial performance in the new year.

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