For the second year running, Sotheby’s has hovered around the $1 billion mark in private sales. While the auction house isn’t a stranger to making billions, it’s usually for their major auctions that can bring in millions in a given night. As reported this week, Sotheby’s private sales weren’t quite as high as they were in 2018, but they have continued to significantly contribute to the auction house’s overall profits and make a name for Sotheby’s in the world of private deals.
Over the course of 2019, Sotheby’s saw sales totalling $4.8 billion at the auction block, so while not quite in the same realm, their private sales have neared a quarter of their auction sales. To reach the $1 billion mark, the auction house saw a number of artworks come through. Interestingly enough, the sale of around just 30 artworks accounted for nearly half of all private sales. While these artworks all fell into the $5 million to $50 million range, the majority of artworks were sold for somewhere between $1 million and $5 million. Moreover, a large portion of sales were contemporary works of art with price tags under $300,000.
Contemporary works made up a strong foundation for 2019 private sales with nearly half of their sales, both in value and quantity, coming from contemporary works. Sotheby’s also reported growth in the private sale of other categories of art, including Old Masters, Islamic and Middle Eastern art, and books.
Works by Jonas Wood, Yayoi Kusama, George Condo, Andy Warhol, Jean-Michel Basquiat, KAWS, and Alexander Calder were among the most frequently bought artists in private sales. In terms of the highest-selling artists, Pablo Picasso, Claude Monet, Henri Matisse, Mark Rothko, Fernando Léger, Gerhard Richter, and Joan Mitchell were leaders. As far as the most-requested artist, Warhol unsurprisingly took this title. While Warhol is a usual favourite, Kusama, whose works, like her Infinity Room series, have gotten a lot of attention in recent years and were even included in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in NYC, was among the most asked-for artist. They were followed in this category by KAWS, Basquiat, Calder, Picasso, Ed Ruscha, and Albert Oehlen.
David Schrader heads up Sotheby’s private sales, worldwide and in a statement about the auction house’s success in the private sales sector, he said that the ‘dealer versus auction house’ division gives only a partial view of the art market today. He added that the auction house will continue to invest in private sales to make them competitive not just with other auction houses but with blue-chip galleries who have found their stride in private sales.
In 2018, Sotheby’s dominated in the private sales sector when compared to Christie’s. That year, their private sales increased by 37 percent while Christie’s only increased by 7 percent. Following that review, Christie’s had Adrien Meyer, co-chair of their Impressionist and Modern art division, ramp up their private sales to better compete with Sotheby’s.