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Christie’s has just released its sales figures for the first half of 2018: The company sold £3bn in sterling terms, up 26% over the previous year, that means  in dollar terms  even an higher  gain with a 35% increase to $4bn.

Guillaume Cerutti, Chief Executive Officer, commented: “It has been a record-breaking first halffor Christie’s. 27% of all buyers were new to us during this period and we also achieved consistently high sell-through rates averaging 84% by lot. We are also encouraged by an array of strong consignments to offer collectors in the Autumn.”

To be fair, those figures were surely mostly affected by the $835m  Rockefeller estate, which sold every of the 2000 lots, adding to the company’s overall rise in its sell-through rate from a very strong 81% last year to 84% this year.

However,  increasing the sell-through rate across the company is said explicitly said as the very  corporate strategic goal of this year. 

“Once we set that the sell-through rate was a priority and was the best way to invest in the future because you build confidence with your clients,” CEO Cerutti said in a phone conversation to Art Market Monitor “I tried to deploy this priority in every category and in every format.’

For many, the first thought upon hearing that the sell-through rate is a strategic goal will be that guarantees are somehow the key tool  deployed. However Cerutti wanted to make clear in contrast that this result, “It is not a reflection of the guarantee activity. The guarantee activity is in total in terms of number of lots is only a handful. I don’t think the explanation lies in this factor. It is more in the way that we curate our sales, the way that we estimate, in the way that we build our online sales.” Christie’s in fact still report that only 1% of the lots sold are guaranteed.

More over, Cerutti also added that this year decision to shutter the historic Christie’s South Kensington sale rooms was part of this strategy to move toward higher sell-through rates, by eliminating “bazar-like” market of lower values items, yet focusing just on the very “Top Market” of very high quality offer and true masterpieces.

In fact, Masterpieces are said to be the very leading subject of those successful results, with their record-breaking selling prices and with a 32% growth on new buyers focused just on over $1 million lots. Christie’s also reported to have sold 55 works over $10 millions in this half year, counting for the 80% of the “highest-selling lots” market.

Very interesting number to be noticed is that private sales climbed 135% to £287m (or 151% to $390.3m in dollar terms) putting the firm back on pace with its crosstown rival (Sotheby’s) which posted $750m in private sales last year, even thought they don’t have a special division for private sales yet as Sotheby’s has since few year.

However Cerutti wanted to explain also the nature of these features, saying that the rise on private sales was due more on new in- coming buyers and requests received after the official sales from no-winning clients.

“When you have so many new buyers, 27% of clients were new at Christie’s in the first half, you also multiply potential opportunities to transact privately,” the CEO said. “Meaning that, if in a sale a client is an underbidder and wants a painting or piece by one artist, it is good for private sale. Because very often we are able to propose an object, not a similar one because we are dealing with unique objects only, but another piece that could please him. In a way, strong auction sales and new buyers help to drive better private sales. It goes together.”

It is undeniable that, with those figures, by now Christie’s is confirming its leading role in the Art Market, even if we we’ll be able to better figure out the situation after Sotheby’s having released also its results on 6th August.

However, it is also quite clear how Christie’s has taken to selectively releasing its own operating figures in an effort to counteract its rival’s PR advantage, not being as Sotheby’s, which is publicly listed company and is required to periodically publish its earnings. So obviously these just top line numbers, and not operating ones,  were intended to  support Christie’s leading market position. For instance,according to the release, Christie’s “sold 80% of the highest selling lots in the first half of 2018.” However Christie’s didn’t explain where it considered the cut-off level for “highest selling.”

 

ONLINE MARKET ON RESTLESS GROWTH

Online market keep on bringing good result, encouraging the auction house to invest much more in this area of business, endowing also the debate on it as with last week’s Art Technology Summit, the first of this kind hosted by Christie’s, intended to explore also  the future of Blockchain on the art market. Total spend online was £88m ($119.7m) for the first half of 2018, when combining the totals forChristie’s LIVETM, £60.3m ($82m) and online-only sales, which jumped by 40% to £27.7 million ($37.7 million, up 50%). 47 online sales were held in the first half of 2018 including a third of the volume of lots in the Rockefeller collection being sold online, with  sell-through rates by lot for sales online rising  to 87% and the average price per lot was $8,483.

Moreover for the second year running,Christie’s was named top of the annual Hiscox online art platform ranking in April 2018.

However Christie’s results actually also tells us the real value of these sales comes not in the commissions but more and more in the client development, as the “online-selling” helps to break barriers and seems more “approachable” for not-usual art buyers:  in fact, the online only sales increased by 40% year over year matching the 40% new buyers figure online mentioned above.

WORLD WIDE MARKET RESULTS 

Of the 27% of the buyers in the first half who were new to Christie’s, 43% were from the  Americas, 35% from Europe, the Middle East and India, and 22% from Asia.

American Auction sales by region totalled £1.57bn, up 36% ($2.13bn, up 45%): these features, however, are surely mostly build on Rockefeller Collection’s record-sale , the most significant charitable auction ever, which brought alone $835,111,344, with 100%sold and  the top lots as Picasso’s, Fillette à la corbeille fleurie ($115,000,000), Monet’s Nymphéas en fleur ($84,687,500), and Matisse’s Odalisque couchée aux magnolias ($80,750,000).

However also spring auction series of Impressionist, Modern, Post-War, and Contemporary Art were very successful, achieving  a combined total of $961,006,000, a 14% increase over the same series of sales in May 2017, with highlights included Kazimir Malevich’s Suprematist Composition ($85,812,500) and Constantin Brancusi’s La jeune fille sophistiquée (Portrait de Nancy Cunard) ($71,000,000), both setting new world records for the artists at auction.

On the other hand regarding the EMERI (=Europe, Middle East, Russia and India) totaled£782.9m  down 4%, ($1.06bn, up 6%). In particular, very successful was this March Post-War and Contemporary Art evening auction made the highest total for any auction in the category in Europe (£137,459,750, sold 92% by lot), and combined with the Impressionist and Modern sales, ensured the series was up 24% on the equivalent sales in 2017. While in the Paris saleroom, eleven world auction records were set, and due to the success of the Hessel and pre-Columbian Pregogine sales,Christie’s led the sale of single-owner collections in France. The annual Dubai sale in March marked the highest total for a watch sale in the region. During Christie’s 60th anniversary year in Italy, the April Milan auction was 91% by lot, with Achrome by Piero Manzoni selling for €2,970,000, becoming the most expensive work of Post-War Art ever sold at auction in Italy. The May Magnificent Jewels sale held in Geneva saw 16 lots selling for over 1 million, with the sale achieving CHF81,620,500, and the Wine auction making CHF4,290,960, the highest result in the category for 4 years, 95% sold by lot.

Last but not least Asian market accounted just 12% of this half year sales, bringing £306.4m in Asia, with a growth up 24% ($416.7m, up 33%).  However this apparent “decline” and low percentage of Asian buyers partly depends on  how they actually were under-represented in the Rockefeller sale (much to everyone’s surprise), and  partly because there was only one sales cycle in Hong Kong in the first semester against two in London and one in New York plus Rockefeller.

In fact simply put, Asian buyers are more and more becoming instead a key player in the art market as they’re very willing to  swing money in Western art, especially in the Impressionist and Modern category.

“In certain categories like Impressionist and Modern, the level and regularity of activity of the Asian buyers has been absolutely key to confirm the strength of these categories,” Cerutti said. “And without the Asian spend, we would not have the same success and the same confidence in these categories. There is absolutely no doubt. Of course, for us one of the main priorities is to extend this outside the Impressionist and Modern category to as many categories as possible.

Christie’s says their Asian buyers spent 60% of their money, the majority of their buying, on non-Asian art and especially on Masterpieces.

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OUTLOOKING FOR 2018

With current collection and consignment activity remaining particularly strong, Christie’s is very confident  with positive outlook continuing for the second half of 2018.

In London in September Christie’s will offer the first part of the visionary designer Michael S. Smith sale of Interiors, concluding in New York later that month.Christie’s three Shanghai sales will be held in September. In Paris, sales of the collection of the late Juan de Beistegui, including classical furniture, works of art, books and jewellery, will be offered on 10th September to coincide with La Biennale Paris.

To celebrate Italian design during the LondonDesign Festival, Christie’s will offer works by Pierluigi Giordano, Paolo Buffa and Paolo Venini on 17th October. The Collection of Eugene V. Thaw, advisor to David Rockefeller, will be sold in a dedicated Collection sale on 30th October, with additional individual highlights offered across Post- War & Contemporary, Impressionist & Modern, American Art and Prints and Multiples sales in London and New York in October, November and April 2019.

The Estate’s sale proceeds will benefit the Eugene V. and Clare Thaw Charitable Trust.




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