Following a period of experimentation with new sale formats and technological upgrades, the top auction houses—Christie’s, Sotheby’s and Phillips—have now found their footing in a post-pandemic era. In an attempt to make up for the lost revenue of the first months of the pandemic and the constrained Summer sales, the houses staged a series of smaller cross-category sales from October to December 2020. Still, during those smaller sales the portion held in New York and London lagged behind buying volume in Hong Kong by a noticeable margin, a shift in the usual dynamic that plays out across global sale centers.
In response, the three houses invested even deeper in creating thematic cross-category auctions combining trophy lots from old masters to the ultra-contemporary. The London- and Paris-based sales staged between March and April this year saw fewer ultra-high value works (+$40 million.) This despite evidence that demand for top tier works has remained undiminished throughout the pandemic. Even at a lower price point, the top lots of the London and Paris evening auctions were works made by art historical giants like Jean Michael Basquiat, Pablo Picasso, Edvard Munch and Vincent van Gogh.