How are traditional auction houses changing?

06 December 2021

It’s fantastic to see so many new artists’ work coming to the fore all over the globe, and how the role of buying and selling fine art is evolving to attract new audiences.

Banksy's famous auction piece

Attracting new buyers

Somehow the art world has managed to fast forward thanks to technological advances brought in as a matter of necessity during the pandemic, removing many or all of the old barriers that were putting first time buyers off auctions, or more positively pulling them in!

How many online bidders at Christies?

As an auctions career ‘lifer’ myself, I have always believed it’s a numbers game. The more active bidders you have in any auction the better it will perform.

Thanks to technology - Christie’s managed to attract more than 80,000 people via their online bidding channel during their global ‘One’ sale in 2020.1 There were so many bidders that when I tried logging on, it bounced me out!

Is online bidding here to stay?

Although the online affect could diminish as the post-pandemic era progresses, thousands of new collectors and buyers are now hooked as auction houses have demystified the process of an auction. I can see that it’s happened by accident and not design. We’re entering into a new era with contemporary art auctions still growing, Old Masters are doing well especially Prints. Jewellery, watches and design are still strong but the focus is heavily on masterworks or special pieces.

How are auction houses evolving?

New ways of selling are now starting to emerge thanks to the new owner of Sotheby’s Patrick Drahi who bought the business pre-lockdown. He has quite logically seen his brand is much more able to penetrate into new areas. Yes Sotheby’s is an auction house but it’s also a luxury shop selling branded goods.

New auctioning ideas are appearing all the time with the most recent being the Las Vegas MGM Grand live auction of works by Picasso from the Casino Picasso Dining room this October. Only 11 pictures, all by Picasso were in the auction, and raised a staggering total of almost $110,000,000 from what is only a selection of works the Casino owns.2

The next day luxury items, sneakers, handbags, watches and the like all did equally well in a smaller MGM Casino downtown. This was truly an event auction and I think it will set the trend for the years to come.

I think we can all be encouraged by the fact that more people than ever before are taking an active interest in auctions both as buyers and sellers.

Jonathan Horwich, Modern Art Specialist, Doerr Dallas Valuations 

If you would like to see some of the fine art pieces sold, highlighting what an extraordinary year 2021 has been, please follow the links below: