Christie’s announced today that, in 2022, it brought in a breathtaking $8.4 billion, many because of a group of single-owner collection sales.
While the occasion should have been a cause for celebration for the auction house, Christie’s chief executive Guillaume Cerutti tempered the excitement by acknowledging the complex situation the world, art-centric and otherwise, is currently living through.
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“We are sometimes in the art market dancing on the volcano when we see what’s happening in the world, in Ukraine, in Iran, in Asia, with the difficult Covid situation they are now facing, with the recession in many countries, inflation in many others, divided countries,” Cerutti said during an annual earnings call. “We are lucky to deal with desires, art, passions, and of course to have these great results, so we are very aware of this.”
The year’s success was propelled by high-profile sales of museum-worthy art. The Paul Allen sale alone brought in $1.6 billion, with five works breaking the $100 million dollar mark. Four million people tuned in online, roughly the same number of spectators that would fill the seats of the 40 largest sports stadiums in the United States. The Allen sale beat out the two-pronged Macklowe sale at Sotheby’s, which brought in $922 million, and became the highest-grossing single-owner sale to ever come to auction.
Impressive collection sales like those devoted to the holdings of Allen, Anne Bass, and Thomas and Doris Amman, all of which were held at Christie’s, will continue to be staged, according to Giovanna Bertazzon, vice chairman of Christie’s 20th/21st century department, and will likely provide interesting behind-the-scenes competition among leading auction houses for the sale rights.
At a press conference, Bertazzon, using a very creative euphemism for the reason most high profile collection sales come to auction, explained why such sales will be a fixture of the market in coming years: “I think we will continue to see these great collections that were put together ’60s and the ’70s because the collectors who gathered these works are reaching the end of their ‘collecting cycle,’ as we say.”
The Allen sale capped a year of record breaking. Andy Warhol’s Shot Sage Blue Marylin become the most expensive work by a 20th-century artist ever to be sold at auction after it was purchased for $195 million by bigwig art dealer Larry Gagosian, and Man Ray’s Violon d’Ingres brought in $12.4 million, making it the most expensive photograph ever sold.
Private sales made up $1.2 billion of the house’s grand total, with the remaining $7.2 billion coming from live and online auctions. Unsurprisingly, Christie’s 20th and 21st century art category accounted for the bulk of earnings coming in at $6.2 billion, up 21 percent from last year. Luxury goods, an emerging category that includes handbags, sneakers, watches, and wine, and has proven to be a key entry point for Millennial buyers, came in second, earning the company $988 million.
The Luxury category made up 36 percent of new buyers, the house said, and 35 percent of all buyers were new to Christie’s, with over half of them transacting online. The Classics category, which includes Old Masters, antiques, and memorabilia, saw the sharpest increase from 2021, with $789 million total this year—a 37 percent bump over last year.
Buyers from the Americas spent $4.55 million at Christie’s, accounting for about 40 percent of the house’s total revenue, while buyers from Europe, Middle East, and Africa made up 34 percent of sales, at $1.8 billion. The Asia-Pacific region is the only one that saw a dip in participation from last year, bringing in $833 million, 20 percent less than in 2021.
That isn’t stopping Christie’s from trying to lure in buyers from the region. In 2024, Christie’s will open a 50,000-square-foot, four-story Asia-Pacific headquarters in Hong Kong.
While Christie’s main competitor, Sotheby’s, projected about $8 billion in sales this year, the houses are hardly neck and neck. Sotheby’s art and luxury sales ended up making only $6.8 billion, down 7 percent from later year. That sum was given a healthy boost when Sotheby’s included sales from RM Sotheby’s, their new collectable car division and real estate sales via Sotheby’s Concierge Auctions, a fact that Cerutti may have nodded to during a press conference announcing the sales total.
“I just want to make clear here for all of you that of course at Christie’s these figures included luxury and arts,” he said. “We do not count real estate or cars. We are purists at Christie’s.”