What was your overall impression of the virtual “live” auctions?The virtual live auctions were a sigh of relief and a confirmation the art market audience has grown and developed way beyond the 2008–09 downturn. As the total wealth held in art is projected to grow by $900 billion to $2.6 trillion by 2026, there is no denying the market’s increasing stability. In times of crisis, art has historically proven to be a safe haven and the recent auctions have shown there is still a real global appetite for high-quality, fresh-to-market works backed by new confidence in new technology-based experiences. Collectors [and] investors remain incredibly bullish on long-term growth in the art market.
All three houses made the leap into the digital world by innovating during these unprecedented times, building new tech infrastructures that allowed for simultaneous bidding across several international locations, while providing the theatrical element that auctions are known for. It paid off, quite literally—results were strong and sell-through rates were high across the board.
What was a factor that significantly shaped how the auctions played out that less-seasoned observers may have missed?
It’s clear that the specialists focused on quality over quantity, and they listened to the market and what it wanted. The sales may have had fewer lots, but the artworks presented were of the highest caliber, objects that buyers would have an appetite for in any market. Of course, the financial deals, in particular guarantees (49.4 percent of total lots), which take place in both the days and weeks prior to the auctions, helped to ensure that lots were selling when they came up to the block.
The auctions were carefully curated so as to reveal buyers’ confidence and the market’s strength, especially at the top end of the market. Asia’s growing participation in the marketplace and the potential for growth of the younger generations of buyers via online platforms were notable.
Was there one particular lot or collection whose performance surprised you?
The lot that surprised many of us across the board was the $1.8 million achieved
painting [from 2018, The Realm of Appearances
], which was estimated at $60,000–$80,000—I believe this result was due to the usual market forces, how beloved the artist was, and his untimely death. Additionally, on the macro level, I see a market trend supporting the price. There is a current movement away from the dominance of the factory artists like
and toward a more spiritual, personal, connective zeitgeist as reflected by the cult-like popularity of artists like
. Matthew Wong is an artist perceived to be part of this grouping.
is another example of a high performing market artist embodying spiritual themes.
How do you think this summer’s virtual sales will influence future auction seasons?
There is no doubt, art is best when seen and experienced in person. Live auctions provide electricity and energy that allow the auctioneer to tease out bids from attendees in the room. However, as fewer people travel post-COVID-19 and we get accustomed to new normals like Zoom, there will be further adoption of 3D and virtual tools. Digital methods and systems from industries such as gaming and defense may be leveraged to assist with engaging a larger, younger generation of new clients.
I also expect to see auction houses in different parts of the world implement more targeted marketing strategies due to varying severity levels of the COVID-19 pandemic across differing economies, governments, and cultures. The most important factor, though, will be a very mindful approach to the selection of content for the next big slate of auctions this fall.