Overall, there was plenty for Sotheby’s to be optimistic about in Monday night’s result. The evening’s biggest lots—several of which were consigned before COVID-19 became a global crisis—lived up to expectations despite the limitations of the virtual format and not all collectors being able to see the works in person before the sale. The auction house also benefited greatly from winning several major private collections, including those that belonged to Williams and the Andersons, as well as the trove of record-setting Surrealist paintings.
The sale also demonstrated that, given the right supply of knock-out paintings, serious collectors will turn up to a virtual auction. And though some had to get up very early (the sales started at 6:30 a.m. Hong Kong time) or eat dinner at their computers (the final gavel came down a little after 11 p.m. New York time), there were remarkably few technical glitches over the course of the evening. As Barker put it shortly after selling the final lot, speaking to an array of cameras and screens reminiscent of a retro-futurist science-fiction film: “It’s clear these innovations are here to stay.”
Sotheby’s will conduct its day sale of contemporary art in a similar format on Tuesday, June 30th. From there, the next auction house to test collectors’ willingness to embrace innovations will be Phillips, which is holding its evening sale of 20th-century and contemporary art on Thursday night. Finally, on July 10th, Christie’s will hold a cross-category sale spanning its Hong Kong, Paris, London, and New York salesrooms.