Art Market

Christie’s, Phillips, and Sotheby’s experienced a 79 percent revenue drop in the second quarter of 2020.

Justin Kamp
Aug 6, 2020 4:41PM, via Art Market Monitor

Auction house representatives bidding at Sotheby’s virtual auction on June 30th. Photo courtesy Sotheby’s.

Christie’s, Phillips, and Sotheby’s together saw a 79 percent decline in revenue for the second quarter of 2020 when compared to 2019, according to a new report from London art market analytics firm Pi-eX, as reported by Art Market Monitor. The three firms collectively reached $900 million in sales last quarter, a steep drop from the collective $4.4 billion during the same period last year. According to Art Market Monitor, this drop is more pronounced than the one following the 2008 financial crisis, when revenue fell from $4.8 billion in Q2 2008 to $1.6 billion in Q2 2009.

The sharp decline in Q2 came from the cancellation of marquee spring sales due to COVID-19. While the auction houses threw together hundreds of online sales in the wake of those cancellations, ultimately, they weren’t enough to make up for lost revenue. It wasn’t until June, when the three firms launched their live hybrid sales, that numbers began to bounce back—according to the report, around 85 percent of Q2’s revenue came during that month.

Christine Bourron, CEO of Pi-eX told Art Market Monitor:

The biggest takeaway for Q2 is that these live marquee sales are essential to the auction business and that so far, online auctions, which were the majority of auctions in Q2 2020, were not able to generate the level of revenue live auctions generate.

These numbers are the latest indicator of a difficult year for auction houses during the pandemic. Pi-eX’s report on Q1 revenue found a 40 percent decrease year-over-year, while ArtTactic’s “Auction Review—1st Half 2020” report found that sales across the top three firms for the first half of 2020 had dropped from $5.7 billion to $2.9 billion, a decline of nearly 50 percent. Sotheby’s alone saw a 25 percent decrease in revenue year-over-year.

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Justin Kamp
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Jenna Gribbon, Luncheon on the grass, a recurring dream, 2020. Jenna Gribbon, April studio, parting glance, 2021. Jenna Gribbon, Silver Tongue, 2019