€39 million | Sotheby’s and Christie’s do battle
In 2014, 14 lots achieved results north of the million-euro mark. Together, these 14 works brought in €39 million, an impressive sum representing 42% of the annual total for the tribal art market. Sotheby’s sold 13 of these works, achieving €37.8 million. Christie’s, on the other hand, had no sales attain the million-dollar category in 2014, just one instance of a recurring inequality between the two auction houses.
Sotheby’s has shown itself to be consistently stronger in the domain of tribal art sales, presenting 13 out of the 20 highest sales of African art and 15 out of the 20 highest sales of Oceanic art. Christie’s, in comparison, has sold two of the top 20 African art sales, and three of the top 20 Oceanic art sales. One explanation for their success, according to Artkhade, is the targeted sales strategy Sotheby’s employs, which focuses on the upper market and “conduct[ing] sales at the right place [and] the right time.” The strategy allows Sotheby’s to obtain especially prestigious lots, explaining the auction house’s hold over the most expensive sales. The rivalry endures, however, as Christie’s holds the record for the highest-selling work in the category of Oceanic art (the aforementioned Figure de Faîtage). Christie’s also boasts a higher percentage of lots sold—74% to the 70% held by Sotheby’s.