What was your overall impression of the “live” virtual auctions?The virtual live auctions were a sigh of relief and a confirmation that the art market audience has grown and developed far beyond the 2008-09 recession. With total wealth held in art expected to increase by $900 billion to $2.6 trillion by 2026, there’s no denying the growing stability of the market. In times of crisis, art has historically proven to be a safe haven and recent auctions have shown that there is still a real global appetite for high quality, freshly released works, supported by a new confidence in new technology-based experiences. collectors [and] investors remain incredibly optimistic about the long-term growth of the art market.
All three houses have taken the leap into the digital world by innovating in these unprecedented times, building new technological infrastructure that enabled simultaneous auctions across multiple international venues, while providing the theatrical element that auctions are known for. It paid off, literally: results were strong and sell-through rates were high across the board.
What was one factor that significantly shaped the course of the auction that less experienced observers may have missed?
Clearly the specialists focused on quality over quantity, and they listened to the market and what it wanted. Sales may have had fewer lots, but the artwork on display was of the highest caliber, items buyers would have an appetite for in any market. Of course, the financial operations, in particular the guarantees (49.4% of the total lots), which take place in the days and weeks preceding the auction, made it possible to ensure that the lots sold when they arrived en bloc.
The auctions were carefully organized to reveal buyer confidence and market strength, particularly at the high end. Asia’s increasing participation in the market and the growth potential of younger generations of shoppers via online platforms have been notable.
Is there a particular lot or collection whose performance surprised you?
How do you think this summer’s virtual auctions will influence future auction seasons?
There is no doubt that art is best when seen and experienced in person. Live auctions provide electricity and power that allows the auctioneer to sort out bids from participants in the room. However, as fewer people travel after COVID-19 and we get used to new norms like Zoom, there will be greater adoption of 3D and virtual tools. Digital methods and systems from industries such as gaming and defense can be leveraged to help engage a broader, younger generation of new customers.
I also expect to see auction houses in different parts of the world implementing more targeted marketing strategies due to varying levels of severity of the COVID-19 pandemic in different economies, governments and cultures. The most important factor, however, will be a very careful approach to content selection for the next big auction listing this fall.