During pandemic, Sotheby’s online auction amasses US$4 mil

Tiffany Studios, ‘Moorish’ Twisted Wire Chandelier (c. 1895) © Image Courtesy of Sotheby’s

LONDON: Last March, Sotheby’s made the decision to turn some of its spring auctions into digital-only events for the first time in response to the global Covid-19 pandemic.

Among them were the auction house’s mid-season Design sale, which offered pieces by the likes of Jean Prouvé, Frank Lloyd Wright, Wendell Castle and George Nakashima.

The sale brought in an unexpected total of US$4 million, exceeding by more than US$1 million its pre-sale high estimate of US$2.9 million, and marking the highest-ever result for an online sale of 20th Century Design.

“The remarkable success of our mid-season Design auction demonstrates the strong demand we continue to see from collectors worldwide for works across the full spectrum of the Design markets,” Jodi Pollack, co-worldwide head of Sotheby’s 20th-century design department, in a statement.

“This result is an important indicator of the Design market’s momentum and growth at a much-needed time.”

Nearly half of all lots on offer during Sotheby’s Online Design Sale sold for prices above their high estimates, with six works going under the hammer for more than US$100,000.

Among them is “Moorish” Twisted Wire Chandelier by Tiffany Studios from the collection of Ryan Brant, which exceeded its high estimate 20 times over to sell for US$300,000.

Additionally, “Untitled (Sonambient)” by Harry Bertoia fetched US$300,000, while a set of windows designed by Frank Lloyd Wright achieved a total of $175,000 across multiple lots.

Sotheby’s also affirms that collectors are increasingly comfortable with buying online, as one-third of all bids at the Design sale were placed by mobile device.

In recent seasons, Sotheby’s has experienced a boom in online bidding, with the auction house earning more than US$36 million from its dedicated online sales generating in the first months of 2020.

“We have held more than a dozen auctions since the beginning of March, which have achieved very strong results and demonstrated the resilience of the global art market.

“Likewise, our leading private sales platform has seen a significant uptick in activity. It is clear that our clients remain focused on our markets, and our aim is to continue to support them in both buying and selling,” Charles Stewart, Sotheby’s CEO, said in a recent statement.

In March, Sotheby’s attracted the attention of collectors with its online auction of Banksy prints, which exceeded its high estimate to bring in a total of US$1.4 million.

Almost half of buyers of the sale were new to the auction house, testifying to the appeal of the British artist to attract bidders despite the detrimental impact of the coronavirus on the art market.

The encouraging results arrived on the heels of Sotheby’s decision to postpone its marquee May sales, as did Christie’s and Phillips back in March.

While both Christie’s and Phillips have rescheduled their spring New York sales for June, Sotheby’s still has to announce a new date for its “gigaweek” auctions.

In the meantime, the house confirmed its plans to hold a Contemporary sale and an Impressionist and Modern art sale online. Bidding for both auctions will run from May 4 through May 14.