Sotheby's ViewHow Sotheby’s Transformed in an Unprecedented Year

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As 2020 draws to a close, the international auction house looks back to discover some of the incredible moments and insights that defined this time of change.

Online is where the action is

Sharing the beauty of art and objects from afar brought us together in new and exciting ways, and led to memorable seasons underscored by innovation, adaptation and market leadership. The marketplace swiftly pivoted online, in 2020 70% of all auctions took place online, and 80% of bidding. More than 380 online auctions realised $558 million, over three times the volume and over seven times the value for 2019. Buyers were not afraid to raise their virtual paddles, even at the highest levels, as shown by a bidding battle between online and telephone bidders that drove Francis Bacon’s Triptych Inspired by the Oresteia of Aeschylus to achieve $84.6 million.

The advantages to buying and selling art privately appealed to more collectors than ever – and with $1.55 billion worth of private sales, it was a record year. Two new gallery spaces, one in the Hamptons and one in Palm Beach, bring works available for private sale to locations where collectors gather, and Sotheby’s Gallery Network connects clients to a range of artworks from some of our most trusted gallery partners.

For the fifth consecutive year, Sotheby’s has been the market leader in Asia. In 2020, Asian clients were responsible for 30% of Sotheby’s worldwide auction sales, and of the top 20 lots sold worldwide, nine went home with Asian collectors. Online, the power of Asian buyers is increasing faster than anywhere else in the world, more than doubling in 2020.

Demand for luxury goods on the rise

Passion-fuelled purchases for luxury items like jewels, watches, handbags, wine and sneakers drove sales to exceed $600 million in 2020, which included 260 online sales that totalled $150.5 million, a five-fold increase over 2019. Among the highlights, Michael Jordan’s Game Worn Autographed Nike Air Jordan 1s from 1985 sold for an outstanding $560,000, setting a new world auction record for any pair of sneakers at the time.

In 2020, we reinvented what a masterpiece can be. Cultural achievements and milestones of all kinds were celebrated with the sales of unique trophies like a trio of Alfa Romeo concept cars, a pair of game-worn Nike Air Jordans, a dining table by Carlo Mollino and a toy crown-turned-cultural-relic made famous by rapper Biggie Smalls, which sold in Sotheby’s first-ever auction devoted to Hip Hop.

More than ever, our audience went far beyond those participating at auction. Sotheby’s livestreamed marquee sales attracted more than four million views, owing in part to our growing following across social channels, Sotheby’s has 3.8 million followers, the largest of any auction house.

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No Exhibition? No Problem

Being unable to see artworks in person didn’t stop collectors from buying – instead they relied on a host of innovative ways to preview artworks from afar, including videos, virtual exhibitions and tours, and one-on-one video chats with specialists. At the very highest level, works in the marquee auctions were bought after having been previewed through Sotheby’s virtual platforms.

Sotheby’s is open to all, and this year new buyers came out in record numbers, especially online – 44% of bidders and buyers in online auctions were new to Sotheby’s.

During this unprecedented year, Sotheby’s supported artists, individuals, and communities in need, organising and facilitating new charity initiatives around the world. From an auction benefiting Christy Turlington Burns’s maternal health nonprofit to MayDay, a charity sale for Covid-19 relief, Sotheby’s expanded the art of giving, raising over $40 million.

Top Lots of the Year
FRANCIS BACON | TRIPTYCH INSPIRED BY THE ORESTEIA OF AESCHYLUS
29 JUNE 2020 | SALE PRICE: 84,550,000 USD

REN RENFA 1255-1328 任仁發 | FIVE DRUNKEN PRINCES
8 OCTOBER 2020 | SALE PRICE: 306,551,000 HKD

SANYU Quatre nus
8 JULY 2020 | SALE PRICE: 258,341,000 HKD

DAVID HOCKNEY The Splash
11 FEBRUARY 2020 | SALE PRICE: 23,117,000

CLYFFORD STILL | PH-144 (1947-Y-NO.1)
29 JUNE 2020 | SALE PRICE: 28,739,000 USD

JOAN MIRÓ | PEINTURE (FEMME AU CHAPEAU ROUGE)
28 JULY 2020 | SALE PRICE: 23,718,350 GBP

GERHARD RICHTER 格哈德・里希特 | ABSTRAKTES BILD (649-2) 抽象畫
6 OCTOBER 2020 | SALE PRICE: 214,631,000 HKD

ROY LICHTENSTEIN | WHITE BRUSHSTROKE I
29 JUNE 2020 | SALE PRICE: 27,030,500 USD

SUPERB AND MAGNIFICENT FANCY VIVID PURPLE-PINK DIAMOND
11 NOVEMBER 2020 | SALE PRICE: 24,393,000 CHF

ALBERTO GIACOMETTI | FEMME LEONI
28 OCTOBER 2020 | SALE PRICE: 26,231,400 USD

Forthcoming auctions and exhibitions

Four Decades: In Celebration of AIPAD
15–21 DECEMBER 2020 | 12:00 PM EST | NEW YORK
BID

A Mirror of Jewish Life: Masterpieces by Isidor Kaufmann
13–23 DECEMBER 2020 | NEW YORK
VIEW WORKS

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Lynn Chadwick Bronze Candelabras
9 NOVEMBER–23 DECEMBER 2020 | LONDON
VIEW WORKS

Thomas Goode: Preparing for the Next 200 Years
22 DECEMBER 2020–7 JANUARY 2021 | 1:00 PM GMT | LONDON

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Unique in its broad international coverage of both arts and cultural events, Arts & Collections covers fine art from antiquity to modern times, auction records, a special sale preview by Sotheby’s, as well as market trends that inform collectors of the world’s finest items.

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