The switch to online – part 3. Christie’s moves up a gear


As we explained in our Switch to online – part 2: Sotheby’s has a head start article – published on 5 May – Sotheby’s appears to have acquired a considerable lead in the online competition, with a good pace of online sales offering relatively high-quality works. These included a painting by George Condo that fetched more than $1.3 million. Since the start of lockdown in Europe, Sotheby’s has hosted no less than 17 online fine art sales (excluding design, jewelry, wine, etc.) compared with only four at Christie’s. In short, Christie’s organised only a quarter of the online art sales offered by Sotheby’s between mid-March and early May.

Offering a narrower supply, Christie’s has also been much more cautious in its selection of proposed works than its competitor. This caution has of course widened the gap in terms of comparative online sales turnover: whereas Sotheby’s set an online record in mid-April with a total of $6.3 million from its “Contemporary Curated” sale, Christie’s best total since the start of the Covid 19 crisis has peaked at $783,000 from a online sale of Contemporary Asian art that was nevertheless relatively successful in its own terms.

Contemporary Art Asia without any major surprises

Christie’s took $783,000 from this sale which took place online from 21 to 30 April. The sale included works by a selection of particularly sought-after artists.

The sale’s best bid was placed for the least Asian artist in the selection, but who is nonetheless highly appreciated by local collectors: Kaws, with his Companion (Karima Version). This small wooden sculpture from a private collection and offered for the first time at auction fetched $68,750, more than three times its low estimate. I Think of You by TING Walasse, also never before offered at auction, finished second by doubling its high estimate to $47,500. A small untitled drawing by the Japanese artist Yoshitomo Nara generated the third best online result at $27,500.

There were also a number of smaller works by these same artists that were accessible at $5,000 or less: a canvas print by Kaws fetched $5,000; a recent lithograph by Yoshitomo Nara (Marching on a Butterbur Leaf) from an edition of 1,000, sold for $2,750; an ink by Walasse Ting (Untitled (Floral Fan)) sold for $3,750… In sum, affordable works for the most part, a no-risk offer, and generally unsurprising results.

Moving up a gear…

After two months of implementation and testing, Christie’s is only now starting to develop its online sales potential. No less than 12 sales are available on the company’s website during this second week in May, including 8 dedicated to fine art. That’s twice as many in one week than in the previous two months … a substantial acceleration.

The new density is accompanied by a move upmarket. Christie’s “First Open” sale notably offers a superb Josef ALBERS valued between $200,000 and $300,000 (Study for Homage to the Square) and several works by Andy Warhol including one estimated $300,000 – $500,000. The bidding closes on May 15 and the results will be posted the same day.

Christie’s is also hosting another high-end sale entitled “Vice”, whose star lots carry six-figure estimates. An important canvas – a tribute to de Kooning – by Richard PRINCE is estimated $600,000-$800,000; another work by Damien HIRST is estimated $250,000-$350,000 and a ceramic sculpture by Roy LICHTENSTEIN is expected to fetch between $300,000-$500,000.

Unable to physically attend New York’s traditional prestige auctions, collectors have until the end of May to participate in this first prestige selection of American art sold exclusively online.